St Just-in-Penwith, to give it its full name, is often described as the most westerly town in England. It is a classic example of a 19th century mining town expanded from an earlier medieval village. Indeed, before it became a village it had an even earlier existence as a monastic settlement based on the site of the present church. These layers of history make it a fascinating centre to explore, added to by the town’s current status as a local artistic centre.
- The walk starts at Market Square, one of the two squares in the centre of the town, outside the Wellington Hotel. From the square walk down Church Street, with the parish church on the left.
The present church dates from 1334, when the earlier one was rebuilt. In its turn, it has also been rebuilt since. Among its items of interest are two medieval wall paintings, comparative rarities in current churches.
- Continue past the attractive granite houses to Venton Square East. Here bear slightly left and go down the surfaced path, past the granite house with the outside steps.
This building was once the town’s National Church School, then the parish rooms.
- At the bottom turn left along the road – be aware of the traffic here. Join the footway and follow the road round to meet the B3306 St Just-St Ives road at Nancherrow.
Old Foundry Close, passed just before the junction, is the site of a foundry which made mining equipment in the 19th century. At the junction at Nancherrow the building housing a gallery on the right was once a toll-house for the turnpike road.
- Cross the B3306 and go along the narrow lane opposite. This leads into the Kenidjack Valley, one of the area’s premier former mining sites, and soon evidence of its mining past is seen in old buildings and chimneys.
Where the farm buildings now are at the end of the lane there was previously a thriving mining hamlet with its own smithy, bakery and Poor House.
- The lane becomes a track which begins to climb the valley side. At the fork keep right, still climbing gently, and do the same again at a second fork.
From this second fork the outline of Cape Cornwall, with its landmark chimney, is seen framed in the Kenidjack Valley down to the left.
- As the track bears round to the right the outlines of a number of chimneys and remains of mine workings appear ahead. At the point these first appear, a grassy path leaves the track to the left and back. This is the Coast Path – turn left along it.
Looking back along the coast from this path gives views of some of the iconic coastal mines perched precariously on the cliff face; these are the remains of the much-photographed Crowns mines.
- Follow the path to arrive at a ruined building on a headland.
This is Kenidjack Castle. There are many layers of history here, including a Bronze Age site and an Iron Age cliff castle of the period 800BC-400AD. The ruined building and the trench and walls to the right of it are the remains of the butts of a 19th century target range. The headland gives a superb view of Cape Cornwall in the foreground, with the offshore rocks of the Brisons. Further out to sea are the reefs and lighthouse of the Longships, just off Land’s End.
- The Coast Path descends to the left of the ruined building to a stone stile over a wall. Cross this and descend to a track.
The track gives access to an old quarry along the coast to the right, beneath Kenidjack Castle. This was worked in the early 20th century, quarrying for roadstone.
- Turn left at the track, passing above numerous more mining remains in the valley below, which is the seaward extension of the Kenidjack Valley passed along earlier. At the first fork bear right, down towards the valley bottom. At the valley floor turn left and then take the next path on the right, towards the old workings, and cross the footbridge.
In the 1850s this valley was an uninterrupted mass of industry, difficult to imagine now. There were 50 waterwheels working, including the second biggest in the country. The pond in the valley bottom was once the reservoir for one of these wheels. Immediately to the left of the path are the ruins of the Kenidjack Arsenic Works, which operated between the 1800s and the 1890s. It has recently been repaired by the St Just Regeneration Project.
- The path then climbs the other side of the valley. Where it meets another path turn right, along the lip of the valley. At a junction bear right, by a house (Wheal Call), and this path then arrives at the access road to Cape Cornwall. Turn right here.
A walk onto the Cape is highly recommended. It is known as the only “cape” in England, and the only other in Britain is Cape Wrath at the opposite extreme of Scotland. A cape is generally defined as a headland dividing two seas, and Cape Cornwall was thought to mark the division between St George’s Channel and the Irish Sea on the one side and the English Channel leading to the North Sea on the other. At the same time it was thought to be the country’s western extremity, rather than Land’s End.
The Cape’s distinctive landmark is its chimney, built in the 1850s for the Cape Cornwall Mine, which was closed in 1889 and all traces of which have now virtually disappeared. However, the large white building at the base of the cape was the count-house, or main offices, for the mine.
- To visit the Cape walk along the path field alongside the road, through a stile and into a field with a ruined building.
This is the site of St Helen’s Oratory, one of the earliest Christian sites in this part of Cornwall. The existing building was once used as a barn.
- From the oratory continue to the stone stile in the far corner of the field. Cross this (NB do not go through the obvious gap in the wall) and follow the path ahead, which then narrows. Turn left uphill on reaching a rocky outcrop and this leads to one of the main access paths to the top.
There is an excellent view from the top to Land’s End. Note the plaque commemorating the Cape’s purchase by the Heinz company in 1987 to mark its centenary; Heinz then donated the site to the National Trust.
- From the top descend down one of the obvious access paths to the buildings at the bottom.
The track on the right, passing the buildings, leads to the National Coastwatch Institution’s lookout, which is usually open to the public.
- Walk back towards the car park but before reaching it turn right down the track and steps from the gate. At the bottom turn left up the tarmac path and then at the next junction go sharp right and back, still climbing. This climb is quite long and steep and leads to a surfaced lane at the top. Continue ahead here then fork right, off the lane, opposite the trig. point.
A little to the left, between the path and the lane, its walls visible from the Coast Path, is Ballowall Barrow, which is a prehistoric site interesting enough for a diversion. Once buried under 6m/20ft of mine waste, it was first excavated by archaeologists in the 1870s. The structure is possibly 4,000 years old, surrounded by a massive wall itself up to 6m/20ft thick. It has been described by archaeologists as unique and magnificent.
- The Coast Path continues along the cliff top, passing a number of capped mine shafts, then curves round and down into the Cot Valley, where it meets a lane. Turn left here, up the lane and leaving the Coast Path which here turns right, back towards the sea. The lane twists and turns, climbing steadily to arrive back in St Just. At the junction at the top turn right then left, past the car park and toilets, to return to Market Square.
Dogs are permitted on the beaches at Priest Cove and the Cot Valley all year round.