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Friday, 14 August 2015

South West Coast Path - Perranporth to Newquay

Tidal bridge across The Gannel Estuary

An 11 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Perranporth and Newquay

By South West Coast Path standards this is an easy walk along the low level cliffs with no particularly difficult climbs with the usual spectacular coastal views. The main obstacle on this section is crossing the River Gannel estuary. There are three footbridges but these are all dependant upon the state of the tide so tide tables need to be consulted and the walk planned appropriately.

Perranporth to Newquay Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
PerranporthView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
NewquayView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
11 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy
Terrain
Beachwalk and cliff top paths
Obstacles
The most difficult part is timing the crossing of the river Gannel estaury

Accommodation:

Valley Camping and Caravan Park, PolzeathView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Website
Description
A friendly and welcoming family owned camp and caravan site close to the beach at polzeath

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
94 - First Group 94 service linking Wadebridge and Newquay
Timetable
First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
86/87 - First Group 86/87 service linking Newquay, Perranporth and Truro
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2015-06-30
Walk Time
08:30 to 13:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Clear blue skies, sunshine, very warm

Walk Notes

Timing of the walk is essential

This walk crosses the River Gannel estuary and although this is not a large river, it is nonetheless dangerous to attempt to either swim or wade across. The main river channel twists and winds down the sandy estuary and there are numerous crossing points but these are subject to tide conditions as the whole estuary becomes flooded at high tide. The first crossing point is a ferry (Fern Pit Ferry) which is a private rowing boat named 'Sunshine' operated by the cafe on the cliff above the estuary. Access from the Newquay side is via a set of privately owned steps behind the cafe, which are open to the public between 10am and 6pm from May to September. There is no indication of how to summon the boat from the beach side of the ferry although on walking this section of beach it would appear to be easy to get the notice of the ferryman when there are plenty of holiday makers about. At low tide there is also a private pontoon style bridge across the main river channel at this point, which can also be used by the public. This, according to the ferry website, can be accessed up to 3 hours either side of low tide after which the beach becomes flooded preventing further access and the ferry must be used. Other web resources quote this figure as little as 1 hour either side of low tide.

A second bridge is located further up the estuary at Penpol Creek. This is of a rigid wood construction and connects the southern beach to a gap between the houses on Trevean Way in Newquay. This is also tidal and is submerged two to three hours either side of high tide. A third tidal bridge can be found by taking a footpath down from Trevemper. This crosses the estuary marsh over to the main road into Newquay at Trenance. This is said to be accessible apart from one hour either side of high tide although David Cotton reported on his 2003 coast walk that it looked as though it would be impossible for it to ever flood..

Failing all of these options then one would need to walk through to the road bridge at Trevemper and then follow the main road through to Newquay which is not a desirable route for any walker. This would also add on an additional four miles compared to the first crossing point.

On the day, low tide was due to occur at 10:57 (ref: www.tidetimes.org.uk with a tide height of 1.50m. This appeared to allow plenty of time to get there from Perranporth but in the event it was deemed that the closer we arrived to low tide then the more likelihood of getting across the first bridge.

The walk

The day had begun with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. With the tide well out at Perranporth, there was plenty of firm flat sand to amble across. This meant the beach could be used rather than climbing across the dunes around Cottys point. These dunes are the home to the submerged ruins of St Pirans oratory and although the coast path doesn't go past these sandlocked items of history, they are not far off route for those who are interested. The name of Perranporth is taken from St Piran, meaning Piran's harbour. St Piran is also the national saint of Cornwall who is said to have arrived from Ireland (see the main feature to this walk).

The beach at Perranporth is a long flat affair bordered on the northern side by the rocky cliffs that reach out to Ligger Point. The OS map marks the way across the cliffs to this headland via a path at the far end of the beach. This path is not immediately obvious from walking up the beach and one needs to walk almost to the cliffs before it can be seen, as it is hidden away behind a small rocky outcrop, turning back on itself and then climbing up the cliff via the grassy banks.

Despite the warm summer conditions there was nonetheless a brisk and gusty breeze which did present a feeling of nerviness along the steep grassy slope that the path traversed along the cliffside before it turned into a broad track across the clifftop meadows to Ligger Point. This sets the scene for much of this walk up to the estuary, broad open fields, wide paths and very easy walking.

