Watergate Bay to Porth

The walk begins on the beach at Watergate Bay and follows the sand for over a mile to Whipsiddery. The route then crosses Trevelgue Head to reach the beach at Porth. Here, the route joins the coast path and follows this around the promontary fort on Trevelgue Head, then returns past Fruitful Cove with panoramic views over Watergate Bay.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.6 miles/5.8 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Watergate Bay beach
  • Parking: Council or Beach car park. Satnav: TR84AB
  • Recommended footwear: Sandals in summer; wellies in winter

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Walk along 1.5 miles of golden sandy beach
  • Large caves and rockpools at Whipsiddery beach
  • Bronze Age fort and blowhole at Trevelgue Head
  • Panoramic views from the coast path
  • Birds of prey, seabirds and marine life

Alternative walks in same location

Directions

It is critical that you carefully time this walk for low tide: the crossing between beaches at Zacry's Island is underwater except around 2 hours either side of low tide. You can use the Newquay tide times to plan when you do the walk. Once you reach the steps at Whipsiddery, there is no time pressure from this point on.

  1. From the car park, make your way down to the beach. Turn left along the beach and follow it until you reach the end of the sand at Zacry's Islands. Make for the small gulley between the cliff face and the rocks.

    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.

  2. Follow the gulley between the island and the cliff, carefully crossing over the rocks to reach Whipsiddery beach on the other side.

    During winter storms, starfish sometimes get washed inshore and collect in the rockpools here.

    Starfish can be found in rockpools though much larger numbers of starfish occur a short way out to sea on the mussel beds of the reefs. In winter, storm waves and high tides can result in mass strandings on beaches.

    Starfish are members of a bizarre family of animals with bodies that have five-fold symmetry and date back at least 450 million years. They have no brain but instead have a complex decentralised nervous system spread throughout their bodies. This connects up to sensors which can detect light, vibrations and chemicals, equivalent to eyes, ears and a nose. Starfish eat shellfish such as barnacles and mussels which they lever open with their feet and then extrude their stomach into the shell. This releases enzymes which dissolve the prey into soup which is then absorbed.

  3. Follow the beach to the far end until you can see the steps leading up the cliff; head to the bottom of these.

    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.

  4. Climb the steps and keep ahead to reach the road.

    As you climb the steps, the wall on your left is covered with Samphire.

    Rock Samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking Golden Samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as Rock Samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden Samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to Rock Samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

  5. At the road, turn right and follow the pavement downhill to a metal gate on the right next to an ice cream hut.

    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.

  6. Go through the pedestrian gap beside the gate and follow the path past an information board until you reach a second information board near the far end of the headland.

    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. At the sign, the route continues along the surfaced path to the right to reach a waymark. Before this you can follow the path ahead to explore the island on the end of the headland and return to this point afterwards.

    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. At the waymark, keep right and follow the coast path back to a waymark, just before the path reaches a 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.

  9. Follow the path along the fence and cross over the path to Whipsiderry Beach. Continue on the coast path along the length of Whipsiderry beach until the path forks in front of a pair of large conical mounds.

    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.

  10. Take the path on the left (which has the nicer views) around the mounds. Then follow the coast path back to Watergate Bay.

    As you descend to Watergate Bay, the large roof on your left, straddling the other 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.

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 also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

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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