Peninnis Head St Mary's - Walk 2 by Ed Cumming & Todd Stevens


Peninnis Head is an area of St Mary's which merits its own section.  It is a wild and rugged promontory with rocks and boulders of fantastic shapes both edging the coast and lying inland.  It can be approached from any one of three paths, from Old Town on the east, centrally along King Edward's Road (basically a track) and lastly from Porth Cressa.  In order to best identify the features this description will take the Porth Cressa route and prior to any validation the information presented will be from a number of sources referenced at the end of the section. This is currently identified as Scillypedia Walk No. 2 by Todd Stevens & Ed Cumming.

Take the west path from Porth Cressa which takes you around the allotments; do not take the path up towards Buzza Tower. On this path start your observations once you reach the seat dedicated to John & Sybil Williams just behind the allotments, you are now nearly back on the old coastal path.  Carry on past a field boundary style until you find a small  Cornish Style. This style is at the apex of Stony Porth and is in danger of being eroded away. Climb the hill, to the right is Carn Michael reasonably high mound to the right encloses a grassy retreat called Poet's Corner which may have been named after notable poets known to have visited Scilly, like Milton, Spencer, Dryden, Scott, Swinburne, Morris, or Tennyson.  It could also have been named after Scilly's own poet Robert Maybee who lived close by at Peninnis Mill.

Note:  Talking of Robert Maybee now is the point to mention the eleven rocks which in his memoirs [1] he describes the eleven rocks where he would often go fishing.  He starts with Carn Michael, then we have The Chair, The Murre, Deep Water, High Jolly, Low Jolly, Louise's Rock , New Jolly, Westward Carn Lee and Eastward Carn Lee.  Some we are familiar with but like the inland rocks we will mention shortly, several need to be correctly identified with documentary or local assistance.  These are all presumably against the waters edge and not necessarily  visible while walking the coastal path.

Standing on Poet's Corner you get your first view of Peninnis with the lighthouse just visible behind the inland rocks.  Here you can take one of two paths.  To the left you climb a little up towards a granite wall forming a field boundary.  Here there is a  memorial bench to the memory of Mark Hicks.  It is from here you can see the Sleeping Giant on the top of Carn Michael (May be a poet of course!).  If you carry straight on, nearer the coast you approach the base of the Dutchman's Carn (not described as such by Maybee).  At the end of this Carn is a  large rock island called the 'Chair'. [Note: in an early guide book it is referred to as 'The Bluff'].  Once you have climbed around this base there is a narrow peninsular of rocks called the Inner Head, on the end of which is the distinctive feature called the Monk's Cowl due to a slight resemblance to a hooded head (Also a bit like Kermit the Frog).  Continuing towards the Peninnis Lighthouse, the path approaches a massive rock formation looking so like a double molar. To the left a canine shaped rock called appropriately Tooth Rock. There is a huge grooved boulder below this rock which leaves a triangular gap giving access to a narrow ledge with a sheer drop into the foaming sea below.  This is named Pitt's Parlour said to have been named after a local politician who used the area with his cronies for 'unrestrained discussion'. 

Looking north (according to a nineteen fifties guidebook) there is the Logan's Rock, situated amongst an area referred to by some as the Rock Labyrinth. [2]

"Mention has already been made of the Logan Stone (Note Stone not Rock) on Peninnis Head.  This is situated amongst the Rock Labyrinth below the lighthouse.  It is difficult to find and necessitates a scramble over slippery rocks, but it is well worth the effort.  From the foot the lighthouse, looking to the south, the top half of the Logan Stone can just be seen.  It was discovered in 1893 by an islander who was caught by a squall on the  headland and sheltered in a crevice in the rocks.  To his surprise and consternation, he suddenly felt the solid rock against which he was leaning, move, and more remarkable still, discovered that it could be rocked with a slight exertion of strength.

By measurement the Logan Stone is 15 feet high and is estimated to weigh 313 tons. To demonstrate the motion, insert a match underneath the rock on its west side and push, either from the front or from 'parlour 'behind.  A penny can be bent by the Logan Stone in this way."  See Logan Stones of Scilly

Inland to the north of Tooth (or Tusk Rock) are the rocks called the Kettle & Pans, so named from the large and regularly form rock basins worn to a rounded shape by the action of rainwater. In these 'pans' the Scillonian granite has actually rotted away into its component parts due to its porous nature.  In many cases there is a gully formed which eventually drains the pan. (It is said that these 'pans' were used by the locals to produce salt.  It is also said that the gullies were in fact cut by the Customs men, denying the local population the means to produce their own sea salt.  Which at the time was heavily taxed.  Not proven however!)

