Walk - Carbis Bay and Porthkidney Sands circular walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Hendra Parc car park in Carbis Bay, return to Porthrepta Road, turning left to drop downhill past the station.
- Reaching the the South West Coast Path on your right above Carbis Bay beach, turn onto it, heading towards Hayle.
The 60-metre cliffs around the headland at Carrack Gladden are of metamorphosed Devonian slate, and the acidic soil above them supports a range of vegetation, including grassland and scrub, and the nationally scarce maritime heathland, a habitat of gorse and bracken srrounded by ling and bell heather, giving a brilliant vista of purples and yellows during the summer and autumn. A number of rare plants grow here, including soft-leaved sedge, ivy broomrape and the delicate, vividly green maidenhair fern. The whole area has been recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as a result of the biodiversity of its species, known as the Hayle Estuary and Carrack Gladden SSSI.
Looking up from the headland at Carrack Gladden you can see the 50-foot granite pyramid of Knill's Steeple on Worvas Hill above you, used by ships as a landmark. John Knill was a lawyer and a collector of customs, and he was mayor of St Ives in 1767. He had the monument built as a personal mausoleum in 1782, and he had the word 'Resurgam' ('I shall rise again') inscribed in bold relief on one of its faces. On the second face he added 'I know that my Redeemer liveth', and the last side bore the Knill coat of arms and his personal motto, 'Nil Desperandum'. There were problems with consecrating the ground, however, and in the end he was buried in St Andrew Holborn in London. In his will he left instructions instead for a bizarre ceremony to take place at the monument on St James's Day (25th July) in the second and seventh year of every decade. Ten girls dance around the obelisk, to music played by a fiddler, and two widows have to be in attendance.
- Above Porthkidney Sands you come to a railway bridge. Cross the bridge to turn right on the far side, heading back towards Carbis Bay on the other side of the railway line. Carry on past the small footpaths in the burrows, until you come to a sharp left-hand bend which leads you to a T-junction.
The long stretch of golden sand at Porth Kidney can be reached around the point from Carbis Bay at low tide, but be aware that the tide comes in very quickly, and strong currents make the water unsuitable for bathing near the estuary. It is backed by a large area of dunes, dune grassland and dune scrub, again exhibiting a wide range of unusual wildflowers, thanks to its sand being rich in lime from crushed seashells, with traveller's joy and wild privet ranging through the widespread marram grass. Other particularly important plants include mountain St John's wort and the Hebridean orchid with its lavishly speckled pink flowers.
The return route on the far side of the railway line is St Michael's Way, a 12½-mile coast-to-coast walking route, which starts in Lelant. This was once a prehistoric route allowing sea travellers to avoid the treacherous currents around Land's End by crossing the peninsula overland instead. Later it was used by pilgrims on the network of routes leading across Europe to one of the world's most important Christian places of pilgrimage, the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain. It is the only British footpath to be designated a European Cultural Route in modern times, and it ends at St Michael's Mount by Marazion. St Michael the Archangel is said to have appeared to some Cornish fishermen on St Michael's Mount in the year 495.
- At the T-junction turn right to carry on along the hedge, towards Carbis Bay. Keep going ahead past the lane on the left, just before the first houses on Headland Road.
- When the lane opens out into a road, carry on ahead along Headland Road, turning left on the main road to return to Hendra Parc. Alternatively, take the footpath to the right, turning left at the bottom, for a more picturesque route back to the main road, again turning left here to return to the car park.