Crantock and The Gannel

The walk, which should be timed to avoid high tide, starts at Crantock beach and follows the Coast Path through fields and woods to Penpol Creek. The walk descends to the sand and follows the estuary bed which is visited at low tide by wading birds. At the top of the estuary there is an optional diversion to Trenance Gardens and the café by the boating lake. The walk then join a footpath across the fields to Crantock, passing the two pubs and two holy wells on the return to the beach.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Crantock Beach Car Park
  • Parking: NT Beach Car Park. Follow signs to Crantock and then to Crantock Village and Beach. Turn left in the centre of the village, signposted to the beach, and follow the road to reach a National Trust car park. Satnav: TR85RN
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Huge expanse of sand on Crantock beach and along the Gannel
  • Birdlife in the Gannel estuary

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Go through the gate just below the hut in the car park, signposted "Coast Path Penpol", and climb the steps to emerge onto a track.

    The deep gulley on the west side of Crantock Beach is known as Piper's Hole. Within this, inside the first cave on the right is a flat surface with carvings which include a female figure, a horse and a few lines of verse.

    This has given rise to romantic stories that the poem and drawings were carved by an an artist after his lover got cut off by the tide on her horse and both were washed out to sea. However the horse was added around 40 years later and its tail wasn't added until 2011!

    The original carving made of the female figure was made by London artist Joseph Prater who often visited relatives in Crantock and made the carving on one of his visits, probably in the early 1900s. The identity of the women is not known. The horse was carved in the 1940s by James Dyer of Crantock but for some reason this didn't include a tail. The carving was tidied up by an artist commissioned by the Parish Council in 2011, removing some graffiti, re-carving the poem and adding the missing tail.

  2. Turn left onto the track and follow it until it ends in a turning area in front of some houses.

    Crantock beach is a dune-backed beach south of Newquay across which the River Gannel runs. Due to the strong currents associated with the tidal river, the northern area of the beach is not recommended for swimming. The best place to swim is towards the southern side, backed by the cliffs of West Pentire.

    During the summer months, a ferry operates at high tide between the Fern Pit Café and the beach at Crantock.

  3. Join the small path leading ahead along the wall from the turning area and continue until the path forks at a waymark for "Caravan Park" and "Penpol".

    The name of the river is from the Cornish An Ganel meaning "the channel". At high tide, the River Gannel used to be navigable all the way to Trevemper Bridge, and schooners and barges would tranport coal, timber and sand to the mining and agricultural industries further inland. In 1838 the East Wheal Rose mine began discharging mine waste into the tributaries of the river. This caused silting and slime to coat the riverbed. Despite complaints to the Admiralty about the impact on the river's navigability, the silting continued.

    Since the closure of the mines, the water quality has greatly improved and the Gannel river supports wildlife including salmon and the once common but now endangered European eel. The salt marshes created by the silting have also become an important habitat which is now earmarked for protection within a Marine Conservation Zone.

  4. Turn left to follow the coast path towards Penpol. Continue to reach a kissing gate into a field.

    The settlement of Penpol was recorded in 1216, and is Cornish for "top of the creek". The word pol - literally "pool" - was also used to refer to a natural harbour, e.g. Polperro.

  5. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the bottom of the field to a gap in the far hedge.
  6. Go through the gap and then keep right to stay in the field. Follow the path to reach a kissing gate into the woods.

    The path to the left leads down to the shore, but a deep stream runs from the top of the creek, cutting off the higher part of the Gannel estuary.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to reach a gate just past some rope swings on the left.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path across the field to a gate.
  9. Squeeze through the gap next to the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to a concrete crossing at the bottom of the hill.

    During Victorian times there was a lime kiln beside the river and a quay for unloading coal and limestone.

    Internally, a lime kiln consisted of a conical stone or brick-lined chamber which was loaded from the top with alternating layers of limestone and carbon-rich fuel such as charcoal, peat or coal. At the side of the kiln was an alcove known as an "eye" which was used to access the kiln and remove the quicklime from a hole at the bottom of the chamber. The kiln was often run continuously with more layers of fuel and limestone added to the top as the previous layers worked their way down through the kiln. Air was drawn in through the bottom of the kiln and heated up as it passed through the quicklime (also cooling the quicklime) before it reached the level where combustion was taking place.

  10. Cross to the path opposite and turn left. Follow the path until it emerges onto the sand.

    If the tide turns out to be further in than you anticipated, the track leading through the two gates on the right can be used to cut the walk short, rejoining the route at direction 22. The section of the route with the 2 pubs is still present, however, allowing any tide-induced sorrows to be adequately drowned.

  11. Bear right to follow along the edge of the creek, sticking to the higher, sandy path along the sand where the creek starts to become more muddy. Continue to reach a small path departing through a gate on the right, just before a white post.

    The mud deposits in the estuary provide a habitat in which marsh samphire can grow.