Also towards the Lighthouse there are many other named rocks. Within a 100 metres or so the Witch's Head, the Giant's Foot, Walrus Rock, the Laughing Old Man, Sleeping Bear, Toast Rack, Tuskless Elephant and the Nubian's Head.  The identification and exact position of some of these need to be sorted.

Situated to the south of the Lighthouse, towards the sea is the Great Jolly Rock, a vast area of flat topped rock inclining towards the land.  It was on this rock that the Minnehaha of 845 tons, sailing from Falmouth to Dublin loaded with guano, was wrecked in January 1874. The Captain and nine crew lost their lives.

Just west of the Great Jolly Rock are two rather interesting features.  These were noted in early guides but appear to be omitted in later ones; probably on safety grounds!  The first is a blow hole which apparently during a gale is quite spectacular.  Quote the 1950's guide;

 "The sea waves rush in to a narrow gully just on the west side of the Great Jolly Rock, disappear under a large wedged boulder, and emerge under tremendous pressure , through the Blow Hole.  Water is forced up through the small opening and is sent flying off in a cascade of white foam often twenty or thirty yards on to the rocks beyond.  A shallow groove has been worn in the rocks where the water escapes to the sea"

The second feature has what must be one of the most fascinating names in the Isles of Scilly; 'Izzicumpucca'. This is described as "a queer cavern concealed beneath a confusion of overlapping boulders."  One of the peculiarities of Izzicumpucca apart from the name is the queer hollow gurgling noise made by the sea reverberating between the boulders in the recesses of the cavern.

Nearby, and a little more assessable, is a cavern called Piper's Hole (not to be confused with the far more spectacular cavern of the same name on Tresco). This cavern is no more than 10 metres long having a shingle floor, unique to Peninnis Head.  At one time it was a very important source of fresh water. There are some lovely legends associated with these two caverns.  The first is that the two Piper's Holes were once connected by a subterranean passage and, that once upon a time, a terrier dog lost in Piper's Hole at Peninnis succeeded in finding its way to Tresco at the expense of losing most of its hair.  The second is much more believable, which that the cavern is used by the fairies when they visit St Mary's subterranean passage indeed!

The last coastal feature of significance before entering Old Town Bay is the stunning Pulpit Rock.  It has been said that this is the finest example of horizontal decomposition and disintegration of granite in the British Isles.  The rock at the top (resembling the overhang of a church's pulpit) is about 47 feet long.  Far from appearing precariously supported it is in fact very solid.  Continue on to the Old Town Church.  Note the tombstone of the 'Standing Man' near the first entrance, pass over the Cornish Stile, and then explore the churchyard.


[1] - Robert Maybee
[2] - The Isles of Scilly Standard Guide Book c. 1950.



British National Grid

The Williams Seat - SV 90707, 10232

Field Boundary Style - SV 90669, 09998

First of the Cornish Styles - SV 90820, 09861

Poets Corner - SV 90863, 09728

Mark Hicks Seat - SV 90933, 09717

Toast Rack Rock - SV 91060, 09426

Kettle & Pans - SV 91044, 09415

Tooth Rock - SV 91033, 09352

Peninnis Lighthouse - SV 91114, 09376

Birds Head Rock - SV 91117, 09368

Witches Head - SV 91164, 09333

Stand here to see the Crocs Head - SV 91166, 09347

Pipers Hole St Marys - SV 91209, 09427

Pulpit Rock - SV 91323, 09512

King Edward Road Cornish Style - SV 91128, 09598

Old Town Upturned Bowl - SV 91229, 09890

Standing Man Grave - SV 91142, 10047

Old Town Church, Cornish Style - SV 91136, 10054

Ann Cargill Plaque - SV 91094, 10027

Augustus Smith Memorial - SV 91081, 10053

Schiller Memorial - SV 91066, 10042

Harold Wilson's Grave - SV 91096, 10116

NoWhere Pillbox - SV 91207, 10189