Hiking Cornwall's north coast with Cool of the Wild

Posted on 12/04/2017

Hiking in Cornwall: Joey CooloftheWild on the cliffs

Author: Joey Holmes runs Cool of the Wild, the blog with great ideas for the great outdoors. 

There’s something about Cornwall that is impossible to resist. Maybe it’s the rugged coastline that majestically juts out of the angry waves on the north coast? Or the calm serenity of secret coves and deep woodland estuaries of the south? It’s complex and varied and if you’re not careful, it will grab you by your heart and gently pull you back time and time again.  

Hiking in Cornwall; Chapel Porth Beach

It’s the north coast that really has my heart. I love the contrast between the sweeping golden sands that roll into soft dunes, and the age-old villages that are damp and quirky – local to the core. And then the nothingness in between. Just windy scapes and dramatic vertical drops to the ocean below.

I have been visiting the Padstow area for years but this winter I had the opportunity to spend two months in Perranporth. Just 8.5 miles south of Newquay and 25 miles north of St Ives, the cool little surf town offers access to some stunning walks and some pretty awesome trail runs too.

Here are my favourites:

A short loop: Chapel Porth to Porthtowan Loop

Distance: 2.6 miles

Hiking in Cornwall: Sunset from PerranporthStarting at Chapel Porth beach, 6 miles south of Perranporth, this quick route is an excellent option for those short on time. It is only accessible at low tide, so make sure you time it right to get the best of beach.

The route starts in the National Trust carpark and takes you south along the beach at the base of some stunning cliffs complete with caves and rock pools galore. There are loads of little streams that flow across the sand out to sea, so wellies or waterproof hiking boots are useful in winter. But if you’re visiting in warmer weather then the sand is wonderfully soft for those who prefer to get their toes wet!

Once you’ve explored all that this unusual stretch of beach has to offer, your walk south will take you to Porthtowan where a stop at the Moomaid of Zennor ice cream parlour is a must.

After a quick rest at Porthtowan, turn back to the north, up the cliffs and take the coast path back to Chapel Porth beach. Enjoy the great views of the coast below, and of Wheal Coates up ahead.

An excellent short route that is ideal for families who can easily while away a whole afternoon exploring. But it can equally be stomped out in under an hour if you prefer to keep things moving along.

A short loop: Perranporth to St Pirans Cross Loop

Distance: 4.4 miles

You can’t go to Perranporth without getting to the beach. At high tide the beach is a cove framed by dunes to the north and cliffs to the south. But low tide opens up a 3 mile long stretch of beach, known as Perran Sands, that is much quieter than the main beach.

Hiking in Cornwall: Perranporth beach

This route takes you up onto the dunes, but if the tide is low then you have the option of walking the first stretch north on the beach, and then taking the steep ramp up the dunes to rejoin the route.

Once you are deep in the dunes, it’s fairly easy to lose the footpath as there are a load of other tracks and paths criss-crossing over the dunes. Thankfully, you can always hear the roar of the waves to help you keep your bearings! And there’s also the Cross near St Pirran’s Oratory to keep your sights on.

A highly enjoyable short and easy walk to start the day, followed by a most excellent and great value full English breakfast at The Wateringhole on Perranporth beach. Just make sure you get your breakfast order in before 12pm!

A full day hike: Perranporth to Porthtowan via St Agnes

Distance: 9.4 miles

This is a spectacular and varied coastal route for those wanting to get a full day of hiking in. The hike follows the coastal path almost exclusively, hugging the coastline for breathtaking views of in almost every direction. Near to Perranporth the path passes through the ruins of Nobel’s explosive factory and the remains of mining shafts and infrastructure can be seen too.

Hiking in Cornwall: Wheal Coates

On reaching Trevaunance Cove, you can keep heading along the coastal path if you would prefer. But this route includes a short and worthwhile detour into St Agnes for a much needed stop at The Sorting Office for excellent coffee and cake. There is also a couple of pubs if you want something a little more substantial, or a village shop to top up your supplies.

Continue on around St Agnes Head for views of St Agnes Rock out to sea, and inland to St Agnes Beacon. Take in Wheal Coates and Towanroath Shaft as you approach Chapel Porth Beach.

The route can be challenging at times with a number of steep sections down to sea level where small estuaries meet the sea, and back up to the cliffs again on the other side. But they are spread out nicely along the route giving you plenty of time to recover from each before the next one comes along.

At Porthtowan you can catch a bus at fairly infrequent intervals that will take you back to Perranporth where you can enjoy some well earned fish and chips.

A morning trail run:

Trail running in Cornwall cliffs

Distance: roughly 4.5 miles

For those looking to take in the coast in a more energetic fashion, any one of the above routes are excellent for trail running, depending on your fitness. However I particularly like this route as you can do as much or as little as you are feeling up to, and you are rewarded with a most excellent breakfast at Godrevy Beach Cafe after your run.

Hiking in Cornwall Beach

Park in the National Trust carpark at the cafe and head north along the Godrevy - Portreath Heritage Coast. The route is fairly flat once you are up on the cliffs with excellent views of Godrevy Lighthouse. If you are lucky, you may be able to spot some seals on the rocks and beaches below. It is worth pushing on to Hell’s Mouth for some stunning views of dramatic cliff formations and rock falls. And if you are feeling extra energetic, then continuing along the North Cliffs towards Portreath won’t disappoint when it comes to spectacular and yet more dramatic scenery.

Or head back the way you came, taking an alternative route across the fields to enjoy your well-earned morning feast at the cafe.

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