Walk - Newquay and Fistral Beach
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.
Note: It is dangerous to wade or swim in the Gannel: please take care. This walk depends upon being able to cross the Gannel both ways. If the tide is too high to walk across to Penpol on your return you will need to walk to Fern Pit to catch the ferry, and the walk description does not fully describe alternative routes.
The BBC website has a tide table for Newquay covering the next 7 days. Please check the relevant up to date information before you start this walk!
The ways you can cross the Gannel depend on the time of year and state of the tide. These are:
- Penpol tidal footbridge: The route of the SW Coast Path uses a tidal footbridge near Penpol Creek, which is passable for 3 - 4 hours either side of low water.
- Fern Pit Ferry Crossing: A shorter option is to cross by Fern Pit, which operates from the end of May to the end of September. At low tide, you can cross via a footbridge, whilst at high tide there is a ferry. You can find more details on the Fern Pit cafe and ferry website or by phoning 01637 873181.
- Start from the National Trust car park at Crantock Beach, take the path on your right through the dunes before you get to the beach and walk to the ferry landing point. If the tide is right out and it is safe to walk across, walk across to the ferry landing point at Fern Pit, visible across the riverbed. Otherwise take the ferry across, disembarking at the same place.
Until as late as the end of the nineteenth century the Gannel was used extensively by shipping. Iron ore from the Great Perran Iron Lode was brought here to be shipped to Wales, and Welsh coal was brought back for the Truro smelting works. Other cargoes were brought into Fern Pit and then transferred to shallow-draught barges to be carried on the flood tide up to Trevemper, an important commercial centre at that time.
- Take the steps uphill, past the cafe, turning left at the top on Riverside Crescent to walk to the car park on Pentire Point East.
People have been living and working on Pentire Point East for many millennia. Archaeologists have found the flint tools of hunter gatherers from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times of 7000-8000 years ago. There are a number of barrows from the Bronze Age, 3000 years later. The chunky hinged 'Pentire neckring' was found here, dating from the Iron Age. More recently, rabbits were encouraged to live here, to keep them from the crops inland, and stone was quarried from the rocks for road-building. It is also an important site for rare mosses and liverworts, as well as coastal flowers such as thrift, sea campion, and wild carrot and thyme.
- Pick up the South West Coast Path to walk above Lewinnick Cove, carrying on behind Fistral Beach and above the rocks at the far end of the beach to Towan Head. Detour along the headland for spectacular sea views.
In the early 1960s the high clean breakers rolling in on the North Cornwall coast from the Atlantic swell saw Fistral Beach start to become a popular venue for the surf culture which was spreading from America and Australia. Newquay became the capital of British surfing, a status it still claims today. Some of the best waves in Europe break on Fistral Beach, attracting world-class surfing competitions, and a new surfing complex offers world class facilities to match.
The imposing neo-Gothic building visible on Towan Head from Pentire Point East is the Headland Hotel, built in 1897 as the finest hotel in South West England. London orchestras played here during the summer season and as many as 300 dancers graced its sprung ballroom floor. Past royal visitors have included Edward VII, George VI, Edward VIII, Queen Alexandra, and more recently HRH Prince Charles with HRH The Princess Royal. It was designed by Silvanus Trevail, the Cornish architect responsible for several other iconic hotels around the county's coastline.
- Staying on the Coast Path, continue above Hedge Cove and then Beacon Cove, taking the path alongside the road to the Huer's Hut.
The Huer's Hut was originally a fourteenth-century hermitage, where a monk would have kept a light burning to warn ships of the rocks below. Sometime later its vantage point over Newquay Bay made it the obvious choice for a huer's hut. Here a lookout was posted to watch for the arrival of the shoals of pilchards in the bay. When he spotted the fish in the bay he would 'raise a hue and cry' the origin of the saying shouting 'Hevva, hevva!' and directing the boats to the spot by means of hand signals.
- Take the path to the left to drop to the harbour, climbing North Quay Hill to the mini roundabout.
As you start to climb North Quay Hill, ther harbour is spread out on your left. The buildings at the ebd of the far horbour wall contina Newquay Lifeboat Station. (For an interesting diversion, the harbour is accessible at the mini roundabout by walking along Fore Street and down South Quay Hill.)
Until closure in 1945, the station operated an all-weather lifeboat for nearly 80 years. 20 years later the station re-opened with an inshore lifeboat. In March 1908, when returning from exercise, the lifeboat capsized twice. All the crew, including the district inspector, were thrown into the sea. On the second occasion all regained the boat except Harry Storey who died from shock. In 1918 medals were awarded to the lifeboat crew for their part in rescuing the crew of the SS Osten from Denmark which was dashed on rocks in heavy seas. The crew managed to get a rope to shore and, with assistance, reached the land without loss of life although 5 men were severely injured.
- Take the second road to carry on in the same direction along Tower Road and then Higher Tower Road, to the Mount Wise roundabout.
- At the roundabout turn right along Pentire Road, taking the first left beyond to go down Trethellan Hill, carrying on straight ahead at the bottom to follow the pathway to Penmere Drive. Cross the road to continue on the footpath ahead, coming out on Trevean Way. Take the next footpath straight ahead to walk across the green to the Gannel, to where the footbridge crosses to Penpol Creek.
- If the tide is out and it is at least 3 hours before high tide, walk across to Penpol Creek. If the tide is in, you will need to cross at Fern Pit.
- From Penpol Creek cross the head of the creek. Just before Crantock Cottages take the footpath on the left, signed to Crantock, going through the gate to join the South West Coast Path.
‘Penpol' in Cornish means 'head of the creek'. Penpol Creek was once known as the Port of Truro, and goods were landed here too, to be taken by cart or packhorse up the track to Trevemper. At low tide you can still see the quays, steps, mooring rings and chains along the western shoreline.
- Follow the Coast Path along the National Trust Gannel Estuary Walk to Crantock Beach to return to the car park.
Although you wouldn't believe it to look at the dunes today, this was once the site of the Lost City of Langarrow, buried by a sandstorm over 900 years ago. It is claimed to have been the largest city of its type in England. It had no fewer than seven churches, each with its own churchyard. Archaeologists have found extensive burial sites throughout the area, dating right back to prehistoric times. Human remains were found in many of Crantock's cottage gardens.
Langarrow was a land of plenty, with large tracts of richly productive agricultural land. Mines yielded an abundance of tin and lead and the sea was said to be overflowing with many different kinds of fish. Convicted criminals were brought here from all over the country to work in the fields and mines, to dredge the sand from the Gannel and to build a harbour at its mouth. They lived in rough huts on the moorland outside the city. Their principle food was the cockles and mussels they gathered from the shore. Meanwhile, according to the legends, the landowners lived a life of luxury which soon turned to sin, calling down the wrath of God. A savage storm blew up, lasting for three days and three nights. The sand dunes from Crantock to Perran were formed to wipe the city of sin from the face of the earth.
In the thirteenth century a collegiate church was established in Crantock by Bishop Briwere of Exeter. The monks and their students lived a life of much greater piety than their predecessors, for three centuries, until it was closed during the English Reformation.