West Penwith: My Favourite South West Coast Path Hike In Cornwall!
West Penwith is an area in the far west of Cornwall that includes a breathtaking 40-mile stretch of the South West Coast Path between St Ives and Penzance — perfect for a multi-day hike
And it really has become my favourite hike in Cornwall.
Arguably, West Penwith includes the hardest part of the South West Coast Path — that’s over the entire 630 miles! But the short 6-mile walk from St Ives to Zennor has the reputation of being the hardest of all. It’s also one of the most beautiful.
So, let West Penwith wow you like it does me. Keep reading and discover what a spectacular multi-day hike this is – and of course, you’ll find all the details you need to plan your own.
- Notes On Using This Guide To Plan Your Own Hike On The West Penwith Coast
- The Most Perfect South West Coast Path Hike – Ever!
- Section 1 – St Ives to Land’s End (approx 23.5 miles)
- St Ives, Zennor, Pendeen Watch, Cape Cornwall, Sennen Cove
- Section 2 – Land’s End to Penzance (approx 16.5 miles)
- Land’s End, Porthcurno, Lamorna Cove, Mousehole, Newlyn, Penzance
- More Info For Backpackers Hiking In West Penwith
- Map, Daily Miles, Wildcamping in West Penwith, Costs, Water, Extend your hike with a West Penwith coast-to-coast walk
Notes On Using This Guide To Plan Your Own Hike Around The West Penwith Coast
I’ve included notes on amenities throughout the article, as well as More Info For Backpackers right at the end. The links I give tend to be to places I’ve used and would recommend, but occasionally they’re included to make planning easier (eg YHA’s and local transport).
You might find other useful planning info in my Ultimate Guide To The South West Coast Path, as well as on the Hiking Resources page which is where I generally start when I’m planning my own hikes.
That’s enough with the practicalities for now though! Instead, prepare yourself for inspiration overload, because this is a 40-mile hike I guarantee you won’t want to miss!
The Most Perfect South West Coast Path Hike – Ever!
This hike is absolutely stunning — hands down one of my all-time favourites on The South West Coast Path!
Whenever I think of the perfect hike it’s not just this hike, but this particular weekend that comes to mind. Honestly, it totally blew me away and I remember the heady feelings of euphoria even now.
A few things came together that made it so special: spontaneity, freedom, sun and luscious colour — it goes without saying that this landscape is always spectacular!
We’d just come out of a lockdown and as we headed into a blisteringly hot weekend I impulsively packed my rucksack and got on a train to St Ives.
Actually, as an aside, if you’re a hiker that gets totally frustrated with public transport (me) you’ll find this one’s a dream to organise. Unusually, there’s a train station at both ends, as well as good bus services too — it’s almost like someone planned it! Anyhow, I digress. (Travel details are below.)
I decided I’d take it easy and spend a couple of nights wild camping which would give me plenty of time to stop and wonder. (You can find out about my daily miles below.)
What follows then, as well as the photos and practical tips, are a few excerpts from my trail journal. Hopefully, these will give you an ‘in-the-moment’ insight into what this section of the trail is all about. (I’ve spared you the bits that might give you an insight into how my brain works!)
The first thing that struck me, and my overriding memory of this hike, was a visual sensation…
West Penwith Was An Explosion Of Summer Colour!
“It was such a stunning summer’s day. The wildflowers colour the cliffs like a palette: daubs of purple heather and loosestrife, deep purple selfheal, splashes of crimsony dodder and rusty sedums, sheep’s bit… Everywhere I look there’s something, and the colour of the sea — god I love this coast!”
From St Ives to Penzance the colours of the sea, varying from azure to tropical turquoise, golden sunrises and sunsets, but most of all the wildflowers — were dazzling. July is definitely the month to go if you’re as excited by colour as I am.