The path continues past Penhale Camp to Penhale Point. The camp was established in 1939 to train aircraft gunners. There are still concrete remains from the gun emplacements that used to litter the area. At the far end is a compound with an array of metal structures looking like some kind of modern sculpture. Each individual structure consists of a metal pole upright which supports two semi circular arms and together they are configured in an array with half set in one direction and the others perpendicular to them. Although the camp was sold by the MOD in 2010 it is nonetheless still used by the services and this construction forms one of six UK antenna sites that are used by The Defence High Frequency Communications Service (DHFCS) to provide long distance strategic communication between Army units, RAF aircraft, Royal Navy warships and UK headquarters using HF communications.

The path now drops down into the small village of Holywell with its sandy beach and expanse of dunes. There is a toilet block, shop and a pub, The St Piran's Inn, although this was closed at the time of passing. The path now continues down the lane that junctions on the left as the road bends round to the right. This leads out across the dunes and then back onto broad open grassed fields around Kelsey Head and down to the amusingly named Porth Joke. The name is derived from the Cornish name of 'Poll an chauk' which is translates to the choughs cove. The chough is a Cornish bird and not a joke, jest, jape or even an amusing remark. Still it is worth a snigger when one utters the words Porth Joke.

The path leads away from Porth Joke and out to Pentire Point. The way forward gets a little confusing here, as what appears to be the coast path ascends the grass hill. It is a well trodden affair as opposed to the more overgrown path that leads along the lower reaches of the hill. This appears to be a common mistake judging by the number of folk encountered along this incorrect route. This path does lead back down to the coast path, either via a track out to the Point or via a makeshift footpath along the field boundary and then across a mound. Either way, hindsight now shows that on this occasion the overgrown path was the correct route.

The name of Pentire Point occurs multiple times around this section of the coast path with one on either side of the Gannel estuary as well as another up near Polzeath. This is probably because the name in Cornish, Penn Tir, simply translates to 'headland', therefore this is merely a geographic term of the landform. Rounding Pentire point brings into view the broad Gannel estuary. Acres of vast sandy beach at low tide. A small winding river meanders down the estuary and the conurbation that is Newquay sits aloft on the cliffs that rise above the estuary. The path follows the banks of the estuary, navigating around the dunes, but the flat sandy beach at low tide offers an alternative route direct to the first crossing point. Hoards of holidaymakers use the beach for holiday-making pursuits. Sunbathing. Surfing. Paddling. And wot quote Eric Idle, puffy raw swollen purulent flesh slowly cooking in the rays of the sunshine.

The river runs in a deep gully and at the state of tide encountered on this occasion, it could easily be crossed at the point on the seaward side of the ferry but the rocky cliffs cut off access beyond. Kids and adults were splashing about in this running water which was waist deep at this point. The ferry and the first tidal bridge sits just beyond a rocky outcrop where the river nestles right up to the cliff-face. The bridge is wooden and supported on floats so that its surface does not get submerged preventing any buildup of slippery seaweed. It was easy to see that it would not be too long before the incoming waters would cover the sandbank and then the ferry service would start up. On the opposite bank two ferry boats were tied to the cliff and above them a shack sat where live lobsters could be purchased. Steps lead up the cliffs with a viewing platform half way up, providing some amazing views all the way up the estuary. One could easily pick out the next tidal bridge, a long affair stretching out across the sand.

The path now cuts across the base of the headland known as Pentire Point East to Fistral Beach. There is an ice cream kiosk which sits on the eastern side and the Lewinnick Lodge restaurant a few hundred yards out to the point. The ice cream kiosk was the winner on this occasion for a cooling little something. There was a queue at the kiosk of one person. Just a solitary person. A single man. A single middle aged man. A single middle aged man in sandals and shorts. A single middle aged man in sandals and shorts who didn't exactly know what he wanted. A single middle aged man in sandals and shorts who didn't exactly know what he wanted and when he eventually did come to some faltering conclusion on what to have he found he didn't have enough change and that caused more indecision on what to do because he needed to reorder and that involved another choice which meant more indecision on what he wanted and that required inquisitions on exactly what his restricted funds would allow him to purchase. Arrrggghhhhhhhh. He fiddled with his cash. PLEASE ORDER BEFORE ONE OF US DIES OF OLD AGE. He eventually ordered. How does this man ever get through life, it is not that hard. Really, it is not.

Fistral Beach is said to be one of Britain's best surfing beaches. It is long and has plenty of surf and is full of surfers and sunbathers and sandcastle makers. At the far end are shops, a pub and restaurant including the Fistral Beach bar and a Rick Stein restaurant. The thought of a long cool pint of beer was beckoning but none of these emporiums appeared to serve real ale. I guess a surfing dude has to drink lager from the bottle cos that is what surfing dudes do and there is no call for more discerning drinkers. But then I guess it is difficult to surf with a pint of real ale and much easier to do so with a bottle that has a slice of lime poking out the top.

