Walk - Holywell and Kelsey Head

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.

Route Description

  1. Starting from the car park, take the path leading to the beach to pick up the Coast Path heading north across Holywell Beach and towards Kelsey Head.

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.

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. 

You will cross the extensive dune system before reaching the cliff top. Here look out for seabirds, seals and classic maritime heathland flowers, particularly in spring. You will also pass the low ramparts of an Iron Age fort before arriving at the hidden beach of Polly Joke.

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.

  1. From the back of the beach take the inland path to Cubert Common – the largest enclosed common in Cornwall. Climb over a stile when you reach the car park, taking the path to the right to continue across the common. Turn right again after about 650 yards to follow the boundary of the golf course to the kissing gate at the back of the dune system. From here the path through the sand dunes will take you back to Holywell village and on to the car park.

Nearby refreshments


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