Par Beach to Polkerris circular walk

Par Beach to Polkerris

A circular walk on the coast path and Saint's Way from Par to the fishing hamlet of Polkerris where the pub has retreated into the Lifeboat station after being washed away by a storm in Victorian times, and Napoleonic cannons were built into the harbour wall as mooring posts.

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The walk begins by crossing Par Beach and then follows the coast path to Booley Beach and then down into the wooded valley to reach Polkerris. The return route zig-zags through more woods to join the Saint's Way and follows this back towards Polmear before returning along the coast path through the dunes to complete the walk.

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 miles/4.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers/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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Rashleigh Inn
  • The Ship Inn

Directions

  1. Make your way to the path beside the toilets leading towards the beach with a "Have you paid and displayed" sign. Follow the path to emerge onto the beach and turn left to follow all the way along the top of the beach as far as you can go until you reach the path alongside the stream.

    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.

  2. Turn left and follow the path upstream to emerge in the beach car park.

    Scurvy grass has thick, flesh leaves that look a little similar to ivy leaves in shape and its flowers have 4 white petals forming a cross. It flowers around the same time as primroses - in March and April - and the flowers have a pleasant scent reminiscent of jasmine. It is a member of the cabbage family, related to rocket and horseradish and the flavour is hot like horseradish.

    Scurvy grass gets its name as it was salted and carried aboard ships to help prevent scurvy during long sea voyages as it is rich in vitamin C. The saltiness combined with the powerful hot flavour might well have needed a daily ration of rum to wash it down!

    Mica is a term for a group of minerals that split easily into thin plates. These often reflect light and have a sparkly appearance. The name is from the Latin word for "crumb" as it easily breaks into tiny pieces. Mica occurs within granite and the sparkles can add to the attractiveness when polished but due to the fragility of mica, at higher concentrations it can make the granite weak. China clay - which is formed from granite - is initially contaminated with the tiny flecks of mica and one of the challenges in china clay purification is separating these from the clay. The cosmetics industry has found a use for mica in sparkly make-up.

  3. Bear right to follow along the edge of the beach car park towards the footbridge over the stream (with a metal railing).

    Only this car park lies within Fowey parish and belongs to the Rashleigh Estate. All the other car parks, the beach and even the holiday park are on land owned by Cornwall Council as the beach was sold to Tywardreath Parish Council in 1914 by the Basset family of Tehidy.

  4. Cross the bridge and follow the path up the steps to reach a junction of paths at a waymark. Bear right and follow the path along the coast to a corner in the fence where a small path leads ahead onto the rocks and the coast path bends to follow the fence uphill.

    In order to attract pollinating insects, the plant heats the flower spike up to 15°C above that of the surroundings. The plant exudes a smell of decaying flesh which attracts flies and the flower is designed to trap these. Within the flower, the female organs mature first and insects carrying pollen from other plants (together with any unlucky enough not to be) are imprisoned behind a row a spines within the flower. Once the plant is pollinated, the male organs quickly mature and the plant's own pollen is dusted over the trapped flies. The spines then wither away enough for the flies to escape.

    All members of the lily family, including wild arum, are poisonous to dogs.

  5. Turn left and follow the coast path uphill along the fence. Continue following the coast path to eventually reach a gate.

    A stony path leads down from the coast path to Booley beach. There is little or no beach at high tide but as the tide goes out, a sandy beach is revealed. On a really low spring tide, it can join with Par beach.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path down all the steps. Continue downhill on the path to eventually emerge onto a concrete driveway.

    Polkerris is thought to mean "fortified cove". This is likely to date from the early mediaeval period and may have referred to an Iron Age or Roman-era fortified settlement overlooking the cove. A bronze brooch was found on the beach which is thought to date from the 1st or 2nd Century.

  7. Continue onto the concrete driveway and follow along the fence to emerge onto the track into the pub car park. Continue ahead to where this meets a lane, opposite a postbox.

    In Tudor times, and possibly earlier, Polkerris was the main fishing port in St Austell Bay. There are records of a sizeable pilchard fishery from 1583 and mentions of a mackerel fishery in the 17th Century. In the early 18th Century, the village was developed by the Rashleigh family for more intensive pilchard seining which involved construction of the quay and one of the largest cellars in Cornwall. After the pilchard fishery declined from the 1830s, a smaller mackerel fishery continued a little longer until the collapse of mackerel stocks in the late 19th century due to overfishing.

  8. At the junction, turn right and follow the lane down to the beach. Turn left past the café to follow the tarmacked track uphill to a sign for the toilets.

    Polkerris is a fairly small crescent-shaped beach which is sandy at all states of the tide. The location on the corner of St Austell bay together with the harbour wall makes it quite sheltered so it's popular for water sports.

  9. Turn right up the tarmac path leading from the sign and when you reach the concrete steps, climb these and follow zig-zag up the bank past one waymark to reach a waymark beside a couple of steps on the right.

    During Victorian times, the Polkerris lifeboat station was built and what is now the Rashleigh Inn was the Coastguard station. The Coastguard cottages were originally built for what was known as the "Preventative Service", responsible for catching smugglers. There was another pub called the General Eliot which was situated in the car park of the Rashleigh Inn but it was swept away by the sea in a storm! The lifeboat station closed in 1922 and was transferred to Fowey instead. The cannons embedded muzzle-first in the harbour wall are from the Napoleonic wars.

  10. At the waymark, keep left and follow the path ahead across the middle of the field until it ends in a gate.

    From mid-September until roughly the last week of March is rainbow season in Cornwall when the sun is below the critical angle for rainbows all day long.

    An equation developed by the military for carrying load in the battlefield can be applied to estimate calories burned when walking.

