Tuesday, 26 April 2011

South West Coast Path Section 19 Newquay - Perranporth

Town Beach
There is no doubt about it – this is surfing country! For my first foray on the North Cornwall coast I picked perhaps the most popular resort of them all, Newquay. There was method in my madness – this is one of the few towns in this part of Cornwall to have a meaningful Sunday bus service and obligingly the Truro service runs via Perranporth, a few miles by road down the coast.
Being Told Off
This was the first of my Cornwall walksfrom my base at Leafy Hollow (http://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/england/e573.htm), near Hayle which turned out to be an excellent and inexpensive place to stay between daily trips out. My goal was to complete as many days in the far west of Cornwall as I could weather permitting during the most unpredictable month of April. The two days I spent in Devon on the way down were excellent warm-ups for what I expected to be a far more challenging workout!
Surfer Dudes
I parked in Perranporth, which despite being out of the main season and on a Sunday was still quite expensive for the day. The bus over to Newquay was rather a long trip, passing as it did through every hamlet and out of the way village on the way and took nearly an hour for the trip that ought to have taken about 15 minutes. Still, as I mused on the way, for once I had almost no timetable whatsoever today – I even had a 24 hour parking ticket! My only deadline was the time at which it was likely to get dark tonight, around 8pm if my instincts were correct.
Newquay Harbour
With that in mind I didn’t rush to start the day’s walking, choosing instead to amble around Newquay which despite the bad press it gets, I found to be a rather agreeable place. Of course it helped that the weather conditions were once again stunning and if anything better than yesterday! I bought myself a paper and found a nice seat, but reading didn’t come as naturally as I’d hoped, partly as I seemed to have stumbled into some kind of mating ritual put on by a couple of the local starlings! Their courtship provoked much amusement from me, as it was soon clear that the female wasn’t ready despite all the wooing that was going on by 3 or 4 potential suitors!
Huer's Hut
I decided that the paper could wait and continued on my route after stocking up on provisions. A glance at the route ahead suggested no opportunities to stock up later so I made sure I was well catered for, including with a staple of any packed lunch in these parts – a freshly baked pasty! The ultimate in fast food in these parts makes for a handy packed lunch, since everything you could wish for is wrapped up in pastry.
Towan Head
I headed out along past the harbour and some sheltered sandy coves, where people were just getting started ready for another superb sunny afternoon. There was much activity in the harbour itself, with boats being readied for the season after the long winter lay off. In the cove next door a couple of people were getting sea kayaks ready for what looked to be a perfect day for that activity with lovely calm seas all around. High above the harbour was an unnaturally level piece of ground, which I soon discovered was for crown green bowling. The idea that there was enough demand for the activity to warrant such an engineering job rather staggered me!
Fistral Beach
Eventually I cleared the main part of the town and passed by The Huer’s Hut, a whitewashed lookout building dating from the 14th Century. This rather odd looking building was originally designed as a lookout for shoals of fish offshore. Word would then get down to the fishing boats who would scramble to take advantage. As it turned out this wouldn’t be the last Huer’s Hut I would see this week, but it was probably the best example!
Headland Hotel
From the Huer’s Hut I wandered towards a very fine looking hotel built prominently on the headland of Towan Head. As I got closer to the headland though there were other interesting sights, such as the old lifeboat station with a slipway that was 1 in 2! That must have been a scary ride since it was a considerable distance to the bottom. Hauling the boat back up to the station couldn’t have been very convenient and apparently it took eight horses to bring it back to the top after landing at a nearby beach. The one advantage this site did have was that boats could be launched no matter the state of the tide. Further up onthe top ofthe headland was an old coastguard lookout tower, performing a rather different function from the Huer’s Hut. This was for the authorities to be on the lookout for smugglingand boats indistress mostly, but now just acts as a curiosity for tourists.
