Par and Tywardreath circular walk

Par and Tywardreath

A circular walk at Tywardreath where a mediaeval Priory was based and Par where much of the route was once a tidal creek and a wetland nature reserve has been created on some of the reclaimed land.

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The walk starts by heading inland from Par Beach across land which was under the sea a century ago and along canals created by the Victorians to reclaim marshland. After reaching the railway line, the route winds through the park past the lakes and then follows a footpath past the marshes wetland reserve. The route then follows the Saint's Way through Tywardreath to return to Par Beach, crossing the beach at the end.

Considerations

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

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.5 miles/5.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in winter, walking shoes in summer.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Tywardreath Marsh nature reserve
  • Sandy beach at Par
  • Bird life including a lot of ducks, geese and swans
  • Industrial heritage at Par

Pubs on or near the route

  • The New Inn
  • The Royal Inn
  • The Ship Inn

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Facing away from the sea, take the small path between the wooden bollards on the left side of the car park and follow this to a junction.

    The Par river was diverted to create a canal from the Fowey Consols mine to Par docks by 1830. In 1835, this was extended to Ponts Mill to connect with the horse-drawn tramway being planned for the Luxulyan Valley. However due to the labour-intensiveness of transferring cargo between the trams and boats, the tramway was extended all the way to Par harbour in the 1850s, running alongside the canal.

  2. Turn right and walk a few paces to a junction of paths beside a large boulder.

    In the 1820s, the ferry at Par was replaced with a bridge and work began on the construction of the harbour, which was completed in 1840. Since the main export from the harbour at the time was copper which needed to be taken to coal-rich South Wales for smelting, the location on the Channel coast was not ideal as ships then needed to make the treacherous journey around Lands End. Consequently work began on a tramway to replace Par with Newquay as the port for export.

  3. Turn left past the boulder and follow the path to reach a fork just after the wooden boards end.

    Towards the end of the 19th Century, china clay took over from copper as the most profitable mineral to extract in Cornwall and Par harbour gained a new lease of life. A pipeline for clay slurry was built to the harbour, driers were built on the docks and China clay was exported all through the 20th Century until 2007. At the time of writing it is still dried at Par but then sent to Fowey to be shipped.

  4. At the fork, bear right and follow the path to a T-junction in the path just after a bench.

    When the First Edition OS map was recorded in the 1880s, almost all of the walk route so far would have been below the high-tide line as would have most of the holiday park. With rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice from climate change, it may be again before too long.

  5. Turn right and walk a few paces to the post with the "2" cycle path sign. Turn left onto the cycle path to almost immediately reach a gate.

    National Cycle Route 2 runs for 361 miles along the south coast from St Austell to Dover but at the time of writing, several sections including the one between Par and Plymouth (using the Cremyll ferry to cross the Tamar) haven't been completed yet.

  6. Go through the gate and cross the road to the path opposite. Go through the gate and follow the path until it ends in a road.

    The private road linking Par and Fowey was originally the Cornwall Minerals Railway linking Fowey and St Blazey which opened in 1874 and included the longest railway tunnel in Cornwall. It closed in 1968 and after the lines were removed in 1974, it was converted into a private haul road, used to transport china clay by lorry from the dryers at Par to ships in Fowey harbour.

  7. Turn left and walk a couple of paces along the pavement then cross the road to the Restormel Re-upholstery sign opposite. Follow the footpath until it ends on a road.

    Before 1800, the village of Par was a just small group of houses below the cliff overlooking the mouth of the River Par. By the 1880s, as well as a railway and canal, there were two inns, a customs house, post office, school, chapel, Sunday school and a large locomotive shed (which is now the Roundhouse business park) but Par was still tiny in comparison to Tywardreath.

    The name Par is thought to be a corruption of Porth, which is how it was recorded in 1327. In the 1880s, a few houses behind the harbour were recorded as Porth which is now the location of a 20th Century china clay dry.

  8. Turn right and walk a few paces along the pavement to where a track on the opposite side beside the bus stop sign leads to an athletics area. Cross the road to this and follow the path around the gate. As you reach the fence, keep left to follow the tarmacked path until it eventually ends in a T-junction at the fence along the station platform.
  9. Turn right and follow the path into the station car park. Keep left through the car park to reach an entrance to the platform with a path running alongside the fence to the right of this.