Earlier in the season though, you’ll be just as blown away by the pinks of foxgloves and mounds of thrifts. And in spring, the cliffs of Botallack turn an intense blue with carpets of bluebells, not forgetting autumn when the swathes of russet bracken set them on fire.
It all starts in St Ives though, with its colourful boats, clear green-blue sea and pretty streets.
St Ives To Land’s End
Section 1 (Approximately 23.5 Miles)
Day 1, St Ives
St Ives is a tourist hotspot in summer, but if you get there early enough you can avoid the crowds for a while before you head out along the cliffs. From here the next stop is Zennor.
The trail leaves St Ives on tarmac, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to experience the stunning views, but soon starts with tough climbs up high cliffs, getting rockier and more bouldery the closer you get to Zennor.
There are roughly 500m of ascent on the St Ives to Zennor walk, which includes some tough climbs, boggy and bouldery (scrambly) terrain and precipitous cliff edges — throw in the wild Atlantic and potential for fog and strong gales and you can see why some people are jelly-legged at the thought of it! It might be renowned as the hardest part of the South West Coast Path but I absolutely love it and any seasoned hiker will take it in their stride.
If you’re worried though, don’t be too intimidated. Yes, the terrain can be tough (challenges are good!), but if you can avoid strong wind and fog and give yourself plenty of time (maybe plan a much shorter day), I’m sure you’ll succeed.
Reducing anxiety is all about being prepared. Look closely at your map and you’ll see there are plenty of footpaths that head inland. This means that if you do feel out of your depth there are a number of exit points you can take. Most of these lead up to what’s known as the ‘Coffin Path’, which is a very easy, well-marked level footpath that goes directly from St Ives to Zennor.
Amenities In St Ives
- Hostel Accommodation Cohort, St Ives (I haven’t stayed here, so can’t give a personal recommendation)
- Full town facilities Including groceries, convenience stores (including a Co-op), chemist, post office, bakeries, banks, plus plenty of cafes, takeaways and restaurants
- Tate St Ives There’s an excellent cafe with stunning views, even if you’ve got no time for art (there’s no charge to visit the cafe)!
- Camping Supplies Mountain Warehouse and Trespass
- Public toilets There are a number around the town, including the harbour and Porthmeor beach right on the trail
- Water Fountain Find it on the public toilet building near the RNLI Lifeboat Station/harbour
- Travel: St Ives train station is a 10-minute journey from St Erth on the mainline between Penzance and London Paddington. For local bus services check First Kernow and Go Cornwall. There are plenty of routes between St Ives and main towns like Penzance, Redruth and Truro, as well as more local journeys. The bus station is close to the train station.
- Town Website One St Ives
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More Sections And Other Walks That Include St Ives And West Penwith
Lots more photos of West Penwith: The Women’s End2End Relay: I Did it!
The previous coast path section: Porthtowan And Portreath To Hayle (with details to extend To St Ives)
The Tinner’s Way – 8 Of The Best Ancient Sites In Cornwall – a 17-mile point to point walk from St Ives to St Just
The St Michael’s Way – this 11 to 13-mile coast-to-coast walk starts in Lelant, but there’s an alternative start in St Ives
Rugged and wild, the cliffs around Zennor inspire that ‘edge-of-the-world’ feeling as you watch the waves crashing below. That feeling’s even stronger if you have time to head up the track to the village.
Zennor is caught between the moors of West Penwith, strewn with neolithic sites, and the imposing coast, hunkering down against exposure on all sides
Needless to say, there’s a lovely pub that’s always worth a visit whatever the weather!
Amenities In Zennor
The Tinners Arms pub (I love it!) is just a mile off the path. It’s a small, ancient pub with an excellent large, garden. There’s also the National Trust’s Zennor Chapel Cafe, a stone’s throw from the pub.
Wild Camp No. 1, Somewhere Near Pendeen
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Day 2, On To Porthcurno
After I packed up I walked to Pendeen Watch (lighthouse) and had breakfast overlooking this fantastic view. I don’t think I ever felt more smug haha!
