West Pentire and Polly Joke circular walk

West Pentire and Polly Joke

Note that the poppies flower from the end of May through June with some of the other wildflowers lasting into July.

A circular walk through the poppy fields of West Pentire to Polly Joke beach, returning over the headland to the pub that was a cowshed until the mid-20th Century.

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The walk begins by zig-zagging through the poppy fields as the flowers are rotated between fields each year so we cover all the bases. The walk then descends to Cubert Common and follows the valley down to the beach at Polly Joke (aka Porth Joke). From here the route follows the coast and crosses the top of the headland where there are lovely views. The return route is past the remaining poppy fields before finishing at the Bowgie Inn.

Considerations

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

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 2.2 miles/3.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Spectacular display of poppies and corn marigolds in June
  • Panoramic coastal views across Crantock and East Pentire to Trevose Head
  • Golden, sandy beaches at Porth Joke and Crantock
  • The historic Bowgie Inn at Crantock

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Bowgie Inn

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park and bear right to reach the road beside the signpost. Turn right onto the road and follow it to a junction with wooden Public Footpath signpost for Cubert Common and Pentire Point West.

    A settlement at West Pentire is recorded as far back as 1202. Initially it as just known as "pentire". Mentions of it being subdivided into East and West were recorded later in the 13th Century. The farmhouse includes the base of a mediaeval cross and boundaries of some of the fields are also thought to be based on the system of strip fields used during mediaeval times.

  2. Keep right at the junction (signposted Pentire Point West, Porth Joke...) and follow the lane and track leading from it to a gate with a National Trust sign.

    West Pentire is part of the parish of Crantock.

    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.

  3. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a signpost at a junction of paths.

    The "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was founded in 1895 when snappy names weren't in fashion. Their first coastal acquisition was Barras Nose at Tintagel in 1897. Five years later, Tintagel Old Post Office was their first house to be acquired in Cornwall. The National Trust now owns over 700 miles of British coastline.

  4. Turn left (signposted to Porth Joke beach) and follow the path downhill to a kissing gate.

    The fields on West Pentire are owned by the National Trust and managed as a nature reserve. From late May to July, there are carpets of red poppies and yellow corn marigolds with over 150 other wildflower species also recorded. The seeds have survived here in the soil from a time before intensive farming with herbicides. Each year, fields are cultivated in a cycle as the plants rely on soil disturbance for their seeds to germinate.

    The National Trust request that people stay on the paths to take photos and avoid walking into the flowers as they are quite fragile and don't recover well from trampling.

  5. Go through the gate and turn left between the wooden fences indicated by the black arrow. Follow the path along the bottom hedge of two fields to where the path crosses through the hedge.

    The common red poppy is also known as the corn poppy as they were once common in many agricultural fields but modern herbicides have eradicated most of them. The flowers produce a very large amount of pollen but very little nectar so pollen-gathering insects (e.g. bees) are important in their fertilisation as the pollen is not carried by the wind. Although each flower is short-lived, often just lasting a day, one poppy plant can produce up to 400 flowers resulting in half a million seeds.

    Jackdaws can be distinguished from other members of the crow family by their short black beaks and grey necks. They are smaller than all the other black birds in the crow family and are only slightly larger than jays.

  6. Follow the path through the line of the hedge to now follow along the hedge on your left. Continue to reach a gate.

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairiness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration.

  7. Go through the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow this downhill to where a small path departs to the right indicated by a "Footpath" sign just before the track enters a private property.

    Over recent decades, the kestrel population has been in decline and is now about half of what it was at the start of the 1970s. The exact reasons are not known but it's strongly suspected it is connected to a decline in vole numbers perhaps due to changing farming methods. Reduced availability of nesting sites (e.g. in old trees) may also be a contributing factor.

  8. Take the footpath indicated to the right. Follow it over the bridge and along a hedge, to a kissing gate.

    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.

    The tributaries of the stream reach as far as Cubert and the downs along the A3075 beside the Cubert crossroads. The Gwinear fishing lakes are fed by the springs that then give rise to one of the tributaries.

  9. Go through the gate and continue a few paces ahead to reach a track. Turn right onto the track and keep right when you reach the fork to reach a gate into a car park.

