Land’s End Peninsula
The Land’s End Peninsula, more properly known as the Penwith Peninsula including the Penwith Heritage Coast, is one of the several large chunks of Cornwall that stick out like a sore thumb, geographically speaking, and resemble islands in their own right. Only, they’re not islands; they’re firmly adhering to the mainland. That’s what peninsula means…
Exactly where the landward side of the peninsula ends is open to debate, but for convenience, we’re defining the area as the civil parish of Penwith, approximately from St Michael’s Mount (Marazion) on the south coast to the Godrevy headland on the north.
Out on a limb at the very south-west tip of the county, the travel situation is pretty clear. Just keep heading west until you get there! Land’s End has an airport of its own, but commercial flights there are only to and from the Scilly Isles, so unless you have a plane or charter one, you won’t be flying to Land’s End from the mainland. You can easily arrive by train, with the mainline from London Paddington terminating at Penzance, including the famous Night Riviera Sleeper service! A comprehensive bus service connects Penzance with St Just, St Ives and Sennen.
Like much of Cornwall, Penwith has a lot of well-preserved megaliths, Bronze to Iron Age remains and Celtic settlements that date back to Roman times. It’s also the last place in Cornwall where Cornish (Kernewek) was spoken as the primary language. The last true Cornish speakers passed away in the late 18th century, but Chesten Marchant from Gwithian, d. 1676 is believed to the very last monoglot (sole language) speaker of Cornish.
The Penwith economy was founded upon mining and pilchard fishing, and deteriorated rapidly with the decline of those two industries. Surprisingly the population of the area has stayed fairly stable since, but tourism has supplanted the traditional businesses and rejuvenated the economy. In more recent years, the pilchard trade has benefited from the rebranding of the diminutive fish as “Cornish sardines”.
One of our favourite stories from Penwith is that of the Logan Rock, which sits atop the cliffs a short walking distance from the village of Treen. Centuries ago the eighty-ton granite boulder could be rocked by applying very little force, yet it was thought by geologists and naturalists that the rock could not be toppled from its position. In 1894, Lieutenant Hugh Goldsmith R.N. (nephew of the famous poet Oliver Goldsmith) set out to disprove this theory. With some fellow crew members of HMS Nimble, they sent the boulder tumbling down the cliff side. At this time Treen was very much a tourist destination, with most of those visitors coming to see the rocking boulder, so Lieutenant Goldsmith’s actions somewhat affronted the local residents. Not unreasonably they demanded that he return the boulder to its original position at his own expense. After months of work and watched by thousands of spectators (and this time with the help of more than sixty men) the Logan Rock was finally recovered to its rocking spot at the top of the cliffs. The original receipt for the cost of restoring the rock can be viewed at the Logan Rock Inn.
The tip of Kernow enjoys in spades the sub-tropical climate we talk about so much. You can look forward to a very un-British warmth and all day sun. Deep valleys like Lamorna sustain large exotic trees, and Morrab Gardens in Penzance can grow bananas. For all the climate information for Cornwall, why not have a look at our weather page?
Towns and Villages
The large settlements of Penwith are Newlyn/Penzance on the south coast and Hayle/St Ives on the north. Both are very popular holiday resorts and have all the modern facilities and high street shops. Aside from this the region is predominantly rural, and its many small villages include, in alphabetical order, Botallack, Carbis Bay, Crowlas, Drift, Gulval, Gwithian, Lamorna, Lelant, Levant, Long Rock, Ludgvan, Madron, Marazion, Morvah, Mousehole, Nancledra, Paul, Penberth, Pendeen, Porthcurno, Sancreed, Sennen, St Buryan, St Erth, St Hilary, St Just, St Levan and Zennor.
Special Things to Do and Visit
Land’s End itself is the most westerly point on the British mainland. That makes it worth visiting, period. St Michael’s Mount, too, is a unique and wonderful tourist attraction, with its tidal walkway and an otherworldly feel to it.
The neolithic, roofed megalith of Lanyon Quoit and the unusual toroidal or doughnut-shaped one in the Men-an-Tol standing stone formation are a sight to behold and a selfie to be taken, and both are to be found in this part of Cornwall. The Merry Maidens standing stones (one of several stone circles said to be dancers turned to stone for disrespecting the Sabbath) are between Newlyn and Penzance, and the Tregiffian Burial Chamber nearby. Only about three hundred yards/metres from the Maidens, The Pipers are the most massive surviving standing stones in the county. Logan Rock, the famous rocking stone referred to above, is also a good wheeze and a story to tell.
Everyone likes a good lighthouse – Penwith has Pendeen Watch and Tater Du lighthouses, and the Longships lighthouse is visible from Land’s End. We have a great piece all about the lighthouses of Cornwall, here…
The Eden Project is not far from Land’s End, and you simply must go at least once to see its indoor rainforest and other marvellous micro-climates. Trewidden is one of Cornwall’s most famous gardens, steeped in history and effortlessly beautiful. Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens are horticulture meets art; internationally renowned artists have interacted with the gardens to create installations that harmonise with the garden setting.
Paradise Park, near Hayle, is a tropical (and other) bird sanctuary with rare parrots, flamingos, kookaburras and cranes as well as Cornish choughs, owls and other local avians. There’s also a Fun Farm and an indoor Jungle Barn play centre with soft play, slides and fun for all ages.
