Watergate Bay to Newquay

The walk starts with a 10 minute bus ride from Newquay to Watergate Bay where Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant is located. The walk then follows the Coast Path from Watergate Bay to Whipsiddery, or at low tide you can walk along a mile of sandy beach. From here, there is an optional diversion to Trevelgue Head and Porth Island, where there are panoramic views of the Newquay coastline. The walk continues across Porth beach to join the Coast Path to Lusty Glaze beach. The return to Newquay is across the Bronze-Age Barrowfields passing Tolcarne Beach.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles/5.7 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Bus: 56 from Great Western Hotel, Newquay to Watergate Bay
  • Start from: Watergate Bay car park
  • Parking: Car park near the Railway Station. Satnav: TR72NG
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Huge sandy beach at Watergate Bay
  • Beaches of Whipsiddery, Porth, Lusty Glaze and Tolcarne on the return to Newquay
  • Blowhole and Iron Age fort on Trevelgue Head
  • Panoramic coastal views of Newquay and its beaches from the coastpath

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Take the footpath behind the car park at Watergate Bay, signposted to Porth. Follow the path until you reach a waymark to Trevelgue, on the top of the headland.

    Watergate Bay, near Newquay, is still sometimes known by its local name "Tregurrian Beach" which is reported as once being Porth Tregoryan (meaning something along the lines of "Cove at Coryan's Farm").

    The beach is two miles long and popular for surfing of all kinds including kite surfing. The beach faces west, so the best surf occurs when the wind is easterly. The surf is said to be consistent at all states of the tide.

    As you climb the coast path, the large roof on your right, covering the buildings on the beach, is Fifteen Cornwall.

    Fifteen Cornwall at Watergate Bay was the brainchild of one of the staff at Restormel Borough Council in the community regeneration department. After getting a venue sorted and persuading Jamie Oliver to make this his second "Fifteen" after his first in London, the restaurant opened in 2006 and has trained over 100 apprentice chefs. It is run by a charity: The Cornwall Foundation for Promise.

  2. At the waymark, continue through the gap in the hedge to the second waymark. Follow the coast path until you reach a waymark in front of a large conical mound.

    The two large mounds alongside the coastpath between Watergate Bay and Whipsiddery are Bronze Age barrows. A stone axe hammer from the Bronze Age was found in a burial cist next to one of the mounds.

  3. Follow the path around the mound and, where the path forks at a second waymark, take the path on the right and follow this to a kissing gate.

    The airfield to the left is RAF St Mawgan.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  4. At the kissing gate, follow the path to a fork and keep right, to follow the coast until you reach the steps to Whipsiderry Beach.

    The name of Whipsiderry Beach arises from some old mining terms: Whips (marker flags) and Derrick (an elevated structure for haulage situated over a shaft). It is recorded that the Derrick - resembling gallows - was named after a famous hangman by that name.

    The beach is dotted with rock stacks, and there are some large caves on the side of Trevelgue Head. One large cave is known as the Banqueting Hall or Concert Cavern because, at one time, a piano was wheeled in here at low tide for candlelight concerts. Another, known as Cathedral Cavern, has a pillar and a series of intersecting tunnels. This was once quarried, it is reported, for white marble. Marble is far from common in Cornwall, but a bed of it was found deep in a mine in Perranporth, so it's possible that it surfaced in the cave here. There are also two smaller caves on Whipsiderry named according to their contents: Fern Cavern and Boulder Cavern.

  5. Cross the path to the beach and follow the path along the fence on your right to reach a fork in the path just after the end of the fence.

    The island on Whipsiderry beach is known as Flory Island or Black Humphrey Rock. Books from the 19th and early 20th Century record tales of a wrecker called Black Humphrey who was said to live in the old mine-workings. So much of the mine workings on the beach and the island have since been eroded that it's hard to imagine how it would have looked hundreds of years ago. A verse is recorded about Black Humphrey based on ships being wrecked by the westerly gales:

    When the wind is from the west Pray for me among the rest; When the wind is from the east I’ll to church as soon as Priest;

    The alternative name Flory is thought to be a corruption of Phillory, but the significance of the name has been lost.

  6. Keep right along the coastal path and follow it past a pair of benches to reach a waymark.

    On Trevelgue Head, alongside the beach at Porth, are the remains of an Iron Age cliff castle. The site was excavated in 1939 but due to the outbreak of the Second World War, the project was never finished and the results never published until nearly 70 years later in 2007. The fort was surrounded by a series of large earth and stone ramparts, and the settlement in the centre included a large roundhouse and even a protected field system. Estimates of when the fort was in use vary, but certainly from before Roman Times. It's likely to have been built somewhere between 3-6 centuries BC, and then been in use for a number of centuries.

    There are barrows on the headland, dating back further, to the Bronze Age. Archaelogists have also found remains of a bronze foundry and hut circles from this period. However some remains of settlements on the headland date back even further still, to Stone Age times: flint tools have been found that are estimated to be 6000 years old, from the Mesolithic period.

  7. The route continues from the information board a short distance to your left. Beforehand, you may want to continue ahead to explore the headland before continuing the walk.

    There is a blowhole in the gully at the end of Porth Island, located on the longer right-hand side, opposite where the shorter side ends. At mid-tide, when there is a swell, the waves washing into the cave, compress the air and force a jet of water and compressed air through the blowhole with a roar.

