Newquay

The walk starts in the centre of Newquay and passes the aquarium and harbour, then climbs to the Huer's Hut and follows the coast onto Towan Head where the Padstow Coast Guard built a lookout to oversee corrupt Newquay harbour officials and there are views across the bay to Trevose Head. From there, the route crosses one of Europe's best surf beaches - Fistral - to reach Pentire Point where there are panoramic views over Fistral and Crantock. The walk then heads up the Gannel estuary and through the gardens past the boating lake at Trenance to the Victorian viaduct. The circular route is completed by a couple of residential roads and the trackbed of the horse-drawn tramway.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.8 miles/9.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Manor Car Park or Tourist Information Centre
  • Parking: Manor car park. At Quintrell Downs, take the A3058 towards Porth and Watergate Bay. Keep ahead at all the roundabouts to follow this into Newquay. Just past the station, follow the one-way system to the left and then turn right at the junction with the Hospital sign onto Mount Wise. Pass Grosvenor and Michell Ave on the right and then turn right onto Marcus Hill, signposted to The Manor car park. Turn left at the crossroads by the church, also signposted to the car park, which is on the right. Satnav: TR71RA
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Newquay's historic harbour and huer's hut
  • Views over the Gannel estuary
  • Huge sandy beach at Fistral
  • Panoramic views from Towan Head and Pentire Point

Directions

  1. Walk down the ramp from the car park (or downhill from the Tourist Information Centre) to the staggered crossroads. Cross the road to the short road opposite signposted "Blue Reef Aquarium" and leading towards the beach. Follow the road a short distance to reach a footpath departing from the left.

    Before the railway was built, Newquay was a small fishing village, with around 1,300 inhabitants recorded in 1801. The settlement grew up around a natural harbour and was known as Towan Blystra (which translates to something like "wind-blown dune"). Although protected from the prevailing westerly winds, the anchorage was quite exposed to a northeasterly wind. This may possibly be the origin of the Cornish name but also gave rise to its successor: in the late Middle Ages, funds were secured to protect the harbour by the building of a new quay.

  2. Bear left and follow the middle path leading downhill along the railings in the direction of the harbour to reach a junction of paths at the bottom.
  3. Go down the steps ahead to emerge beside the Blue Reef Aquarium. At the bottom, turn left and pass the Blue Reef Aquarium to join a lane. Follow this around a bend to reach a flight of steps on the right, opposite a small car park.

    Towan Island was first sold at an auction in 1838 to the industrious Billing brothers, who were often seen working in their gardens on the Island. Before 1900, the island had a potato patch and chickens were also kept there, and it was accessed by a curving pathway up the sides from the beach.

    At the start of the 1900s, a 30m long suspension bridge was built 25m above the beach and is the only privately-owned suspension bridge in Britain. The building on the island was formerly a tea room, and was converted into a three-bedroom Edwardian house in the 1930s.

    The house was once owned by Sir Oliver Lodge, inventor of the spark plug. One can speculate whether the gap between the land and the island provided inspiration for the spark plug, vice versa, or whether this is just a happy coincidence.

  4. Climb the steps and follow the main path ahead to meet the hedge on the right and reach a flight of steps in the far corner of the park.
  5. Climb the steps and follow the path past the bowling green to reach another flight of steps. Climb these and make your way through the car park to reach the road.
  6. Turn right and follow the road a short distance until you reach a junction to the right signposted for "Historic Working Harbour".

    During the mining boom of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Newquay's mediaeval harbour, which was originally built for fishing, was rebuilt as a mineral port. Work was started as part of a grand plan by a London investor to create a three acre harbour for exporting copper to the smelters in South Wales. He died before it was completed, but his company was bought out by mining magnate Joseph Treffry who completed work on the harbour for mineral export and connected it to his transport links leading inland. The stone pier in the centre of the harbour was originally connected to the South Quay by a timber bridge to create a third quay.

    The harbour still has a small working fishing fleet and commercial boats associated with tourism.

