32. Newquay to Watergate Bay

July 2000

This is another walk I did whilst I lived in Exeter. As I have mentioned before one of my favourite places to visit was the North Cornwall coast. A long day out from Exeter, but such a beautiful coast and beaches that a trip here was always a treat. Newquay is the largest town on the North Cornwall coast so in theory you would expect it to be easy to get to but it is anything but by public transport. Whilst the town does have a railway station at the time for most of the year it had a pathetic service of just 4 trains each day (it has improved a bit since, there are now around 6 trains day). This was bad enough but the last train with a connection back to Exeter was at 2:30pm, so barely worth the effort of getting there. However things were different on summer Saturdays when the line was served by through trains from London and the Midlands, providing a slightly more frequent service and crucially for me, better connections meaning I can leave late afternoon rather than early afternoon.

I therefore set off from Exeter and on my outward journey needed to change at Plymouth. The journey from Exeter west by train is one of my favourite train journeys as the train runs right along the Exe estuary and then follows the coast to Teignmouth and back up the Teign estuary to Newton Abbot. From here it heads along the south edge of Dartmoor and then beside the river Plym into Plymouth. At Plymouth I have to change trains but I am pleased the train is quiet and goes straight through to Newquay, a welcome relief from the usual change of trains at Par, which has very little facilities.

We set off and soon cross the Royal Albert bridge and the Tamar, crossing into Cornwall and over the wooded valleys of south east Cornwall. Soon we reach Par and the train then turns off the main line along the branch line to Newquay. It is a slow trundling line and is scheduled to take an hour just to get from Par to Newquay, a distance of less than 21 miles – trains in Cornwall certainly aren’t quick! The trains on Summer Saturdays don’t stop at any of the stations on the way either which means unusually these stations don’t have any service on summer Saturdays but do on every other day and on Saturdays in the winter. Sadly just after we pass the last station, Quintrell Downs, the train grinds to a halt. We are soon told there is a fault with the train and they hope to have it fixed in 20 minutes. 30 minutes later, with the train still stationary and now further announcements I try and find the guard. I can’t find him so ask the lady in the buffet car. She says she doesn’t know either but wants to get there soon too! Leaning out of the window (well the line is single track and the train is stationary), I can see Newquay station ahead. So near and yet so far!

After around 50 minutes we finally start moving and eventually arrive at Newquay nearly an hour late. I am surprised to see how crowded the station is at Newquay. Given the poor service I assumed it was not well used, but there are so many people there is crowd control in place, which makes it all the more odd the service is so bad. The late arrival means I have had to change my plans a bit, at the time I hoped to walk to Constantine Bay but I don’t think I will have time now. I hadn’t walked much of this part of the Cornwall coast at the time.

Despite the frustrations of the journey I am determined to make the best of the time I have here. I head from the station through the town to the harbour. The beaches in Newquay are glorious but I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the town, it’s a bit of a tip, to be honest. Soon I am down by the harbour beach though which is lovely with the boats moored up on the sands.

Newquay harbour and Towan beach

Newquay harbour and Towan beach

I get a good look along the coast north from here and all I can see is lovely sandy beaches.

Passing the harbour wall I reach the first beach, Towan Beach. It is backed by an aquarium and has an unusual feature – a house has been built on one of the rocky outcrops on the beach and is linked to the mainland via a little suspension bridge. At the time I think it was a cafe but it has now reverted to private ownership and these days is let as a holiday cottage – an unusual one since there can’t be many holiday cottages on their own private island!

Towan beach, Newquay

Towan beach, Newquay

House on the Island

House on the Island

It’s possible to walk around to the next beach along the sands at low tide, but today the tide is not low enough so I have to head back along roads to reach the next beach, Great Western Beach. I presume this is named after the railway (which today was not so great), as the railway station is nearby. I have to head along the main shopping street to get down to this beach. It’s a nice beach but it’s rather dominated by the ugly buildings of the town centre. One of which, looks like it is about to fall off the cliff, so close is it to the edge. I think at the time this was a bowling alley, now it looks to be a rather run-down looking gym.

Great Western beach, Newquay

Great Western beach, Newquay

Back up the hill from the beach I am soon at the next beach, Tolcarne Beach. Things improve here, as this is a glorious sandy beach backed by beach huts and the cliffs north of here are green rather than covered in buildings. Climbing up from the beach the coast path heads north along this grassy cliff top to the next beach, Lusty Glaze. I love the names of the beaches, they seem to roll off the toungue and just the name alone makes them sound lovely, as they are. This is another quieter beach again with beach huts at the back.

Lusty Glaze Beach, looking north

Lusty Glaze Beach, looking north

From this beach the coast path follows the road round to Porth Beach.

View back to Lusty Glaze beach

View back to Lusty Glaze beach

I didn’t notice this and instead take the inviting path up on what turns out to be a dead-end as the path is blocked by the grounds of a hotel. Still I enjoy a good view of the next beach, Porth Beach. This is different in character, being quite a long but narrow beach and is the last beach in the urban area of Newquay, north of here the coast is rural once more.

This beach has a stream flowing out of it, so I follow the coast path back along the headland to the beach and head down onto the sands and then onto the road at the back of the beach to cross this stream. There is a narrow headland here, Trevelgue Head, which the coast path goes round and it has an unusual feature. The headland has split in two and the last part is now an island, but happily it is linked by a little bridge so I can walk out onto it, Porth Island. It’s a lovely unspoilt little island and has good views back to Newquay.

Porth beach

Porth beach

Porth Beach

Porth Beach

Leaving Newquay behind now the coast has become rural and rugged as I pass the lovely named beach and village of Whipsiderry. This is joined to Watergate Bay at low tide but the tide is far enough in you can’t get round today. What follows is a lovely cliff top walk alongside this lovely sandy beach, with nothing but the sound of the sea and waves. It is a lovely stretch of coast. All too soon it descends down to Watergate Bay.

Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay

The coast path brings me out to the car park and what was, at the time, the Fat Willy Surf Shack (now a Jamie Oliver restaurant).

Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay

On this day I had made better time than expected so continued north on the coast path to Mawgan Porth. I’ve written about that before, because I’ve walked that part of the coast more than once. Given the late start, I was pleased to make it this far and although at the time disappointed not to have made Constantine Bay I have since walked that part of the coast too.

I take the bus back from Mawgan Porth. At the time this was run by First and there is both a driver and another member of staff on board, I suspect a driver is training. I am amused that once I get on one I hear from their conversation one has lost a bet – the bet being that no more passengers would get on. It seems by getting on I have cost the non-driver £10! The bus is an ageing double decker so I head upstairs to enjoy the wonderful views back over the coast I have just walked.

This gets me back to Newquay bus station in time for the short walk to the railway station and the train back to Exeter. Thankfully the return journey runs on time and the train is not to full. It is nice to be able to have a direct journey too, as these Saturday trains means I don’t have to change at Par or Plymouth.

Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Western Greyhound service 556 : Newquay – Porth – Watergate Bay – Tregurrian – Newquay Airport – St Mawgan – Mawgan Porth – St Eval – Porthcothan – Constantine Bay – St Merryn – Harlyn Bay – Windmill (for Trevone) – Padstow

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Details | Slideshow

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