    Blowholes form when waves enter a cave, and the air they compress weakens the roof of the cave and enlarges the chamber. Often the blowhole eventually breaks through to the surface, forming a collapsed cave which ultimately results in a rock stack being severed from the land.

  8. Follow the gravel path from the information board, keeping the beach on your right to reach a gate onto the road.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the valley is St Columb Minor, named after St Columba, to whom its church is dedicated.

    The legend of St. Columba is preserved in a manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge. This states that she was the daughter of an Irish King, and that, in order to escape marriage with a pagan prince, she took a ship to Cornwall. She arrived at Trevelgue head but unluckily, she had been followed by the Prince. He chased her through the forest (which is now Porth beach). The princess fled up the valley, past Rialton and Treloy until she was captured at Ruthvose. The Prince cut off her head and where blood fell, a spring gushed forth and the water following the course of her flight, formed the river that runs across the beach.

  9. Turn right onto the road and follow it until you reach the steps onto the beach just before the Mermaid Inn.
  10. Turn right down the steps, then bear left along the top of the beach until you reach the toilets on the far side.

    The beach at St Columb Minor is known either as St Columb Porth or more commonly just "Porth" or "Porth beach", though the latter is effectively "beach beach", rivalling "Coombe valley" ("valley valley") for the placename most lost in translation.

    The narrow beach, between the two parallel headlands, is consequently sheltered and therefore generally better suited to swimming than surfing. The gradient is very shallow so the tide comes in quite fast. The river running along the right-hand side of the beach is deeper and faster-flowing than you might expect: attempting to wade through in wellies may result in an unplanned swim.

  11. Go up the steps in front of the toilets and turn right onto the tarmac path. Follow the path until you reach a flight of steps.

    In much more recent times (the late 18th or early 19th Century), a huer's hut was built on Porth Island.

    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".

    The pilchard fishery was particularly important in Newquay, which is reflected in the town's insignia depicting pilchards. A huer's hut still remains intact above Newquay harbour.

  12. Climb the steps and keep left where a path leaves from the right. Follow the path past the benches and follow the railings on your left until you reach a waymark in front of a stone wall.

    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.

  13. From the waymark, go through the gap in the wall and join the residential road. Follow this, past the way down to Lusty Glaze beach, until it ends in a T-junction.

    The curiously-named beach of Lusty Glaze is just around the corner from Porth, in the direction of Newquay. The beach is privately owned by the Adventure Centre but has full public access. The name is a mangling of the Cornish Lostyn Glas. The precise meaning of this in English is not clear: the not-exactly-similar "little green tail of land" and "place to view blue boats" have both been suggested. One reason for the confusion is that the word glas can be used to represent either blue or green or even grey! The words for the basic colours in Cornish are completely different from English: blue-green-grey is a single colour in Cornish as is grey-brown (loodge) as these were principal colours of the natural environment (e.g. the sea and the soil). This is a nice example of how our perception of colour (which is after all a continuous spectrum of shades that we arbitrarily divide up into named ranges) is influenced by the language we speak; the different languages essentially have a different colour palette.

  14. Turn right at the T-junction, and immediately right again at the bollard onto a grassy area. Follow the path across the grassy area with benches until you reach a coast path sign beside a wall.

    In the cliff at the back of Lusty Glaze, the remains of an inclined plane are visible which was intended to haul boats from the beach to the St Columb canal 100 feet above on the clifftop.

    The St Columb Canal was intended to bring lime-rich shell sand from the coast, to be used inland as fertiliser in the same way as the Bude Canal. The canal was designed as two branches which ran from the coast to the North and South of St Columb, inland towards the town. The northern branch ran along the Menalhyl valley to Mawgan Porth. Lusty Glaze, on the edge of Newquay, was the intended terminus for the southern branch.

    Work began in the 1700s, but ran into problems because, around Newquay, the very sand the canal was built to transport, present in the soil, resulted in a canal that would not actually hold water. The resulting empty trench was little use for transporting anything and the project for the southern section was aborted. The northern section of the canal fared slightly better in that it was completed, but lost so much money that it fell out of use within 3 years.

  15. From the coast path sign, follow the fence on your right across one grassy area and through a gap into a second grassy area. Cross this and pass along the rocky gulley to the right of a large conical mound to emerge onto a tarmac track.

    The conical mound is a barrow and the surrounding grassy area is known as The Barrowfields.

    The Barrowfields is an area of open space opposite the Hotel Bristol in Newquay. It is so called because of the numerous prehistoric burial mounds (barrows) that have been identified here - fifteen so far. One of the barrows was excavated and, at the centre, a pottery burial urn was found containing the remains of a Chieftan from around 3500 years ago. Sadly, few of the barrows now remain as in the early 1800s, before anyone understood their historic importance, a local farmer removed much of the stone for use in the walls surrounding his fields.

  16. Turn left onto the track, and follow it towards the road until you reach a pedestrian area opposite the Bristol Hotel

    Enid Blyton's "Malory Towers" was based on The Bristol Hotel in Newquay. During World War 2, the hotel was the temporary site of Benenden School (normally in Kent) which Enid's daughter attended. Although her daughter was only there for one term in 1945 before the war ended, the location was an inspiration. The clifftop location and even west-facing aspect were carefully preserved in Malory Towers.

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  17. Turn right and follow the railings along the edge of the coast until the pedestrian area joins the pavement.

    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.

  18. Turn right and follow the pavement a short distance until you reach the Great Western Hotel.

    If you continue towards the harbour, you pass Towan Island.

    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.

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

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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