  7. If the tide is out then turn right down South Quay Hill and follow the road down to the slipway leading onto the beach. If the tide is in then continue ahead past the Fort Inn to the roundabout and turn right down North Quay Hill. Bear left at the fork just past The Harbour Restaurant and follow the path behind the cellars to the white building to resume the walk from direction 11.

    The Newquay lifeboat carried out its first rescue in 1864 and was initially located on Fore Street. The difficulty of launching the boat, over sand at low tide, resulted in it being relocated to a dedicated slipway on Towan Head. This also eventually closed in 1945. In the 1960s, an inshore lifeboat station re-opened at Newquay, based in the harbour and continues to carry out quite frequent rescues, with the crew earning several awards for gallantry.

  8. Bear left down the slipway and cross the top of the beach to the flight of steps on the opposite side.

    Newquay's Gig Rowing Club, next to the lifeboat house, stems from the use of these boats in the harbour during the 19th Century. One of four boats documented as in use in 1840 is owned by the club and is still seaworthy.

    The six-oared elm boats known as Pilot Gigs were general-purpose work boats, but one of their uses was to transport the pilot to and from a ship, which resulted in the name. The first boat to meet a ship gained the business of transporting the captain (and thus being paid) and thus a "race" came into being, with different boats competing for business. Today, Gig Racing is of a recreational nature, but the boats are still built to the exact well-documented specification of the originals. Elm wood is highly resistant to water, so much so, that town water mains were made of elm before the widespread availability of iron.

  9. Climb the steps and keep right at the fork to follow the path around the harbour to the quay.

    When Newquay was a working mineral port, horse-drawn wagons emptied their ore into chutes at the top of the cliff, forming heaps at the bottom. The ore was moved along tram tracks which were laid along the quays to load the sailing ships awaiting in the harbour. Coal and other imported goods were raised from the quay in wagons hauled through a tunnel (now occupied by Newquay Rowing Club) using winding engines.

  10. Turn left to go away from the quay and then climb the steps on the right with railings. At the top, turn left and make your way through the small car park to the exit, then turn right onto the track behind the cellars and follow this to white building ahead.

    The concrete platform ahead of the steps is the location of the Fly pilchard cellars.

    The Fly cellars were built on the rock platform under The Beacon in 1800. When pilchard catches declined, the cellars were converted into a herring curing factory. The cellars were also used to store the town's four ancient gigs. Two were sold off and one of these was removed from the cellars and was later found in use at a local farm where it had been cut in two - the majority was holding up a hedge and the stern section was used as a chicken coop. The remaining three gigs were moved after the cellars were sold. The night after they were moved, the cellars burn down!

    Today, all that remains is a platform on the rocks which has become a popular fishing spot as the water is relatively deep at high tide and the seabed out from the rocks is sandy and snag-free.

  11. Join the path leading ahead from the track and follow this a short distance to a flight steps on the left. Climb these and at the top, keep right to follow the path ahead and emerge onto a road beside the white Huer's hut.

    Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".

  12. Bear right to pass the Huer's hut then bear right through the gap in the railings to join the unsurfaced path leading along the coast. Follow this to reach a fork in the path, at the end of a wire mesh fence.

    The Huer's hut in Newquay is thought to date from the mid-19th Century but may be on the site of the earlier building, possibly dating as far back as the 14th Century. The courtyard on the seaward side was added later and included walls which were originally five feet high. In 1906, the building was leased to the Council who modified it for use as a shelter, lowering the walls and widening the doorway. It has since had the iron gates added so it can no longer be used as a shelter.

    Newquay's Gig Rowing Regatta ran from 1815 and was started at the huer's hut by firing a cannon positioned below the huer's hut that was salvaged from a sunken Galleon in the Spanish Armada. The cannon was destroyed in the 1920s by a group of young men visiting the town who threw it from the top of the cliff and it smashed to pieces on the rocks below.

