South West Coast Path – Mevagissey to Charlestown
6th October 2019
The South West Coast Path from Mevagissey to Charlestown in southeast Cornwall isn’t my favourite of the sections of the Path I’ve walked to-date. I have to admit I prefer the wilder, more remote sections that I’ve walked in northern Cornwall. Even so, I enjoyed this walk immensely. Though there are a lot of very long, steep flights of steps along this undulating 12 ½ km (7.7 mile) route, with a vertical ascent of almost 500 metres (over 1600 feet), there are sweeping coastal views and an interesting mix of meadows, woodlands and cliffs. It’s generally rated a moderate to strenuous walk with challenging sections.
There are 3 main stopping points along this route: Pentewan Village; Black Head, which is roughly the half-way point of the walk; and Porthpean Beach.
Mevagissey to Pentewan
The start of the path isn’t well-signposted from Mevagissey. From the harbour, walk down the quay along the left side of the inner harbour (the east wharf) until you reach the Mevagissey Museum, then turn around with your back to the museum and you’ll see the ‘Coastal Path’ signpost.
Follow this up and to the right, bear left up some steep flights of concrete stairs until you emerge through a gap in a wall onto a large grassy meadow. As you walk across the grass, head towards the white house on the right corner of the field and bear right at the waymarker where the path proper begins.
The path undulates through hedgerows and across meadows. This view below is looking back towards Mevagissey with a glimpse of just one of the many beaches along the way. Notice the path winding down the hill towards the right!
Wild grasses and blackberry bushes on the clifftops frame the coastline, which is dramatic even with the cloudy start to the day.
Though still some way in the distance, there’s a first sight of Black Head with its distinctive hump early on in the walk.
Besides the multitude of steps along the route there are also many stiles to cross and ‘kissing gates’. Not the most flattering picture below, but an approaching walker offered to take this of me when they saw me photographing the gate.
I saw some blue sky as I caught my first glimpse of Pentewan Beach, a lovely beach marred by the huge caravan park that sits right behind it.
The path twists and turns through the hedgerows and it’s quite magical.
There’s also some really dramatic coastline.
Eventually the path veers towards the road, passing the turnoff to Pentewan Sands Caravan Park, and you walk along the road until you reach the turning signposted for Pentewan Village. The village itself is quite pretty and I stopped at the Ship’s Inn to refill my water bottle and have a rest on the bench outside.
Pentewan to Black Head
Again, the Path isn’t signposted but the iWalk Cornwall app led me to the village square and onto the tarmac up Pentewan Hill. Take the signposted track on the right off the tarmac, past some houses and a small church at the end of the lane, and once again onto the coastal path. The sun emerged and it was glorious walking.
I loved this part of the path, though it’s the most difficult section of the walk. There are a lot of very steep steps (as in the photo below) and though Black Head seems tantalising close, I found it slow going.
It’s challenging walking here but it was gorgeous.
This part of the path felt really remote. I was so surprised to pass this lone cottage, which looked idyllic.
I finally reached Black Head where there’s a junction of paths beside a huge granite memorial to the Cornish writer and historian A L Rowse. The inscription on the stone is in both Cornish and English and reads ‘This is the land of my content’.
I can well understand why.
Turn right to walk up the path to the top of Black Head, which was once an Iron Age Hill fort. Today it’s a perfect spot for a picnic and to take in the sweeping views.
Black Head to Porthpean Beach
Walking back from the headland, take the path to the right of the granite memorial. Be sure to look back for a final look at the humped shape of Black Head.
Follow the path along the coastline to the sign that marks the Ropehaven Cliffs Nature Reserve, a 20-hectare (49 ½ acre) area of cliffs purchased by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in 1986. This reserve is all wonderful broadleaf woodland and inaccessible cliffs that provide nesting sites for seabirds. There are also caves in the bays below that are habituated by grey seals.
Fun fact: according to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, fossils found in the rocks here suggest that 400 million years ago this entire area lay below a tropical sea.
The woodland beside the path is lush in the warm sun; there were butterflies fluttering among sweet-scented flowers and late berries, and so many bees.
Over the tops of the trees the coastline is simply stunning.
The path continues steeply up and down, into deep valleys and out onto clifftops, through gates and across stiles. Even though it was mid-week, the superb day brought quite a lot of people out walking, many with their dogs. Everyone says hello and stops for a chat…I suspect as an excuse for a short rest! The path finally approaches a lane and more steps to another path that emerges outside the Porthpean Sailing Club. The beach is just beyond to the right.
