Walk - Dynamite Towans & Copperhouse Pool
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.
- Start from first the car park on the right-hand side of St Ives Lane (the left fork after Loggans). Take the footpath opposite the entrance to the car park, and follow it through the dunes to where it joins the South West Coast Path, still some distance from the beach.
- On the Coast Path turn left and follow it through the dunes towards Hayle.
This is the second largest dune system in Cornwall, and it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its geology and wildlife (see the Upton Towans & Gwithian Walk). The dunes are exposed to fierce Atlantic storms, which blow the sand inland, continually reshaping the dunes and providing a habitat rich in shell sand which gives rise to an abundance of plants, including some rare ones. A fifth of all Cornish plant species can be seen here. This is turn leads to a rich variety of insects, including moths and butterflies, themselves food for a wide range of bird species. Listen out for skylarks overhead.
Upton Towans (from the Cornish word 'towans' meaning 'dunes') are known locally as 'Dynamite Towans'. This was formerly the site of the National Explosives Company, established in 1888 to produce dynamite for use in the mines and quarries. It covered 300 acres of the Towans, and remnants of the buildings can be seen throughout the dunes. By 1890 the company 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.
- At Black Cliff carry on along the Coast Path (unless you want a detour to the facilities). The path follows the beach around to the left, heading inland around the estuary through the dunes at Harvey's Towans.
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'.
- Coming out onto the road, carry on ahead along North Quay to the swimming pool.
Copperhouse Pool is part of the Hayle Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest, designated a SSSI for its wildlife. In rough weather the sheltered waters are a haven for wading birds, such as curlwes and grey plovers, and flocks of ducks can be seen, including wigeons and teals. Britain's most southerly estuary rarely freezes, and birds can feed here all year round, making it an important place for migrating and wintering birds. In very cold winters, as many as 18,000 birds can be seen here.
- Turn left at the swimming pool to pick up the King George V Memorial Walk alongside the water to Black Road.
- Leave the Memorial Walk here to turn left towards Phillack. Carry on past the lanes to right and left, climbing Phillack Hill to the T-junction in front of the 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.
Across the river, in the RSPB bird reserve, there is a stone erected by St Germoe Church in 1999 to celebrate 1500 years of Christianity, following the sixth-century arrival in Hayle of a number of Celtic saints (see the Porthkidney Sands Walk).
- Going through the churchyard, take the path at the far end heading out across the dunes. Follow the path to the Coast Path and retrace your steps to the car park at the start of the walk.