Why The Cornwall Coast Path Blew Me Away
What Is The Cornwall Coast Path?
The Cornwall Coast Path is the longest section of the UK’s longest fully waymarked national trail: the 630 mile South West Coast Path
Cornwall boasts 300 miles of breathtaking coastline which begins on the border of North Devon at Marsland Mouth (about 7 miles north of Bude) and ends near Plymouth on the south coast. It’s part of one of the best hikes in the UK and anyone that decides to walk this section will never forget the incredible beauty of the county I’m lucky enough to call home.
Iconic Cliffs, Picture Postcard Villages, Miles Of Golden Sand…
You can really test yourself on a trail like this. It’s got some tough climbs with hundreds of rough, uneven steps, as well as gentle romantic walks along golden beaches that go on for miles. In fact, it’s a surprisingly varied long-distance walk and the difference between the north and south coasts of Cornwall are really striking. The North Cornwall Coast Path is often rugged, wild, and majestic and the south can be more serene and picturesque.
Idyllic villages and famous towns like St Ives mean there are plenty of places to stay and explore along the way. And you’ll never be short of somewhere to resupply or fill up on pasties and cream teas! If you don’t want to wild-camp (which I did) you’ll find some great Youth Hostels and campsites to put your tent up at the end of the day, often with spectacular views of the coast. So what else do you need to know?
How To Plan A Hike On The Cornwall Coast Path
As I mentioned earlier, the Cornwall Coast Path is a 300-mile section of the much longer South West Coast Path. So I’ve put everything you need to know to plan your own hike in my Awesome Guide to the South West Coast Path. Follow the link to find out more, but why not read the story of my first day on the trail? (It was a shock to the system that’s for sure!)
My First Day On The Trail
Holywell Bay To St Agnes – A Windy 9 Miles
My Cornwall Coast Path section hike began on the north coast, with a 9-mile walk from Holywell Bay to St Agnes – in the depths of winter.
It wasn’t until 2014 that it dawned on me there are 300 miles of the Cornwall Coast Path that begged to be hiked – and I could start right on my doorstep. A plan to began to form, but it wasn’t my idea.
When A Friend Suggests A Challenge…
It was early January 2014 and I was looking for a new challenge. I loved running (even though I was rubbish at it!), but a demanding 28-mile trail marathon on the South Devon coast left me with a serious case of Achilles tendonitis. And that was my running ambitions (such as they were) dead in the water.
I was climbing the walls; a ball of coiled energy and frustration. Then a good friend had a bright idea that would take me on one of the best hikes of my life. Katie was a fellow injured runner and it was her idea that we should section-hike the Cornwall Coast Path. I’d walked most of it in an ad-hoc fashion over the years, but never as a continuous trail.
My challenge-radar was piqued. And little did I know it at the time, but this was just the start of walking the entire South West Coast Path!
The First Challenge Was Where To Begin!
It was a miserable winter’s day (it was chucking it down) and Katie and I sat in dim light beside an open fire in the local pub in St Agnes. We pored over a pile of maps looking for somewhere to begin our challenge on the Cornwall Coast Path.
Land’s End looked like a memorable place to start as it’s only 35 miles away from where we lived (St Agnes). But the idea turned out to be a logistical nightmare, thanks to a serious lack of public transport during winter. It turns out that the bus services are crap at best in Cornwall and non-existent at worse, and it was a regular issue along the entire route. But those were problems still to come.
With Land’s End off the table we decided to start our first section-hike much closer to home. Our first 9 miles of the Cornwall Coast Path would take us from Holywell Bay near Newquay to Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes.
A Very Wintry 9 Miles: Our First Day On The Cornwall Coast Path
Strong winds were battering the coast with 50mph gusts and we both confessed to a few nerves. Even so, we’d made up our minds to go for it so we took a bus over to Holywell Bay itching to get started. As usual though, the weather got worse the closer we got.
When we arrived the driver suggested we sit in the 13th-century inn in the village and he’d pick us up on his way back. It was tempting: heavy rain pounded the windscreen. Hard. And cold. But we bit the bullet
From Holywell Bay On To Perranporth
A narrow track rises above the bay from the back of the large expanse of Holywell beach, above reed-filled ponds and sand-dunes. It leads to a breathtaking view of Carter’s Rocks, pushed up through the Atlantic ocean like twin black cones. The waters are treacherous though and the remains of a 1917 wreck can still be seen on the beach.
At the top of the path we rounded Penhale Point onto the cliffs and the full brunt of the wind surged into our bodies. Hailstones struck our faces like a barrel full of shot, putting us in the firing line of a raging storm.
The risk of being blown over the cliffs was palpable. Katie put the dogs on leads and Winnie, the old lab, was as good as an anchor until we got to the safety of Perran Beach. At low tide, you can walk along 2 miles of soft sand all the way to Perranporth. The beach is banked by Penhale Dunes, Britain’s highest sand dunes which rise to 90 metres above sea level. It’s easy to get lost in them though, so stick to the beach if your sense of direction isn’t great!
