Walk - Hayle & the Towans Trail
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 car park by Hayle Swimming Pool pick up the King George V Memorial Walk and follow it back towards Hayle, alongside the river.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Hayle was a major industrial centre and an important shipping port. Harvey and Company's engineering works produced the largest steam pumping engines ever made, and Harvey’s engines were used in mines throughout the world.
Mr Harvey had as both sons-in-law and employees two outstanding Cornish inventors, Richard Trevithick and William West. Richard Trevithick designed the Cornish Boiler and what became known as the Cornish Engine, a high-pressure steam engine that greatly improved productivity in Cornish mines (see the Levant, Botallack and the Crowns Walk). Trevithick was a prolific inventor, and he also designed a screw propeller for ships and the first working steam road vehicle, the ‘Puffing Devil’, some 28 years before the creation of Stephenson’s famous 'Rocket'.
- At the end of the Memorial Walk turn left on Black Road and walk uphill to Phillack Church.
The tower of Phillack Church dates from the thirteenth century, but most of the building is a Victorian reconstruction. However, there is a chi-rho Christian symbol in the gable over the south porch from a much earlier period. This is one of only three chi-rho crosses ever found in Cornwall (see the Port Quin & Pine Haven Walk). The motif was extensively used in Gaulish and Mediterranean lands in the fourth and fifth centuries, and it is thought to designate a holy site which dates from that time. Historians believe that there was a wooden oratory here then, which was replaced with a stone chapel sometime early in the eighth century.
- Going through the churchyard, take the path on the far side, heading towards the sea.
- When you reach the South West Coast Path, turn right to follow it all the way through the dunes to the car park at Gwithian Towans.
To the right at about a mile into the walk are the Upton Towans (from the Cornish word 'towans' meaning 'dunes'). Known locally as 'Dynamite Towans', this was formerly the site of the National Explosives Company. The factory was established in 1888 to produce dynamite for use in the mines and quarries, and it covered 300 acres of the Towans. By 1890 it was producing three tons of explosives every day, and during the First World War it manufactured cordite, gelatine, nitro-glycerine and gelignite for the British army and navy. It had a workforce of around 1500, and by the end of hostilities it had turned out up to 2000 tons of explosives. Although the factory closed in 1919, the site was still used to store explosives until the 1960s.
- If the tide is high, make your way back across the dunes to Hayle, but otherwise go down onto the beach and turn left, to head back along the famous golden sands.
The Hayle Towans is Cornwall's second largest dune system, and it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The north-west-facing dunes are exposed to the full force of Atlantic gales, which are continually driving the sand inland. This exposes the rocks to the north, which the waves have eroded into cliffs, caves, stacks and arches, and the remains of former dunes are preserved on the top of the sea stacks. This makes it an important area for geologists to study the relationship between the dunes and the older surfaces beneath them.
The sand was formed from crushed seashells, which are rich in calcium, and the fertile soil it creates supports a wide range of plants and animals. The past industrial and agricultural use of the land has provided further habitats, and a fifth of all Cornwall's plants can be seen here. This is turn attracts many butterflies and moths, including some rare species.
- Turn left beyond the lifeguard hut, just before Rocky Cliff, rejoining the Coast Path as it heads back towards Hayle. Carry on above the beach, right to the mouth of the estuary.
- When the path heads inland and turns onto North Quay, continue alongside the estuary and above the harbour to return to the car park.