Walk - Gwithian Towans
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the National Trust car park at Godrevy pick up the South West Coast Path as it heads south towards Hayle and St Ives, and follow it down towards the Red River. Cross the river on the footbridge and head across the dunes towards the church in Gwithian, bearing left after the lagoon but staying to the right of the road, until you reach the path in front of the campsite at Gwithian.
The Red River, across the road, was one of Cornwall's most industrialised valleys during the peak mining period. Most of the activity in the valley revolved around the recovery of tin that had been lost from mine dressing floors, and this form of tin streaming was carried out here right up to the 1960s. Today the Red River runs through a peaceful, partially wooded valley, a Local Nature Reserve with some lakes and ponds and areas of heathland (see the Reskajeage & Tehidy Walk). It is one of five Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) in the area, together constituting the West Cornwall Wildspace Local Nature Reserves. The grant-funded Wildspace project aims to encourage and promote community involvement in local reserves, while protecting a wide range of species in their particular habitats.
Gwithian Towans is another area in the project working towards LNR status. The 44-hectare site - a beautiful area of southern grassland - is heavily used by tourists and locals, and a community group has been formed to manage the towans and minimise the damage caused by misuse.
A further projected LNR in the scheme is the Gwithian Sand Pit site - the lagoon you pass in the dunes. It was created by decades of sand extraction, with the layer of fine windblown sand at the top being used for building and the more coarse deposits beneath it being a useful fertiliser.
Archaeologists excavating in this area found the remains of a tenth-century chapel, St Gothian's, built to replace an earlier oratory established in AD 490 by St Gwithian ('Godhyan' in Cornish, also known as Gocianus). The Celtic saint was one of a great many missionaries arriving on the North Cornish coast to help defend the beleaguered Christianity as Anglo-Saxon pagans sought to fill the political vacuum left in Britain when the Romans departed (see the Porthkidney Sands Walk).
- Turn left on this path and walk to Churchtown Road in Gwithian.
- Turn right on the road, watching out for traffic, and walk through the village, past the church. At the pub bear right with the road and walk to the footpath signed on your right after the last houses.
The present-day Church of St Gothian's was built in the thirteenth century to replace the tenth-century chapel, which was finally overwhelmed by windblown sand.
- Turn right onto the footpath, following it across the field to the far hedge. Turn left along the hedge and walk to the corner of the field, passing the hedge on your right and then turning right beyond it to take the path alongside it to the track beyond.
- Turn right on the track and follow it to the road beyond. Turn right again briefly and take the path on your left a moment later. Follow this path through the dunes, walking roughly parallel to the road. As you approach the car park, bear slightly left to join the South West Coast Path, between the car park and the cliffs.
This is the second largest dune system in Cornwall, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its geology and wildlife. 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 (see the Upton Towans & Gwithian Walk)
Upton Towans are also known as Dynamite Towans. They were formerly the site of the National Explosives Company, established in 1888 to produce dynamite for use in the mines and quarries. Remnants of the buildings can be seen throughout the dunes (see the Dynamite Towans & Copperhouse Pool Walk).
- On the Coast Path turn right and follow it past the car park and on above Strap Rocks, on the beach below.
- When the main path loops to the right, heading back in the direction of the car park, fork left to continue along the Coast Path into the dunes. From here head across either the beach or the dunes to cross the Red River on the footbridge once more and return to the car park.