Top 10 things to do in Perranporth

Situated on Cornwall's rugged north coast, a few miles west of Newquay is the bustling little seaside resort of Perranporth. This is everything a beach town should be, starting of course with a fantastic beach. Directly behind this is the sand-blown high street, which while not being the most attractive around, seems to fit in with the laid back holiday vibe.

But Perranporth wasn't always all about holidays, this is a place with a rich history going back over a thousand years. Not only is this village named after Cornwall's patron saint but it is said to be where he stepped ashore after crossing the sea from Ireland. More recently Perranporth was part of Cornwall's mining heartland and it is this rich history which inspired resident writer Winston Graham, the Poldark author.

If you are planning on visiting Perranporth for more than a day then beyond the obvious attractions of the beach we thought you might appreciate some suggestions. So without further ado, here is our list of things to see and do in and around Perranporth.

The Beach

Perranporth Beach
Perranporth Beach

Right at the top of the list is probably most people's reason for visiting Perranporth - the beach. This stunning and spectacular expanse of golden sand is one of the largest in Cornwall. The beach stretches for over three miles at low tide when Perran Sands joins up with neighbouring Penhale Sands. As you walk away from Perranporth the backdrop of the village gives way to low cliffs and then high sloping dunes. Even on the calmest and sunniest of days this beach has a wild feeling.

Towards the town end of the beach are some interesting rock formations including an arch, caves and the unmissable Chapel Rock, often seen flying a Cornish flag. What people often miss is the little bathing pool on the far side of the rock which is accessible at low tide.

Perranporth Beach is a beach with something for everyone. With a lifeguard service and facilities close at hand families love it. The vast space makes it the perfect beach for dog walking - dogs are allowed on the beach all year. And for surfers it doesn't get much better than this.

St Piran

Penhale / Perranporth Dunes
Penhale / Perranporth Dunes

The legend goes that St Piran, Cornwall's patron saint, was cast into tempestuous seas from the cliffs of the Irish coast tied to a millstone. However, the storm immediately subsided and rather than sinking to his death St Piran safely floated across the sea landing on the sandy beach at Perranporth. Setting up as a hermit, according to the story his first disciples were a fox, a badger and a bear. St Piran is also credited with "rediscovering" the process of tin smelting. The art was said to have been lost some time after the Roman occupation but St Piran stumbled across the process when his black hearthstone oozed a white cross of molten tin, which has since become the Cornish flag.

Legend aside there are a number of sites around Perranporth linked to the saint. Set in the extensive dunes behind the beach is St Piran's Oratory, an ancient chapel which had been for many years buried in the sand. Thought to be around a thousand years old the oratory was engulfed by sand in the 12th century. In the 1800s it was excavated and then in 1910 it was somewhat misguidedly encased in a bizarre concrete shell to protect the chapel. Over the years it was buried again, but in 2014 the site was again excavated and the roofless chapel can again be seen.

Close to the oratory is another ancient symbol of St Piran, what is possibly the oldest stone cross in Cornwall. Standing at over 8 feet tall this impressive granite cross is certainly well over a thousand years old. Even older than these Christian sites is Perran Round, an almost perfect circle of raised grass that would once have hosted sermons and "miracle plays" attended by pilgrims. The site though actually long predates Christianity and was originally an Iron Age hill fort.

Millennium Sundial

Perranporth Millennium Sundial
Perranporth Millennium Sundial

Perched on the cliffs below Droskyn car park and commanding some of the most spectacular views on the coast is this giant sundial. The Perranzabuloe Millennium Sundial, to give it its full name, was commissioned to see in the year 2000 and features a circle of ancient granite standing stones with a 20 foot stainless steel gnomon at its centre.

The design was the work of Perranporth local Stuart Thorn and a conscious decision was made that the sundial would tell "Cornish time" as opposed to Greenwich Mean Time. This was done to give people a sense of place; the shadow will fall due north when the sun is at its highest point, which happens 12 minutes earlier in Cornwall than in London.

Whether or not you are taken by the design or not this is a beautiful spot to spend a little time, sitting and taking in the view.

The Watering Hole

Watering Hole Beach Bar - Perranporth
Watering Hole Beach Bar - Perranporth

Whilst many places will claim to have a bar on the beach, very few actually do in the literal sense. Perranporth does. The Watering Hole is located well and truly on the sand. So much so that a few years ago, during some big storms, it was almost lost to the sea.  