Levant, Geevor And Botallack Mines
The walk from Pendeen is stuffed full of the most dramatic industrial scenes on the entire hike, but,
Sometimes I think it can feel pretty eery along here with all these buildings and mine spoil but no sign of life
Geevor: Count House Cafe (just off the path)
Ballowall Barrow And Then Cape Cornwall
Just along the path from Botallack is the bronze age Ballowall Barrow — an extraordinary site that’s almost hidden behind bracken. Take a minute to soak up the atmosphere, listen to the insects and birds and look out for other wildlife.
“I saw a pair of choughs, a couple of lizards, small coppers [butterflies], a Kestral sat on the rocks…”
The next breathtaking sight is Cape Cornwall, which was once thought to be the most westerly point of the UK. Once you get here you know Land’s End isn’t far away. Contain your excitement though, because although Land’s End is a big milestone on The South West Coast Path, Cape Cornwall is definitely the better place to be!
Amenities At Cape Cornwall And St Just In Penwith
- Cape Cornwall Public toilets (National Trust) and Little Wonder Cafe
- St Just town centre is about 1.25 miles along a lane from Cape Cornwall. It’s a lovely little place and there are plenty of services including public toilets, convenience stores, pubs, cafes, takeaways, post office, chemist etc. There are also regular buses to St Ives and Penzance – check First Kernow and Go Cornwall
Porth Nanven And Cot Valley
Porth Nanven is a geological wonder with a raised boulder beach that you can clearly see in the cliff face well above sea level. It was formed 120,000 years ago but falls in sea levels have left it high and dry, exposed in the cliff, like layers in a Victoria sponge.
Occasionally the tide is high enough to wash some of the smooth, oval-shaped boulders back down to the present-day beach. This makes it a fun place to explore and explains its wonderful nickname: Dinosaur Egg Beach. I love it!
As ever though, it was the intense colours and crystal clear sea that took my breath away. (If I had a pound for every time I said ‘oh wow!’ on this hike I’d be wealthy by now!)
And looking ahead…
Eventually, as Land’s End draws near, you walk round towards Gwynver Beach and Sennen Cove and the hiking becomes a bit easier.
Well, I say that.
I remember being dehydrated and my legs feeling like lead as I walked across ankle-deep sand on Gwynver Beach
I couldn’t get to Sennen fast enough. And once I got there I collapsed on a bench overlooking the sea and filled up with a disappointing pasty and loads of sugary drinks.
I took my time at Sennen. I was in no hurry to walk the next mile or so because I knew what was ahead — and it’s not pleasant!
Amenities At Sennen Cove
- Sennen Cove Public toilets, convenience store, pubs, cafes, takeaways
- For bus services to Penzance check First Kernow and Go Cornwall
Land’s End To Penzance
Section 2 (Approximately 16.5 Miles)
What’s after Sennen then?
Land’s End. It’s feckin horrible!
Why? It’s 100% down to the hideous theme park that virtually touches the edge of the cliff. Most of us wish it could have been built just that little bit further on and ended up on the rocks at the bottom.
I’m old enough to remember what it was like before this diabolical development was given planning permission, and it’s completely destroyed the atmosphere of a really special and spectacular natural environment.
Keep your eyes out to the horizon, stick your fingers in your ears and don’t look back for the next mile!
Nanjizal — And breathe!
Amenities At Land’s End
- Public toilets, cafe, pub… plus lots of hideousness!
- YHA Land’s End (I’ve not stayed here so can’t give a recommendation)
- Bus services to Penzance.
Porthcurno (Wild Camp Number 3)
“My tent was flapping like crazy as I set up – difficult to pitch it on sloping, stony ground. I needn’t have worried though because there was barely a whisper of breeze last night and I slept right through. I woke up just before my alarm and opened the tent to a magical sunrise over the rocks that are Porthcurno. Serene doesn’t really begin to describe it… I watched a pair of swifts flitting and diving in silhouette against a brushed pink and yellow sky. The gulls were crying and songbirds giving it their all.