    On the flat, someone who weighs 10.5 stone burns around 100 calories per mile (this increases with weight - e.g. about 123 for 13 stone).

    Going uphill this increases (to around 184 for our 10.5 stone walker climbing a 10% gradient) and going downhill this decreases (e.g. to around 75 for a 10% gradient downhill).

    The decrease going downhill is less than the increase going uphill, so undulating terrain burns more calories than on the flat (about 118 for an average 5% gradient and about 159 for an average 10% gradient).

    Also, once the gradient downhill increases beyond about 10%, you start to use more calories to hold your weight. By the time the gradient has reached 32 degrees downhill, you're burning as many calories as on the flat.

  11. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow this until it 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.

  12. At the junction, carefully cross the main road to the pavement opposite. Turn left and follow the pavement downhill until it ends.

    The peaks on the horizon, known affectionately as "The Cornish Alps", are from the China Clay industry.

    By the second half of the 19th Century, China Clay production had intensified and finding enough space for long "finger dumps" of waste material without covering up good clay ground was becoming troublesome. To take up less space, "sky tips" were created where steep railed inclines were used to pile the waste into high peaks (forming the "Cornish Alps").

    Not many remain as when a coal tip in Aberfan collapsed in 1969 killing 144 people, many of the Cornish sky tips were levelled as a precaution. China clay extraction in the 20th Century was on an even larger scale and the waste dumps from these were flat-topped structures seeded with grass to help stabilise them.

  13. Carefully continue a few paces further from the end of the pavement and cross the road to the path opposite. Follow this to a stone stile and cross this. Cross the field to the left end of the fence ahead and cross the track to a stone stile.

    On the first of our field tests for this walk, we met someone coming in the opposite direction with a box full of large white mushrooms which he said he'd just harvested from this field. As we crossed the field afterwards we found some and examined them. They were yellow stainers which can easily be confused with field mushrooms but are poisonous and cause serious tummy upsets in the majority of people. Hopefully he realised this too when he got them home!

  14. Cross the stile and cross the field diagonally, aiming for the right-hand side of the lake. As you approach the bottom of the field, make for the small path leaving the field.

    There's an excellent view across the bay as you descend the field. From left to right, the most distant headland is Dodman Point (formerly "Dead Man's Point" - given how far it sticks out into the channel you can see why that might be). The nearer headland about half-way along is Black Head which forms the opposite side of St Austell Bay. There's a good view of Victorian Quays forming Par Harbour and steam can often be seen rising from clay drying buildings within this as the water is driven off the clay slurry. The lake and holiday park surrounding it would have been under the sea at high tide in Victorian times. With rising sea levels from climate change, it's possible it will be again.

  15. Join the path and follow this to reach a kissing gate with a Coast path sign ahead of it.

    Extracts from ivy were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of some modern-day cough medicines. It is said to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study for English Heritage also found that roadside ivy absorbed particulates from the atmosphere which may lead to its use in improving air quality.

  16. Go through the gate and through the one on the left indicated for the Coast Path. Follow the path to the junction of paths at a waymark where you first joined the coast path.

    Despite being called red campion, its flowers are most definitely pink - varying quite widely in shade from vibrant deep pinks to very pale. The colour is produced by red anthrocyanin compounds which are also responsible for red autumn leaves and red tinges on new growth in some plants as well as flower colours. In red campion, the intensity of the colour is controlled by a pair of genes and several other genes control the exact balance of anthrocyanin compounds within the petals. These are passed down the generations and so pale pink parents are likely to produce pale pink offspring.

    The extra distance covered by going up and down does indeed add to the distance shown on a map. However, despite your legs telling you otherwise, this is actually not that huge. On an exceptionally arduous walk solely on the coast with lots of deep valleys, the distance travelled "up and down" is likely to be at most about 10% compared to the distance on the flat. For a more normal coastal circular walk the extra "up and down" is typically not much more than 5% of the distance on a flat map.

  17. Turn right and follow the path down to the car park. Turn left and walk all the way to the Toilets sign at the bottom of the car park, beside which a sandy path leads to the beach.

    The stream is the western boundary of the South Coast Eastern section of the Cornwall AONB which stretches nearly all the way to Looe.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) many of which were created at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks.

    There is a single Cornwall AONB which was established in 1959 and is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are stretches of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

  18. Follow the sandy path from beside the Toilets sign about half-way to the beach to where two small paths on the right merge behind a small grassy triangle and the resulting path leads through the bushes.

    The small path on the right is part of the South West Coast Path. The distance up the beach is partly a reflection of the growing dune system causing the high tide line to recede down the beach.

    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 traps water but also plays 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.

  19. Turn right and follow the path through the bushes, keeping ahead at any crossings until you reach a crossing with beach huts on the right. Continue ahead a short distance further from this to reach a crossing with the path leading from the toilets.

    Sea buckthorn is not closely related to other plants named "buckthorn". Its native habitat is on England's east coast but because it an extensive root system which is good for holding sandy soil together and preventing erosion, it often introduced elsewhere. It has long spines like blackthorn but the bark is paler.

    From August into the early autumn, the plants produce bright orange-yellow berries. These are edible but sour and astringent like sloes so are often harvested after frost or given a visit to the freezer to break down the bitter chemicals. The berries are also often mixed with something sweet to balance the sourness.

  20. Turn right to return to the car park and complete the walk.

    Dunes (called towans in Cornish) form when dry sand from the beach is blown by the wind, and initially lodges against an obstruction, eventually forming a ridge. More sand can then accumulate against the ridge and vegetation such as marram grass can then take hold, preventing the resulting sand hill from washing or blowing away.

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