A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

  1. Lizard Point
  2. Geology: continental collisions
  3. Flora and Fauna
  4. Heritage: lifeboats and lighthouses
  5. Beach
  6. Walks

Lizard Point is famed as being the most southerly point on the British mainland, but this is only one of the many reasons tens of thousands of visitors take in the fresh sea air here every year. Extraordinary cliffs and rock formations mixed with an abundance of wildflowers, birds and marine life mean there is never a dull moment when exploring the most southerly point.

 

PHOTO6 1009345

Lizard Point

No matter your interest, Lizard Point can deliver an experience for everyone. Aerial displays by the rare Cornish chough, the sight of a sleeping seal ‘bottling’ in the water, the ever-changing and dramatic weather, the rich history of the lifeboats and shipwrecks or a stroll along the coast path, there’s no limit in this landscape.

Local naturalist Tony Blunden has put together this walk describing where to see which birds around Lizard Point, throughout the year. If wildflowers or local history are of greater interest to you, a variety of different walks are described on the walks page.

 

Facilities

Beach: Polpeor Beach is a small, tidal beach located beneath Lizard Point and accessible by a slipway.
Parking: Large National Trust car park. Open year round.
Café: Cafés and shops open in season
Toilets: Adjacent to National Trust car park
Activities: Walks, wildlife watching, geocaching

 

Lizard Point is a great place to discover how continents are created and for investigating the geology of The Lizard.

The Lizard

The southern part of the peninsula is a complex mix of serpentinite, schist, gabbro and granite. These rocks are over 600 million years old. The serpentine rock for which The Lizard is famous is all that remains of an ancient ocean floor, into which other igneous rocks were intruded. As the earth’s tectonic plates moved, what now forms The Lizard was welded onto continental rocks in the mid-Devonian period (roughly 385 million years ago). During the Tertiary period (from about 65 million years ago), the peninsula was submerged beneath the sea, and the subsequent erosion levelled the rocks to produce the plateau we see today. This exposed marine platform is an example of an ophiolite.

PHOTO2 Waves ManOWar ChrisHunt DSC 0142

A view of the rocks off Lizard Point

The serpentine rock that is widespread across the Lizard peninsula only reaches as far south as Caerthillian Cove on the western coast and Church Cove on the eastern, forming a geological boundary south of which schists dominate.

Lizard Point Screen Shot 2017 05 15 at 15.49.52

Geological map for lizard point

Lizard Point is a great example of what happens when two continents come together. There are three different kinds of rocks on show at Lizard Point.

Mica schist Mica schist is a metamorphic rock made from quartz and a layered silicate mineral known as mica. This form of schist makes up the rock below your feet as you stand at the most southerly point and as you walk west and north along the coastal path towards Caerthillian Cove. From the old lifeboat station at Polpeor Cove you can see for yourself the mica schist foliations spanning the caves and cliffs.

PHOTO4 LizardNT LizPoint May14 03 Polpeor mica schists

Granite gneiss Mica schist is often found alongside gneiss formations. The southwestern tip of the peninsula illustrates a gradient between mica schist and granite gneiss, whilst a majority of the rocks made visible at low tide are granite gneiss. The oldest granite gneiss visible from the most southerly point is the Man of War formed 500 million years ago. These islets were on the northern tip of the supercontinent consisting of Africa and South America when it collided with another supercontinent, formed by Europe and North America, 350 million years ago.

PHOTO5 DSC 4544The islets off lizard point

Hornblende schist The rocky cliffs to the east of Lizard Point are again schist but of a different form. Whilst mica schist was formed by the metamorphosing of sediments, hornblende schist was once as a lava flow which, under extreme temperature and pressure, was altered into the schists we see today. The cliffs beneath the light house all the way to Church Cove are formed from this form of schist.

PHOTO6 1009345

View of the cliffs beneath lighthouse

 

You can read more about the geology of The Lizard here, or pick up a copy of Beneath the Skin of The Lizard, by Robin Bates and Bill Scolding, which details seven coastal walks exploring the geology of the peninsula. We have also included a glossary of geological terms.

The most southerly point is home to an abundance of wildflowers and birdlife, whilst offering a haven for the Atlantic grey seals which live amongst the rocks just off the coast. The National Trust’s Wildlife Watchpoint, opened by volunteers April through September, offers a unique insight into the wildlife at Lizard Point.

Choughs
The iconic Cornish chough disappeared entirely from Cornwall in 1973 after a decline forced by habitat loss and persecution. In the winter of 2001 the birds returned naturally to Cornwall, three of which took up residence on the Lizard. The following spring a pair successfully bred in the Duchy for the first time in over 50 years and the population has been steadily increasing ever since.