“…I took almost an hour to get packed up and on my way”.
Day 3, From Porthcorno And On To Penzance
Porthcurno is really special. It feels remote, far away from the rest of the world, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a popular place. The soft golden sands, emerald sea and soaring cliffs bring summer daytrippers in their droves. You can imagine then what a privilege it was to have it to myself on such a gloriously sunny morning. (It was early though!)
In fact, I only met one other person. I could see him exercising as I descended the steep steps down to the beach. It turned out he’d been hiking the whole trail throughout lockdown (“The only problem has been getting water, but I just ask at farms and people are really kind”); I guessed he was in his early 70s:
“…press-ups, tricep dips, swimming, running…incredibly toned and muscular physique, like a 20-year-old. He had a tick of sticking his tongue out as he spoke. Possibly the most boring man ever!!!”
As I left Porthcurno grey clouds began to roll in and the rest of the day was pretty overcast. That is until I got to Mousehole a few hours later — when it started chucking it down!
Amenities In Porthcurno
- Public toilets
- Porthcurno Beach Cafe
- The Minack Open Air Theatre is well worth a visit (it’s open during the day when there are no performances)
- Buses to Penzance. Check First Kernow and Go Cornwall
Lamorna Cove, Mousehole and Newlyn
“I’ve been sat here in Lamorna close to an hour I should think. Well, 2 caffeine energy drinks and 1 cup of coffee and cream tea later. I think I’m ready to head on to Mousehole now. I’ll probably shake the whole way there – I didn’t realise the 2 cans of drink I had were full of caffeine!”
By the time I got to Mousehole there was a fine mizzle, and by the time I got to Penzance it was chucking it down — I got soaked to the skin in just 3.5 miles. Not bad after almost 40 miles of glorious sunshine, but I can’t deny I was tempted to get a bus into town. Still, I figured it was all part of the experience, and a hike’s a hike, so I hiked to the end!
The walk from Mousehole through Newlyn to Penzance is on tarmac, and right beside a busy road. It’s not much fun, especially when you’re getting soaked by cars, but there are good views of Mount’s Bay and St Michael’s Mount.
Walking through Newlyn is interesting though (it’s England’s largest fishing port), as long as you’re ok with the stench of fish!
Look out for Jubilee Pool further along the sea-front too — it’s a stunning art-deco sea pool — synchronised swimming anyone?!
Right around here you can take a left up Chapel Street (fabulous architecture and the Admiral Benbow pub) to Penzance town centre, which runs parallel to the seafront. To be honest, unless you’re a purist, the walk through the town is much more interesting than walking beside the enormous car parks on the seafront that line the South West Coast Path.
Amenities in Lamorna Cove, Mousehole and Newlyn
- Lamorna Cove: Public toilets, Lamorna Cove Cafe and pub (the Lamorna Wink) — there’s also a free water tap on the wall outside the cafe
- Mousehole: Public toilets, small convenience store, cafes, pubs, takeaways, buses to Penzance
- Newlyn: Co-op, Duke Street Cafe (lovely!), pubs, takeaways, mobile post office, buses to Penzance
Amenities In Penzance
- Hostel Accommodation YHA Penzance (Again, I haven’t stayed here, so can’t give a personal recommendation)
- Full town facilities (The main shopping street is just off the coast path, but runs parallel to it.) There are convenience stores/mini supermarkets (including a Co-op and Tesco Express), bakeries, banks, plus cafes, takeaways, restaurants, pubs and so on (I can recommend the ancient (17thc) and quirky Admiral Benbow)
- Camping Supplies Mountain Warehouse and Millets
- Public toilets There are various around the town including South Pier and the bus station (on the coast path itself)
- Travel: Penzance railway station is on the mainline to London Paddington. For local bus services check First Kernow and Go Cornwall. The bus station is beside the railway station with services to main towns like St Ives Redruth, Truro, etc, as well as more local journeys
- Town Website Penzance Online
More Info For Backpackers Hiking In West Penwith
Rough Daily Mileage
These are the miles of the SWCP path I walked but don’t include my wanderings (including a couple of miles into Zennor etc).
