Beautiful Cornwall Coast Path Walk: Porthtowan And Portreath to Hayle
This walk from Porthtowan out through Portreath to Hayle is fantastic for anyone hiking the north Cornwall section of the South West Coast Path national trail.
I’ve hiked this 15.5 mile stretch many times and I reckon you’ll love it as much as me!
The scenery is spectacular from wild and rugged cliffs to miles of sandy beaches, with views stretching way out to St Ives.
There’s plenty of fairly easy walking, but don’t be fooled: there’s also 1,060m of ascent overall – and sometimes it feels like it’s all crammed into a few tough climbs between Porthtowan and Portreath! (Make sure you’ve got your walking poles!)
As well as the full walk I’ve included more info for backpackers (including maps, wild camping and how to extend the walk to pack in more miles), plus details for a shorter day from Portreath to Hayle.
The photos below were taken when I did this walk on the final day of my 12 Days Of Christmas Challenge 2022 (ie 5th January) when it was bitterly cold and blowing a gale…
Porthtowan To Portreath
Section 1, 4 Miles
The first days of January 2022 were marked by heavy rain and strong winds, but, finally, the storm clouds blew over and I got a decent winter walk in the sunshine. I’d had my fill of constant wet days so I was pretty elated when I got into Porthtowan that morning in a golden glow that would stick around most of the day.
One of the first things you notice as you come up out of Porthtowan is the odd-looking white globe glinting in the sun.
This is the RAF radar at Nancekuke, which was once a site where chemical weapons (sarin) were developed and manufactured in the 1950s and stockpiled during the Cold War. In fact, Nancekuke has a pretty dark history:
“Nancekuke was the United Kingdom’s main chemical weapons research and development facility. Chemical weapons produced at Nancekuke were, it is believed, used offensively by the United States until 1964.” (Candy Atherton MP). (She also cites that 41 men died at the site, thought to be related to manufacture.)
Worryingly (even today), when Nancekuke was decommissioned in 1976, before closing in 1980, the chemicals were disposed of down mine shafts on the site, including Sally’s Bottom…
There are the remains of the mining industry all along this section of the coast and Sally’s Bottom (the bottom of Wheal Sally, pictured above) is surprisingly beautiful.
Mind you, if you’ve got walking poles this is the place you’ll need them, there are so many uneven steps along here – and the next set, at Hayle Ulla, is near vertical!
It’s just 4 miles to Portreath from Porthtowan, but it seemed to take ages. I put it down to stopping every 5 minutes to take photographs but realised I hadn’t had breakfast either – and all those steps use quite a few calories!
- Various cafes, including Blue Bar, pubs, public toilets, convenience store/post office
- Bus service 304 between Truro and Porthtowan: Go Cornwall
Portreath To Hayle
Section 2, 11.5 miles (If you’re starting your walk here, see the end of this section for transport details)
After staring over precipice after precipice at the stunning colour of the sea and colonies of gulls, I followed the road down to the back of the harbour. Portreath harbour is a bit underwhelming (unless it’s windy when the waves are awesome) so I generally head straight round to the beach. And this is where I stopped, of course, at a busy cafe for a late breakfast.
Once I got going again (after unashamedly staring at the number of lycra-clad cyclists in the cafe on a cold Wednesday morning), I ambled across the beach and up onto the cliff tops. ‘Up’ being the operative word – it’s a fair climb up Western Hill, but the view is breathtaking – if you’ve got any left by the time you get there
From here it’s on to the long but relatively easy stretch from Portreath to Hayle.
- Various cafes, including Portreath Beach Cafe, pubs, public toilets, convenience store, post office
- Bus service from Portreath: no. 47 between Camborne and Truro, Go Cornwall (NB route goes via Redruth train station)
You Might Also Enjoy
Thru-hiking? Discover the adjacent sections:
West Penwith: My Favourite South West Coast Path Hike In Cornwall – St Ives to Penzance
Fancy another hike that includes Portreath? Try this: Coast To Coast In A Day: The Mineral Tramways Trail
Portreath to Hayle: North Cliffs And Hell’s Mouth
This stretch of coast rivals any along the north Cornwall section of the Cornish coast path. There are big views in both directions, whether you look miles ahead towards Godrevy Lighthouse and St Ives or back to St Agnes and Perranporth. And honestly, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the wonder of the cliff and rock formations.
The almost straight line of cliffs is punctuated with small islands that are home to countless sea birds throughout the year. And as well as sea birds, you’re just as likely to see kestrels dropping out of the sky or hear the familiar clack-clack of stonechats in the clifftop hedgerows.
If you enjoy looking out for wildlife on your hike, prepare yourself for some excitement as you head on round to Mutton Cove and Godrey Point. I could barely contain myself on this day – and it wasn’t the seals!
Amenities At Hell’s Mouth
- Hell’s Mouth Coffee house (seasonal)
Portreath to Hayle: Mutton Cove, Gwithian And Godrevy
Grey Seals At Mutton Cove
As you head along the Knavocks you’ll notice a stream of people coming up the hill from a nearby car park. Why? Because they’re heading up to Mutton Cove to see the large colony of grey seals that are there all year round.
