Mullion in winter light

Exploring the Lizard’s Geology

- September 2, 2020 -

Out on its own and almost an island, the Lizard Peninsula has its own wild beauty and unique character. Its lush fields and heathland are never more than seven miles from the coast, and its waters always seem especially turquoise. The diverse Lizard has so much to recommend it: it’s home to Goonhilly Downs, choughs, Ann’s Pasties, Poldark shoots, shipwrecks, heathland, rich agricultural land, beautiful coves… We could go on.


However, one of the things that draws many visitors to this beautiful place is its unique geology. As we’ve said before, we’re not geologists; however, we are walkers, so we know how to reach some of the Lizard’s best spots!


Here’s a quick outline of what makes the peninsula so special, and a selection of Cornish walking holidays that take in the Lizard’s geology.

Mullion Cove cliffs
Snakes and Lizards


The Lizard is most famous for its swathes of serpentine. Serpentinite is a metamorphic rock made up from a group of serpentine minerals. It has a smooth texture and is often green, which is why it’s named after the slippery snake. It’s found in different forms around the world, and the variation found on The Lizard is called “lizardite”.

Another rock to look out for on the Lizard is the igneous gabbro. Originally formed deep below the oceanic crust, it’s named after the Tuscan hamlet where it was first identified. It’s a coarse, crystalline rock: look out for sheets of gabbro at Coverack. The Lizard is also unusual for its gabbroic clay, from the St Keverne area. From archaeological evidence, it was a material of choice among Neolithic Lizard dwellers.

serpentine rocks at Kynanance Cove
Getting Close to the Lizard’s Geology


As we all know, the best way to get close to nature is to leave the car and set out on foot. Some of our walking holidays take you close to the Lizard’s exposed serpentinite and gabbro (as well as lots of other beautiful sights).


Searching for Serpentine: Marazion to Lizard

The best place to see lizardite in situ is in Kynance Cove. The cove is worth a visit in itself, with its golden sands and shallow, crystal waters, it looks more Mediterranean than British.

Several of our walks pass close to Kynance. We could have chosen any of them, however this relatively short three-day walking day holiday is perfect for a long weekend, and takes in some stunning places in a compact area.

Kynance Cove

Leave the coast path and head down the cliffs onto the beach. You can see the beautiful green and red rock in the cove’s cliffs. Serpentine rocks have been popular as ornaments for a long time (they say Queen Victoria was a fan), and there are still serpentine turners in Lizard village, which you’ll reach at the end of this tour.


Spotting Gabbro on The Lizard: Marazion to Coverack

There are steep sheets of gabbro on the cliffs at Coverack, which is the end point of this gorgeous four-day walk. Gaze out to see and you’ll also see The Manacles, a reef renowned as a ship wrecker. You’ll also pass through St Keverne, once mined for its clay.

As well as geology, this walk is characterised by pretty coves and tree-lined valleys. With its tiny harbour and thatched cottages, Cadgwith Cove is one of the prettiest places in Cornwall.

Cadgwith fishing cove at low tide
The Whole Peninsula: St Ives to Helford Moors


Of course, you can always book onto this fantastic ten-day walking holiday, and see the whole of the Lizard. You’ll also take in the Penwith peninsula, so you can contrast its stark granite beauty with the Lizard’s gentler terrain. It ends in Helford, one of the few places where you can buy genuine serpentinite souvenirs.


The Lizard is one of our favourite places in Cornwall, and if you’ve never been before, we really recommend you come and explore its beautiful coastline. If you want to know more about Cornwall’s geology, add on a visit to Truro and spend a fascinating afternoon in the Royal Cornwall Museum.


To find out more about our walking tours of the Lizard, have a look at our website, and contact us with any questions.

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