    Par railway station opened in 1859 as part of the Cornwall Railway, initially for passengers and then a goods shed followed a year later. In 1879, the station was connected to the Cornwall Minerals Railway to Newquay but since this was a different track gauge to the main line, everything had to be unloaded at Par and swapped between trains until the main line was converted to Standard Gauge in 1892.

    New station buildings were erected in 1884 and when the first edition OS map was recorded in the 1880s, the small cluster of houses around the station was documented as a separate settlement named "Parstation".

  10. Turn right before the entrance to the platform and follow the path to emerge on the pavement beside a bridge.

    The main line railway through Cornwall was originally conceived as a means to link the port of Falmouth to London. However, whilst funds were being raised for the railway, much of Falmouth's Packet trade was transferred to Southampton. The line was built to Truro instead but initially failed to make money and was bought up by Great Western. Once established, the new railway allowed rapid exports of perishables to London including fresh flowers and fish. It also made large-scale tourism possible and the term "Cornish Riviera" was coined.

  11. Turn left and cross the bridge to reach a flight of steps leading into a park on the other side of the junction.
  12. Descend the steps and follow the path along the stream to reach a footbridge.

    Moorhens are water birds which is the basis of names including "waterhen" and the more entertaining "swamp chicken". The name mor-hen was recorded in the 13th Century and is from an old word for marsh that also gave rise to "mire", rather than simply "moorland".

    Moorhens are close relatives to coots but have red-and-yellow beaks rather than white. Like coots, they are aggressive in the breeding season. Unlike coots, they are not aggressive the rest of the time too! The older moorhen chicks will even help their parents to raise the young ones. Moorhens also spend more time out of the water than coots and will even climb trees.

  13. Turn right away from the bridge and follow the path alongside the lake to another bridge, before which a small path returns to the road on the right.

    Swans usually mate for life, although "divorce" can sometimes occur if there is a nesting failure. The birds can live for over 20 years but in the 20th Century many swans were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. This was tracked down to the tiny "lead shot" weights used for fishing that swans would hoover up with weed and roots from the bottom of rivers and lakes. Since the introduction of non-toxic metals for making fishing weights, incidents of poisoning have disappeared and the swan population is now even growing very slightly.

  14. Bear right and follow the path alongside the stream to the road to reach the start of a pavement. Turn left to walk a few paces along the pavement to a Public Footpath sign. Carefully cross the road to the small path with a railing to the left of the streetlight. Follow the path alongside the stream until you eventually reach an iron bridge at a crossing of paths.

    The wetlands are on an arm of the Par river that was once a tidal inlet but became filled with silt, most likely from mining activity. An area of the marshes is a wildlife reserve managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and a series of small openings from the otherwise canalised river allow water to trickle onto the reserve area to sustain the marshland habitat. The public footpath across the marshes may be the remains of a mediaeval causeway.

  15. Turn right and follow the path over a small stone footbridge. Continue to reach a railway tunnel and follow the path through this, up the steps, and between hedges until the path eventually ends in a tarmac area.

    Hemlock (also known as water dropwort) is a member of the carrot family (related to cow parsley and alexanders) and is common in damp, shady places, particularly near streams. The stems are tubular and quite thick like alexanders and the leaves look quite like coriander (more toothed on the edges than alexanders). New leaves begin to shoot in early winter and by February these are starting to grow into quite noticeable small plants. It flowers in April and May with white flowers similar to cow parsley. It has a deceptively pleasant sweet smell but don't be tempted to try eating it: this is the most poisonous plant in UK. Just a handful of leaves can kill a human and a root contains enough poison to kill a cow.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Mosquitoes form a large part of their diet both for adults and particularly for the larvae (nymphs). One dragonfly can eat tens of mosquitoes in a day and an average of over 100 per day has been recorded for the nymphs of some species. It is thought that this is an important factor in keeping the mosquito population under control.

    Willow trees are usually found in wet places including riverbanks and waterlogged ground. Common species include grey willow and goat willow but these often hybridise so they are more often known by the more broad-brush collective term "pussy willows" (due to their catkins). In January the fluffy, grey male catkins appear and and turn bright yellow in March when they release their pollen. Then in April, the fertilised female catkins develop into woolly seeds. In early May, air can be filled with the downy seeds that look a bit like dandelion seeds.

  16. Turn right and walk a few paces to reach a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow this until it ends in a T-junction.