  13. Keep right to stay on the small path along the coast and follow this to emerge further ahead on the tarmacked path.

    During the years of Free Trade, Newquay had a reputation as a port where harbour officials could be bribed to "look at the wall" whilst smuggled goods were unloaded. Conversely the port of Padstow was very much more under the control of the Revenue men. The octagonal lookout was built on the top of the headland by the Coast Guard so that armed watchmen from Padstow could be stationed at Newquay to keep an eye on things.

    Smugglers would use old mine workings to store their contraband. One area of workings near Newquay became known as the Tea Caverns due to its regular use for storing smuggled tea, which was very highly taxed from the start of the 18th Century. Due to its light weight and ease of transport, tea became even more profitable to smuggle than spirits. This continued until the 1780s, when the tax on tea was slashed and smugglers turned their attention to other commodities.

  14. Merge onto the larger path and follow this until it ends on a lane.

    Due to the difficulties of launching the lifeboat from the centre of Newquay, a purpose-built slipway was created at Towan Head in 1895, leading into the ocean in the area known as The Gazzel (meaning armpit). This was followed by the lifeboard house in 1899. The slipway is one of the steepest in England and as well as making for a launch that was not for the feint-hearted, it was so steep that the lifeboat could not be returned to the lifeboat house via the slipway. Instead it had to come ashore at Towan Beach and be towed through the town by a team of horses.

  15. At this point you can take an optional diversion onto the headland and join the path opposite via the Coast Path sign. Otherwise, cross the lane to the path opposite. Follow path past the Headland Hotel to reach The Fish House beside Fistral car park.

    The Headland Hotel was built to create the finest hotel in South West England and opened its doors in 1900. The controversial construction has been documented by the owners of the hotel:

    When work commenced there was immediate opposition from the local fishermen, who claimed the hotel was being built on common land they had used to dry their nets for generations. Feelings ran high and local workmen were intimidated into stopping work. One night a group came up from the town and pulled down the foundation walls, burned the scaffolding and threw the foreman's hut into the sea. The Newquay Riots, as they were known, resulted in several men being fined and all work grinding to a halt. Two hundred unemployed miners from Redruth were recruited because the locals were unwilling to return to the site, and as the new workers arrived in Newquay, traction engines equipped with steam hoses were used to keep the resentful natives at bay.

    In 1990, the hotel was used as the setting for Roald Dahl's film "The Witches".

  16. As you reach The Fish House, bear right to the Coastal Path sign and turn left to follow along the paved area beside the buildings and emerge further down the car park.

    The large, west-facing beach at Fistral is one of the best and most consistent surf beaches in Europe. Fistral hosts a number of surfing championships including the English National Surf Championship and Europe's largest surf festival - Boardmasters.

  17. At this point, you can optionally walk along Fistral Beach if the tide is out and rejoin the route at direction 20 by climbing the steps at Bodhi's café (the steps lead from the sandy area on the other side of the ridge of rocks in front of the café). Otherwise, to follow the coastal path through the dunes, cross the car park to the path leaving from the far left corner.

    Surfing in the UK became popular in the 1960s, driven by the music of The Beach Boys and the Hawaiin influence in California. However there were pioneer surfers in Cornwall and the Channel Islands shortly after the First World War. In the 1920s, the young men of Perranporth were provided with coffin lids by the local undertaker for use as surfboards.

  18. Follow the path from the car park and continue ahead at the crossing of paths to reach a fork in the path.

    Newquay has been at the heart of UK surfing for half a century. The surfing and beach lifestyle promoted by the Beach Boys fuelled a boom in Newquay's tourism with flights from Gatwick by Dan-Air in the 1960s as well as trains bringing in the tourists. In the 60's, "serious" surfers sported massive longboards, many of which were made in Newquay, whereas the tourists surfed on wooden belly boards. Newquay still boasts the best range of surf shops, schools and board manufacturers in the UK.