May Blossom
From the lookout I got my first proper view of Fistral Beach, the famed surfing beach for Newquay. In the wind I could get traces of the instructions being shouted over the loudhailer to surfers not obeying the rules, but as I got closer the instructions became clearer. It was obvious to me that the lifeguards must get really bored of bellowing the same instructions over and over as I heard the same ones myself many times while passing along the dunes at the back of the beach.
Crossing The Gannel
I passed just beneath the magnificent hotel that I had seen earlier, the grade II listed Headland Hotel that was apparently the setting of the film version of The Witches by Roald Dahl. This red brick building dates from 1900 and the front bedrooms must have unrivalled views of Fistral Beach although I have a feeling that not many surfers actually stay here…
Crantock Beach
At the other end of Fistral Beach stood another hotel that wasn’t so lucky. It was one of many that I would encounter this week that are now boarded up, their trading days behind them, but potential prizes for developers to turn into luxury flats. From here the path dives into Pentire, effectively a suburb of Newquay, for a bit of residential walking before arriving at The Gannel. This river that enters the sea at Crantock Beach can be a rather troublesome obstacle since the only bridges are dependent on the tides and if it is high tideyou face either a very long walk, or a very long wait! Fortunately for me, the river was lowenough that I passed quickly over the footbridge and continued on my way. Having passed this obstacle I was keen to have lunch and found an obliging rock from where I could watch proceedings on the river. The Gannel proved a very popular spot with dog walkers. Most of the dogs themselves appeared to enjoy lolloping through the water splashing everything and everyone around them!
Porth Joke
After finishing my pasty I headed on enjoying the smells of the vying blossoms of the gorse and hawthorn lining the path to Crantock Beach. This beach seemed as popular as Fistral further back in Newquay, although this time it was sun worshippers rather than surfers who were the biggest audience. I had another taste of dune walking as the path crossed the back of the beach. This would be a coastal feature that I would be getting used to over the coming days! It isn’t easy terrain to negotiate, for the underfoot conditions but also for navigation reasons – it isn’t always easy to pick out which path is the right one! After whatseemed like a long time I eventually reached Pentire Point West, the next headland. A pattern for the walk would now emerge – rocky headland followed by sand beach to cross then another headland. The next sandy beach was the intriguingly named Porth Joke. I’m not quitesure how this cove got its name but it was mercifully free of people, apparently as a result of there being no road here!
After crossing the small river that flows into the sea at Porth Joke it was on to the next headland, this time Kelsey Head. On the way to the headland I caught sight of a couple of interesting natural features – the first a swampy section of path covered in kingcups, an unusual colony for these parts. The second was rather more mundane – the amazing colours of the various species of lichen that cover most of the rocks in these parts. Offshore was a small island known as ‘The Chick’. I sat and looked through the binoculars at any signs of seabird life clinging to this rock that is probably left completely alone by people. Yet, despite the loneliness of the rock and the fact that it would no doubt provide a safe haven,therewere surprisingly few seabirds hanging around, save for a few gulls. I was amused though by the presence of a surf board – perhaps the surfer had found the biggest wave in the world andbeen runaground! I never did see the surfer however. Given its location it probably wasn’t going to be nicked…
Holywell Bay
On the other side of Kelsey Head was the much larger Holywell Bay. This beach stretched for over a mile before me and the next headland at Penhale Point looked quite a distant goal. Rocky headland soon gave way to sand dunes and the way ahead was quite a tricky route to follow and in the end I gave up and walked along the beach instead. This was a far more enjoyable experience as the sand beneath me was firm rather than the dry loose material I had to put up with on the dunes. As I rounded into the river valley, I discovered that the beach was quite well populated, with most people sheltered away from the wind which is why I had not previously encountered them. High up at the back of the beach a digger wasbusily working on what I assumed would be a lifeguard station and refreshment point, for it was clear that this beach was pretty popular.
