Walk - Perran Sands - Perranporth
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.
- From the Reception in Perran Sands Holiday Park take the path towards the beach, passing the car park on your left. Head through Chy-An-Mor (Cornish for House of the Sea) until you meet up with the South West Coast Path.
- Turn left to walk through the dunes to the path inland near the end of the beach. Alternatively, instead of walking through the dunes, carry on down to the beach and turn left to walk along the sand.
Penhale Dunes are Britain's highest sand dunes, 90m above sea level, and at 650 hectares, Cornwall's largest dune system. They are thought to have been formed over 5000 years ago, when changing sea levels changed caused sand to build up on a rocky plateau.
The dunes here are a what is known as a 'hindshore system': a dune system which develops above a beach with a good supply of sediment, exposed to strong onshore winds strong enough to drive large quantities of sand onto the land in huge arcs or ridges until they become stabilised, often some distance from the sea.
At Penhale these winds are strong enough to blow sand onto the higher ground behind the dune system, leading to unusual communities of plants and insects.
The passage of these waves of sand can leave behind areas that have been eroded to the water table, leading to the development of extensive dune slacks which are seasonally flooded and low in nutrients. The whole area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its wildlife, and is a candidate Special Conservation Area (it has been submitted to the European Commission, but has yet to be formally adopted).
To the north of the dunes there are well-protected humid dune slacks with interesting plant communities growing in these marshy areas and pools: scented meadowsweet and water mint, as well as greater willowherb and water horsetail.
The drier slacks have short turf kept well-grazed by rabbits and ponies. Plants supported by the thin soil and of especial note here are shore dock, petalwort and early gentian. Pyramidal orchids also thrive, as do silverweed and common centuary. Elsewhere there are sedge and fern-dominated communities, and scrambled egg lichen.
Sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons hunt overhead, and skylarks hover, singing their chirruping song high above. Wheatears and stonechats sing from the gorse and thorn bushes, while sanderlings and golden plovers thrive on the abundant supplies of insects.
Butterflies also flourish: look out for the silver-studded blue, the small copper and the brown argus. Of especial note is the grizzled skipper, a rare butterfly found in only two colonies in Cornwall.
The rock formation ahead, below the cliff as you approach Perranporth, is Chapel Rock. Although some of the chapel was still visible in the seventeenth century, most of it has been eroded by the sea.
In front of you can be seen the coastline leading to Cligga Head. To the right of Chapel rock is Droskyn Point. The Millennium sundial is located on the point of the Droskyn mine overlooking Perran Bay. The dial shows 'Cornish times' which are 20 minutes behind GMT. Then Shag Rock can be seen and behind it before the coastline turns southwards Cligga Head.
As well as tin, the mines at Cligga Head produced tungsten, used in World War II for armour-plating and armour-piercing shells. The conical mesh caps over the mine workings here are known as 'bat castles'. They are designed to prevent people from falling into the old shafts while still allowing access to the colonies of bats living here, including the rare greater horseshoe bat.
- Keeping to the left of Chapel Rock, cross the beach. Don't get your feet too wet in the river. Explore the village of Perranporth.
Perranporth's name is Cornish for Saint Piran's cove (Saint Piran is one of the patron saints of Cornwall). It is believed that Saint Piran founded a church at Perranzabuloe near Perranporth in the seventh century. Buried under sand for many centuries, it was unearthed early in the twentieth century, but again left to the mercy of the sands in the 1970s.
Perran Beach, extends northwest from the town for nearly 2 miles to Ligger Point. There are lifeguard beach patrols from May to September and the beach is generally safe for bathing although there are dangerous rip currents around Chapel Rock at ebb tides.
The author Winston Graham lived in Perranporth for many years. His Poldark novels are based on the area).
In past times the weather and sea claimed many vessels. The remains of the clipper ship La Seine can still be seen at low spring tides. Alma House was built using timbers from the wreck of that name and Hanover Close was named after another local wreck. When the sailing ship Voorspoed was wrecked on the beach the captain commented: - "I have been wrecked in different parts of the world, even the Fiji islands, but never amongst savages such as those of Perranporth".
- Having explored and enjoyed the village of Perrnaporth retrace your steps on the South West Coast Path. The path turns inland before Cotty's Point.
- Turn right onto the footpath and follow it through Perranporth golf course to the main road at Tollgate.
- When you reach Tollgate Road you will see the entrance to Perran sands Holiday Park. Turn left onto the path back into Perran Sands.