View of Perranporth beach from high cliffs

Some days only a beach walk will do. I find a great sense of freedom walking along a vast expanse of sand with blue seas and skies, and the cries of gulls hovering in the wind. Unfortunately due to the storms last month the sea and sky were more grey than blue and the gulls were sensibly somewhere out of the wind, but the stunning beach at Perranporth more than made up for the fickle weather.

Starting at the car park next to the beach, cross the bridge and follow the path onto the sand. Cross another bridge and you’ll see the Watering Hole pub on your right, but head left, in a north east direction to Chapel Rock. 

Perranporth beach

Chapel Rock stands on its own and a closer inspection reveals a tidal sea pool on its far side. From here it’s nearly two miles to the other end of the beach. The further you get from the main beach, the less people are around, so you could find yourself with an expanse of sand stretching in front of you, waiting for yours to be the first footprints to cross it.

On reaching the far end of the beach you’ll see the concrete path on your right, so head towards this, but in between leaving the beach and reaching that path, venture a little to your left to find a hidden pool.

There’s a cave with a little waterfall here and two locked gates. This is at the edge of the former mine workings of Gravel Hill Mine.

Pool by Gravel Hill mine
Pool by Gravel Hill mine

The concrete path is a steep uphill bit, but not for long. Ignore the first path on your right, and take the second one which is marked by a red MOD sign. This area is part of a military training ground and the footpath along this part of the dunes is a permissive path. There are many signs telling you not to venture from the path and it’s clearly marked.

The dune system is thought to have formed over 5,000 years ago and is the largest in Cornwall. It was designated a Site of Scientific Interest in 1953 and became a Special Area of Conservation in 2004.

The South West Coast Path runs its length which you’ll be following back to Perranporth, apart from a slight deviation to St Piran’s Oratory and cross.

Follow this path through the dunes, where you can enjoy views of the beach. When you reach a gate, exiting the MOD land, turn left and walk down the path next to the fence.

St Piran’s Oratory

You’ll soon come to another gate, also spotting a cross on your right, but ignore that one for now. Head through the gate to find St Piran’s Oratory. It was a little submerged when I visited but still impressive.

St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall who, according to legend, washed up on the beach at Perranporth. The town’s modern name is derived from Porth Peran, meaning the cove of St Piran in Cornish.

Once here St Piran promoted Christianity and built the oratory in the seventh century. It’s a simple building with a small nave and chancel.

St Piran’s Cross

Follow the path past the oratory, east towards St Piran’s Cross and church. You’ll soon see the top of the cross and the ruins of the church are to the left of it.

The cross, standing at eight feet high, has a beautiful rugged appeal and is thought to be the earliest recorded stone cross in Cornwall.

St Piran’s Church dates back to the late 12th century and was abandoned in the 19th century due to problems with sand encroaching into the building.

Once you’ve enjoyed these historic sites, retrace your step to the oratory and then walk up the hill to the modern concrete cross. The other side of this is a path, so go right along it, and you’ll shortly find a gate. Go through this and ignore the path to the right, just go straight up back toward the coast path, then turn left and you’re once again heading in the direction of Perranporth.

Marker post at Perran Sands Paraglider Area

Continue along the path until you reach a parking area, marked by low wooden posts, then turn right and walk downhill on a stretch of grass. There’s a coast path marker halfway down, noting this point as ‘Perran Sands Paraglider Area’.

The path veers to the left, where you join a road. There are also steps down to the beach here, and you have the choice to go back along the beach, if the tide allows, or continue along the coast path.

There’s a one mile to Perranporth marker and then the path starts to go up, giving you stunning views of the beach. There’s also another marker post for ‘Perranporth High Cliffs’ and I can concur that they are very high.

Perranporth

Continue along the path until you crest a rise to find Perranporth lying in front of you, but there is one more surprise from this walk. 

On the descent and overlooking the beach is a memorial bench with ‘Winston Graham 1910 – 2003’ on one side and ‘Poldark Author’ on the other. It’s a nice spot to enjoy the view before continuing along the path and shortly reaching a coast path post marked ‘Gear Sands’. Go down to the right, taking the steps to the beach where you can retrace your steps back to the car park.

Winston Graham memorial bench

The walk is nearly six miles in total and is best walked at low tide.