Crantock and The Gannel

A circular walk along the River Gannel from Crantock, originally settled by Celtic monks whose chapel is thought may be buried beneath the dunes

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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 holy well and then two pubs on the return to the beach.

Considerations

  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

Reviews

Really enjoyed the Crantock and Gannel walk today. Had our picnic lunch by the boating lake.
Absolutely one of our favourite walks. Stunning views!

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Cornishman
  • The Old Albion Inn

Adjoining walks

Directions

It is important that you carefully time this walk with the tide times: the footpath along the edge of the estuary is underwater at high tide. Once you reach the top of the Gannel estuary, there is no time pressure from this point on.

  1. Facing towards the car park entrance, go through the gate on the left side of the car park, just before the hut. Climb the steps to emerge onto a track.

    The deep gully 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.

    More about Piper's Hole

  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 transport 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. Bear 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.

    Rosebay willowherb is a tall plant with a spike of pink flowers in late summer which can often be seen beside paths and tracks. Their long leaves have a distinctive thin, white vein along the centre.

    The name "rosebay" dates from at least Tudor times and is thought to be based on loose resemblances of the leaves to bay leaves and the flowers to wild roses. The overall family are also known as "willowherbs" due to the resemblance of the leaves to willow leaves. The two names have since been brought together resulting in the slightly confusing duplicate description of the leaf shape.

    As long as the sun is below 42 degrees from the horizon, you can see a rainbow. In the summer, the angle of the sun is too high during the middle of the day for rainbows but you can still get them in the morning and evening (you can potentially see a rainbow before about 10 am and after about 5 pm on any day in Cornwall).

  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 waymarked gateway.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

  9. Go through the gateway 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, signposted to Newquay. 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 for about three quarters of a mile, sticking to the higher, sandy path along the sand where the creek starts to become more muddy. Continue to reach a small path departing from the creek on the right, just before a white post.

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

    Marsh samphire, also, known as glasswort, grows in estuary mud and resembles miniature asparagus. It is not that common in Cornwall but can be found in the muddy saltmarshes of some of the north-coast rivers. 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.

    Despite sharing a name, it is unrelated to rock samphire which is common on the cliffs and has fleshy leaves with a pungent flavour.

  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 leading up from the creek 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).

  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.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

    Since prehistoric times, a year of fallow was used to allow soil nutrients to recover before planting a crop the following year. By the end of the Middle Ages, a three-year scheme was in use with alternating crops allowing production two out of three years. In the 18th Century a four-crop rotation was introduced (wheat, turnips, barley, and clover) which not only resulted in continuous production but included a grazing crop and a winter fodder crop, providing food for livestock throughout the year. Crops used in the rotation had different nutrient demands, giving the soil chance to recover. In particular, bean crops and clover impart nitrogen into the soil and are therefore a key part of modern rotation schemes. As well as balancing the use of soil nutrients between years, by staggering the rotation in adjacent fields, the spread of pests and diseases is reduced.

  15. Cross the stile and follow the path ahead between the fence and the hedge to reach a wooden stile.

    One large house needs around 25 square metres of solar panels (16 panels) to supply the power used. Smaller, energy-efficient houses can reduce this by about half.

  16. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a waymarked stile next to a gate at the far side of the field.

    Arable crops grown in the fields here include barley.

    Unlike wheat, where the grains pop out fairly easily from their husks and simple threshing will release them, the husks of barley are firmly stuck to the grain. A mechanical dehulling process is used to free the grain which is then known as pot barley. This is often then steam-processed to remove the bran to create a polished form of barley grains known as pearl barley which contain less of the fibre. Despite being more expensive to produce, pearl barley seems to be sold at cheaper prices for human consumption than pot barley presumably due to higher levels of demand.

  17. 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 bottoms 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.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

    Birds are technically considered reptiles and the only surviving group of dinosaurs as they are the descendants of the group known as theropods (that Tyrannosaurus rex belonged to). The oldest bird fossils are about 150 million years old and looked like small, feathered dinosaurs with sharp teeth.

  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.

    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 which included an empty chamber. After the pie had been baked and was ready to be served, a trapdoor would be cut in the empty chamber and live birds were placed inside which would fly out when the pie was cut open. Live frogs were sometimes used as an alternative.

  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 head up the field. As you approach the top, bear right to reach a kissing gate in the corner.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  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 most intense flowering period occurring between late April and the end of June. A scattering of flowers continue throughout the rest of the summer. In the mild Cornish climate, a few plants can also be seen flowering during winter months.

  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.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields.

    Cows are very gregarious and even short-term isolation is thought to cause severe psychological stress. This is why walking along the hedges of a field to avoid splitting a herd is so important to avoid a cow bolting in panic to rejoin its friends.

  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 efficiency of the chemical processes that plants use to metabolise nitrogen compounds varies with pH (acidity). In soils that are too acidic, many plants have trouble absorbing nitrogen (apart from specially-adapted ones known as "ericaceous"). The ongoing decomposition of plant matter into humus within the soil creates acidic compounds. Some soils contain rocks such as chalk and limestone which will react with the acid and neutralise it. In Cornwall, the beach sand includes a high proportion of seashell fragments which contain the same chemical compound as limestone.

  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 AD 460, 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 heyday, 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 and left where a narrow path departs to the right to follow the track to emerge onto 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.

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