    Two completely unrelated plants both confusingly known as samphire grow in Cornwall. Rock samphire has long, thin fleshy leaves grows on the cliffs. The more well-known species, known as glasswort or marsh samphire, grows in estuary mud and resembles miniature asparagus. In recent years, marsh samphire has been rediscovered as a culinary ingredient and now appears as "samphire" or part of the "sea vegetables" on many menus and is even available in supermarkets. It has a delicate texture and mild but salty flavour which makes it useful to add as a seasoning to a dish. Rock samphire, however, has a strong, characteristic flavour and is much less commonly used.

  12. If the tide is fully out then you can continue along the riverbed until you reach the sign for Penpol Path. If the tide is starting to come in then use the path from the gate on the right, following it through a series of kissing gates until it emerges onto the Penpol path.

    Tides in the Atlantic are closely aligned with the moon's position above the Earth which takes just under 25 hours on average to return to the same position; this is slightly more than 24, as the Earth has to chase the moon's orbit. The tides therefore "slip" by at just under an hour each day so that over a 7 day week, low tide and high tide have approximately changed places (e.g. no beach in the afternoon vs a huge beach in the afternoon). High tides occur every 12-13 hours when the moon is directly overhead or on the opposite side of the Earth and its gravity is pulling the water in the oceans towards it. There are therefore just over 6 hours between low and high tide. The speed with which the tide comes in or goes out follows a sine wave: slow at low tide, speeding up to the fastest at mid-tide (known as the "tide race", when currents are at their strongest) and slowing down again towards high tide. Thus high and low tides are also referred to as "slack tide" when tidal currents are at their minimum.

  13. At this point you can optionally take a diversion across the footbridge ahead and Trenance Lane (to the right of the road crossing) into Trenance Gardens where there is a café beside the boating lake. To resume the walk, turn right onto the Penpol Path and keep left between the posts with the black-and-white arrow to follow the path uphill. Continue to join a track and follow this ahead until you reach a tall waymark beside a metal gate on the right.

    Trenance gardens were initially laid out in 1906. Further work was done during the Great Depression of the 1930s to create the boating lake. Local unemployed men were paid dole money, a pasty per day and some tobacco to work on this and at the end of each week their wives received a packet of tea.

  14. Go through the gate beside the waymark and follow the left hedge of the field. As you approach the far hedge, head to the stone stile in the middle of the far hedge, just to the right of the green wire fence surrounding the solar farm.
  15. Cross the stile and follow the path ahead between the fence and the hedge to reach a wooden stile.
  16. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a waymark at the far side of the field.
  17. At the waymark, cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the track towards the farm. Keep right through the farm to reach a track departing to the right, just past the last building on the right.

    A settlement was recorded here at Treringey in 1400 as Treyungy. The settlement is thought to date from early mediaeval times and the place name to be based on a personal name from that period.

  18. Bear right to follow the track leading away from the farm. Pass a gateway on the left and continue along the track to a gate across it where the track enters the next field.

    The combination of the Great British Weather and a tonne of cow balanced on stilt-like legs can result in some muddy tracks and gateways to navigate, ideally without sinking below the level of your walking boots (or wellies in extreme cases!). Some suggestions for avoiding liquid-filled socks are:

    • Know your enemy: use a stick as a dipstick to assess how deep the mud is. A lake of extremely unpromising liquid mud may only turn out be a couple of inches deep.
    • If there are any rocks nestling in the mud, these are usually a good bet to stand on. Generally they would have already sunk if they weren't on fairly solid ground.
    • Clumps of grass have a root system that means you’re less likely to sink than in areas with no vegetation.
    • Where there are wheel ruts, the bottom of the ruts are often the firmest ground, having been compressed under several tonnes of tractor. However, ruts filled with deep water are best avoided as mud will have washed in with the water so the overall depth will be hard to estimate.
  19. Go through the gate and continue following the track along the left hedge to another gate across the track on the opposite side of the field.
  20. Go through the gate and follow the track along the left hedge, then bear left off the track to continue following the left hedge to a waymarked stile in the corner of the field.
  21. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge on a driveway next to a gate on the left with a public footpath sign to Crantock.

    The track leads to Penpol Creek, where you crossed beside the ford earlier on the walk.

  22. Turn left to go through the gate signposted to Crantock. Follow the path through a waymarked gate and down some steps. Continue across a wooden walkway to reach a gate at the far end.

    The wooded valley surrounds the small running into Penpol Creek. The tree cover provides shelter for wildlife such as blackbirds.

    Blackbirds are one of the most common birds in the UK with a population of somewhere between 10 and 15 million. However, blackbirds were in steady decline from the 1970s through to the mid-1990s. The population has only relatively recently recovered.

    The reference in the nursery rhyme "sing a song a sixpence" to "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" is thought to be to the 16th Century amusement (though not for the blackbirds) of producing a large pie with a chamber for live birds which would fly out when the pie was cut open.

    Baby blackbirds usually leave the nest before they can actually fly then hop and scramble through the bushes. Their parents watch over them so don't attempt to rescue them.