High on cliffs above the cove people lean over the low fence provided by the National Trust (including me!) watching them hauled up or slinking in and out of the surf. At this time of year, you can see up to 100 seals and if you’re walking in August look out for the white seal pups.
It’s not just the seals that are cause for joy though. I’ve often seen dolphins nearby too, but there’s something else that’s always a special sight…
Cornish Choughs At Godrevy Point
As I came round to Godrevy Point close to the lighthouse I heard a distinctive call – ciao ciao: Cornish choughs. A pair was flying low, large primary feathers stretched out like fingers, curved red beaks clearly visible. When they landed and dug about in the soil my heart lifted like a kite. It’s the third time I’ve seen them here (I’m assuming they’re the same pair) and each time has felt as special as the last.
Cornish choughs have long been the symbol for Cornwall but went into serious decline due to loss of habitat until the very last one died in 1973.
They hadn’t successfully bred since 1947. But thanks to the Cornwall Chough Project they can be seen on the Cornish coast path once again (if you’re lucky!). And I felt really privileged to see them.
Finally, I head round to Gwithian beach and a long walk through the dunes down to Hayle.
I couldn’t have been luckier as I walked towards Hayle: the sunset was spectacular.
By the time I got to the station, it was pitch dark and it seemed like the best end to a wonderful hike on the Cornwall Coast Path.
Unbeknownst to me at the time though, the reason I’d been feeling so tired and lacking in energy was that I was coming down with Covid. Apologies to anyone sitting near me on the train – I hope my mask protected you!
Thanks for reading.
Amenities At Godrey, Gwithian And Hayle
- public toilets at Godrevy Point and Gwithian Towans
- Cafes, pubs, public toilets, supermarkets, convenience stores, post office, etc
- Bus: First Kernow and Go Cornwall operate services from Hayle, see their network map for details
- Train: Hayle Station (on the mainline between Penzance and London Paddington)
Portreath To Hayle for Day Walkers
At just 11.5 miles this is a fantastic walk that I highly recommend if you’re looking for a shorter day on the Cornwall Coast Path!
Walking point to point from Portreath to Hayle means you can still take advantage of the easy, regular public transport services too. The bus service from Portreath connects with nearby towns as well as Redruth railway station, and there are regular buses and trains from Hayle as mentioned above. Don’t forget that the network map is a great way to find bus services that connect with the train stations at Redruth and Hayle.
And of course, if you’re walking with friends, the relatively short distance from Portreath to Hayle makes it possible to do a car ‘leap-frog’. There’s a long-stay car park at the beach in Portreath and at Hayle railway station at the finish. Use a car park app to find times and prices.
My free Porthtowan to Hayle GPX file on OS Maps App
More Info For Backpackers
- Explorer 102: Land’s End (includes Godrvey Point to Hayle)
- Explorer 104: Redruth and St Agnes (includes Porthtowan to Godrevy Point)
My Free GPX Route (OS Maps App)
Between Porthtowan And Hayle
Wild camping on the South West Coast Path without the landowner’s permission is trespass. However, it is possible for solo hikers (or couples) to discreetly camp along this section as part of a national trail thru-hike or multi-day trip.
If you feel comfortable and want to give it a go please be responsible and respectful of the environment and the people that live and work here.
Make use of the regularly spaced public toilets along the route. This was a real issue over Covid, and rightly so, though probably not caused by responsible backpackers. For lots more tips for safe and responsible wild camping I highly recommend you read these guides before you go:
NB This section of trail includes high cliffs where many paths are narrow and close to the edge – there are also a couple of short diversions due to erosion. There are wilder, more remote sections of trail, but some may have high fences (MOD land for eg). Some sections that don’t appear to have many properties nearby are still popular with dog walkers due to nearby car parks. Also, make sure you know the tide times.
Extending The Day For Thru-Hikers
Porthtowan to St Ives: 21.5 Miles
The obvious way to make the Porthtowan to Hayle walk a longer day is to carry on to St Ives, which adds about 6 miles
This brings the walk to a total of approximately 21.5 miles if you finish in the centre of the town at St Ives Harbour. (There’s also a convenient railway station here back to the mainline).
The first 2.5 miles of this addition aren’t much fun as it’s mainly road walking – and it’s mostly a very busy road. However, it does pass Hayle Estuary Nature Reserve, which is one of only 2 RSPB reserves in Cornwall. (I’ve seen some rare birds here, including spoonbills – and of course, I got very excited haha!) The walk begins to get more interesting after it reaches St Uny Church at Lelant, where it winds its way along the dunes and the bay all the way to St Ives.
Want Even More Miles? Hike A Marathon!
Begin in St Agnes and you can make your hike close to marathon distance
Read the description in this article Newquay To Perranporth And On To St Agnes, and consider starting at Trevaunance Cove.
I hope you’ve found my guide to this section of the South West Coast Path full of inspiration and great advice. If you’ve enjoyed it I’d love your support to write some more! It’s easy:
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Thanks for your support – and happy hiking!
Fancy finding out about another national trail? Try these: Offa’s Dyke Path or The Cotswold Way. Or, maybe something a bit different? How about The Tinner’s Way – a 17.5 mile trail of amazing antiquities in west Cornwall. Enjoy!