Beyond Fistral beach is Towan Head, at first hidden by the huge, imposing and somewhat foreboding Victorian building called the Headland Hotel which was made famous by the 1990 film The Witches. There have been many members of the Royalty stay here over the years as well as celebrities and it is also reputedly haunted by a number of ghosts. Guests have reported seeing uniformed men floating around the corridors which are said to be the spirits of injured men from WWII when the hotel was requisitioned as a military hospital. There is also a phantom nurse which is said to wake guests by gently rubbing their cheeks, and a maid who glides through a wall where once there was a door.

Continuing around the Headland provides views across Newquay beaches. A large stone cross, which is part of the war memorial, stands on the grass bank above the path. The path then starts to descend to the harbour and soon a small whitewashed building is encountered looking somewhat out of place, looking as if it should be on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea, looking as if it should be adorned with religious icons and used as a hermitage in days gone by. A plaque reveals its actual history, a fishermen's lookout known as a Huers Hut. Huers had the job to look out across the harbour for shoals of pilchards and when such were spotted they would sound a horn and shout HEVA HEVA to alert the fishermen to launch their boats. The building is currently being restored and was unfortunately covered in scaffolding at this point in time.

The path then heads around the harbour at the end of which is The Red lion pub. A pub full of ales. A rustic pub with pub food and no surfer dudes drinking cold lager from bottles.

The Resident Newquay Nutter

The walk came to an end at Newquay bus station. Base camp for this expedition was at Polzeath and that necessitated a return journey between Wadebridge and Newquay by bus, the 94 service. Newquay bus station isn't so much a bus station as a road where buses stop. There are a dozen or so bays which are no more than a bus stop with a timetable and a shelter with some very basic seating. It was at the far end of this bus station that the 94 bus back to Wadebridge departed. The final bus stop had its accompanying timetable affixed to it, displayed under the usual clear perspex and beyond it, the modern type seating which was more like a pole to park ones bottom on. Having consulted a printed timetable earlier there was no necessity for referencing the item at the bus station and therefore we ambled past a young chap who stood in front of the timetable. He appeared to be in intense consultation with the said item. He was dressed in loose t-shirt, joggers and a fleecy tied around his waist. His hair was long and thick and somewhat unkempt and matted although not tramp like, just youthful exuberance. He appeared to be talking to the timetable, probably thinking aloud. But then as we passed his voice appeared to be louder then anyone mumbling their minds ramblings and the immediate assumption was that this was the local town 'nutter'. From experience I knew I had the personality that gave nutters a homing instinct to gravitate toward myself and engage in futile conversation. This being the case, we passed quickly by making sure there was no eye contact, taking no notice of the nutter although secretly trying to understand exactly what or who he was talking to although deep in ones mind we both knew it was the timetable.

We sat down on the apologies for seats. A couple of old folk were already sitting there, waiting for the same bus, and it was obvious they were trying to ignore the nutter. In fact nutter ignoring seemed to be the order of the day in this part of Newquay. Other passers-by could be seen forthrightly ignoring the nutter. Some would even feign a fascination of buses in order to ignore the nutter. Others just gave a very wide berth. One would be passenger suddenly turned into a 20 yard jogger. Others shirked the opportunity of passing and turned to wander in the opposite direction in some vain hope that another bus would depart in their direction.

Having sat down, I at first attempted to ignore the nutter by taking an interest in other things like the sky, or the road or the passing buses, but a nutter is always the source of fascination when one has time on ones hands, such as the vacant 25 minutes wait for a bus, the ensuing vacuum of time is always filled with the most interesting feature on the landscape and that most interesting feature on this occasion was most certainly the nutter. Careful glances designed not to attract attention and discreet listening in the nutters general direction provided little insights into this mans dreamworld. Nutter watching is almost a sport in itself. It soon became apparent that this particular nutter was so engaged in his own universe that the careful glances slowly turned to near outright staring and even a daring couple of paces toward him in order to get a better audible clarity of his speech. He was overtly gesticulating with his arms flailing around the air as he announced a thought out argument to the timetable on the bus stop. I wondered whether the timetable was just the face to the entire bus stop. The bus stop was the entity and the timetable the face to this entity. This certainly appeared to be the case in the nutters view of the world.

