West Pentire to Crantock Beach circular walk

West Pentire to Crantock Beach

A circular walk on the northernmost end of one of Cornwall's largest areas of sand dunes that stretch from Crantock to Perranporth under which one mediaeval chapel was found and another is said to still be lost.

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The walk starts at West Pentire and follows the coast path to the dunes behind Crantock Beach. The walk then passes through the village to reach a byway through Treago Farm leading onto Cubert Common. The walk crosses the common and then descends the valley to the sandy beach at Porth Joke. A short climb through the wildflower meadows of West Pentire completes the circular route.

Considerations

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

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 3.5 miles/5.7 km
  • Steepness grade: 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

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Bowgie Inn

Directions

  1. In the car park, make your way towards the sea to join a tarmacked path with granite posts alongside. Follow this to where it meets the path along the coast.
  2. At the end of the wall, turn right onto the coast path and follow the path past the benches to another gap in the wall with a C-Bay sign. Go through this and continue on the path to reach another gap with a second C-Bay sign beside some wooden steps.

    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.

  3. Continue a short distance downhill on the coast path 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.

    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 defence 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.

  4. 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

  5. Continue on the path from the waymark, following the main path (left) at the junction and a bit further along keeping right at a fork in the path. Continue on the path to reach a signpost at another junction of paths.

    Erosion of the vegetation by foot traffic can cause the dunes to disintegrate, so areas are sometimes fenced off to allow the all-important weeds to recover, particularly the seaward edge which is both the most fragile and most visited area. During the 1970s-80s erosion was at its worst but many dunes have since been stabilised. Some of the fencing has now been removed to allow some bare areas of sand to be created which are necessary for the natural process of sand migration to the dunes further inland.

  6. At the junction, keep left then immediately right to follow the path ahead towards Crantock Beach. Follow the waymarked path across the dunes (bearing right to a waymark on the skyline where the path splits into several) to emerge through a gate into the Crantock beach car park.

    Ragwort is fairly easy to recognise as a relatively tall plants with yellow flowers standing above surrounding grass.

    Ragwort was rated in the top 10 nectar-producing plants in a survey for pollinating insects on UK agricultural land. The plant has also become known as "Benyon's Delight" following Facebook comments describing it as a "vile poisonous weed" by Richard Benyon, the then government minister responsible for biodiversity.

    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.

  7. Enter the car park and turn right to walk out of the car park entrance. Follow the road uphill to reach a junction with Gustory Road on the right.

    Amongst the strange critters that can wash up on the beach during a storm, are goose barnacles.

    Goose barnacles are alien-looking creatures, usually found on flotsam such as driftwood that has been at sea for a while. In mediaeval times, before it was realised that birds migrate, it was believed that goose barnacles hatched into geese just before the winter. The association is thought to be based on similarities in the colour and the long necks of the barnacles. Since there were no plastic bottles or wellies floating in the sea back then, they were only ever seen on driftwood and it was assumed that the wood was already covered in the barnacles, laid by geese, before it fell into the sea. This elaborate lifecycle was also exploited as a "loophole" in religious doctrine which forbade the eating of meat on certain days. As geese were deemed "neither flesh, nor born of flesh", they were exempt and could be eaten.

  8. Turn right onto Gustory Road and follow this until it ends in a forked junction with another road.

    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.

  9. Bear right and carefully follow the road until you reach the entrance to Treago Farm on the left.
  10. Turn left and follow the lane to Treago Farm. Continue downhill through any gates across the track and across a bridge over a stream to reach a bend with a wooden waymark post.

    There is still the ruin of a corn mill at Treago. This dates from mediaeval times - first mentioned in around 1300 - and was still extant in Victorian times.

  11. Bear left off the track at the waymark and take the rightmost of the paths, heading initially towards an area of exposed sand near the skyline. Continue to where the path forks.

    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.

  12. Keep left at the fork and continue onto a well-worn path. Follow this to where it crosses a sunken track.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  13. Turn right and follow the sunken track gradually downhill. Continue to where the track forks beside a small quarry on the right.

    Kestrels are easily spotted when hovering, watching their prey. Whilst hovering, kestrels have the extraordinary ability to keep their head totally still, even in strong winds.

  14. Bear left and cross over the small stream to reach the gate into a car park.

    The quarry on the right isn't recorded on the OS map from the 1880s but is recorded as "old" on the OS map from the 1900s. The little triangle in the tracks also wasn't recorded in the 1880s (just a fork coming from the Treago direction) but was in place by the 1900s. There were a couple of tiny buildings recorded in the 1880s on the site of the car park so the quarry is likely to have been used to extract stone for those. However, the quarry is sufficiently large that it some may have also been taken along the tracks either to Treago, Lewannick or down to the coast to a boat.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 (although hemlock is also a good contender). If you encounter giant hogweed, 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.

  17. 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 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path uphill to reach a gate near a bench.

    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).

  20. Go through the gate and follow the path along the right edge of the field to reach a gap in the top hedge leading onto a track.

    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.

  21. Turn right onto the track and follow this to a gate. Go through this and continue a little further to a junction with a wooden signpost.

    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.

  22. Bear left at the junction and walk around the bend to reach a grassy triangle. Turn left into the car park of the Bowgie Inn to complete the circular walk.

    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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