Walk - Treago Farm - Kelsey Head & Holywell
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Treago Farm drop downhill southwards to go through the gate and onto the track which curves to the right just beyond. Follow the track past Treago Mill and the car park to the bridleway heading towards the beach at Porth Joke.
The settlement of Treago was first recorded in 1214 as a manor held by the family of the same name, who in the fourteenth century built the south aisle of Crantock Church. Treago Farm occupies the site of the old manor, although nothing remains of the original buildings.
- Turn right onto the bridleway and walk along the valley to the beach.
Known to the locals as 'Polly Joke', the beach was originally called Porth Lojowek, meaning 'plant-rich cove'. Conservation methods used by the National Trust around Kelsey Head ensure that no fewer than 154 different species of plant thrive here today, and it the summer it is a riot of colour.
Kelsey Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest with a wide range of habitats, the most extensive being the sand dune system and the maritime grassland which has grown over wind-blown sand around the fringes of the headlands and on Cubert Common. Other important wildlife areas are the wet meadows alongside the stream as you walk to Porth Joke and the brackish marsh at Holywell Bay.
A number of rare plants grow around here, including sea holly in the sand dunes and Babington's leek in the area of marshland. The particularly unusual and beautiful silver-studded blue butterfly has also been seen at Kelsey Head, and the stripe-winged grasshopper spotted here is one of only three sightings in Devon and Cornwall in recent years.
The headland and the offshore islands are also noteworthy for the colonies of breeding seabirds including the guillemot, shag and razorbill.
- At the head of the beach turn left onto the South West Coast Path and follow it around Kelsey Head and on to Holywell Beach.
The small island just offshore as you round the headland is known as The Chick. Look out for grey seals here, especially at low tide. Sometimes dolphins can be seen too.
Evidence of human activity has been found around Kelsey Head dating back to Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times, around 8000-4000 BC. This includes flint tools, as well as shells and bone in what is thought to have been a midden, suggesting that there was a settlement here. There are also tumuli, or burial barrows, dating from the Bronze Age, around 3000 BC, and archaeologists have found two cliff castles here.
Cliff castles date from the Iron Age, generally between AD 100 and 200, and are coastal enclosures making use of the natural defences of precipitous cliffs around a headland. The prehistoric inhabitants would fortify the landward side of the headland by means of ramparts and ditches. The low bank and shallow ditch across Kelsey Head can still be seen, although the area enclosed is much smaller than it would originally have been, since the north and west sides of what was probably a rectangular fort are assumed to have fallen into the sea. It is also thought that the building of the castle was unfinished, although it was possibly used later as a Roman signal station.
There are remnants of field systems on Kelsey Head also dating back to prehistoric times, but the boundaries which still enclose the three Kelseys today are likely to date from medieval days. There are similar 'cornditches' on Dartmoor, with a sheer stone wall on one side and a gently sloping bank on the other. On Dartmoor these were designed to keep the King's deer out of the fields, with the wall facing outwards to prevent their entering and the internal bank making it possible for them to escape if they did manage to get in.
Holywell Cave can be seen at low tide beneath the southern cliffs of Kelsey Head. Although it seems to be no more than a slit from the beach, on entering the cave it is possible to make out some slimy steps leading up a series of pools to a hole in the roof of the cave. Tinted red and blue, with the edges of the pools encrusted with calcareous deposits formed by water rich in minerals dripping from above, the cave was seized upon by Victorian Romantics as the holy well after which the bay was named. However, it is likely that it is an entirely natural feature, and the real well of Holywell is St Cubert's, midway between the village and the coast, in the Trevornick Valley and on land which is now part of the Holywell Bay Fun Park.
Thought to be fourteenth century, Cubert Well is reached via a high Gothic arch set into an ivy-clad perimeter wall. Inside, a series of stepping stones leads across marshland to a granite well house, built into a rocky and overgrown bank. Two sides of the well house are lined with stone seats and there are niches cut into the back well, probably for candles or statues. The well was discovered in a ruined state in 1916 and has been restored by the Newquay Old Cornwall Society.
- Stay with the Coast Path as it leaves the beach and travels through the sand dunes to Holywell.
Cornish crime writer W. J. Burley, who was born in Falmouth, lived in Holywell until his death in 2002. Best known for his detective novels featuring Charles Wycliffe, televised in the mid 1990s, Burley won a scholarship to study zoology at Oxford after the Second World War and was Head of Biology at Newquay Grammar School until he retired in 1974, by which time he was well established as a novelist.
- Approaching Holywell, take one of the paths leading to the left before the houses, bearing left to pass on the seaward side of the golf course, crossing the track at the far end to continue straight ahead, ignoring the path which branches off to the left and dropping gently downhill to the stream.
- Carry on ahead again to cross the track and continue along the footpath over Cubert Common as it goes over the brow of the hill and descends to the track used at the start of the walk.
Originally Eglos Cubert (St Cubert's Church) in Lanowyn (Owen's sacred place), Cubert was named after the Welsh missionary who arrived here with St Carantoc in the sixth century (see the Crantock and Pentire Point Walk). Eventually, having presumably converted the local pagans to Christianity, he latter travelled on to Brittany, but St Cubert returned to Wales and became abbot of his monastery.
On the far south edge of the common is a large round barrow with excellent sea views towards Castle an Dinas to the north east and St Agnes Beacon to the south west. Because of these, it is believed to have been a particularly important burial site in the Bronze Age.
- Turn right on the track to return to Treago Farm and the start of the walk.
In Crantock and Holywell