The gesticulating continued. Intense and dramatic. His voice was clear and confident and somewhat well spoken. This did not appear to be your average town nutter. The words he was speaking were not of an estranged mind but cohesive and structured and could easily have been that of a trained orator. '...for I tell you...' he stated, continuing after a brief pause, '...I am a stallion, come, and fear me if you will...', he spoke in almost Shakespearean dialogue as he fixed his gaze at the timetable. The timetable stared back at him but said little, '... I command you to listen...' he continued, his arms appealing for comprehension from this inanimate object. The bus stop stayed silent, although it may have whispered something, maybe a virtually inaudible utterance that was only picked up by the nutter in front because he soon acknowledged its reply with a '...do not give me that, for you know nothing of stallions, their nature and their habitats, now listen to me, I beg you...' to which the bus stop must have interrupted for he raised his voice and pointed, '..no! you are not listening to the words I state, you do not comprehend,..' he espoused. This man clearly was not a nutter. This was someone who was elucidating with a connected chain of thought, albeit to a bus stop that apparently responded to his incantations, but nonetheless not the raving ramblings of the average village idiot.

The monologue continued. The bus stop stood firm with a different point of view. An audience started to gather. Intrigued. In wonderment. This was street entertainment at its very best. A few titters of well guarded laughter echoed throughout the audience as another argument broke out over the bus stop's opinion being oh so wrong. 'Ineptitude, you are full of ineptitude I tell you, and let me explain carefully to you...' he emphasized in discreet syllables to the bus stop. Normal nutters do not use the word ineptitude. You could see such agreement on this fact in the discreetly nodding heads around the gathered audience. The nutter enlarged upon a new subject of robots and web enabled technology, '...they are all inanimate and they have no soul yet they are breeding...' he declared '...but they will not take over for I am more powerful than they, and they do not have dicks...'. Sniggers erupted from the audience at the word 'dick', and we were all treated to more comical mirth as the words ensued in philosophical debate about dicks, '...and I can also tell you that lorries do not have dicks...' which obviously the timetable argued against because it stirred up an immediate response where he announced that he had the technology to cut them off if a lorry did ever prove to be enabled with a dick. The bus stop was not having it. The nutter was obviously becoming niggled because in slightly raised voice he declared that he 'would cut your dick off and you know I have the ability. It only needs a bread knife...' which he spelt out in emphasized syllables to which he ended that conversation '...enough, enough I say, enough of this, let us talk in sensible manner, man, I am not a dick cutter, I am something much deeper than that, I am a little grain of sand...'

More onlookers gathered, listening intently to this oration, straining ears to every word. A bus driver walked past the nutter. He looked bemused. He did a double take as if he had just walked across someones stage. The nutter continued unabated.

The performance was prematurely ended when our bus arrived at which point some discourteous person decided they needed to read the bus timetable and the nutter had to stand aside. This obviously disrupted the conversation and the recital ended. As the bus pulled away the nutter had paced a hundred yards down the road where he started remonstrating with a discarded piece of litter, a plastic bag which seemed to contain some pummeled and flattened rubbish but obviously this garbage had a discerning viewpoint which the man was clearly trying to debate at length. The bag ignored him.

Old Pilchard Shaol lookout
Old Pilchard Shaol lookout

Directions

The South West Coast Path is clearly marked with the usual acorn markers of a national trail

The official path crosses Perran Beach in front of The Watering Hole and then ascends the dunes at Cottys Point before returning to the beach in front of Penhale Sands. Given the correct tide conditions the Perran Beach can be walked throughout. At the far end where the cliffs jut out to Ligger Point a path from the beach enables one to get access to the top of the cliffs. This is not seen until one is upon it as it virtually turns back toward Perrenporth but a coast path marker signifies the way just off the beach.

The route around Pentire Point can be confusing when approaching from Porth Joke and it is easy to take the wrong path up the hill. Keep to the lower path. The alternative paths do lead back to the coast path further around the point.

Perranporth Beach
Perranporth Beach

Pubs

Red Lion, Newquay View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
North Quay Hil, Newquay
Website

Built in 1835 overlooking the harbour, this is a traditional pub with a warm and friendly atmosphere. Serving good quality food and also an exceptional reputation for a good steak as well as a variety of local Cornish traditional ales from some of the counties smaller breweries. Live music, log fire, pool table, dart board, superb harbour views.

