Watergate Bay to Newquay

Watergate Bay to Newquay (via bus)

A one-way coastal walk, made circular via an initial bus journey, from Watergate Bay along the coast path to Newquay, passing the sea caves at Whipsiderry beach, the Iron Age hillfort on Trevelgue head and beaches of Porth, Lusty Glaze and Tolcarne.

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The walk starts with a 10 minute bus ride from Newquay to Watergate Bay. The walk then follows the Coast Path from Watergate Bay to Whipsiderry, or at low tide you can walk along a mile of sandy beach. From here, there is an optional diversion to Trevelgue Head and Porth Island, where there are panoramic views of the Newquay coastline. The walk continues across Porth beach to join the Coast Path to Lusty Glaze beach. The return to Newquay is across the Bronze-Age Barrowfields passing Tolcarne Beach.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 4 miles/6.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Bus: 56 from Newquay bus station to Watergate Bay.
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer, walking boots in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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  • Huge sandy beach at Watergate Bay
  • Beaches of Whipsiderry, Porth, Lusty Glaze and Tolcarne on the return to Newquay
  • Blowhole and Iron Age fort on Trevelgue Head
  • Panoramic coastal views of Newquay and its beaches from the coastpath

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Mermaid Inn

Adjoining walks


  1. Start by catching the bus from Newquay bus station to Watergate Bay. Make your way between the Portakabins in the beach car park at Watergate Bay to join the coast path. Follow the path uphill until you reach a waymark to Trevelgue, on the top of the headland.

    Watergate Bay, near Newquay, is still sometimes known by its local name "Tregurrian Beach" which is reported as once being Porth Tregoryan (meaning something along the lines of "Cove at Coryan's Farm").

    The beach is two miles long and popular for surfing of all kinds including kite surfing. The beach faces west, so the best surf occurs when the wind is easterly. The surf is said to be consistent at all states of the tide.

  2. At the waymark, continue through the gap in the hedge. Follow the coast path until you reach a waymark in front of a large conical mound.

    The two large mounds alongside the coast path between Watergate Bay and Whipsiderry are Bronze Age barrows. A stone axe hammer from the Bronze Age was found in a burial cist next to one of the mounds.

  3. Follow the path between the mound and the fence and, where the path forks at a second waymark, take either of the paths (which rejoin) and then follow the path to a kissing gate.

    The airfield to the left is RAF St Mawgan.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  4. At the kissing gate, follow the path to a fork and keep right, to follow the coast until you reach the steps to Whipsiderry Beach.

    The name of Whipsiderry Beach arises from some old mining terms: whips (marker flags) and derrick (an elevated structure for haulage situated over a shaft). It is recorded that the Derrick - resembling gallows - was named after a famous hangman by that name.

    A cave on the side of Porth Island was enlarged in the 1870s as part of the Porth Island Silver and Lead Mine workings. In the 1920s-30s, a harmonium was wheeled in here at low tide for candlelight concerts and consequently became known as the Concert Cavern or Banqueting Hall. It eventually became unsafe and was mostly demolished with explosives.

    Another cave near this, known as Cathedral Cavern, has a pillar and a series of intersecting tunnels. This was once quarried, it is reported, for white marble. Marble is not common in Cornwall, but a bed of it was found deep in a mine fairly nearby in Perranporth so this might be related.

    There are also two smaller caves on Whipsiderry Beach named according to their contents: Fern Cavern and Boulder Cavern.

    The island on Whipsiderry beach is known as Flory Island or Black Humphrey Rock. Books from the 19th and early 20th Century record tales of a wrecker called Black Humphrey who was said to live in the old mine-workings. So much of the mine workings on the beach and the island have since been eroded that it's hard to imagine how it would have looked hundreds of years ago. A verse is recorded about Black Humphrey based on ships being wrecked by the westerly gales:

    When the wind is from the west Pray for me among the rest; When the wind is from the east I’ll to church as soon as Priest;

    The alternative name Flory is thought to be a corruption of Phillory, but the significance of the name has been lost.

  5. Bear left to reach the road and then follow the tarmac path alongside the road downhill to reach a gate beside an ice cream kiosk.