    Recreational camping was first popularised in the UK on the river Thames as an offshoot of the Victorian craze for pleasure boating. Early camping equipment was very heavy and so transporting it by boat was pretty much essential. By the 1880s it had become a pastime for large numbers of visitors.

  10. Go through the pedestrian gate beside the main gate and cross the car park to the gateway opposite.

    Flag irises grow along the small stream in front of the car park.

    The yellow water iris (also known as yellow flag) is a native plant but can become invasive and have a negative effect on biodiversity due to its ability to out-compete many other water plants. It is thought by some to be the original plant on which the "fleur-de-lis" heraldic symbol is based.

    If heavy metals are present in the soil, the plant is quite effective at absorbing these. This together with its aptitude for growing in pools of shallow water makes it potentially useful for detoxifying mine drainage.

    In marshes, micro-organisms thrive in the wet mud and use up the supply of oxygen. To survive being partially buried in mud with low oxygen levels, many marsh plants have therefore evolved snorkels: air channels in the stem which allow oxygen to reach the base of the plant. This is why the leaves of reeds feel spongy.

  11. Go through the gateway and follow the main path for a quarter of a mile, ignoring paths to the left, to reach a gate across the path.

    Cow parsnip (also known as "hogweed" - not to be confused with "giant hogweed") is a member of the carrot family. It has more solid leaves than cow parsley or alexanders which it often grows alongside. It also flowers later. The leaves are noticeable from around mid-April. Flowering starts roughly at the start of June and continues through the summer.

    Giant hogweed is regarded by some as the most dangerous plant in the UK. If you encounter any, avoid touching it and children and dogs should be kept away from it as the sap contains a chemical which is extremely phototoxic. When activated by sunlight, this binds to the DNA in skin cells and kills them. Skin reaction starts as an itchy rash and can develop into third degree burns and scarring. It also makes the affected areas susceptible to severe sunburn for several years.

    The plant gets its name as it can grow more than 10 feet tall, topped with white umbrella-shaped flowers. Due to the similar style of flowers, is also known as giant cow parsley although the giant hogweed leaves are much more solid with a toothed edge, more similar to cow parsnip (normal hogweed). It is typically found near water or on waste ground.

    The plant was introduced to Britain by Victorian botanists in the 19th century as an ornamental plant and has escaped from gardens into the wild. It has been spreading across the UK (as one plant produces 50,000 seeds) but is still very rare in Cornwall. A project to eradicate it along the Tamar River system is helping to stop further spread into Cornwall.

    If you find giant hogweed in Cornwall (and are sure it's not normal hogweed), take a photo and report it to invasives@cormacltd.co.uk

    In autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas although more tend to shrivel as the autumn advances. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. This is because freezing breaks down the bitter tannins. Therefore you can pick your sloes in September before they go too wrinkly and then pop them in the freezer to achieve the same thing.

    The ferns with solid leaves are appropriately called hart's tongue as the leaf resembles the tongue of a deer. It's an evergreen so leaves can be seen all year round but there's usually a flurry of new growth in mid March when new leaves can be seen gradually unfurling over a number of days. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as the underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places and are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the main path ahead to reach a signpost at the top of the beach.

    The domestic radish has been cultivated from one of the subspecies of wild radish - a member of the cabbage family. Another of its subspecies is found on the coast and appropriately known as sea radish.

    Sea radish is a biennial plant (2 year lifecycle) and during its first year it creates a rosette of leaves that are dormant over the winter. These are quite noticeable during January and February when there is not much other vegetation. The leaves are dull grey-green, slightly furry and each leaf consists of pairs of fairly long thin leaflets along the length of the stem plus a final bigger one at the end. Alexanders grows in similar places at similar times but its leaves are glossy green and each leaf is made up of 3 leaflets.

    By the late spring, sea radish is a reasonably tall plant, recognisable by its yellow flowers that have 4 narrow petals. The flowers go on to form tapering seed pods later in the year with 2 or 3 large seeds in each pod with a spike at the end.

    The plant is edible and probably at its best in the autumn and winter when the leaf rosettes are present. The leaves have a mild cabbage flavour but the leaf stems and ribs don't - they taste like a milder version of radish.

    Most of the major dunes on the North Cornish coastline are thought to have formed from around 5,000 years ago when sea levels finally stopped rising after the glacial ice from the last Ice Age had finished melting.