It’s fairly straightforward to do this hike over 2 days, although there’s some tough walking so give yourself plenty of time if you do. If you’ve got the time though stay out for 2 nights – it’s totally worth it. There’s so much to see and explore, whether you spend some time in St Ives or Penzance, head into Zennor for a pint, or explore the mining landscape at places like Botalllack.
- Day 1: 12 miles
- Day 2: 16 miles
- Day 3: 12 miles
Wild Camping In West Penwith
Wild camping without the landowner’s permission is against the law. However, as you can see, it is possible along this section for solo hikers (or couples) if you’re discreet and respectful. (Don’t camp anywhere near St Ives or Penzance, or any of the hamlets along the way – there are lots of short walks in these areas that are popular with tourists.) Make sure you use the public toilets along the route and leave everything as you find it.
Please read these detailed guides to caring for the environment and personal safety before you go:
I spent £48.95 in total.
£9.80 on single rail fares out from Truro to St Ives, and return from Penzance to Truro (with a Devon and Cornwall railcard). However, I’d forgotten that you can get a return ticket to St Ives but come back from Penzance – ie on the same ticket.
If I’d done that and bought an ‘Open Return’ (which means you can return anytime within a calendar month) I would have made a significant saving. Today (March 2022), an Open Return to St Ives with a Devon and Cornwall rail card costs just £5.25 (and £8.00 without).
£13.95 on takeaway food: a bag of chips, 2 x pasties and a cream tea (not all at the same time!)
£25.20 on drinks – specifically canned soft drinks and bottled water, plus 2 x ice lollies.
A Note On Water
I was totally shocked at the price of bottled water, I mean “f&*$*k”ng hell” type shocked! But I had no choice as it was extremely hot and I couldn’t find many places to fill up for free.
Don’t be caught out like I was and carry plenty with you: take advantage of the free water fountain in St Ives and the tap on the wall outside Lamorna Cove cafe. Also,
I don’t recommend using a water filter – any streams are likely to have come through farmland or are polluted from mines
Fancy A Longer Hike? Here’s How To Extend It Across The West Penwith Countryside
Make The Hike Into A Circular Route
If you have some extra time, why not extend your hike with this 13-mile or so coast-to-coast walk?
The St Michael’s Way (sometimes known as St Ives to Penzance walk) is the perfect way to make your South West Coast Path hike into a circular route. Instead of finishing in Penzance, you carry on a couple of miles to Marazion and then walk back across the countryside to St Ives.
This well-signposted trail winds its way across the Cornish countryside, but it has spectacular views out to the coast most of the way.
This isn’t the verdant type of countryside you might expect to see in other parts of the country either. West Penwith is wilder and windswept, fields are small, rough and strewn with boulders. Ribbons of ancient Cornish hedges are filled with wildflowers, and springs bubble through the earth into sparkling streams through lovely woodland.
You can even see both the north and south coasts from the top of Trencrom Hill. It’s an ancient landscape with standing stones, myths and legends, and mining history in abundance, and one I totally recommend.
The St Michael’s Way is marked on the OS map as a national trail, but if you follow the link to my article you’ll also find my GPS file which you can download for free from OS maps.
Thanks For Reading About This Awesome Hike In West Penwith!
St Ives to Penzance – what did you think? Are you ready to head to West Penwith? (Did I just hear you put your rucksack in the car?!) Or maybe you’ve found it helpful for planning your thru-hike of the South West Coast Path? I really hope you feel inspired and will get out there and enjoy it as much as I do!
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