Review

From the exterior it didn't look much with cars parked outside this nondescript building that sat above Newquay harbour. However, the interior made it worth pushing that door open. Rustic, open and airy with an excellent card of local ale to boot. It was so good we had two pints for our walking efforts. The Cornish Crown Spa looked inviting and the 4.8% was well within the limits for a walks end. This was a superb ache resolving golden ale from the Penzance based brewery. The ale was accompanied with a platter of starters from the pub menu to share as a well earned lunch, followed by the ever rewarding Betty Stoggs from Skinners brewery. This pub is well worth seeking out.

MOD aerials at Penhale Point
MOD aerials at Penhale Point

Features

The legend of Saint PiranView in OS Map | View in Google Map

St Piran looms large in Cornwall's history, he is the patron saint of tin miners and the Cornish flag of a white cross on a black background is said to have been adopted from St Piran's own emblem. However, the story of St Piran appears to be a mixture of myth, legend and history without any confirmatory facts. It is generally accepted that St Piran was not a Cornishman himself but hailed from Ireland. It is thought that St Ciaran from Cape Clear just off of County Cork and St Piran are one and the same person. He is said to have been born in the sixth century, the son of Lughaidh and Liedania, his father mother respectively. In his formative years he studied scripture in Rome before returning to Ireland to become a bishop of a monastic settlement of Saighir Kieran in County Offaly.

It is said that St Piran gained a reputation in Ireland for his miraculous feats including feeding ten Irish kings and their entire armies for eight days on just three cows. He was also said to have brought back to life both dead men and hogs. Such deeds and its ensuing popularity made the authorities suspicious of his intentions and influence. To put a stop to this they put a millstone around his neck and threw him from a high cliff into the sea. Legend says that as he fell thunder and lightning tore down from the sky but as he hit the sea the storm ceased and he floated away to the Cornish coast. This must have either been a very short storm (a mere 5 seconds for falling from a 120m cliff), or it must have been a very tall cliff. A quick and rough calculation, ignoring the effects of air resistance would, shows that for a 10 minute storm the cliff would need to be 5,791,328 feet (1,765,196 m) tall. There is also the issue of the millstone, which one would naturally assume to sink when placed in water, however, St Piran managed to keep the millstone around his neck afloat and navigate to Cornwall.

There are various accounts of where St Piran landed in Cornwall but Perran Beach appears to be the most favoured location. What is known is that there is an ancient Oratory here, commonly known as St Piran's Oratory, buried in the sands above the beach and believed to date from the 6th century. Excavations in the 19th century revealed the structure and in 1910 the remains were encased in a large concrete building before the ruins were then reburied to protect them. More recently, in 2014, a further excavation began. Legend states that Piran settled on this beach, building the Oratory as a place to retire and devote himself to the life of a hermit and the study of anything that came close to hand. The small hermitage was said to have been adorned with various minerals and rocks that he discovered along the coastline and it was one of these finds, a heavy black stone, which he used to form part of the fireplace, that a monumentous discovery was made. On one occasion the fire was so intense that a stream of white metal flowed out of the fire, the tin for which Cornwall is so renowned for. Armed with this discovery, he teamed up with St Chiwidden to devise a process for extracting the tin in large quantities and, once perfected, they passed the knowledge on to the local people. It is said that many days of great feasting occurred after this discovery which included copious quantities of mead and metheglin (a spiced or medicated variety of mead) and such was their inebriated state that the proverb of 'as drunk as a perraner' became part of the local language.

This story does appear to have a lot of mythology attached to it. Firstly tin smelting was certainly known in Cornwall a long time before St Piran arrived. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote about tin mining in Cornwall in 1BC and there is also evidence of tin mining far older than this.

With regard to St Chiwidden, this appears to have been an imaginary person, probably based around the Cornish word chi-wadden which translates as 'white house', which could be interpreted as the smelting or blowing house, where the black ore of tin is converted into a white metal.

Another story tells that when St Piran first made the discovery of tin, the white metal poured across the black stone in the shape of a cross which is where the Cornish flag was derived from. Cornwall still celebrates this event on the fifth of March which is declared as St Piran's Day. There are recorded descriptions of the feast going back as far as 1758 as shown in the book The Natural History of Cornwall, which states ...the tinners also hold st Pirans day on the fifth of march, cease from all labour, and (in all considerable mines) are allowed money to make merry withal in honour of st Piran, who is recorded to have given them some very profitable informations relating to tin manufacture. Present day St Piran's day is celebrated with parades and celebrations across many towns and cities throughout Cornwall This includes the traditional march across the sand dunes to St Piran’s Oratory and the later medieval church

It is said that St Piran ended his days at the Oratory and was buried beneath it.

References
Towan Head
Towan Head

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16

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