    The first record of Tywardreath was in the Domesday Survey 1086 as the manor of Tiwardrai which, despite having 100 acres of pasture, was valued at £2. The name is Cornish for "house on the strand" which gave the name to one of Daphne Du Maurier's books.

    Tywardreath grew rapidly during a copper mining boom at the start of the Victorian era and many of the historic buildings visible today date from this period. At its peak it had 17 pubs, inns and beer houses which were presumably mutually exclusive with its two Methodist chapels.

  17. Bear right slightly to cross the junction and follow the road downhill past the village hall to reach the church and head to the churchyard gate.

    Also around the time of the Norman Conquest, a priory was founded as a satellite of a French Abbey and despite being very small with only 7 monks, it controlled the port of Fowey. At the start of the 15th Century the endowment was transferred to the English Crown and the French monks were expelled. A revival with English monks occurred during the 15th Century but it was suppressed by the Crown in 1536 and nothing survives apart from the few carved stones in the churchyard and other carved stone fragments re-used within some of the buildings in the village.

  18. Enter the churchyard and follow the path to the right of the church to reach another gate exiting the churchyard.

    There are records of Tywardreath church being re-dedicated in 1347 so a Norman church must have existed but there are no obvious remains. The earliest elements of the existing church date from the 14th and 15th Centuries, mainly the tower. The rest of the church was almost completely rebuilt in 1880.

    Within the churchyard, the carved pieces of stone and octagonal support for a cross are thought to have come from the mediaeval priory.

  19. Exit the churchyard and bear right to follow the pavement to reach a junction on the right.

    As you exit the churchyard, the Regency building on the right was originally built in 1837 as a market house where the Butter Market was also held. In 1860 it was converted to a police station which was used for just over 100 years. It was saved from demolition in the 1970s by the Cornwall Building Preservation Trust who converted it for residential use.

  20. Turn right onto Well Street and keep following this until it eventually ends in a T-junction with the main road.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  21. Carefully cross the road to the track between the houses opposite. Follow the alleyway through the tunnel under the embankment to emerge on a tarmac path on the other side.

    The postbox at the start of the track dates from Victorian times.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  22. Turn left onto the tarmac path and follow this to where it ends in a junction.

    The embankment carried the railway across the top of the beach and during a big spring tide, the sea may have reached the bottom of the embankment. From the OS map recorded in the 1880s, it looks like a small underpass existed at this location as part of the original railway construction but it's since been widened and reinforced with concrete.

  23. Turn right and follow the pavement leading from the bench until it ends opposite the entrance to the main beach car park.

    The hamlet of Polmear gets its name from the Cornish for "large cove" (i.e. Par beach). The almshouses date from the 17th Century and the Ship Inn from the early 18th Century. The Ship Inn car park was at the top of the beach in the 19th Century and had targets for a rifle range which stretched up as far as the railway embankment (near the holiday park).

    Since Charlestown also had a large cove and hence was also called Polmear, when travel horizons had broadened enough to include both, they were known as East Polmear (at Par) and West Polmear (Charlestown) until the name "Charlestown" was used for the latter and then the "East" was no longer needed.

  24. Enter the car park and walk along the left side to pass the small footbridge to reach a path leading from a No Parking sign alongside the stream to the beach.

    In March 1947 the Empire Contamar (a coaster carrying coal from South Wales to Par) arrived in a gale and was driven onto Killyvarder Rock whist waiting for the tide to be able to enter Par harbour. By the time the Fowey lifeboat reached them, the wheelhouse was chest deep in water and despite 20ft waves breaking over the ship and one crew member falling into the water, the lifeboat managed to rescue all the crew and bring them safely to Fowey.

    There are more details of the remarkable rescue on the Friends of Par Beach website.

  25. Pass around the gate and follow the path alongside the stream to emerge on the beach. On the beach, turn right and walk along the length of the beach until you can see the small car park just before the river at the far end. Follow one of the paths into this to complete the circular walk.

    Par beach faces south into St Austell Bay and is roughly half a mile across. The dunes behind the sandy beach are slowly growing in height and consequently the high tide line has been measured as moving seaward by an average of roughly one metre per year between the 1880s and 1980s. The sparkles in the sand are due to tiny particles of mica and the gravel with the sand is quartz - both are unwanted bits of rock separated from china clay when is it purified.

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