Cornwall walks: Shipwrecks, seals and Iron Age architecture

PUBLISHED: 14:12 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:12 17 February 2020

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Robert Hesketh heads out in search of Cornwall’s prehistoric past along the coast taking in shipwrecks, seals and a spot of Iron Age architecture

Fact file:

Start/parking: Chypraz TR19 7TU where farm field is used as car park Terrain: Path, footpaths and tracks. One steep ascent and descent. Care needed with directions and waymarking Child/dog friendly: Suitable for dogs (permitted on Portheras beach) on leads and older children. Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 102; Landranger 203, Harvey's SWCP 2. Refreshments: Morvah Schoolhouse Café Public toilets: None Public transport: travelinesw.com, Regular services from Penzance and St Ives Mon-Sat.

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A pleasing mixture of scenic coast path and moorland walking, this route has much of historic interest. Allow extra time to explore Chun Castle and Chun Quoit, as well as Portheras Cove. A beautiful sandy beach, Portheras is noted as a place to watch seals, but little visited and known chiefly to locals. MV Alacrity, a 450 ton cargo ship, was wrecked here in 1963 en route from Swansea to Brussels with a cargo of anthracite. This left razor sharp fragments of metal lying under the sand and rendered parts of Portheras Cove unsafe until clearance in 2004. Nonetheless, storms still reveal parts of Alacrity.

Turning inland, we reach Iron Age Chun Castle and the far older Chun Quoit. One of the best preserved Neolithic megaliths in West Penwith's rich prehistoric landscape, Chun Quoit dates from about 2,400 BC. Like other similar sites nearby such as Lanyon Quoit, it was probably covered by earth, forming a round barrow (burial site) some 10.5m (35ft) in diameter. Its massive mushroom shaped capstone measures 3.3m (11ft) by 3m (10ft) and bears a cup mark on the top. It is the only one in West Penwith to have remained in situ and not to have been resettled.

Scores of people must have been involved in moving the capstone and its four huge supporting slabs. Experimental archaeology has shown how moving such massive rocks with ropes, ramps and rollers might have been done - given sufficient manpower and organisation.

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Nearby Chun Castle, constructed 2,000 years later during the Iron Age, was a great feat of labour too. This hill fort consists of two concentric stone ramparts 90m (100ft) in diameter and standing to a height of 3m (10ft), plus a pair of rock-cut ditches beyond. In common with many Iron Age forts on good defensive sites, Chun Castle was re-used: in its case, during the post-Roman period, when it was a centre for the tin trade. Excavations have revealed a series of circular and rectangular stone built houses within the fort.

The later part of the walk passes Morvah church. It retains its 14th century tower, but the rest of the building was attractively reconstructed in 1828. Most unusually, it is dedicated to St Bridget of Sweden and the Swedish national flag stands by the altar.

Boots on?

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Let's go!

Turn left out of the car park. Turn left opposite Chypraze House, through a gate signed 'To the Beach'. Keep left at a path fork. Join the coast path and continue to Portheras Cove. Cross the stream and pass an emergency phone box. Bear left at a path junction. Head inland up the side of the valley.

Turn right at a path junction. Cross the stile at top of the slope. Follow the track to Portheras Farm. Follow the tarmac lane ahead for 400m. Cross the stile on the left. Follow the beaten path to the B3306.

Turn left along the road. After 200m, turn right at Bojewyan House. Walk between the farm buildings. The track bears right, then left past a bungalow. Follow the track ahead. Look right for a good view of the ruined engine houses near Portheras.

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At a fork, keep right, then left after 50m. After another 50m, turn right. Follow the track south for 500m. Turn left across a stile. Follow the permissive path across a field and on to Chun Quoit. Divert right and uphill to Chun Castle.

Return to Chun Quoit. Take the path north-north-east. Follow the waymarks, which divert around a fragile ancient earthwork. Reaching a second farm track, turn left. At a crosstracks, turn right. After 130m, turn left over a stile, signed 'Morvah'. Keep just right of the wind turbine to the road.

Go straight ahead. Turn right into Morvah. Turn right just before the church (or divert along the lane to the café). Follow the footpath around the churchyard. Continue to the coast path and turn L. After 1km (½ mile), the path descends towards Portheras Cove and turns inland. Turn left at the path junction. Retrace your steps to Chypraze.

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