Porthpean Beach to Charlestown
By the time I arrived at Porthpean Beach it was very late in the day and I was keen to keep on towards Charlestown. But the beach here is just gorgeous and I would have loved to sit on the sand and listen to the waves, maybe even get my feet wet!
At the back of the beach is a seawall with public toilets and a café, though the café was closed by the time I got there. If I hadn’t had detailed directions I simply would not have known where to go to continue on the South West Coast Path. You have to walk along the top of the seawall to the far side to find the flight of steps (I took the photo above from those steps) that lead up past a lookout tower and a small headland with a picnic bench. The path picks up just past the headland though I can’t recall any coastal path waymarks.
It’s a relatively short walk from here to Charlestown and there are simply stunning views.
Emerging from the wilds, the path wanders past houses and gardens. I was very tired but I did stop to take far too many photos of a length of stone wall blanketed with late hydrangeas.
The path continues to wind downhill and down ever more steps through a kissing gate to Charlestown Harbour. I had expected to love Charlestown. It is, after all, another relatively unspoiled historic harbour, and it’s where Poldark – the BBC 18th century period drama – is filmed. The harbour is one of the best-preserved Georgian ports in the world, considered an engineering masterpiece, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s long and narrow, and two magnificent tall ships were moored there. Perhaps it was because I was so tired but I just wasn’t that impressed; to me, it felt too much like a film set and I didn’t even take a single photograph. I think I’ll have to go back there because on this day it simply didn’t grab my imagination at all and I walked straight past the harbour through the village to catch the bus back to Mevagissey.
Getting back to Mevagissey from Charlestown
Take the #24 bus from Charlestown Church back to Mevagissey. Finding the right bus stop was a bit of a challenge; it’s actually a good half-mile past the harbour, all uphill. You need to walk straight up the hill from the harbour, past the bus stop that’s opposite Charlestown Chapel. You keep walking up the hill as the road curves to the right and then take a right onto Church Road. The bus stop is directly in front of the church on your right (not the one on the corner on the left side of road).
The bus runs only once an hour, cost £6 at the time of writing and takes about 30 minutes. Mevagissey is the last stop on the route. And they do take contactless cards.
South West Coast Path and Walking Cornwall Resources
The definitive resource for the South West Coast Path is run by the South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) – a charitable organisation that exists to protect, improve, conserve and promote the use of the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path and public access to it. This website has everything you might want to know, with day-by-day guides including detailed maps and descriptions for each section of the trail, a trip planner and distance calculator, as well as suggestions for accommodation, baggage transfer, companies that provide guided walks, and so much more.
You can also find a specific OS Map from the Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency for Great Britain.
For detailed maps, directions and interesting information for walking Cornwall, I’ve found a fantastic new resource: the iWalk Cornwall website and app. They have a total of 249 walks in Cornwall – from as short as 2 miles to over 10 miles, including this and other sections of South West Coast Path in Cornwall – most of which are circular walks, and they’re adding walks all the time. The app is like a SatNav for walking – walks are purchased for just £1.99 each and the app guides you along the route using GPS. For me, it was like having a totally knowledgeable walking companion with me every step of the way. And on this route, there are quite a few tricky turnings where the path isn’t well-signposted at all and the app kept me on the right track.
Please note: I have no affiliation with iWalk Cornwall or any other business/organisation that I link to here or in any of my other blog posts and I receive no remuneration. I simply share links to what I’ve found useful and/or interesting for my own travels.
The South West Coast Path from Mevagissey to Charlestown is a tough walk, though it’s definitely not the most challenging of the entire 630-mile Path. There are an awful lot of long, steep steps, many more flights than I’d encountered on other walks, and it’s the sheer number of them that make this such a strenuous walk. It isn’t as wild and remote as some of the other walks I’ve done, and the hedgerows and woodland that line so much of the path means there’s no real cliff-edge walking. But I really enjoyed the walk and my highlights have to be:
- The long views of undulating green fields and the many rocky coves and beaches
- The sweeping, wind-swept panorama from Black Head
- Walking through the ancient woodland of Ropehaven Cliffs
- Emerging from the trees at Ropehaven to simply stunning views of the cliffs ahead
- Porthpean Beach
You can find more photos in my Mevagissey to Charlestown Photo Album
And look out for my next post in the series: The Lost Gardens of Heligan