Cape Cornwall towers above the sea, crowned by a statuesque mine chimney, with fabulous views from the summit back across the sea to Sennen and Land’s End. In fact Cape Cornwall was thought to be the Land’s End until more accurate mapping deposed it from its throne and many Cornishmen hold this to be true to this day. It is well worth taking the time to visit this icon spot whatever your belief to enjoy exploring from the atmospheric fishing cove at its foot, the towering mine chimney on the summit and the ruins of St Helen’s Oratory on one flank.
Elements of Cape Cornwall
The Cornish name was Kulgyth 1605 which had evolved to Cap Cornwall by 1699 “In the eyes of many Cornishmen this always used to be and still ….is the most westerly point” 1879
Cape Cornwall is now under the stewardship of the National Trust after a bequest to the nation from the J.H. Heinz Company, so it is beautiful cared for, yet winningly uncommercialised, with carefully positioned signage to guide your way, reasonably priced car park and an awesome set of loos!
Cape Cornwall Mine
All that remains of Cape Cornwall Mine (1838 – 1883) today is the towering chimney built in 1864 on top of Cape Cornwall and what appears at first glance to be a grand former walled garden positioned just above the cove.
The chimney was built to service the whim engine that drew the ore to the surface but was later abandoned because of its fierce draft. The chimney was saved as it was so useful as a maritime navigational aid and a new chimney built lower down the slope nearer to the engine house.
The Mine finally closed in 1883 and the engine house was demolished but the Count House and boiler house remains just above Priest cove. The mining stamps floors were later converted into wineries and greenhouses for the magnificent Porthledden House that now stands on the approach to Cape Cornwall.
There is also Priest Cove (Porth Ust meaning St Just cove) to explore – a rocky fishing cove with a cluster of fishing huts above long landing quay stretching out to the channel and a small sea bathing pool.
The name is slightly misleading and originated from a misprint on an early ordnance survey map although maybe an early cartographer saw the abandoned chapel nearby and drew his own conclusions.
Twin peaked islets about one mile from Cape Cornwall, graveyard for ships and home to sea birds – it is engagingly thought by locals to resemble General De Gaulle in the bath!
St Helen’s Oratory
The remains of a medieval chapel and dwelling that replaced a 5th or 6th century church. The building gives an atmospheric hint of the early Celtic practises in the elemental landscape between sky and sea but sadly the rough-hewn cross that tops the building today was found nearby – the original was thought to have been cast down the well in the vicarage garden.
A small font or holy water stoup was also retrieved from the field and now stands beside the font in St Just church.
Our visit to Cape Cornwall
It is less than a month since our last outing to visit Logan Rock and explored the Minack Theatre when we had “summer in February” and we saw such a change in the Cornish lanes for this visit. The daffodil lined banks had given way to a roadside fringed in vibrant yellow gorse, which was so perfectly complemented by the clear blue skies overhead that day as we drove through St Just and down towards Cape Cornwall.
We found a spot on the front to the car park overlooking the sea and then walked down into Priests Cove in the spring sunshine, passed the tumble of lobster pots and fishing boats and soon spotted an inviting bench, set in front of the gaggle of fisherman’s huts, for our picnic lunch.
Priest Cove is a rocky cove with a channel cleared for fishing boats to launch and a long purpose made quay stretching across the rocks – so don’t expect golden sands but do enjoy this wonderfully atmospheric, peaceful spot.
With a bag full of goodies we spent a happy hour watching two Cornish Choughs circling the far hillside to our left with a hawk teasing them overhead and finally a brave lady slip into the cool clear waters of the open air pool in the cove stretching out below us.
Eventually the lure of Cape Cornwall towering over the cove drew me away so I left Charles comfortable sitting in sunshine with the Choughs and the sea for company.
By cutting through the old buildings above the cove I soon reached the base of the headland with clear signs that invited me to a steep or less steep climb. After a very quick debate with myself I chose the less steep option – reasoning I could complete the circle by taking the other route down and if I’m honest hoping to see beyond the Cape to the next bay as a small bonus!
It was an easy stroll along the base of the Cape along a narrow path decked with violets and columbines before climbing up the flank and starting to see the hoped for views reveal themselves with atmospheric ruined mine buildings dotting the shore below.
The final few steps took me to the granite topped summit and I stopped to admire the perfectly preserved chimney on top of the headland before circling right-handed to see the all-encompassing view across Sennen to distant Land’s End. I did try to wave to Charles sitting in the cove far below but to be honest I don’t think he was watching.
The view down into the walled gardens formed from the old ore sorting floors kept me interested as I walked back down the hillside and a young man carrying a child stopped to ask me if that was the way to the summit and by now I was an expert upon directions of course and I watched him stride purposefully away back towards that towering chimney.
We had planned to explore St Helen’s Oratory together so I found a relaxed Charles still enjoying the sunshine and we made our way together back through the car park and across the lane to the atmospheric little chapel that is a designated Ancient Monument.
A narrow doorway still with its iron hanging hooks lead into the roofless building with two windows facing the Cape and it wasn’t hard to imagine an early Celtic holy person chanting for the souls above storm lashed cliffs.
Time to go but first of all we stopped in the beautiful church of St Just to see the Holy water stoup but I think that beautiful building with two surviving Medieval Frescos similar to the ones that we saw in Breage church, deserves to be the subject for its very own blog.
As we walked back to the car parked in the square I spotted two walled up granite mullion windows in a nearby cottage – ooh the intrigue of exploring West Cornwall! But for today we had enjoyed our afternoon on Cape Cornwall.
Cape Cornwall is on the North Coast and is a destination in the fourth section of our West Penwith Tour – Land’s End to St Ives