    On Trevelgue Head, alongside the beach at Porth, are the remains of an Iron Age cliff castle. The site was excavated in 1939 but due to the outbreak of the Second World War, the project was never finished and the results never published until nearly 70 years later in 2007. The fort was surrounded by a series of large earth and stone ramparts, and the settlement in the centre included a large roundhouse and even a protected field system. Estimates of when the fort was in use vary, but certainly from before Roman Times. It's likely to have been built somewhere between 3-6 centuries BC, and then been in use for a number of centuries.

    There are barrows on the headland, dating back further, to the Bronze Age. Archaeologists have also found remains of a bronze foundry and hut circles from this period. However some remains of settlements on the headland date back even further still, to Stone Age times: flint tools have been found that are estimated to be 6000 years old, from the Mesolithic period.

    There is a blowhole in the gully at the end of Porth Island, located on the longer right-hand side, opposite where the shorter side ends. At mid-tide, when there is a swell, the waves washing into the cave, compress the air and force a jet of water and compressed air through the blowhole with a roar.

    Blowholes form when waves enter a cave, and the air they compress weakens the roof of the cave and enlarges the chamber. Often the blowhole eventually breaks through to the surface, forming a collapsed cave which ultimately results in a rock stack being severed from the land.

  6. Before continuing, you can make an optional diversion to Trevelgue Head and Porth Island on the right. The walk continues downhill on the pavement (optionally via the terrace along the river) until you reach a gap in the wall just before the Mermaid Inn leading onto the beach.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the valley is St Columb Minor, named after St Columba, to whom its church is dedicated.

    The legend of St. Columba is preserved in a manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge. This states that she was the daughter of an Irish King, and that, in order to escape marriage with a pagan prince, she took a ship to Cornwall. She arrived at Trevelgue head but unluckily, she had been followed by the Prince. He chased her through the forest (which is now Porth beach). The princess fled up the valley, past Rialton and Treloy until she was captured at Ruthvoes. The Prince cut off her head and where blood fell, a spring gushed forth and the water following the course of her flight, formed the river that runs across the beach.

  7. Go through the gap onto the beach, then bear left along the top of the beach until you reach the toilets on the far side.

    The beach at St Columb Minor is known either as St Columb Porth or more commonly just "Porth" or "Porth beach", though the latter is effectively "cove beach", rivalling "Coombe valley" ("valley valley") for the place name most lost in translation.

    The narrow beach, between the two parallel headlands, is consequently fairly sheltered and therefore generally better-suited to swimming than surfing. The gradient is very shallow so the tide comes in quite fast. The river running along the right-hand side of the beach is deeper and faster-flowing than you might expect: attempting to wade through in wellies may result in an unplanned swim.

    Roughly 20 feet down in the sand on the beach at Porth is the remains of a prehistoric forest which is though to date from around 7,000 years ago when sea levels where much lower. This forest extended out into the bay which would have all been dry land. During the 1950s, a water pumping station was built near the Mermaid Inn which involved digging down into the sand. During the excavation, tree stumps were uncovered that were so large that a bulldozer was required to pull them out. Particularly large storms can strip away sand and cause the tree stumps to be exposed, which happened in some parts of Cornwall and Wales in 2014, allowing the age of some of the remains to be estimated using radiocarbon dating.

  8. Go up the steps in front of the toilets and turn right onto the tarmac path. Follow the path until you reach a flight of steps.

    Alexanders are very salt tolerant so they thrive in Cornwall's salty climate. They are just as likely to be found along coastal footpaths as along country lanes. New growth appears in the autumn so during the winter, when most other plants are dormant, it is a dominant source of greenery along paths and lanes in exposed coastal areas.

    Tarmac was discovered by accident in 1901 when a barrel of tar fell and burst open on a road and then waste slag from a nearby furnace was used to cover up the mess. The resulting smooth surface was noticed by a surveyor for Nottingham County who patented the idea, formed the Tar Macadam Syndicate and registered Tarmac as a trademark.

    This has been adopted into the English language initially as tarmacadam and increasingly now as just tarmac. When used as an adjective it gains an extra "k" (i.e. tarmacked).

  9. Climb the steps, follow the tarmacked path past the benches and follow the railings on your left until you reach a pedestrian gap in a stone wall at the end.

