A picturesque walking route around Porthgwarra

PUBLISHED: 10:29 17 May 2019

The coast path near Porthgwarra. Photo credit Robert Hesketh

The coast path near Porthgwarra. Photo credit Robert Hesketh


Cornwall is filled with places that inspired writers and artists alike – follow Robert Hesketh as he traces poet Dylan Thomas along the coast path to Porthgwarra

Starting from Porthgwarra's pretty cove, this exhilarating walk rounds the south-west tip of Cornwall, where wind and weather conspire with the restless, remorseless sea to sculpt the granite cliffs in fantastic shapes. This romantic seascape drew Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who spent several weeks at Polgigga in 1937, staying with Wyn Henderson, a Bohemian lady well known in the art world. Later, Dylan was joined by his wife-to-be, Caitlin Macnamara. In Caitlin - Life with Dylan Thomas, she wrote: "We spent most of that summer walking the cliffs and country lanes, pubbing and making love."

It was May, too early in the year for the red deer stag I saw in a field near Polgigga to have amorous thoughts for his hind nearby. We watched each other at a respectful distance for long enough to enable me to fit a telephone lens and take his portrait.

Looking towards Gwennap Head. Photo credit: Robert HeskethLooking towards Gwennap Head. Photo credit: Robert Hesketh

Such unexpected encounters with wildlife make the effort of carrying full camera kit worthwhile. I was grateful again for the long lens on another visit, when I spotted a grey seal hunting among the waves just off Hella Point. It was fascinating, watching him 'bottle', swim and then disappear to emerge some distance away minutes later.

This was in August and the Coastpath at Arden Sawah Cliff was at its most beautiful, a blaze of late summer colour, purple heather contrasting with yellow gorse, all well-lit by the morning sun. The scene was ideal for a wide angle lens to give the carpet of foreground flowers the prominence they deserved.

Grey seal spotting off Hella Point. Photo credit: Robert HeskethGrey seal spotting off Hella Point. Photo credit: Robert Hesketh

However, I like the cliffs best in the golden light of late afternoon into early evening, when the westering sun brings out the warm greys and pinks in the rock. The slanting light throws shadows which give modelling and depth to Penwith's granite walls that have held back the sea for millennia, where softer rocks would have yielded long before.

Hard to work, but durable, granite is seen to particularly good advantage in St Levan's church, with its characteristically Cornish square and pinnacled tower. Inside, the church has an exceptional Norman font and a fine collection of bench ends, some old and several with interesting and unusual designs. One shows St James with his pilgrim's hat. By contrast, another depicts two jesters. Others show fishes, faces and eagles.

St Levan Church. Photo credit: Robert HeskethSt Levan Church. Photo credit: Robert Hesketh

Boots on? Let's go!

1. Start from the car park at Porthgwarra. Follow the lane towards the sea. Turn right onto the Coast Path and follow it for the next 3km (2 miles) to Carn Les Boel. This prominent headland, a natural defensive site, was an Iron Age promontory fort. An eroded ditch and rampart survive.

2. After enjoying the view, turn east and follow the path inland to a gate. Continue along an enclosed path to a house. Bear left up a track to a waymark. Turn left and follow the track ahead to Bosistow. Turn right and follow the long, straight drive to Polgigga.

3. Turn almost immediately right onto the lane signed 'Porthgwarra'. Follow the lane past Arden Sawah Farm. Ignore the first stone stile on your left. Turn left over the second stone stile onto the 'public footpath' and head towards St Levan's church tower.

4. The path winds via small fields and stone stiles, then passes between cottages to the lane by the church tower. Turn right and right again, signed 'To the Coastpath'. Follow the path downhill and over a stream.

5. Keep right when the path divides and walk uphill to a field. Follow the right field edge and continue ahead on the path through scrub to join the coast path. Follow the coast path to Porthgwarra.

Fact file

Start/parking: Porthgwarra, SW371218 TR19 6JR

Terrain: Coast path, footpaths, tracks, quiet lanes. Generally easy going, some tricky footing

Child/dog friendly: Suitable for dogs on leads and older children

Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 102; Landranger 203; Harvey's SWCP 2

Refreshments: Porthgwarra Cove Café (seasonal opening)

Public toilets: Porthgwarra


Distance: 5 ¾ miles/9.1km

Time: 3 hours

Exertion: Moderate

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