So… you came to West Cornwall to get away from it all?
That can be tricky in the height of summer on our most popular beaches.
On our high spots, on the other hand? Now you’re talking. Just a stone’s throw from Penzance sit five remote hills where you’ll take in huge swathes of handsomely rugged Cornish moorland. And you’ll have them almost entirely to yourself.
These bewitching hills are scattered with granite boulders, and washed in purple heathers and golden gorse. They are also home to many of the 700 or so Neolithic and Bronze Age structures across the 115 miles of West Penwith.
Here’s five of the best hills near Penzance.
Chapel Carn Brea
Where is it? Between St Buryan and St Just. There’s a decent-sized car park at the bottom of the hill.
Postcode for satnav: TR19 6JD
Height above sea level: 198m
We’ll start… at the end.
Chapel Carn Brea is considered the first and last hill in England from a westerly perspective. And what a way to start / finish. From the National Trust car park, it’s a deceptively gradual climb to the summit. But when you reach the top and gaze over the fields and yawning Atlantic beyond, the view is spectacular. There’s an end-of-the-land, elegiac vibe to this spot that will surely unleash your most poetic thoughts and emotions.
It also echoes with rich, deep history. You will stumble upon monuments constructed thousands of years ago by our ancient cousins. There’s evidence of Neolithic and early Bronze Age activity – including a rare chambered cairn grave and a long cairn of stacked stones that may also have served as a burial site or landmark.
Chapel Carn Brea is also home to a midsummer fire tradition, which revives the pagan custom of lighting a fire here on the longest day of the year. It is the first of a chain of beacons that stretch across hills to near the Devon border.
Incidentally, the chapel that gives the hill its name and was said to be the home of holy men, was pulled down in 1816.
Where is it? Near Lelant. There is a small car park at the base of the hill.
Postcode for satnav: TR27 6NJ
Height above sea level: 175m
For many a west Cornwall native, Tren Crom isn’t a hill, it’s THE hill. As soon as we can walk, we’re clambering up the smooth rounded granite boulders (picking blackberries on the way in late summer) until we reach the top.
Once you get there, you truly understand what a slight and salty spit of land we live on here in the West. You’ll get spectacular views of St Ives Bay to the North, with the long sands of Hayle beach curving like a cutlass in the sun. Then, spin to the South and you’ll look over the other coast to Mount’s Bay and the legendary St Michael’s Mount. Two coasts for the price of one view.
There’s so much to discover here. The site is an Iron Age hill fort. Two entranceways to the enclosure and several hut circles are still very much evident. Atop the rocky outcrops, you’ll find the giant’s footprints – worn areas of granite resembling large foot indents. Legends abound of fights between the Big Folk here, hurling rocks at one another. In fact, Trecobben, the giant of Trencrom, was supposed to have killed fellow giant Cormelian by throwing a hammer across to St Michael’s Mount at her.
On a related note, you’ll also find the Giant’s Well on the West side of the hill, but – please – don’t drink the water. Not only is it unsanitary, but we have it on the best authority that Trecobben is known to hurl water thieves as far as Sancreed.
Where is it? A short walk inland from Zennor. Parking is available in the village.
Postcode for satnav: TR26 3BZ
Height: 241m above sea level
West Cornwall moors are a misty swirl of myths and legends. Weird goings on. ‘Keep to the path,’ kind of stuff, for lovers of An American Werewolf in London references.
And nowhere encapsulates that more than Zennor Hill. The ancients were here (it’s a hill in West Cornwall – of course they were) and you’ll spot the distinctive Zennor Quoit, a ruined megalithic burial chamber from circa 2500-1500 BC. According to some, the chamber was used for the burial and the exterior stones for laying out the dead bodies before internment, so the birds could devour the flesh. So far, so creepy.
‘But that was millennia ago,’ you say. ‘Nothing to bother us now in… Wait… HANG ON A MINUTE. What’s that creepy-looking ruined house over there?’
Ah. That house.
According to local legend, the dilapidated house on top of Zennor Hill was the home of Aleister Crowley, a man who referred to himself as Beast 666 and who was described in the press as ‘the wickedest man in the world’. In other words, not the kind of man you’d introduce to Mother.
He is said to have summoned the devil on the hill and – despite no hard evidence of Crowley (or the devil for that matter) having been here – locals are known to have had, shall we say, ‘odd encounters’ near the house.
Anyway, spawning Satan aside, Zennor Hill is a glorious spot. In our view, it’s the real epicentre of Penwith Moor with its burgundies and browns and splashes of yellow gorse and purple heather.
But for God’s sake, keep to the path.
Where is it? 3 miles west of Zennor. A car park serves both Carn Galva and Bosigran Cliffs.
Postcode for satnav: TR20 8YX
Height above sea level: 249m
Consider the humble hedge. No, seriously, stay with us on this one. Because when you climb to the top of Carn Galva, you can gaze across manmade stone and earth boundaries thought by experts to be up to 4000 years old. That’s as ancient as the Egyptian pyramids.
In fact, much of Penwith Moor is carved up by these ancient features – there’s up to 5000 miles of them – but this spot at Carn Galva is a great one to take them in.
The hill itself is the site of a Neolithic enclosure believed to be 5000-6000 years old and you’ll get far-reaching views of the moor and the coast. While you visit Carn Galva, you can also enjoy a bonus walk out to Bosigran from the same car park. This stunning, precipitous cliff looks over the raging Atlantic. On your journey from the car park and through the fields, you’ll also see many familiar monuments to the Cornish mining industry.
Where is it? 1.5 miles from St Just. A large, well-situated car park looks high over the sea below. (Great for a winter’s day car picnic.)
Postcode for satnav: TR19 7NN
Height above sea level: 59m
Cape Cornwall is one of only two capes in England.
Which prompts the question: what’s a cape? Answer: it’s a point of land where two bodies of water meet, in this case the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.
With that cleared up, you can enjoy a lovely climb up this satisfyingly shaped little hill with its spire monument on top. That, by the way, is the 1864 chimney of the former Cape Cornwall mine which operated here.
As with other West Cornwall hills, there’s evidence of Bronze Age and Iron Age history, but in truth the real draw of Cape Cornwall is the immersive oceanic experience. Striding onto the cape really can feel like walking out into the sea. On a blustery winter’s Sunday, as you scramble to the top and then descend and circumnavigate the hill, you’ll feel the cold spray prick your face and taste the salt on your lips. And you’ll be alive in a way you never would have been sitting at home watching Antique’s Roadshow.
One last detail. Look out for Charles De Gaulle in the bath. Two rocks called The Brisons are said to bear a resemblance to the French president. From a certain angle, it looks like he’s sinking back in a bath, nose and tummy proudly protruding from the ocean.
And with that striking image, we wish you many a happy climb in West Penwith. And a relaxing evening back in Penzance afterwards, getting out of your hiking boots and into a local pub or restaurant for your post-walk reward.
Love Penzance is the definitive online guide to the best places to stay, eat, drink and shop in our beautiful portside town. Why not plan your trip with us and then make Penzance your base for adventures into the great Penwith Moors.