West of Newquay the Cornish coast takes a turn for the dramatic. A series of broad, sandy beaches – some of the best in Cornwall – open between windswept headlands offering epic prospects: this is a surfers’ shore. Holywell Bay and Perranporth offer some of Europe’s best wave-riding conditions, and surfers from across Britain and beyond flock here year-round. Visitors have been battling the waves of this coast for centuries. According to legend, St Piran, the patron saint of tin miners and the best known of the so-called ‘Celtic Saints’ who brought Christianity to Cornwall in the 6th century, came ashore through the surf at Perranporth (‘Piran’s Beach’ in Cornish) after crossing from Ireland on a miraculously buoyant millstone. The remains of St Piran’s Oratory lie in the deep dunes of Penhale.
The walk begins in the car park at Crantock, a genteel village with a beach, popular with families. This spot is just a stone’s throw from the brash bustle of Newquay, Cornwall’s biggest resort. But the Gannel, a narrow estuary at the northern edge of Crantock Beach, cuts off the world of bars and surfshops from the wilder shores to the west. From Crantock, the route follows the meandering course of the South West Coast Path to the sheltered inlet of Porth Joke, known locally as Polly Joke. From Porth Joke the route crosses the broad, rabbit-cropped back of Kelsey Head, and descends to Holywell Bay with its wide beach backed by sand dunes. The bay is named for a sacred spring, set in a cave in the cliffs. As recently as the 19th century pilgrims from across Cornwall would visit the spot at low tide in search of cures for all manner of debilitating illnesses. Beyond Holywell the route skirts the edge of the Penhale army camp to Ligger Point, where a magnificent view of the coastline opens. Ahead lies the grand 3-mile (4.8km) strip of sand that leads all the way to journey’s end in the bustling seaside streets of Perranporth.
Follow the enclosed path that leads off to the left a few paces inside the entrance to the National Trust car park at Crantock. Fork left and follow a footworn grassy path across the dunes, bearing slightly left towards a half-hidden modern house with an hexagonal outbuilding. Near the house, first pass a junction with a path going right, then immediately reach another junction by a National Trust sign for 'The Rushy Green'. Keep right here (if you start from the centre of Crantock village, you should head down Beach Road, then immediately turn off left along a track which leads you to the junction near the house, at which you turn right). In a few paces reach a crossing of sandy tracks. Go straight ahead into an open field, then turn right and follow the field-edge. Keep ahead past the end of the beach where several paths branch inland to the left, including one to C-Bay Bar & Bistro.
After a kissing gate, bear left at a junction, and continue around Pentire Point West to reach Porth Joke. Cross the head of the beach and follow the coast path to Holywell Bay. Follow a path through the dunes to reach a bridge over a stream (you can divert inland here to public toilets, shops and St Pirans Inn).
Cross the back of the beach and bear right for a few paces to a tall slate coast path marker signed 'Holywell'. Follow the coast path steeply uphill, passing a sign warning of adders and an Ministry of Defence sign about the army training camp at Penhale. Where it levels off, bear up to the left to pass between a compound of metal aerials and a wired-off mine shaft. Continue alongside the perimeter of the army camp to Ligger Point where Perran Beach comes into view.
Go downhill along a wide, gravelly path to reach the top of the beach itself. At most times it is possible to walk along the beach from here at least as far as the cliffs at Carn Haut. However, during high spring tides it may be necessary to follow the network of paths through the dunes. These are not always easy to follow, but they are sporadically marked with coast path signs – keep heading generally parallel to the beach.
At low tide you can continue along the beach all the way to Perranporth. At high tide climb a concrete ramp beside a lifeguard hut to the top of the cliff at Carn Haut. Where steps lead up left, keep straight on to a turning area. Join the coast path beyond a crash barrier and then continue to Perranporth town.
Good coastal footpath and firm sandy beaches; several stiles
Big sandy beaches and grassy cliff tops
Dogs on leads through grazed areas
OS Explorer 104 Redruth & St Agnes
Crantock Beach (National Trust), Perranporth Beach car park
Crantock village; Crantock Beach car park; Perranporth
Park early at Perranporth and catch the bus to Crantock to start rather than getting a bus at the end of the walk
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Cornwall has just about everything – wild moorland landscapes, glorious river valley scenery, picturesque villages and miles of breathtaking coastline. With more than 80 surfing spots, there are plenty of sporting enthusiasts who also make their way here to enjoy wave-surfing, kite surfing and blokarting.
In recent years, new or restored visitor attractions have attracted even more visitors to the region; the Eden Project is famous for its giant geodesic domes housing exotic plants from different parts of the globe, while nearby the Lost Gardens of Heligan has impressive kitchen gardens and a wildlife hide.