St Agnes has origins stretching back to at least the Middle Ages, although much of what we now see in the village was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of tin and copper mining in the area. The main street shows good examples of 19th century terraced houses and civic buildings, including the Miners’ and Mechanics’ Institute. The walk starts at the car park in Trelawny Road, where there are also public toilets. Trelawny Road leaves the main road through the village near its southern end, and both the car park and the toilets are signed from the main road.
- From the car park walk down Trelawny Road to the main road through the village (Vicarage Road). Turn right here, away from the village centre.
On the left of Vicarage Road is the Garden of Rest. Note the gate house, which bizarrely used to be the old mortuary and where local doctors used to carry out post mortem examinations.
- Keep on along the road, past the Railway Inn.
There is no longer a railway at St Agnes, and there has not been one for many years. It was once on a branch line between Newquay and the main line via Perranporth. However, the station and, indeed, the whole line, were situated some way out of the village and not here.
- Continue to the road junction and here bear right, along Goonvrea Road. Keep on up this road, climbing gently, until two tracks signed as public footpaths cross the road at the top of the slope by a bench.
Behind the bench is a large bank. This is not simply a road bank, as might be thought, but the remains of an old earthwork known as the Bolster bank. This was originally some 2 miles/3.2 km long, and cut off a large area of the coast including St Agnes Head and the Beacon. It could date to any time between 500 BC and 1000 AD, but the most likely date seems to be the 5th or 6th century. The reason for its building is not obvious, but is presumably defensive. Legend attributes its construction to the Cornish giant Bolster, who figures in local carnivals.
- At this point turn right, along the clear part-surfaced track, and follow this up and round to the left until it arrives at a lane. Here turn right, along the lane.
- After a couple of hundred metres take the next track on the left. This track begins climbing the side of St Agnes Beacon.
- Keep to the main track at the junction (the middle of three).
Soon there are superb views on the right over St Agnes and up the coast towards Perranporth.
- At the top go through the gate ahead then bear left at the fork.
This path soon gives even more stunning views ahead over Godrevy Island and its lighthouse and St Ives Bay. Next to the path on the left are the hummocky outlines of possibly Bronze Age cairns.
- Follow the path to the top where there is a topograph on a stone plinth.
The topograph shows the direction and distance to a variety of landmarks, although it would have to be very clear to see some of them. At 628 feet/192m there is in any event an outstanding view. Its height, coupled with its proximity to the coast, gave it its role as a warning beacon site. The mound at the top is probably another of the Bronze Age cairns, from the period between 2000 and 1500 BC.
- From the plinth follow the clear track descending through the gorse which continues in the same direction as the previous path. Keep to the most obvious track as it descends past a rocky outcrop then past a telephone pole, heading towards some houses at the foot of the Beacon.
- Lower down, the path forks – keep right here then almost immediately fork left, still heading for the houses.
- The path then emerges on an access track to a house. Bear right here and follow the track to a lane.
- Turn left and cross the lane and go down a path next to a hedge on a public bridleway.
- At another lane go straight across on the track opposite.
- At the first fork on this track at the bottom bear left and then immediately afterwards, where the tarmac ends, turn right down a rough track to a gate into a field.
- Go through the kissing gate and turn immediately right, along the bottom of the field next to the hedge and watercourse. Keep ahead on this path as it enters an area of scrubby woodland, still next to the stream, and passes former mine buildings, now private residences.
- When the path forks keep right, along the valley bottom.
- This then arrives at a track – turn left here.
- Leave this track to the left at a footbridge over a stream then go through a kissing gate to a junction of paths and turn right here.
As the path goes along the valley it passes the ruins of an old mine. This was the engine house for the Charlotte United Mine, part of a complex of copper mines.
The path continues along the deep valley, Chapel Combe, which leads to the sheltered little cove of Chapel Porth.
This is a delightful cove, used by surfers and with a nice beach at low tide. It has a car park, toilets and refreshments. However, in the 19th century it would have been a hive of industrial activity. Where the car park is now then was the site of a stamping, or crushing, mill, driven by a water wheel by the wall next to the toilets.
- The route now joins the Coast Path. Turn right out of Chapel Porth, up the access road, and after a short distance go left through a gap in the wall and up towards the cliffs. Keep to the main, higher, path on the side of the little valley, following it round to the left to the cliffs. At the cliff top follow the left path.
Rounding the corner there is the sight ahead of the Towanroath engine house, part of the Wheal Coates mine complex. There are more mine buildings on the cliff above. The mine buildings date from the 1870s, and are very picturesquely situated on the cliffs.
- After passing the engine house keep to the Coast Path as it bears right up the old spoil heaps.
- At the next fork the Coast Path bears left and along the cliff face, and this is the direct route. However, it is worth taking a diversion to visit the remains of the buildings on the higher level. For this diversion bear right at the fork, up the steep slope, and follow the most obvious path to meet a track at the top. Turn right to visit the higher mine buildings.
For detailed information on the mines there is a National Trust information board on the wall of one of the buildings.
- From the mine buildings return along the cliff top path and some quarter of a mile further on this path rejoins the Coast Path, rising from its lower level direct from Towanroath.
- Approaching the rocky promontory of St Agnes Head the Coast Path forks left off the main track (which leads to a car park) and continues through old quarry workings and on just below the cliff top.
Rounding St Agnes Head the coastal panorama behind to St Ives Bay disappears, to be replaced by a view ahead along Perran Sands to the island off Holywell Bay. Immediately offshore are the delightfully named twin rocks of Man and his man (also called, less exotically, Bawden Rocks).
- Keep to the Coast Path round Newdowns Head, then a mile or so further on, after passing more old quarries and capped mine shafts, descend into Trevaunance Cove.
This was the main “port” for the local mines. Over the years several harbours were built here, all destroyed by the elements. The last one lasted from 1798 until 1916, and the rocks seen on the floor of the cove close in to the near side are all that remains. When operating, Trevaunance sent out ore to South Wales for smelting and received coal for the engine houses in return. After the mining trade had disappeared in the late 1800s it became used for fishing.
- Continue into the cove along the lane. For the nearest path to the cove, with views over the remains of the harbour, it is possible to go down the steps opposite Watch House and follow the path to the beach (dogs permitted year round). Alternatively follow the lane to the road just above the beach. Here are refreshments and toilets. (The formal Coast Path forks right off the lane, but this line misses out the beach, toilets and refreshments.)
- At Trevaunance the walk leaves the Coast Path and heads inland back to St Agnes. Follow the road inland up the valley – keep an eye open for traffic going to and from the beach on this length. Climb steadily then fork off to the right by a bench along a footpath. Follow the path round to the right, past a terrace of attractive old cottages.
The line of cottages is known as Stippy Stappy and they were originally built for ships’ captains sailing from Trevaunance. The path was originally the main road between St Agnes and Trevaunance.
- Keep ahead at the top to arrive at Churchtown, the centre of St Agnes.
This was the old medieval settlement, based around the church. This was built in 1484 to replace the previous chapel which stood on the site because of the growing population.
- Follow the road through the village to return to Trelawny Road, the start of the walk, on the right near the far end.