Walk - Gwithian Towans

2.3 miles (3.8 km)

Gwithian National Trust car park - TR27 5ED Gwithian NT car park

Easy - The walk is mostly level, on sandy paths that may be wet, a track, a quiet road, beach or dunes. 

A brief stroll across the dunes (the Gwithian Towans) to the village of Gwithian, where the church replaces two earlier chapels that were both engulfed in sand. The whole area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the geology and wildlife that have both been created by sand driven in by Atlantic storms, and places once buzzing with industrial activity associated with mining are now tranquil Local Nature Reserves.

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Nanterrow Farm

Found in the heart of a 100 acre farm, this charming late Georgian farmhouse sits within a traditional country garden in a quiet, traffic free valley.

Sandbanks Holidays

Nestled in the sand dunes of St Ives Bay, surrounded by National Trust conservation areas, with direct access to the coastal road and the A30, sandbank is an ideal location, whatever your personal holiday passion. 

Sandbank House B&B

Nestled in the sand dunes, surrounded by conservation areas, with direct access to the coast road and A30, we are in an ideal location whatever your personal holiday passion.

Creekside B&B

Creekside B&B in Hayle welcomes you warmly with ensuite rooms, free wifi & a tasty breakfast. Transport links, cafes, restaurants & shops are nearby.

Penhayl Cottage

Very quiet 5 star house, full central heating. 2 Beds/2 Bathrooms, lounge overlooking Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve & SSSI. 10 minute walk to bus & Inn.

Beachpads

Three stunning holiday homes (2 x 4-Bed & 1 x 2 Bed) located on the Coast Path, at Lelant in St Ives Bay with absolute sea and beach front position, unrivalled vista.

The Painters Cottage

Small friendly guest house set in historic former artist's residence with arts and crafts period features. Ideal for exploring West Cornwall and the South West Coast Path. One night stays, 4 full ensuite rooms. Evening meal available

Carlill Guesthouse

Stylish modern ensuite rooms. Few minutes to coast/amenities. Long parking available

The Western Hotel

In the heart of St Ives with good breakfasts, comfy rooms and live music at night. Just steps away from the harbour, local art galleries and Coast Path. Baggage transfers.

Cohort Hostel

Newly renovated hostel: Centre of St Ives & minutes from the coastal path. Dorms & private rooms, free WiFi, kitchen, TV room, lounge & bar.

Ayr Holiday Park

We offer luxury holiday caravans, s/c apartments, touring & camping pitches with amazing views and facilities. Less than half a mile from beaches, town centre & harbour. Town centre 10 minute walk from the park or a short bus/taxi ride.

Tamarisk Guest House

Tamarisk is only 10 minutes' walk from Porthmeor Beach and Town Centre. Away from traffic and situated on a delightful lane leading onto the cliffs carrying the south West Coast path.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. 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).

  1. Turn left on this path and walk to Churchtown Road in Gwithian.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

  1. On the Coast Path turn right and follow it past the car park and on above Strap Rocks, on the beach below.
  2. 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.
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