  13. Turn right and cross the bridge 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 interchangeably, which possibly gave rise to the two competing names.

  14. Go through the kissing gate and keep left at two forks in the path to reach a gap in the hedge by an ivy-covered post.

    In late June and July, lady's bedstraw produces clusters of tiny pale yellow scented flowers. The plant has long, thin stems with a star of very narrow leaves at intervals along the stems, a bit like rosemary, or its relative, goosegrass, but is softer than either.

    The name has arisen from its use to stuff mattresses as the scent was pleasant and also repels fleas. In Scandinavia, the plant was used as a sedative during childbirth. The plant was also used to produce red and yellow dyes. The light orange colour of Double Gloucester cheese originates from this. The flowers were used in place of renin to coagulate milk but no records remain for the method of how to do this.

    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).

  15. Follow the path through the gap towards the headland. Continue through a pedestrian gap in a fence. Carry on following the path to reach a bend with a bench where the path turns right uphill to cross over the headland.

    On the off-chance 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 and spread further across Cornwall. 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, sightings of choughs are 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 choughs@cbwps.org.uk to report the sighting. This will help the "Chough Watch" team keep track of the growing population.

  16. At the bend, bear right uphill and follow the footpath until you reach a fork in the path at a waymark.

    The headlands either side of Crantock beach are named, somewhat unimaginatively, East and West Pentire (this one being on the west side).

    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.

    The central point of reference being Crantock (and not Newquay) stems from when Crantock was the major port and settlement and Newquay was little more than a few thatched fishermens' cottages beside the beach.

  17. At the fork, keep right. Follow the path to a junction of paths and continue directly ahead a little further to cross the brow of the hill and reach a gap in the wall.

    The white flowers along the coast in July and August which resemble a more compact version of Cow Parsley are the delightfully-named Sea Carrot. Unlike Cow Parsley, the flowers start off pink and become white as they open and sometimes have a single dark red flower in the centre. The Sea Carrot is technically the same species as a wild carrot, from which the carrot was domesticated, but is shorter, stouter and more splayed out than a wild carrot. The two converge the further north and east that you go in Britain: West Cornwall is therefore the pinnacle of Sea Carrot evolution. You should avoid touching the leaves of the Sea Carrot as they can make skin hypersensitive to ultraviolet light which can result in blistering caused by extreme sunburn.

    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. Go through the gap and follow the path downhill to a waymarked junction of paths at the corner of a wall.

    There is a nice view across Crantock beach to East Pentire. The larger rocky island off the end of the headland is known as "The Goose" and the smaller one between that and the headland is "Sarvan". On a clear day you can also see Trevose Head in the distance with the white lighthouse.

  19. Turn right to pass the bench and follow the waymarked path to a wooden fence forming a gap for pedestrians.

    Common agrimony is a native plant and a member of the rose family. It prefers less acidic soils which limits its range in Cornwall but can be found in a few places along the coast. It is recognisable by yellow 5-petal flowers on a spike which gives rise to another of its common names: "church steeples". It is also known as sticklewort as the seeds have burs that stick to passers-by. The leaves have distinctive toothed edges rather like a saw blade.

  20. Weave through the fence and turn right onto the path leading uphill waymarked for West Pentire. Follow the path until it ends in a junction with another path with a gate on the right.

    Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

    The growth rhythm of brambles is so steady that it can be used in forensics to work out how long remains have been at a crime scene.

  21. If the wildflowers are blooming, you can take an optional diversion through the kissing gate into the fields on the right (there is a gap linking the fields) and return here afterwards. To finish the walk: follow the path currently to the left back to West Pentire, go through the gate and continue ahead along the track and lane to reach the Bowgie Inn on your left.

    When you reach the gate across the track, next to the information board there is a donation box for the National Trust which goes towards the conservation of the poppy fields.

    The Bowgie Inn is a public house located in the hamlet of West Pentire, slightly west of Crantock and south of Newquay. Bowgie is a Cornish word meaning cow shed. The building that is now the pub was indeed a cowshed for the nearby farm until the 1950s and there are pictures in the pub of the building before it was converted. It was originally built in the 18th Century and the cob walls are nearly a metre thick. They act as a storage heater, keeping the cows (and today's non-bovine occupants) warm during cold nights.

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