Holywell Bay to Newquay

A one-way coastal walk, made circular via an initial bus journey, from Holywell Bay along the coast and Gannel estuary to Newquay, passing the beaches of Porth Joke and Crantock and the headland of West Pentire where there is a spectacular display of red-and-gold wildflowers in June.

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The walk begins at Holywell Bay and crosses the top of the beach towards the sacred spring before joining the coast path across The Kelseys where there are magnificent views across Holywell Bay. The walk continues to the tiny undeveloped cove of Porth Joke where seals can often be seen. The walk then follows the outermost paths around West Pentire headland and continues on the coast path past the Bowgie Inn on the way to the Crantock beach. The walk then heads up The Gannel estuary and returns to Newquay through Trenance Gardens.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.9 miles/11.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Bus: 85 from Newquay Bus station to Holywell Bay
  • Start from: Holywell Bay
  • Parking: Car park near Newquay Railway Station TR72NG
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • The Holy Well - an amazing natural series of basins created from dissolved minerals
  • Spectacular display of poppies and corn marigolds in June
  • Panoramic views of the rugged coastline from the coast path, including a blowhole at Crantock
  • Golden, sandy beaches at Holywell Bay, Porth Joke and Crantock
  • Wildlife along the coast and on the dunes of Cubert Common
  • The historic Bowgie Inn at Crantock
  • Birdlife in the Gannel estuary

Directions

  1. Start the walk by catching a bus from Newquay to Holywell Bay and disembarking at the bus stop opposite the Treguth Inn. From the bus stop, follow the road towards the sea a short distance past Rhubarb Hill and Treguth Close to reach a small lane on the right beside the Pennasville sign.
  2. Bear right onto the narrow lane beside the Pennasville sign and follow it ahead, keeping left at the Treguth Common sign to follow the track downhill to emerge onto the beach.

    The sand dunes provide a good habitat for adders, which bask in the sun in warm weather.

    Adders are easily identified by the pretty diamond pattern along their backs. Also known as vipers, these are Britain's only venomous snake. Adders are a protected species, are not aggressive, and generally only bite if trodden on or picked up (unsupervised dogs or children may attempt the latter).

    In the rare event of a bite, medication attention should be sought immediately. The smaller body sizes of young children or small dogs means the same amount of venom will have a greater effect in these cases. Although a bite is painful, no-one has died from an adder bite in over 20 years and the highest risk is to those with pre-existing conditions or allergies.

    On warm days from late April, you may be lucky enough to witness the "dance of the adders" (a pair of adders wrestling). This was once thought to be a mating display, but is actually a larger male attempting to drive away a smaller one.

    Unlike many species of snake, adders don't lay eggs but give birth to live young as there isn't enough warmth available during the spring to hatch eggs. It usually takes the female adder two to three years to replenish the energy reserves to be able to breed again.

    Victorian naturalists believed that female adders protected the young and would swallow them if they were in danger and regurgitate them later. No evidence has been found for any of this. As far as biologists been able to tell, the young adders are left to fend for themselves after they are born. The offspring often remain close to the parents for a few days before they gradually dissipate so it's possible this was misinterpreted as the parents protecting the young.

  3. Head towards the small stone bench in front of the large sand dune. Pass to the right of the bench and follow the path uphill along the line of posts. At the top, continue ahead to cross the dunes and then head downhill onto the beach.

    The pair of rocks off Penhale Point at Holywell Bay are owned by the National Trust and are known either as Carter's or Gull Rocks. It has been reported that some locals refer to them as "Fishtail Rocks", which nicely describes their shape.

  4. Turn right and walk along the beach past the lifeguard hut until you reach a large gap in the dunes about half-way between the lifeguard hut and the start of the cliffs.

    At low tide, if you walk to the north end of Holywell beach (along Kelsey Head), you can find a sea cave containing a freshwater spring. Calcium carbonate dissolved in the springwater has created a spectacular series of natural basins fed by the well. The source of the calcium carbonate was originally thought to be the fragments of shell in the sand dunes as there are few sedimentary rocks in this part of Cornwall. However, there are thin bands of limestone in this particular area and current thinking is that the source may be one of these, but it is not known for certain.

  5. Bear right into the gap and walk to the back of this to reach a path from the middle leading directly inland. Follow this until it ends in a T-junction with another path.

    The holy well in the cave on Holywell beach was documented in Victorian times by Polwhele in the "History of Cornwall":

    In this parish ( St Cuthbert ) is that famous and well-known spring of water, called Holy Well, so named, the inhabitants say, for that the virtues of this water were first discovered on All Hallow's Day. The same stands in a dark cavern of the sea cliff rocks, beneath full sea-mark on spring tides. The virtues of the waters are, if taken inward, a notable vomit, or as a purgent. If applied outward, it presently strikes in, or dries up, all itch, scurf, dandriff, and such-like distempers in men or women. Numbers of persons in summer season frequent this place and waters from countries far distant. It is a petrifying well.
  6. Turn left onto the path and keep right when you climb the dune. At the top also keep right to pass around the rim of the large dip and reach a waymark. Continue following the waymarked path through the dunes to reach a kissing gate.