Choughs are often seen and heard from the Point and can be spotted all along the coast path spanning both west and east. At least one pair of choughs has nested near to Lizard Point each year since their natural recolonisation in 2001. Watch out for the distinctive red beak and claws and listen for the charismatic ‘cheaow’ that gave them their name.

The RSPB, National Trust and Natural England have been actively involved in the protection of these rare birds across Cornwall. For more information on the Cornish chough conservation network click here.PHOTO7 Liz choughs 2014 NationalTrust TerryThirlaway

Cornish choughs

Seals
Rarely will there be a day when you are unable to see an Atlantic grey seal bobbing around in the water or hauled out on the rocks at low tide. An endangered and protected species, the UK is home to nearly 40% of the global population of grey seals. Seals can be spotted all around the Cornish coast, at sea, hauled on land

There are half a dozen or so local seals which tend to stay close to Lizard Point. On certain days anywhere between ten and twenty seals can be seen hauled out on the rocks south of the Point. Be sure to keep an eye to the water as you walk along the coastal path as seals are often seen swimming close to the cliffs.

The seals at Lizard Point are recorded by a team of dedicated volunteers and can be identified by their unique markings. For more information on the work of these volunteers and about the Atlantic grey seals, visit the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust’s website.PHOTO8 GreySeal NationalTrust TerryThirlaway

Grey seal

Birds Whilst the aerial displays of the Cornish chough can steal the show there are plenty of other species of bird to gain a glimpse of around the Point.

On the rocks to the south often sit herring gulls, lesser- and greater-black backed gulls and kittiwakes, whilst rarer gulls like the yellow-legged gull occasionally make an appearance. Groups of oystercatchers heard before they are seen, fly past. Diving cormorants and shags drying in the sun are a common sight out on the rocks. Further out to sea gannets can be seen flying past on their daily feeding routes whilst a keen eye can catch a view of skuas and shearwaters.

Inland a variety of chats, tits and wagtails can be seen amongst the bushes and on the ground as buzzards and kestrels hover with ease above them. Look out for house martins and swallows throughout the summer and as autumn sets in be sure to look to the skies in search of a murmuration of starlings.

Check out local naturalist Tony Blunden’s walk around Lizard Point to see a variety of birds in every season.
Wildflowers The Lizard is home to a collection of exclusive flowers that are rarely found elsewhere. Species such as wild asparagus, long-headed clover and thyme broomrape are a few of the many plants that have taken up residence near Lizard Point.

Common species around the Point include wild carrot, thrift, bluebells, kidney vetch, sea campion and red campion, rock samphire and sea aster. Less common species can also be found such as autumn squill, wild and fringed rupturewort.

For a more comprehensive history of botany on the peninsula, check out this National Trust article on the magical carpet that springs up on the Lizard every year.PHOTO9 Wildflowers ChrisHunt DSC 0045

Wildflowers

Cetaceans & Big Fish If you have a good eye, a good scope and a calm sea you may be able to spot a group of cetaceans (marine mammals) as they move past Lizard Point. Porpoises are a common sight as they wheel their way across the water, whilst pods of common and bottlenose dolphins can be spotted in the distance. Occasionally these species will swim much closer to the cliffs and produce a spectacular display of acrobatics.

If you are really lucky you may catch a glimpse of a minke whale breaching the surface or orcas as they migrate through our waters.

We regularly see ocean sun, blue fin tuna and the sight of a basking shark feeding along the coast is an experience unlikely to be forgotten.
Invasive Species Blanketing the cliffs near Lizard Point is a pair of invasive plant species native to South Africa. Hottentot fig and purple dewplant cover large areas of the cliff faces both west and east of Lizard Point. Both species act as a carpet completely excluding other plants and lichens from establishing.

Hottentot fig is of particular concern. A single plant can span across areas up to 50 metres and is able to outcompete native plants. Over time the acidity created within the leaves by the way the plant photosynthesises is transferred to the soil beneath. Total eradication is hard to undertake successfully, however it’s important to manage the spread of this invasive species. The National Trust undertakes fig pulling ever year to keep the balance right along the Lizard cliffs.

PHOTO10 175192

Hottentot fig/purple dew plant


The Wildlife Watchpoint

In 2014 the most southerly building was repurposed by The National Trust as a Wildlife Watchpoint. The Watchpoint is opened daily by volunteers from April until September each year. Alongside talking to visitors, volunteers record sightings of birds, marine mammals, insects and reptiles contributing to national wildlife recording schemes. Volunteers are on hand with binoculars and telescopes free for you to use to get great views of the local wildlife. More information on the Watchpoint can be found here.PHOTO11 WP group and building man o war 2016 Steve Haywood DSC 4056

The wildlife watchpoint at lizard point

Further information

To find out more about the flora and fauna on the Lizard use the wildlife icons on the natural history page.

