SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 40: Perranporth to Newquay
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
I made a late start to this stage to make sure that the tide would be favourable later in the walk. After a half hour bus ride over from Newquay, I set off from the promenade behind Perran Sands at a quarter to three. It was a rather windy afternoon, so much so that a small sandstorm was rolling across the beach (picture 1).
At the end of the short promenade the Coast Path crosses a footbridge over a narrow river and turns left down a ramp onto the sand. The route crosses another footbridge beside the Perranporth Surf School then bears slightly right across the soft sand, above and parallel to the high-water mark and passing to the seaward side of the large Watering Hole café and then the Perranporth Surf Lifesaving Club. After about 500 metres on the beach the path finds a flight of steps leading to a path that climbs steadily into the dunes, giving good views back towards the town (picture 2).
When the path eventually levels out atop Cotty's Point, there are also good views ahead with Perran Sands stretching northward for another three kilometres to Ligger Point (picture 3). About a third of the way there the path reaches a small carpark, with a choice of routes ahead; continuing through the dunes or walking along the beach. I chose the latter option (picture 4), walking along the wind-blown sand as far as a ramp just before the end of the beach.
A short distance up the ramp a signpost points left onto a path that heads out along the southern edge of Ligger Point. The point is dotted with disused mine shafts and uphill to the right of the path are a couple of old miner's cottages (picture 5). There is one last good view back along Perran Sands (picture 6) before the path rounds the tip of Ligger Point and heads along the clifftop to Hoblyn's Cove (picture 7).
The path is confined between post-and-rail fences as it circles around two deep clefts that have eroded their way about 100 metres into the cliffs. When the fences end, the path is still somewhat confined, running along the clifftops outside the Ministry of Defence's Penhale Camp for the next kilometre, going most of the way up to the end of Penhale Point before cutting across it by skirting around a circular enclosure at the end of the camp. When the path returns to the clifftop there is a good view of the Gull Rocks, which stand off the end of Penhale Point (picture 8).
Ahead is the sandy expanse of Holywell Bay (picture 9), which looked quite isolated until I had followed the path around the next corner of the headland to discover the large Holywell village tucked away in a combe some distance behind the beach (picture 10).
The path crosses the dunes to the edge of the village, turning left around St Piran's Inn (picture 11) onto Holywell Road. A hundred metres along the road to the left, a signpost that is well-hidden under a tree points to the left along the rightmost of two parallel paths, heading back into the dunes behind Holywell Beach.
The path winds it's way across the dunes, eventually climbing up above the end of the beach and onto the National Trust's Kelsey Head, much of which was carpeted with colourful flowers (picture 12).
At the tip of the headland the path briefly runs alongside a ditch that delineates the site of an ancient settlement, most of which has been lost to erosion. Ahead now is the deep sandy inlet of Porth Joke (picture 13) and the path runs along the cliff and across a small combe before descending to the very back of the beach (picture 14).
The path climbs gently above the far edge of the inlet and onwards around Pentire Point West with the next bay at Crantock gradually coming into view (picture 15). Rather like Holywell, Crantock village is located some distance inland from its beach, but this time the Coast Path eschews the settlement, instead crossing the dunes to reach the mouth of the broad but shallow River Gannel at the far end of the beach (picture 16).
The Gannel separates Crantock from Pentire, a suburb of Newquay, which is by far the largest town on the Coast Path since Penzance, and is well known as a mecca for surfers and for stag and hen parties. The Coast Path has several options for crossing the Gannel; a ferry near the river mouth on the higher half of the tide, a tidal footbridge a kilometre upstream on the lower half of the tide, a bridleway bridge a further two kilometres upstream that is usable anytime except for high spring tides, and a road bridge another kilometre beyond that.
I had timed my visit to coincide with the low tide, enabling me to use the tidal bridge. To reach it I followed an enclosed path heading inland above the riverbank, emerging in a meadow beyond which the Gannel widens into a sandy floodplain where the tidal footbridge crosses the deep channel of the river (picture 17).
To reach the footbridge one must first walk about 400 metres in the opposite direction, turning right along the edge of the meadow and through a patch of woodland to the top of Penpol Creek. After fording the creek a Coast Path signpost points along the edge of the creek and out across the damp sand of the riverbed to cross the footbridge (picture 18), which spends about half of its existence under water.
Having safely crossed the Gannel, the route turns upstream, finding some steps up to a path that continues upstream below some houses before bearing left across a park to turn sharp left onto Trevean Way. The quiet residential street is followed as it curves around to the right and then at the top of the street the route turns left onto Pennere Drive. After about 200 metres this street also curves to the right, ending a similar distance further on at a left turn onto Esplanade Road, which runs downhill towards the southern end of Fistral Beach (picture 19), Cornwall's premier surfing beach and a venue for international surfing competitions. A path leaving the road on the right runs along the edge of the dunes above the beach and below a golf course (picture 20).
At the far end of the beach the Coast Path crosses a carpark behind a surf school and restaurant to find a path up onto the shoulder of Towan Head, soon passing by the rather impressive looking Headland Hotel (picture 21). Just beyond the hotel, the path cuts across the narrowest point of the long headland, which extends another 300 metres out into the Atlantic.
Heading back the other way now, the path follows the ragged low cliffs towards Newquay, with a tall war memorial cross on the skyline ahead, standing atop a large mound between two hotels (picture 22). Below the second hotel, the path reaches the whitewashed Huer's Hut (picture 23), where in bygone days a young lad would stand lookout to alert the town's fishing fleet to passing schools of pilchards.
From the Huer's Hut, a path runs down a flower-covered slope to a long flight of steps leading down to the harbour (picture 24).
The Coast Path climbs North Quay Hill from the harbour to turn left along Fore Street and after about 400 metres the route turns left across a carpark and down a zigzag ramp to join Beach Road above the sheltered beach of Towan Sands. The Coast path takes a right turn and two lefts to get around the large Walkabout pub and reach a clifftop park above the beach from which one can view The Island, a rocky outcrop with a house on top, connected to the mainland by a suspension bridge (picture 25).
The Coast Path follows a tarmac path across the park to join Island Crescent, following it past a terrace and then around to the right between houses to a junction with Trebarwith Crescent. Across the road to the left, Bridge Street cuts between more houses and the Coast Path goes down steps from the bridge to join a path along a disused railway trackbed (picture 26).
This path curves around to meet the main coast road, Cliff Road, opposite Newquay Station, where the branch line from Par on Cornwall's south coast now terminates. Turning left along the road the path soon reaches a promenade high above Tolcarne Beach (picture 27), where I ended the day's walk with 21 kilometres completed.
From the benches above the beach there was a good view of the sun setting beyond Towan Head (picture 28), accompanied by the sounds of a couple of raucous hen's parties drifting over the beach from the hotels across the road.