    The shipwreck visible at low tide on Holywell beach is generally thought to be the remains of the SS. Francia, a 700 ton steam-powered Argentinean coaster. It was wrecked in 1917 shortly after setting out from Newquay with a cargo of coal. However, some reports state that the Francia sank 4 miles offshore, so exactly what happened is a bit of a mystery.

  7. Go through the kissing gate onto The Kelseys. Follow the coast path to another kissing gate.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic. If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause the lambs to be stillborn. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  8. Go through the kissing gate and follow the coast path, across Kelsey Head, until you reach a fork in the path at a waymark.

    Look out for Fulmars which nest along the cliff faces. You'll often see them soaring over the tops of the cliffs as they circle in to land.

    The fulmar is a grey and white bird related to an Albatross although it can be mistaken at a distance for a gull. Close up, the beak is the giveaway: the fulmar has a tube on its beak which is visible as a black bar across the beak at a distance. The tube is a gland for excreting salt from the seawater that they drink. As a defense mechanism, the fulmar regurgitates foul smelling oil from its stomach - the name comes from the Old Norse for "foul" (full) and "gull" (mar). The oil disrupts the waterproofing of predatory birds' feathers in a similar way to a crude-oil spill, so they avoid preying on fulmars.

  9. At the fork in the path, keep left until you reach another fork in the path near another waymark.

    Also on the offchance that you see any black birds with red legs...

    After several decades of extinction, a pair of choughs settled in 2001 on the Lizard Peninsula. Since then, the birds have successfully bred and been joined by a few more incoming birds, and the population has steadily grown. Each Cornish chough is fitted with one leg ring in the colours of St Piran's flag and two other colours on the opposite leg to identify them.

    Although the principal populations are around Lands End and The Lizard, choughs are now becoming more common on the north coast around the Newquay beaches.

    If you think you've seen a chough, take a photo if possible and email cornishchoughs@rspb.org.uk to report the sighting. This will help the "Chough Watch" team keep track of the growing population.

  10. Bear right to rejoin the more well-worn path and follow this the inlet to reach another waymark.

    Thrift is a tough plant, able to withstand salt-laden winds and high levels of copper in the soil from mining. The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

  11. At the waymark, keep right and follow the path to a second waymark and then follow along the ramparts of the hill fort to a third waymark.

    At the end of Kelsey Head, between Holywell Bay and Porth Joke, is an L-shaped bank which is thought to be the remains of a hill fort from the Iron Age. It's possible that it was abandoned before it was completed as the ramparts are much more developed at one end than the other.

  12. At the waymark, bear right in the direction indicated to carry on following the path. Continue to where it descends into a valley by the beach to reach a footbridge.

    Look out for seals in the bay. There are some quite tame seals around here who sometimes visit Newquay Harbour.

    Seals are not closely related to other marine mammals. In mediaeval times seals were classified as fish and could therefore be eaten during lent and on fridays and saturdays. However, as you might be able to guess from their features, seals are closely related to dogs, bears and otters. In fact, a dog is very much more closely related to a seal than a cat. The seal species most frequently seen along the Cornish coast are grey seals and common seals.

  13. From the footbridge, continue until the path forks to descend to the back of the beach.

    Grey Seals are one of the rarest seal species in the world and the biggest land breeding mammal in the UK. Roughly half of the world population of grey seals is found in Britain, a large proportion of which are found in Cornwall. They are big animals with the larger males often over 10ft long; the females are somewhat smaller at around 6ft and usually lighter colours than the males. The latin name for the grey seal translates to the somewhat unflattering "hooked-nosed sea pig" and the alternative common name of horsehead seal isn't much better.

  14. At the fork, bear left down the steps and follow the path along the back of the beach, over a small wooden footbridge, to reach a kissing gate.

    The sandy cove known both as Porth Joke and Polly Joke belongs to the National Trust and is completely uncommercialised except for the occasional cow wandering on the beach. The confusion about the name arises because it was originally known as Pol Lejouack (the old Cornish words for "Jackdaw Cove") and sounds a bit like "Polly Joke". Porth (beach or port) and Pol (cove or harbour) were used fairly interchangably, which possibly gave rise to the two competing names.

  15. Go through the kissing gate and keep left at two forks in the path to reach an ivy-covered post with an acorn waymark on the corner of the hedge.

    According to Winston Graham, Nampara Cove in the Poldark novels was based on a composite of Porth Joke and a small cove on the west side of Crantock beach (possibly the one just below the Bowgie Inn between Vugga Cove and Piper's Hole).

  16. Follow the path leading out onto the headland past the post. Continue through a pedestrian gap in a fence. Carry on following the path to reach a bend where path turns right uphill to cross over the headland.

    The headland is known as West 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.