  19. Follow either of the paths ahead which rejoin in various places. The upper path has superior views of the beach. Continue until the paths merge for a last time and follow this until it emerges into a grassy area where a path leads down to the café and beach below.
  20. Continue ahead to follow the grassy area along the clifftop towards the headland and join the path running alongside the road. Follow the roadside path until you reach the end of the public road with a private road continuing ahead.
  21. Follow the private road ahead which fades out into an unsurfaced track. Follow this until it eventually emerges onto a lane beside the car park on the headland.

    The headland is known as Pentire (or East Pentire).

    The name "Pentire" is common on the coast for the simple reason that it means "headland": in Cornish pen means head or top and tir means land. Some Anglicised names such as "Pentire Point" (i.e. Headland Point) are somewhat tautological.

  22. Bear left onto the lane and pass the car park on your right. Follow the track ahead marked "Riverside Crescent" ahead and pass a track to the left. Continue ahead and keep following the track around a bend to the left where it becomes a surfaced road. Follow the road until you reach a junction beside signs for Riverside Crescent and Riverside Avenue.

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

    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.

  23. Bear right down Riverside Avenue and follow this 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.

  24. Turn right and follow the road until it also ends in a T-junction.
  25. Turn right and follow the road past Hotel California to another T-junction.

    Just after you turn right, the Public Footpath to Crantock leads down onto the shoreline of The Gannel. At low tide you can optionally walk upriver along the shoreline and rejoin the route at the small car park, just past direction 33, following the lane ahead towards the main road to reach direction 34.

  26. Turn right and follow the road a short distance to a junction to the right marked "Penmere Drive 6-16".
  27. Turn right and follow the road to a path between No 12 and No 14. Join the path and follow this until it joins an unsurfaced path running alongside the river.

    Cornish tradition states that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return from their clifftop lookouts to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the pilchard fishermen returned to land. It traditionally contains flour, lard+butter, milk, sugar and raisins and is similar in appearance to Welsh cakes, but the magic ingredient is a heavy spicing of nutmeg. It is made by crumbling all of the dry mixture together, then adding the raisins and mixing to a dough with milk. The dough is then rolled to a thickness of about 1/2", and traditionally a criss-cross pattern is scored across the top which signifies the nets used by the fishermen. It was originally cooked on a griddle, as with Welsh cakes. Hevva cake has had a recent revival (if you taste it, you'll see why!) and is now on sale in many supermarkets as well as bakeries in Cornwall.

  28. At the bottom, bear left and follow the path upriver which emerges into a grassy area. Keep right to cross the grass to an opening on the opposite side.

    Our favourite hevva cake recipe was passed down by lady called Patsy to make small buns rather than one big cake, and is baked using self-raising flour for a lighter finish: Rub/whizz 250g butter into 500g SR flour. Mix in 250g demerara sugar, 125g sultanas, 100g mixed peel and 5g of freshly grated nutmeg (which looks a lot but was arrived at by extensive taste testing). Add an egg and bring together with a little milk. Shape into small discs about 1.5cm thick. Top with demerara sugar. Bake 170C for 15-20 min until just starting to turn golden on top.

  29. Go through the opening and keep left to follow the path between the railings to a surfaced track. Follow the path opposite through the railings to a grassy area and follow along the bushes on the right to reach a larger area of grass when you reach the end of the wall on the left.
  30. As you enter the grassy area, keep right to follow alongside the bushes and reach a gap at the bottom of the wall ahead.
  31. Go through the gap and follow along the right hedge to emerge onto a surfaced path beside a bench.
  32. Bear right to join the surfaced path and follow this until it emerges onto a lane.
  33. Turn right onto the lane and follow this until it ends in a junction with the main road.

    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.

  34. Turn right at the junction and follow the pavement towards the roundabout to reach the pedestrian crossing by the traffic lights and footpath from the Gannel. Cross to the pavement opposite and continue following the road a little further towards the roundabout until you reach Trenance Lane.