    In much more recent times (the late 18th or early 19th Century), a huer's hut was built on Porth Island.

    The pilchard fisheries rose to their peak in Victorian times. The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout "Hevva!, Hevva!" (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".

    The pilchard fishery was particularly important in Newquay, which is reflected in the town's insignia depicting pilchards. A huer's hut still remains above Newquay harbour.

  10. Go through the gap in the wall and join the residential road. Follow this, past the way down to Lusty Glaze beach, until it ends in a T-junction.

    The name is a mangling of the Cornish Lostyn Glas. The precise meaning of this in English is not clear: the not-exactly-similar "little green tail of land" and "place to view blue boats" have both been suggested. One reason for the confusion is that the word glas can be used to represent either blue or green or even grey! The words for the basic colours in Cornish are completely different from English: blue-green-grey is a single colour in Cornish as is grey-brown (loodge) as these were principal colours of the natural environment (e.g. the sea and the soil). This is a nice example of how our perception of colour (which is after all a continuous spectrum of shades that we arbitrarily divide up into named ranges) is influenced by the language we speak; the different languages essentially have a different colour palette.

  11. Turn right at the T-junction, and immediately right again at the bollard onto a grassy area. Follow the path across the grassy area with benches until you reach a coast path sign beside a wall.

    In the cliff at the back of Lusty Glaze, the remains of an inclined plane are visible which was intended to haul boats from the beach to the St Columb canal 100 feet above on the clifftop.

    The St Columb Canal was intended to bring lime-rich shell sand from the coast, to be used inland as fertiliser in the same way as the Bude Canal. The canal was designed as two branches which ran from the coast to the North and South of St Columb, inland towards the town. The northern branch ran along the Menalhyl valley to Mawgan Porth. Lusty Glaze, on the edge of Newquay, was the intended terminus for the southern branch.

    Work began in the 1700s, but ran into problems because, around Newquay, the very sand the canal was built to transport, present in the soil, resulted in a canal that would not actually hold water. The resulting empty trench was little use for transporting anything and the project for the southern section was aborted. The northern section of the canal fared slightly better in that it was completed, but lost so much money that it fell out of use within 3 years.

  12. From the coast path sign, follow the fence on your right across one grassy area to a gap into a second grassy area.

    Sea beet grows along the cliff edge here.

    Sea beet has been cross-bred with domesticated crops to re-introduce some of the disease resistance from the tougher wild plant that were lost in the domesticated plants. It is also able to withstand quite high sodium levels in the soil which allows it to grow in salty conditions on the coast.

  13. Go through the gap and continue ahead across the grass. Head to the rocky gully to the right of a large conical mound and follow the path through this to emerge onto a tarmac track.

    The conical mound is a barrow and the surrounding grassy area is known as The Barrowfields.

    The Barrowfields is an area of open space opposite the Hotel Bristol in Newquay. It is so called because of the numerous prehistoric burial mounds (barrows) that have been identified here - fifteen so far. One of the barrows was excavated and, at the centre, a pottery burial urn was found containing the remains of a Chieftan from around 3500 years ago. Sadly, few of the barrows now remain as in the early 1800s, before anyone understood their historic importance, a local farmer removed much of the stone for use in the walls surrounding his fields.

  14. Turn left onto the track, and follow it towards the road until you reach a pedestrian area opposite the Bristol Hotel

    Enid Blyton's "Malory Towers" was based on The Bristol Hotel in Newquay. During World War 2, the hotel was the temporary site of Benenden School (normally in Kent) which Enid's daughter attended. Although her daughter was only there for one term in 1945 before the war ended, the location was an inspiration. The clifftop location and even west-facing aspect were carefully preserved in Malory Towers.

  15. Turn right and follow the railings along the edge of the coast until the pedestrian area joins the pavement.

    The beach at Tolcarne is sandy at all states of the tide. At low tide, Tolcarne, Great Western and Towan beach all merge into a single beach stretching to the harbour. On spring tides, this also extends in the other direction to Lusty Glaze.

  16. Turn right and follow the pavement past the Great Western Hotel and onward to the Travelodge to reach a cycle/pedestrian track departing to the right between the Travelodge and Griffin Inn.