Penhale Sands, The MOD…And St Piran
A desolate MOD training camp skirts the edge of the Cornwall Coast Path at Penhale and ranks of fenced off W W2 Nissan huts keep the curious walker at bay, trapped on a narrow track between barbed wire and the churning sea.
Penhale Sands is the largest sand dune system in Cornwall, home to numerous rare plants including lichen and mosses, and a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The conservation area within the army camp is particularly rich, due to years of restricted public access. Cornwall Wildlife Trust manage the site today.
Venture off the beach for a wander in the dunes and you’ll discover the remains of St Piran’s Oratory, an early Christian chapel that was buried in the sands for centuries. St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall and tinners and the Chapel marks the spot he reputedly landed on the Cornish coast. On a millstone, all the way from Ireland. As you do.
From Perran Beach To The Wateringhole
Perran beach was empty, but people leave traces wherever they go and the strandline was full of incongruous brightly coloured plastic. Vast amounts are washed up by winter storms, gorged out by the churning sea. It breaks my heart because all of it’s a mortal danger to wildlife, from sea birds to seals.
The days of softly coloured sea glass and smoothed driftwood seem to be a thing of the past. Even so, Winnie managed to find a log to carry and looked hopefully at us with pleading eyes. Polly on the other hand, Katie’s part greyhound puppy, raced around like she was on speed!
Down at Perranporth we pitched up at The Wateringhole, which claims to be “the only bar on the beach in the UK”. It’s closed in winter, but no one seems to mind if you take a table on the veranda for a while. So we sat and ate our sandwiches, watching the occasional red-legged runner go past, battling the wind.
It’s a total contrast on a balmy summer’s night though when it becomes a gathering place for the day’s surfers and sun-worshippers. It’s loud, bustling, filled with hoards of summer tourists, huge tv screens and live music. And you’d never know how fragile it is in winter, sometimes buried under the storm-blown sands waiting to be dug out.
Perranporth – It’s A Different Kettle Of Fish In Summer Sun!
On From Perranporth to Trevellas Combe
There are steep cliffs to climb out of Perranporth, with endless stone steps that burn the legs and lungs of the uninitiated. And there are more to come at Trevellas Combe.
Before you get to Trevellas though the path winds its way around an increasing number of mine workings. Keep your eyes open along the red, iron-stained cliffs at Cligga Head for pockmarked tunnel openings high above the beach. There’s also an impressive protrusion of white greisen rock that towers above the coast path, folded and veined like a closed fan. And then, when the path finally drops into Trevellas you can explore the enigmatic buildings of Blue Hills mine.
It’s Only A Mile From The End Now, But First…
Get ready for the energy-sapping trek up out of Trevellas! It’s a tough climb for most people but Katie made it look easy enough. She said the “The trick is to really engage the glutes”, a tip she learnt from a fell-running instructor.
I thought a better trick would be to sit down and just send her off for mule.
Trevellas Combe to Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes
When you finally get to the top of the cliffs it’s an easy mile or so’s walk to the next cove at St Agnes. Once you’ve passed some surreal mine spoils you come to a junction of paths where you have a choice. From here you can either head down into the cove and the welcoming Driftwood Spars, an old pub that serves craft ales made on the premises, or take the other track back up into the village with all its amenities. We decided to head back to the warmth of Katie’s kitchen, feeling totally exhilarated.
This stretch of coast is one of my favourite local places at any time of year, but it was the weather that mad
What a walk: the quickly changing weather added more drama than you’d get in a production of Hamlet!
One minute the skies were leaden and we’d have our heads down, sheltering our cheeks from the whipping rain coming in off the Atlantic. Then as it passed we’d look up at a rainbow and a vast horizon that stretched on for miles.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’re excited to give the Cornish coast a go? Check out the details below to plan a 9 mile walk from Holywell Bay to St Agnes – and find out everything you need to know about walking in Cornwall right here:
Plan Your Own Hike
Holywell Bay To St Agnes, 9 Miles
Updated February 2021
- OS Map: Explorer 104, Redruth and St Agnes
- A-Z Adventure Series For Walkers Map: South West Coast Path North Cornwall (excellent value OS 1:25,000 mapping)
- Distance: 8 miles from Holywell Bay to Trevaunance Cove, plus 1 mile to St Agnes village centre
- Difficulty: easy to moderate, with some steep climbs
- Bus: First Kernow Truro to Newquay bus (87) stops in both the centre of St Agnes village and Holywell Bay, so it’s easy to start the walk at either end.
- Car: St Agnes: there’s a free car park in the village centre, adjacent to the library. Holywell Bay: there’s a large National Trust car park near the beach.
Places To Stay
- Pubs and toilets in Holywell Bay
- Convenience shops, cafes, pubs and toilets in St Agnes village, pub at Trevaunance Cove