Crantock and The Gannel circular walk

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.


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

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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

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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


  • 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


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 woman 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 with a waymarked path.

    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.

  3. Join the waymarked 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 at the waymark 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.

    Common knapweed (also known as black knapweed) is most easily recognised by its bright purple thistle-like flowers but without spiky leaves. It's actually a member of the daisy family and is often seen along paths and roadside verges. Other names for the plant include "hardhead" (used in Cornwall in Victorian times) and "loggerhead" due to the sturdy flower heads. "knap" is from the Middle English word for "knob" and consequently another name for the plant is "knobweed".

    It is an important plant for pollinating insects and was rated in the top 5 for most nectar production in a UK plants survey. In terms of plants that produce both nectar and pollen, it is rated as the top producer overall, producing a good amount of each.

    The little egret - a white member of the heron family - can be seen on many of the creeks in Cornwall and yet is only a very recent settler in Britain. The birds first appeared in Britain in any number in 1989 and the first to breed was in 1996 in Dorset.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to a waymark post with a gate to the right.

    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. Keep left at the waymark to follow the creek-side path to where the path forks at another waymark.
  9. Keep left at the waymark to follow the path downhill and along the creek to emerge via some steps on a track crossing the top of the creek.

    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. Turn left onto the track and cross the concrete section. Turn left onto the path along the shoreline 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 Little Trevithick. 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 short track past the gateway on the left and continue along 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 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.

    Two different species of bindweed are found in Cornwall. Hedge bindweed has quite large pure white trumpet-shaped flowers and is also known as bellbind due to the shape of the flowers. Field bindweed (also known as creeping jenny) has smaller trumpet-shaped flowers with a striking pink-and-white-striped pattern which wouldn't look out of place in a sweet shop.

    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.

    The unglamorous weeds that grow along the hedgerow such as brambles, thistles and bindweed are a valuable source of nectar for bumblebees and butterflies.

    When a caterpillar is still developing, it grows a small group of cells - known as an imaginal disc - for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly. When a caterpillar pupates, it digests itself, releasing enzymes which dissolve all of its tissues into a soup leaving only the imaginal discs. These then act as seeds from which the adult butterfly is resurrected.

    The word "farm" has the same origins as (e.g. law) "firm". Both words are related to the mediaeval Latin word firma meaning "fixed payment". Its original use in English was to do with contracts and leasing (which is why "to farm out" means "to subcontract"). In fact the word "farm" had no association with food production until the 19th Century. In the 16th Century it began to be applied to leasing of land and the association with farmland developed from this.

  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 can sometimes be seen hunting for insects above the fields.

    The length of swallows streamers has been found to be about 20% longer than the aerodynamic optimum, particularly in males which have longer tails than females. This is thought to be runaway sexual selection where a "size matters" preference of females selects for males with the longest streamers. During the period when streamers first evolved, length correlated with fitness of males. Now it has passed the optimum it has become a sexually-selected handicap like a peacock tail.

    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.

  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, down some steps and through another gate. Follow the path along the wooden walkway via two more gates. After the walkway, pass the opening on the left (which goes into the wrong field) to reach a kissing gate ahead leading into a field.

    The wooded valley surrounds the small stream running into Penpol Creek. The tree cover provides shelter for wildlife including robins and blackbirds.

    Blackbirds in the UK are resident all year round but the blackbirds that live further north (e.g. in Norway) migrate south for the winter. To help with migration and also to avoid being eaten by predators, blackbirds can sleep half their brain at a time. This allows them to get some rest whilst still maintaining enough alertness to fly or spot predators.

  23. Go through the kissing gate and head uphill towards the brow of the hill. Continue to the top-right corner of the field (if there is a crop you may need to follow the right hedge) to reach a kissing gate in the corner of the field.

    The reason the sky looks blue is due to rays of light travelling out from the sun in directions that would normally not reach your eyes. When these bump into a molecule of air, they are scattered in all directions, one of which is the way you are looking. As the blue-violet end of the rainbow is scattered more, there are more of these colours but we see just blue both because our eyes are much more sensitive to blue than violet and also because some of the violet is absorbed by other interactions with molecules in the atmosphere.

  24. Go through the gate and follow the path beneath the trees to reach a stone stile.

    Red campion is also known by a few local names including Johnny Woods (from its habitat) and Ragged Jack (from its flower shape). Some are colour references such as Scalded Apples, and particularly in the southwest, Red Riding Hood. Cuckoo-flower is a reference to the time of year that it flowers. Another name - "Batchelors' buttons" - suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young men.

  25. Cross the stile and go through the kissing gate into the field. Cross the field diagonally to a wooden stile in the wire fence and cross this to reach a kissing gate in the right-hand hedge.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  26. Go through the kissing gate and continue a short distance along the left hedge to pass through a sequence of 2 pedestrian gates either side of a lane. Once in the field on the other side of the lane, follow the path along the fence to a kissing gate in the middle of the right-hand hedge.

    There are several different reasons why passing walkers should never feed horses. A range of plants can make horses ill and many human foods such as chocolate also contain cumulative poisons that build up over time. The horse could also have allergies to a normally safe plant or have an underlying medical condition such as blood sugar issues. A horse may have behavioural problems that feeding it can make worse, and singling a horse out for "special" attention can also cause it to be attacked by jealous herd members. Some horses may also accidentally bite a hand containing food even when held flat.

  27. 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.

    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 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.

  29. 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.

    The Memorial Hall commemorates the villagers lost in the First World War.

    During the First World War nearly 10,000,000 military personnel and over 10,000,000 civilians were killed. A further 23 million people were injured. In addition, over 8,000,000 horses, mules and donkeys and more than 1,000,000 dogs lost their lives. The sixteen million animals that served in World War 1 are commemorated with purple poppies.

  30. Follow the path from the bollard to emerge on a lane beside the two pubs.

    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. Turn left to follow the lane between the pubs to the gate into the churchyard.

    The Old Albion Inn is around 400 years old and was partially rebuilt after a fire in 1902. Albion is thought to be the name of a ship built in the Gannel shipyard when Crantock was a busy sea port. The main fireplaces in the pub both have original pasty ovens and the one in the lounge (originally the kitchen) had an entrance to a hole for storing smuggled goods. Water for the pub used to be drawn from a deep well beneath the old bar.

  32. Enter the churchyard and follow the path to a junction before the church.

    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 left and go through the gate to the parking area. Cross this and follow the path downhill across the rough ground to a kissing gate.

    The old village stocks are now in the church.

    The stocks was a form of punishment introduced in mediaeval times and was a common sight in most villages by the 16th Century. Many sets of village stocks were able to accommodate the ankles of multiple offenders seated on a bench. The last recorded use was in 1872 but it was never formally abolished and is therefore still a legal form of punishment in the UK although the acts carried out by passers-by in mediaeval times would not be. By Victorian times, it was mostly foot-tickling by mischievous children.

  34. Go through the gate and cross the coffin stile to reach a junction of paths. Turn right and follow the path until it emerges on the road to the beach.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such as the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall such as those on either side of Advent Church.

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

    There are historic references to St Ambrew's Well, St Ambrose Well and St Ambrusca's Well and it is thought to have been destroyed many years ago to make way for the building of a house. The well on Beach Road marked "Ambrose" dates from the early 20th Century. Some confusion has arisen because of the wooden door with the Ambrose inscription but this is thought to simply be a memento to the original well added by the villagers when it was constructed in the early 20th Century.

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