Lizard Point, from the Cornish Lys Ardh meaning High Court, has a rich history including an abundance of maritime heritage. Famed as being the first location that the Spanish Armada was observed from mainland Britain in 1588, more recent history tells tales of shipwrecks and feats of bravery by the lifeboats established in 1859.

Lizard Point is now visited by tens of thousands of holidaymakers each year who come to take in the landscape, wildlife and local history. This tourism alongside the older practices of farming and fishing continues to shape the Point today.

Lifeboat Station

Before the lifeboat station was moved to Kilcobben Cove, near Church Cove on the eastern coast of the Lizard, in 1961 the Lizard Lifeboat Station was located at Polpeor. Polpeor lifeboat station opened in 1859 in response to the wrecking of a transport ship off Bass Point, just east of Lizard Point. The Anne Marie became the first lifeboat to operate from the station. In the 102 years that the old lifeboat station was in operation over 40 rescues were undertaken in which lives were saved. A famous example is the SS Suevic which hit a reef in 1907. 456 lives were saved over a 16 hour period by the crew rowing from the Lizard. The current station at Kilcobben welcomes visitors to take a look around the station. Read more here.PHOTO12 120739

 Lifeboat station at polpeor

Shipwrecks

You only have to stand at the most southerly point and look towards sea at low tide to appreciate how dangerous the waters around Lizard Point are to ships. The expanse of rocky reefs is extremely treacherous for the ships in this busy shipping lane. In the past when navigational aids were not as advanced as they are today many a ship ran foundered on the rocks.

An infamous example of a shipwreck near Lizard Point occurred in 1791 when the Royal Anne ran aground and her 207 crewmates lost their lives. The bodies of the victims are thought to have been buried in Pistil Meadow just a short walk west of Lizard Point. As recently as 2013 boats have run into trouble off the Lizard.

Find out more about land-use and archaeology on The Lizard here. 

Lighthouse and YHA

A beacon was first constructed at Lizard Point in 1619 by the Killigrew family who recognised the dangers off the Point. The lighthouse as it is seen today was constructed over a century later and was opened in 1751. In 1771 Trinity House assumed responsibility for the lighthouse and have run it ever since. The original coal lights were replaced in 1811 with oil lights. Over the next century the lighthouse was expanded and an engine room constructed. A carbon arc was fitted in 1903 and replaced with an electric filament lamp in 1936. The last lighthouse keepers left in 1998 once the entire process was automated. A heritage centre was opened, adjacent the lighthouse, in 2009 and can be explored in the summer months. For opening times and more information visit the Trinity House website.

Just beneath the lighthouse is a youth hostel run by the YHA and owned by The National Trust. The building was originally a Victorian hotel. Visit the YHA website for more information on staying at the YHA at Lizard Point.PHOTO13 67145

Lighthouse

Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Station

Guglielmo Marconi was a Nobel Prize winning engineer who, in December 1901, successfully achieved the first ever transatlantic wireless transmission by sending a signal from Poldhu on the west coast of the Lizard to Newfoundland in Canada. Earlier in 1901 it was at his Lizard Wireless Station (near Lizard Point) that Marconi received a wireless radio message from over the horizon, an unprecedented feat. The message was picked up from St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, 186 miles away.

In 2001 the National Trust restored the small building which once housed Marconi’s experiments into a museum. More details on the Lizard Wireless Station, its opening times and the nearby Poldhu Marconi Centre are available on the National Trust’s website.PHOTO14 183995

Marconi wireless station

Polpeor Beach

On the western side of the most southerly point a slipway makes it way down to the old lifeboat station and then on to Polpeor Beach. The beach itself is a small shingle beach that is completely covered at high tide. A small fleet of fishing boats launch from the beach.PHOTO15 PolpeorNT4 BarryBatchelor

 Polpeor beach

The beach isn’t ideal for a lazy beach day with a bucket and spade, but once on the beach you get a great view out west along the coast and towards the Shag Rock and Man o’ War islets. Keep an eye out for the seals which swim amongst the rocks and, at low tide, often haul out on the rocks nearby.

At low tide lots of rock pools become exposed near to the beach. Whilst rock pooling can be great fun, be careful: the tide can come in quick and cut you off. For tide times visit here.

 

TOP TIPS for rookpooling:

• The beach is only accessible when the tide is out and nearby caves and rocks quickly become surrounded by water as the tide comes in, so please check tide times before you start exploring.
• Leave the rocky pools as you found them for others to enjoy. Don’t paddle or throw things in them, always put rocks back in the same place, and be gentle with any animals. If you pick them up, return them to the same spot.
• Don’t be tempted to take any of the beach pebbles away with you.
• Please take your litter home with you.
• Don’t get too close to the cliffs.