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The Big Beach Walk to Perranporth

A linear walk that leads past some of North Cornwall's best beaches, interspersed by strolls round grassy headlands.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 492ft (150m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good coastal footpath and firm sandy beaches, 3 stiles

Landscape Big sandy beaches and grassy clifftops.

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 104 Redruth and St Agnes

SW 791604SW 756542

Dog friendliness Dogs on leads through grazed areas

Parking Crantock Beach (National Trust), Perranporth Beach car park

Public toilets Crantock village, Crantock Beach car park, Holywell Bay, Perranporth

Notes Park early at Perranporth and catch the bus to Crantock to the start rather than getting a bus at the end of the walk

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1 If you start the walk from the National Trust car park above Crantock Beach, follow the sandy, enclosed path that leads off a few paces inside the entrance to the car park, on the left. Follow a footworn grassy path across the dunes of The Rushy Green, bearing slightly left towards a half-hidden modern house that has octagonal slate and glass roofs. Near the house, first pass a junction with a path going right, then immediately reach another junction beside two fins of grey rock. (If you start from the centre of Crantock village, you should head down Beach Road, then immediately turn off left along a track. This is Green Lane; it leads you to the junction at the two fins of grey rock.)

2 Facing west, follow the path straight ahead from the fins of rock. 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 and continue round the grassy headland of Pentire Point West to reach the narrow inlet of Porth Joke, or Polly Joke, whose name may derive from the Cornish word chogha for 'jackdaw'.

3 Cross the head of the beach and follow the coast path round Kelsey Head until you reach the dunes of Holywell Bay. Follow a path through the dunes to reach a stream at a broad open area. Here you can divert inland along a sandy track to public toilets and to shops, a café and the inn. (You can regain the coast path and beach by following a path to the left of St Piran's Inn.) Otherwise cross the back of the beach from the broad open area to a stile by a notice that gives advice for passing the Penhale Army Training Area ahead.

4 Follow the coast path steeply uphill. Where it levels off, just past a wooden post, bear up left to pass between a circular compound of metal aerials and a wired-off mine shaft. It is easy to miss this move. (The more obvious path leading downhill ends at the cliff edge, rather spectacularly.) Continue alongside the perimeter of the army camp, paying close attention to footpath signs. The path winds round the seaward face of Ligger Point and soon the long sweep of Perranporth Beach comes into view. Just beyond a gap and a stile, you reach a junction above the beach itself.

5 Keep left and follow the obvious path until you are above the beach, then descend a sandy slope to the beach. (The lower, right-hand branch of the junction leads to an awkward cliff descent and is not advised.) This part of the beach is a designated naturist area, so be prepared to encounter people who are completely naked as you make your way across the the sands.

6 From here it is a delightful walk along the tideline until you reach the popular and usually crammed southern section of the beach. From here you climb a concrete rampway onto the top of the cliff. Where steps lead up left to a car park, keep straight on up the ramp to a turning area. Join the coast path beyond a crash barrier and stroll on to Perranporth itself where the final stretch of sand quite often disappears completely under the massed ranks of sun lovers.

If it's sand you want, this walk offers it in bucketloads. The North Cornish coast from Newquay to Perranporth has some of the finest beaches in Cornwall. Only the brisk bite of the Atlantic and the often massive swells, rob these beaches of true Mediterranean ambience. But, then there's the unbeatable Cornish surf. At Newquay, Holywell Bay and Perranporth, the breakers offer some of the best surfboarding, and bodyboarding in Europe. Just breathing the sparkling air can seem like surfing.

While you're there

The main attractions of this walk are the various beaches passed en route. If you swim, then you are spoiled for choice. Crantock Beach is a delight, all golden sand and sparkling sea. Porth Joke is off the beaten beach track, but is fairly small and often damp from the sea and from a stream exit. Holywell Bay is another fine beach, though it can become very busy in summer. Perranporth Beach is over two miles long and offers everything from reasonable seclusion at its northern end to close-quarters humanity at its more accessible southern end.

What to look for

The sand dunes of this section of Cornish coast support a fascinating range of flowering plants that are specially adapted to survive in the salt laden environment of the sea shore. One of the most distinctive is the sea holly, easily distinguished by its greeny-blue, spiky leaves and pale blue flowers.

Where to eat and drink

Early in the walk the coast path passes the Crantock Bay Hotel where you can enjoy morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. At Holywell Bay there's a café and the St Piran's Inn. In summer there are often small refreshment shacks on Holywell Beach and mid-way along Perranporth Beach. There are pubs and cafés at Crantock and Perranporth.

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