    The flooded quarry pits, farm ponds and pools in small streams in Cornwall provide ideal habitats for Freshwater Eels. Freshwater Eels have such an eccentric life cycle that it was a mystery for many years. The adult eels migrate from the lakes in which they grew up, across land, down rivers and 4,000 miles across the ocean to the Carribean where they spawn and die. The larvae then drift for 300 days in the ocean currents from the Sargasso Sea to Europe. The tiny "glass eels" then migrate up rivers and across fields to find suitable homes.

    Eels have been a popular food for centuries as their rich, oily flesh is very tasty. Do to overfishing, pollution and also changes in ocean currents, the Freshwater Eel is now a critically endangered species. Since the 1970s, the numbers of eels reaching Europe is thought to have declined by around 90% (possibly even as much as 98%). A research project has been started to breed eels in captivity. This is not straightforward as the eel is generally only able to reproduce after having swum 4,000 miles. The researchers have therefore developed an Eel Gym to help the eels find their mojo.

  35. Turn left onto Trenance Lane and take the second path to the right leading to the lake. Turn left to walk alongside the lake and continue to reach the café.

    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.

  36. Bear right to pass the café and then keep the water on your right. Continue until you reach a final (wooden) bridge to the right.

    During the 1960s, it was considered an exotic school trip for schoolchildren in Tintagel to be taken to the boating lakes at Trenance Park. Unfortunately, schoolteachers at the time were less well-acquainted with boats than the schoolchildren, and a teacher who unwisely stood with one leg in each boat was reminded of Newton's Laws in a way that was both memorable and ceased any more Newquay visits for the schoolboys in the two boats.

  37. Bear right across the bridge and then left through the railings to reach the crossing. Cross the road and go through the railings ahead, then keep the water on your left until the path ends in a bridge crossing back over the river.
  38. Cross the bridge and turn right to keep following parallel to the road. Continue until, just before the path goes beneath the viaduct, you reach a Public Footpath sign at the bottom of a flight of steps.

    Newquay Zoo is a short distance further along the road beneath the viaduct and can be reached via the pedestrian crossing just before the viaduct.

    Newquay Zoo opened in 1969 by the Newquay district council, went into private ownership in the 1990s and is now part of a larger conservation charity which also includes Paignton Zoo. Newquay Zoo increasingly holds endangered species and has a number of successful conservation breeding programmes including the Red Panda.

  39. Turn left and go up the steps. Keep right where paths join from the left to keep climbing the steps. When you eventually reach the top, follow the path until it emerges into a turning area appropriately outside Newquay Hospital.

    During the 1840s, the Victorian entrepreneur Joseph Treffry created a horse-drawn tramway from the area around Bugle to his port in Par. In 1849, the tramway was extended through St Dennis to Newquay, in an ambitious scheme to export from the mines to both coasts. In Newquay the tramway ran along the trackbed of what is now the railway line, over the Trenance viaduct and beside the current station but rather than terminating here, it continued through the town to the harbour.

  40. Turn right and follow the road away from the hospital until you reach a junction to the right.
  41. Bear right to follow the pavement along the road to the right; follow this until it ends at a T-junction.
  42. At the junction, turn right and follow the road around a bend to the left until it also ends in a T-junction.

    In 1873 the Cornwall Mineral Railway took over the line to Newquay with a view to exporting iron and china clay but the demand for transport was less than expected. The line was therefore opened to passengers in 1876 in an attempt to diversify and the railway station was built in 1877, providing access to Newquay's array of golden beaches. After buying the line to Newquay in 1896, the Great Western Railway ran a poster campaign to entice city dwellers to discover the wonders of Cornwall. This proved hugely successful and a number of hotels were built in Newquay to accomodate the surge in tourism. Passengers were originally taken from the station to their hotels in horse-drawn taxis.

  43. When you reach the junction, cross to the cycle/pedestrian track opposite (there is a pedestrian crossing just past the shops on the right) and follow this beneath a bridge and alongside a tarmacked lane to reach the junction where you started the walk.

    The pedestrian and cycle route is known locally as "the Tram Track" as this is the trackbed of Treffry's tramway leading to the harbour. It continued to be used as a rail link to the harbour until 1926.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

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