  17. At the bend, bear right uphill and follow the coast path until you reach a waymarked fork in the path.

    West Pentire headland, between Porth Joke and Crantock beach, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its wildflowers and rare plants. The south-facing (Polly Joke) side of the headland is a particularly good area for sun-loving wildflowers. In spring, tiny blue squill flowers and then pink thrift flowers can be seen here.

  18. At the fork, keep left and follow the path, past some quarries and past the end of a wall, until you reach a crossing of paths.
  19. At the crossing in the paths, turn right and follow the path to another junction. Keep right here too to reach a kissing gate.

    The beach ahead is Crantock Beach and the headland opposite is East Pentire, along which the River Gannel flows.

    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.

    In summer, there is a ferry service across the river to the Fern Pit Café opposite, and Fistral Beach is just the other side of the headland.

  20. Go through the kissing gate and where the path splits, turn left. Follow the path downhill until you reach a small flight of small steps leading down to the beach.

    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.

  21. When you reach the steps, you can take a diversion to the left, to reach the beach. The walk continues to the right to reach a tarmac path leading up to the Bowgie Inn along a line of granite posts, at the bottom of which a path leads through the gap at the end of the wall on the left.

    The deep gulley 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.

  22. Bear left through the gap at the end of the wall and follow the path past the benches to a sign for C-Bay at another gap in the wall Go through this and continue on the path to reach another gap where a path joins from above.

    Tidal range is mainly determined by 15 fixed points around the world’s oceans, known as amphidromes, around which water rotates. The further a coastline is from the nearest amphidrome, the larger the tidal range. This is a fair way in the case of Cornwall so difference between low and high tide is around 7 metres on average. Consequently offshore rocks that are 20ft below the surface at high tide can lie just under the surface as the tide falls.

  23. Continue through the gap and downhill to reach a junction of paths. At the junction, keep left to continue ahead then immediately keep right to pass the blue sign. Follow the path across the footbridge and up the steps and continue until you eventually reach a kissing gate.
  24. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a waymark.

    You may remember from school geography lessons that the faster-flowing water around the outside of the bend causes a meander in a river to slowly grow as the outside edge is eroded and sediment is deposited on the inside by slower-moving water. At this point, your school geography teacher probably got excited about ox-bow lakes and never got around to explaining exactly why the water flows faster on the outside in the first place. So that you don't go to your grave feeling short-changed, an attempt at an explanation follows...

    Flowing water piles into the outside of the bend and creates a higher pressure there. Close to the riverbed, water is moving very slowly so the high pressure pushes water across the bottom from the outside to the inside. This drags the faster-moving water across the top of the river to the outside to take its place. This spiralling current both erodes the outside edge with faster-moving water and also transports the sediment back across the bottom to the inside

  25. Continue on the path from the waymark, keeping ahead at the junction of paths. Continue on the path to reach another waymark at another junction of paths.
  26. At the junction, keep left then right to follow the path ahead. Follow the waymarked path to emerge through a gate into the Crantock beach car park.

    Since water drains away quickly through the sand, marram grass has evolved a number of strategies to capture and retain water including its waxy, curled leaves which contain hairs inside to minimise evaporation caused by moving air. Its roots form a fibrous mat which trap water but also play a vital role in stabilising the dunes by stopping the sand blowing away. During the 17th Century, large amounts of marram grass were harvested for thatch and this destabilised the dunes so much that farms, estates and even entire villages were buried.

  27. Cross the car park and go through the gate opposite signposted "Coast Path Penpol", and climb the steps to emerge onto a track.
  28. Turn left onto the track and follow it until it ends in a turning area in front of some houses.
  29. 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 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.

  30. 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.

  31. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the bottom of the field to a gap in the far hedge.
  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. Go through the gate and follow the path across the field to a waymarked gateway.
  35. Squeeze 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

    Two completely unrelated plants both confusingly known as samphire grow in Cornwall. Rock samphire has long, thin fleshy leaves grows on the cliffs. The more well-known species, known as glasswort or marsh samphire, grows in estuary mud and resembles miniature asparagus. 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. Rock samphire, however, has a strong, characteristic flavour and is much less commonly used.

  38. 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). High tides occur every 12-13 hours when the moon is directly overhead or on the opposite side of the Earth and its gravity is pulling the water in the oceans towards it. There are therefore just over 6 hours between low and high tide. The speed with which the tide comes in or goes out follows a sine wave: slow at low tide, speeding up to the fastest at mid-tide (known as the "tide race", when currents are at their strongest) and slowing down again towards high tide. Thus high and low tides are also referred to as "slack tide" when tidal currents are at their minimum.

  39. If you are following along the river: when you reach the path on the right at the end of the white posts (or if you are coming on the higher path: when you reach the last of the kissing gates), keep left to follow the path across the mudflats to the footbridge. Cross the bridge and follow the path to the road.
  40. Cross the road at the traffic lights and turn right on the other side to reach a junction at the end of the fence.
  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.
  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. Turn right and follow the road away from the hospital until you reach a junction to the right.
  47. Bear right to follow the pavement along the road to the right; follow this until it ends at a T-junction.
  48. 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.

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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