  23. When you reach the end of the wooden walkway, go through the gate and follow the path ahead up the bank but stop short of the field. Bear right to follow the path along the top of the bank leading a stile to the right of the gateway in the corner against the hedge.

    Badgers are most closely related to otters and weasels, but are omnivores and often catch their food by burrowing after it. Up until the 1950s, somewhat prior to the Gastro-pub revolution, many westcountry pubs had Badger Ham on the bar!

    Due to their relatively large body size, badgers are susceptible to the same pathogens as domestic livestock, and so badgers and cattle can catch tuberculosis from each other. In recent years, there has been controversy over badger culling as an attempted means to control the spread of bovine TB. The conclusions of the scientific trials of 2007 were that badger culling was not effective. One reason is that culling creates vacant territories and causes other badgers to roam more widely, continuing a spread. In 2010, a TB vaccine was produced which is hoped will prove more effective than culling, as a band of vaccinated badgers will act like a firewall, blocking a spread.

  24. Cross the stile and bear right to keep the bushes on your left, then cross the diagonal of the field to reach a kissing gate in the opposite corner.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you must: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  25. Go through the gate and follow the path beneath the trees to reach a stone stile.

    The red campion produces a blaze of pink flowers along hedgerows in the spring with the main flowering period occurring between May to October. In the mild Cornish climate, a few plants can often be seen flowering throughout the year. The plant is known by a few local names including Johnny Woods, Ragged Jack, Scalded Apples, and particularly in the southwest as Red Riding Hood. Another name - Batchelors’ buttons - suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young men.

    The roots contain saponins (soapy compounds) which protect the plants against microbes and fungi. These compounds make it easier for large molecules such as proteins to enter cell membranes. This has the potential to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy against cancer by allowing immunotoxins to enter the cancer cells more easily.

  26. Cross the stile and go through the kissing gate into the field. Continue ahead across the diagonal of the field, then bear right slightly to a pedestrian gate near the far end of the right-hand hedge.
  27. Go through the gate and continue ahead through a pair of pedestrian gates either side of a lane. Once in the field on the other side, bear right slightly to a kissing gate in the middle of the right-hand hedge.

    The Latin name of the buttercup, Ranunculus, means "little frog" and said to be because the plants like wet conditions. It is thought it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived near marshes!

    The plant produces a toxin called protoanemonin, which is at its highest concentration when flowering. It is thought that buttercups may be partly responsible for Equine Grass Sickness. A man in France who drank a glass of juice made from buttercups suffered severe colic after four hours and was dead the next day! Fortunately the toxin is quite unstable and drying of the plant in haymaking leads to polymerisation into non-toxic anemonin.

  28. Go through the gate and bear left slightly to the kissing gate in the corner of the field, just to the right of the house.
  29. Go through the gate and follow the path to emerge onto a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it downhill until it ends in a T-junction.

    The settlement of Crantock dates back to 460 AD, when a group of Irish or possibly Welsh hermits founded a chapel there. The parish was once known as Langurroc, which translates as "The Dwelling of Monks". The chapel of Langurroc was said to have been covered up in a sandstorm, and may lie beneath the sand dunes behind Crantock Beach. The village church is dedicated to St Carantoc - said to be one of the founders of the village. In its heydey, when the River Gannel was navigable, Crantock was a river port.

  30. At the junction, continue ahead between phone box and triangular grassy area then bear right after the bus stop to reach a small path leading from a bollard.

    Crantock holy well, located beside Well Cottage, is thought may date from mediaeval times although it has also been reported by one source as being 17th Century. In mid-Victorian times, the well was covered by a flat-topped structure. In 1894, it was recorded with a well-house resembling the one seen today:

    the holy well still exists, in the centre of the village, near the church, covered with a curious bee-hive shaped structure with a door. The villagers use the water for all household purposes, and when a pump was erected still preferred the sacred water. It has never been said to have possessed any special virtues.
  31. Follow the path from the bollard to emerge on a lane beside the two pubs.
  32. Turn left to follow the lane between the pubs and continue around a bend to the left, signposted to the car park. Keep right at the car park entrance to keep following the track until it ends in the beach road.

    After the Norman conquest, the church at Crantock was re-founded in the 13th Century as a college of canons. The 13th Century church included a tower which had fallen into disrepair by the 15th Century and collapsed, destroying much of the nave. The church was rebuilt but in Tudor times, the college was shut down as part of the dissolution of the monasteries and the church once again went into slow decline. At the end of the 19th Century, a restoration was carried out which was completed in 1902, rescuing as much of the mediaeval material as possible. An electrical fault caused a fire in 1985 which damaged the organ and roof. The stained-glass windows tell the story of St Carantoc.

  33. Turn right onto the road and follow it back to the beach car park.

    St Ambrew's Well is also recorded as St Ambrose Well and St Ambrusca's Well. Relatively little is known about it and what documentation exists is confused by the presence of two holy wells in Crantock. It's possible that this dates back to early mediaeval times and was associated with the Celtic religious enclosure here.

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