    Before the railway was built, Newquay was a small fishing village, with around 1,300 inhabitants recorded in 1801. The settlement grew up around a natural harbour and was known as Towan Blystra (which translates to something like "wind-blown dune"). Although protected from the prevailing westerly winds, the anchorage was quite exposed to a northeasterly wind. This may possibly be the origin of the Cornish name but also gave rise to its successor: in the late Middle Ages, funds were secured to protect the harbour by the building of a new quay.

  17. Turn right onto the cycle/pedestrian track, follow this beneath a bridge and alongside a tarmacked lane until it ends in a junction with the road.

    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.

  18. Bear right and walk a couple of paces to a junction. Turn right towards the sea and follow the road for a few paces to reach the Killacourt on the left, just after "Chymedden".

    When Newquay was a working mineral port, horse-drawn wagons emptied their ore into chutes at the top of the cliff, forming heaps at the bottom. The ore was moved along tram tracks which were laid along the quays to load the sailing ships awaiting in the harbour. Coal and other imported goods were raised from the quay in wagons hauled through a tunnel (now occupied by Newquay Rowing Club) using winding engines.

  19. Walk between the black bollards and join the wide, light brown surfaced path with seating. Follow this towards the sea to where it ends in a junction.

    Towan Island was first sold at an auction in 1838 to the industrious Billing brothers, who were often seen working in their gardens on the Island. Before 1900, the island had a potato patch and chickens were also kept there, and it was accessed by a curving pathway up the sides from the beach.

    At the start of the 1900s, a 30m long suspension bridge was built 25m above the beach and is the only privately-owned suspension bridge in Britain. The building on the island was formerly a tea room, and was converted into a three-bedroom Edwardian house in the 1930s.

    The house was once owned by Sir Oliver Lodge, inventor of the spark plug. One can speculate whether the gap between the land and the island provided inspiration for the spark plug, vice versa, or whether this is just a happy coincidence.

  20. At the junction, turn right and walk a short distance to a path on the left beside a millennium plaque. Turn left onto this and follow it down some steps to emerge. Walk along the terrace past the Blue Reef Aquarium to join a narrow road. Follow this uphill around a bend to reach a flight of steps on the right, opposite a small car park.
  21. Climb the steps on the right and follow the main path gradually uphill to meet the metal railings at the seaward end. Continue to reach a flight of steps in the far corner of the park.

    Despite being named after sand dunes (that presumably existed here before Newquay was built), Towan is now Newquay's town beach. Towan beach joins with Great Western and Tolcarne beaches at low tide. It should not be confused with the identically-named Towan Beach on the Roseland peninsula.

  22. Climb the steps and follow the path past the bowling green to reach another flight of steps. Climb these and make your way through the car park to reach the road.

    The game of bowls dates from mediaeval times and was first clearly documented in the 13th Century. From the 14th Century, it was banned along with several other sports for being a distraction from archery practice. However bans on bowling continued long after guns had replaced the longbow due to the disreputable nature of bowling alleys which were often attached to taverns. Until 1845, labourers, apprentices and servants were forbidden from playing bowls except at Christmas under the supervision of their masters!

  23. The walk finishes to the left but first you may wish to visit the harbour (turn right and take the first right - South Quay Hill with the large "Newquay Harbour" sign) and then return here. To continue the walk, follow the road to The Central (pub).

    During the mining boom of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Newquay's mediaeval harbour, which was originally built for fishing, was rebuilt as a mineral port. Work was started as part of a grand plan by a London investor to create a three acre harbour for exporting copper to the smelters in South Wales. He died before it was completed, but his company was bought out by mining magnate Joseph Treffry who completed work on the harbour for mineral export and connected it to his transport links leading inland. The stone pier in the centre of the harbour was originally connected to the South Quay by a timber bridge to create a third quay.

    The harbour still has a small working fishing fleet and commercial boats associated with tourism.

  24. Keep right to follow the road around the bend and continue a short distance to reach some steps on the left opposite the cinema. Climb the steps and continue ahead to the left side of the traffic lights to return to the car park.

    The first traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in 1868 to stop horse carriages so pedestrians could cross. During the day these used raised/lowered arms (like a railway signal). The red and green lights were only used at night, lit by burning gas and were consequently prone to explosions.

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