St Agnes – Cornwall
Soaring cliffs, mine tunnels and gaping sea caves offer a harsh yet exhilarating backdrop to Cornwall’s wild, northern coastline.
Once the centre of the county’s 19th-century mining boom, this area is rich in industrial relics that stand sentinel among the gorse and heather.
For keen explorers of tumbledown places, the new Mineral Tramway cycle route connects north and south coasts (Portreath to Devoran) with extensions off to a number of ruins: Carn Brea, South Wheal Francis and the lovely swimming lake hidden on top of Carn Marth.
The ruined engine house at Wheal Coates, near St Agnes, is perched above a superb low-tide beach. A vertiginous shaft plummets down to a sea cave in the cliff below, which the brave can explore at low tide. The mines were 70 fathoms deep with tunnels that extended almost a mile out under the sea.
Heading south to Gwithian, there is a long sandy beach with funky cafés and at its north end, Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse rises up from Godrevy Island. Near Godrevy Point you will find Fishing Cove, set deep beneath the rock face and so well hidden that even some local people don’t know it exists. This is also a great place to see basking sharks and dolphins.
To the north, the coast is one of the most inaccessible in Cornwall. On a calm day the intrepid might like to take a sea kayak out beneath Cligga Head, to explore the soaring, 30 metre sea arch that leads into an inner cavern. An adjacent cove, with icing-sugar white sand, is perfect for a summer night’s camping.
At Trevellas Cove, a more rugged neighbour of nearby Trevaunance, you can join local lads and jump into the water from the sea stacks on sunny days. If the tide is low, try skin-diving for the delicious mussels growing on the jagged rocks and cook them on an open fire for supper.
Further north, cross Perranporth’s dunes to discover the remains of the medieval oratory of St Piran, where the patron saint of tin-miners was said to preach. At the end of stunning Holywell Beach, a deep sea cave leads to a sacred spring and waterfall. Above, on Pentire Point West, you will find one of the best wildflower meadows on the Cornish coast – a wonderful place for a picnic. Drop down to Porth Joke for swimming and surfing before retiring for the night at the popular campsite there.