Walk - Perran Sands - Crantock
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Take the bus from the bus stop at Perran Sands and get off at Crantock. Head down Halwyn Hill to the square and turn left down Green Lane to take the footpath on your left, forking left again to walk to the South West Coast Path, above Crantock Beach.
Crantock is said to be the site of the Lost City of Langarrow, buried by a sandstorm after the hedonistic lifestyle of its inhabitants brought the wrath of God upon their heads. It is named after the sixth century Celtic saint, Carantoc, who supposedly arrived by sea on an altar and built an oratory here. This blossomed into a College of Priests, a major religious centre until it was dismantled under Henry VIII's Dissolution of Monasteries in the sixteenth century. The 'Round Orchard' in the centre of the village is thought to be the site of St Carantoc's sixth century chapel. There are also two medieval holy wells in the village.
On the far side of Crantock Beach is the mouth of the River Gannel. In the fifteenth century the mouth of the River Gannel was a thriving port, and until as late as the end of the nineteenth century it was used extensively by shipping. Vessels brought their cargoes into Fern Pit, on the Newquay bank of the river – coal, fertiliser, limestone and earthenware – and this was then transferred to shallow-draught barges to be carried on the flood tide up to Trevemper, an important commercial centre three miles upstream.
Listen out for the Gannel crake, a mythical bird whose desolate howl has been heard all around Crantock Beach. The name is attributed to two brothers who were once working beneath West Pentire, gathering seaweed to use as fertiliser. One of the brothers described the sound, which frightened their horses into galloping away, as 'like a thousand voices in pent-up misery with one long-drawn wail dying away into the distance.'
- Reaching the South West Coast Path, turn left and follow it around Pentire Point West and on to Porth Joke ('Polly Joke' as it is known to the locals).
'Porth Joke' comes from the Cornish 'Porth Lojowek', meaning 'cove rich in plants'. Traditional conservation techniques used here have encouraged an astonishing 154 species of wildflower to flourish. In summer the headland is ablaze with the vivid heads of poppies and corn marigolds, also providing seeds for birds like buntings, partridge and finches.
- Carry on along the Coast Path as it continues around Kelsey Head and drops into the dunes behind Holywell Beach to come out by the first houses in Holywell.
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 guillemots, shags and razorbills.
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. There are also tumuli, or burial barrows, dating from the Bronze Age, around 3000 BC, and archaeologists have identified two Iron Age cliff castles here.
- Reaching the road in Holywell, turn right to pick up the South West Coast Path heading to the right again. Follow it around Penhale Point and on past the military camp, the masts and the mine workings, to Hoblyn's Cove. Carry on around Ligger Point and on to the dunes at Penhale Sands.
A striking feature of this part of coastline is the extent of the mine workings on and around the cliffs. The earliest records of Penhale Mine show it as producing some 41 tons of lead ore in 1777, but undoubtedly the area's mineral resources were exploited for many centuries before this. Ligger House, on Penhale Point, is the former count house for the mine. Auctions were conducted in the building, and miners would bid for underground leases (or pitches).
- The path passes a disused quarry with an old cave nearby and then carries on along the edge of the dunes. It is important to take heed of the notices along here requesting that you stay on the Coast Path. There is no right of way in the dunes behind, which are used by the MoD for firing practice, and the Coast Path travels along a permissive path to the natural valley running through the dunes about a mile from the quarry at 6.
- Bear left with the Coast Path to head inland along the edge of the MoD territory until you come to the footpath back to Perran Sands.
In Crantock and Holywell