For the less serious golfers and the very small, Penwith Pitch and Putt is an 18 hole crazy golf course just off the A30 near St Erth. It also boasts the Greenacres Short Course which is a nine-hole affair ranging from 75 to 205 yards for the slightly more grown up among us. For everyone else, there are three excellent full courses for all abilities. West Cornwall Golf Club near Lenant is the oldest in Cornwall, having been established in 1889. Tregenna Castle near St Ives has a challenging 18 hole course surrounding it – this is known as the President’s Golf Course. Cape Cornwall Golf Club is a natural course over farmland and the cliff-tops, featuring all kinds of obstacles including Cornish hedges and abandoned mine-shafts!
With a plethora of traditional harbours on the peninsula, it’s no surprise that there is endless opportunity for boat trips and fishing. Mermaid Pleasure Trips and Bite Adventures at Penzance are both worth checking out, in particular. If you are more of an inland angler, Amalwhidden Farm Coarse Fishery is the place for you, only three miles (5km) from St Ives. Or perhaps Drift Reservoir Trout Fishing, with excellent stocks of Wild Brown and Rainbow trout.
Over recent years water conditions in Mount’s Bay have been improving steadily. This has created one of the best places to scuba dive in the UK. Universities and Scuba clubs from all over the country and abroad descend on Penzance in the summer to descend into the depths around Penwith.
Dive sites in the surrounding seas provide depths to 90ft/27m with a gentle half knot current, tides allowing. The local hotspot is Runnel Stone, with two wrecked steamers and visibility to 170ft/52m. The site is teeming with bass, conger, ling and pollock, as well as smaller fish and crustaceans.
Albert Pier in Penzance houses the headquarters of the Penzance Branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club, and diving air is available there. St Ives, too, is an excellent spot and has a number of dive shops.
The western tip of Cornwall catches all the biggest swells, and this makes it the most consistent, whatever size of wave you are looking for. Add the fact that Penwith has north, south and west facing coasts within close proximity and you have an excellent place to base your surfing trip and indulge your passion. Sennen is out to the west, catching everything the wild Atlantic can throw at us.
To the north, we find the very consistent Porthmeor and the many breaks of St Ives Bay. Gwithian is a world class break and catches some very big swells too, and the Hayle river mouth is an occasional opportunity in a monster swell that can rival the Cribbar in the appropriate conditions. Not far off the peninsula on the south coast, Praa Sands is fast and hollow on the right day, and Porthleven to the east is a big draw for the pro’s and the very brave. All of these spots are within about half an hour if you’re in the Land’s End area. For more about surfing in Cornwall, click here…
The South West Coast Path runs around the SW Peninsula from Dorset to Somerset, and the Penwith sections are both some of the most rugged and exciting and the most replete with history. From the flint tools of prehistoric times to the Poldark country of modern (period) drama, we can walk the whole coast or pick circular routes in and out of one place. Some are very demanding physically, but there are even level-ish trails like the St Ives Town Trail. The Bosigran segment is arguably the toughest of the entire 630 miles (1008km) path, though it is barely a mile (1.6km) long in itself.
For our in-depth treatise on the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, look here…
There are rather a lot of notable beaches on the peninsula. Cot Valley (Porth Nanven Cove) is very unusual and inexplicably beautiful, its giant pebbles giving it to be referred to as “Dinosaur Egg Beach”, which will surely appeal.
Gwithian is one of the premier surfing beaches in the country. More about that below. Porthgwarra is featured in our “Top 5 Picturesque Beaches in Cornwall” (and rightly so), and the multiple beaches of St Ives provide something for everyone in one easy resort destination.
Here’s an almost certainly doomed attempt to list all the beaches on the Penwith Peninsula:
- Carbis Bay
- Hayle – Upton Towans, Beach View, Mexico Towans, Riviere Towans, Hayle Towans
- St Ives – Porthmeor, Porthgwidden, Porthminster and Town Beach, Lambeth Walk Beach, Clodgy Point Beach, Hor Point Beach
- Porthkidney Beach, Lelant
- Lamorna Cove
- Portheras Cove
- Boat Cove
- Mousehole – Salt Ponds and Harbour Beach
- Newlyn – Promenade Beach and Roskilly
- Penzance – Easter Green, Promenade, Wherrytown
- Porth Chapel
- Praa Sands
- Prussia Cove – Bessy’s, Piskies and Kings
Also of interest to naturalists, Hell’s Mouth – despite not being able to access the beach itself, visitors to this imposing wall of 300′ (96m) cliffs can look down on the little cove that is a favourite (and undisturbed) sunbathing spot for seals. There’s a café at the top, too!
Mousehole Harbour Beach has a year-round dog ban. Lamorna, Sennen, Porthcurno and Porthgwarra enforce a seasonal ban (Easter to October, generally), as do the St Ives beaches of Porthmeor, Porthminster and Carbis Bay, Hayle Towans, Gwithian and Godrevy. But all of the other thirty or so beaches welcome our furry friends to this Cornish doggie paradise at any time of year. The South West Coast Path is always open to dogs too, as are the inland outdoor attractions like the moorland megaliths.
Most of the beaches of the peninsula are child-friendly, although some, like Cot Valley, are inaccessible, not sandy, and the rushing tide makes them treacherous at high water. The key is to choose beaches with a car park and preferably toilets near by, and with lifeguard cover if you plan to go in the sea. Our Cornwall Guide can help you here – follow this link
Of course, Cornish Traditional Cottages have self-catering holiday cottages on the Land’s End peninsula as well as across the rest of the county.
Self-catering in the western tip of Cornwall has never been so easy! Check out our Cornwall Guide to discover more about what’s on, where to eat, what to visit and things to do near Land’s End, all from your traditional Cornish cottage.