Can’t decide whether to relax on the beach, have a few beers, get active on the cliffs or see an iconic remnant of Cornwall’s mining days? Combine them all on a walk from Porthtowan to Wheal Coates.
A sign in Porthtowan’s huge pay and display car-park says “Porth” means cove and “Towan” means dunes in Cornish, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see sand dunes backing onto the beach.
Midway down Cornwall’s north coast on the Atlantic, Porthtowan has a blue-flag beach, surprisingly one of only eight in Cornwall. It’s a popular place for families and surfers, taking advantage of the big waves, good quality bathing water and the general safe atmosphere. It’s nice enough, but its sand and pebble beach wouldn’t get a place in my top-20 beaches in Cornwall (although our visit was on an overcast day, and a bit of sunshine can make so much difference to my opinion of a beach).
Heading for the cliffs to the right of the shore as you look out to sea, the South West Coast Path takes you north to Chapel Porth and beyond. There are plenty of benches on the edge of the cliffs if you need a breather after the steep climb from the beach, or if you just want to sit and take in the views.
Look out for unfenced mine shafts, and “bat castles” – strange conical grilles looking like something from the Blair Witch Project which block entrances to old mine shafts while allowing colonies of bats living inside to get in and out.
About 1.5 miles after leaving Porthtowan, the path descends to Chapel Porth’s beach car-park before rising again steeply. At this point you might think you’ve been transported back to the days of Poldark, as a mile or so ahead of you is the distinctive engine house chimney of Wheal Coates tin mine.
Dramatically located right above the rugged Atlantic coastline, this is one of Cornwall’s most photographed spots. Engine houses were used to pump water from mine shafts when Cornwall had a mining industry, and few remain in such good nick as this one – you’ll see far better photos of it than mine on postcards, tea towels and chocolate boxes.
After all that exercise and history it was time for a beer, and Blue Bar back in Porthtowan is one of the better beach-side bars I’ve been to. With loads of outdoor seating, Tribute on draught, food served all day and live bands, we really didn’t want to leave this place, especially when the sun came out.
Before heading home, we popped to Portreath, a four mile drive south of Porthtowan. If you thought all Cornish coastal towns are idyllic, think again – most are, but this place is a dump! There are “Shameless” style streets, stray dogs on the roam and the town has an overpowering stench of fish.
In Cornwall’s mining heyday, tin and copper were exported from Portreath’s harbour, while coal needed to fuel the mining industry was imported here from South Wales. Those days are long gone, and the town’s pilchard fishing industry has declined too although the evil stink remains.
The sand and shingle beach is popular with surfers, and is regarded as the beach of the inland town, Redruth – itself a pretty grim place.
Nevertheless, the view from the beach with Gull Rock in the distance is a good one, especially when the sun sets, although on our visit the overcast skies added to the overall impression of grimness.