Holywell Beach
I had a little problem finding my way back on to the path on the other side of Holywell Beach. I had decided to take a short cut across the small river that flows out here and use some stepping stones instead of a bridge some distance away. I crossed over and scrambled up on to the cliff opposite only to find that I was marooned on a small island! The piece of land I had climbed was actually detached by a huge gash in the rock. Cursing therefore I had to retrace my steps and take the more conventional route. Serves me right for trying totake a shortcut!
The next set of cliffs around Penhale Point and Ligger Point were a much different character to what had gone before. Just inland from the path is a military camp, which looked rather deserted now. The accommodation was rudimentary – mostly consisting of some old fashioned Nissan Huts and a very bleak looking house stuck right out on the headland. There were all manner of installations, mostly I assumed to assist with communications. All this infrastructure was overlaid on top of some old mine workings and an iron age hill fort that had mostly been subsumed into the surroundings.
Perran Sands
The coast itself was also pretty wild here with some fierce vertigo inducing drops alongside me. Because of the military camp the section occupied by the path was fairly narrow and I couldn’t help thinking that these next couple of miles weren’t for the faint hearted!
Change of Direction
As I rounded Ligger Point, I came across the biggest beach yet today and probably the finest I have seen in Cornwall. Ahead of me was the two mile long Perran Sands, an awe-inspiring beach that was almost completely deserted. This was patrolled by an RNLI vehicle performing lifesaving duties and the tyre tracks wove some interesting patterns in the sand. The path wove down to the beach eventually which was a relief, for the dunes behind were absolutely huge! Walking along the beach was somewhat easier, although I did want to make a side tour before moving on to my final destination of Perranporth by the end of the day.
Beach Beauty
Luckily for me my way up into the dunes was marked by an interesting sculpture someone had fashioned out of all manner of marine debris including fishing nets and waste materials. It looked quite spooky pointing out to sea! I headed up into the dunes and away from the coast path, which proved to be a bit of a slog. I was curious to see St Piran’s Church, a church that had been buried and reburied by the sand to the point that there wasn’t much left! It was quite a slog through the dunes and eventually I found the place after a couple of false alarms and a number of markers which helped me. Only the outline of the church was left, and an earlier place known as St Piran’s Oratory, a short distance away was now completely reburied after vandalism had been wreaked on the old place. It seems that the locals gave up on fighting the shifting sands many decades ago and both churches are only remnants of previous settlements in these parts that have now been reclaimed by nature.
St Piran's Oratory
Having come to see St Piran’s I now faced the daunting prospect of retracing my steps. I decided that I would try and cut off the corner and this proved to be a good idea since I actually found it easier to navigate knowing that Perran Sands Holiday Centre would be on the way & provide a decent landmark in an otherwise featureless place.
Paragliders at Perran Sands
Once I had found the main path again I soon ran into some paragliders, this time having a good deal more success than those I had seen yesterday at Teignmouth. I would imagine that the view from above is just as exciting though! Eventually the going underfoot became easier as sandy paths gave way to rocky ones again. By now I was pretty tired after all the dune walking and was very relieved to descend finally into Perranporth. There was still a huge amount of activity on this sunny Sunday evening and no sign of people in a hurry to leave the beach. I couldn’t blame them!
Last Look Back Along The Sands
This was a relatively easy walk, with few climbs on the way although the sand dunes were definitely a sting in the tail at the end! The combination of sand dunes and rocky cliffs was an interesting one and I couldn’t help feeling that I had made the right choice of walk to help me get acquainted with the North Cornwall Coast.


  1. Thirty plus years ago this area used to be a favourite spring holiday destination of ours.....
    I can remember staying at a chalet style bungalow very similar to the place that you stayed- also at Lelant nr Hayle......Happy..uncomplicated times...!
    Great posting,thanks for refreshing those memories.


  2. Thanks for your comment! I had a super week away from all the stresses of everyday life. I could have carried on for weeks like this! As you say, happy uncomplicated times!