Open all year round this pub on the beach offers pretty standard fare in terms of food and drink. Where the Watering Hole excels though is with its line up of live music throughout the calendar. This includes cosy, intimate indoor gigs in the winter through to Tunes in the Dunes Festival with big name acts performing on an outdoor stage.

Daytimes at the Watering Hole are great too with views from the sundeck about as beachy as they get. In addition this is a family friendly / dog-friendly spot so no one misses out.

Coast path

Path to Perranporth
Path to Perranporth

The section of coast path between Newquay and St Agnes has to be one of the finest of the whole Southwest Coast Path. It encapsulates everything that is great about the Cornish coast in a 15 mile stretch of cliff path. The terrain alternates from the wide sandy expanses of beaches like Holywell Bay and Crantock to rugged rocky headlands with barely accessible coves tucked behind them.

Not only is this a route for stunning scenery, it is rich in mining history spanning from the ancient to the relatively modern. This is particularly visible on the stretch of the coast path between Perranporth and St Agnes. At Cligga Head you can literally see the minerals oozing from the cliffs which have been exploited for time immemorial. However, what is interesting here are the relatively modern industrial remains. For more traditional mining heritage you will need to follow the coast path onwards to Trevellas Porth cove where some of the areas earliest tin related activities took place. Rather than mining tin was "panned" from the small stream here.

Perranporth is an ideal spot to join the coast path and you have the option of heading westwards through mining country, or east along wide golden sands to Cornwall's holiday hotspot, Newquay. Whichever you choose the views are unrivalled and uniquely Cornish.

Beachtown vibe

Perranporth town centre
Perranporth town centre

Perranporth is the epitome of a beach town. A strip of surf shops, cafes and various gift shops line the small high street which is barely a stones throw from the vast stretch of beach. The fact they are set on the same level as the beach makes the town almost feel like an extension of the beach. That and the vast majority of businesses here are squarely aimed at beachgoers.

On any sunny summers day the boundary between town and beach becomes even more blurred. Visitors in their beach gear wander the main strip in search of a bite to eat and the whole place has a laid-back, beachy air to it.

Golf

Perranporth Golf Club
Perranporth Golf Club

The golf course at Perranporth is one of the finest links courses in the South West rivalling top Cornish courses at St Enodoc and Trevose. The layout was designed by the great James Braid back in 1927, and as testament to the quality of his work has remained little changed since.

Part of the course's appeal lies in its setting, high above the beach and commanding spectacular views across the bay. But don't let the beautiful settings put you off your stroke, this is course with plenty of natural quirks and it is easy to lose a ball in the dunes.

One feature of the course which might not appeal to all players is the number of blind shots. If you don't like these then Perranporth probably isn't the course for you with seven blind drives and any number of approach shots. However, if you trust in the dune top marker posts you should be fine.

Perranporth Triathlon

Perranporth Triathlon
Perranporth Triathlon

Held at the beginning of September the Perranporth (Extreme Surf) Triathlon is one of the toughest in the UK. It is also one of the oldest having been run for over 30 years. Consistently rated as one of the best small triathlons in the World it was also voted the 4th best triathlon swim leg anywhere. For this reason it attracts a range of participants right up to the elite level, all looking for a a bit more of a challenge than your usual 3 laps of the park.

The Perranporth Tri certainly lives up to its extreme label. Roughly corresponding to an Olympic distance format the triathlon kicks off with a 1.5 km swim in the Atlantic. While September may not be winter storm season there has often been a chunky swell running during the event, and believe me, no amount of practice in the pool can prepare you for that! Following this is perhaps the least extreme leg of the race, a 38 km cycle. The description paints a bucolic picture of zipping along country lanes through Cornwall's tin country. However, there is also the fact that Perranporth sits in a deep valley with an enormous hill leading out of it - participants will be required to ride up it no less than three times.

To round off the event the organisers have laid on a 7.5 km run with the stunning scenery of the beach as a backdrop. Unfortunately this also involves running over the dunes and on the sand, which is wonderfully soft in places. Anyone who has tried running on sand may be able to imagine how this will feel after 2 hours of hard work.

Mining heritage / Poldark

Poldark
The real Poldark country

These days Perranporth is all about the beach, however less than a hundred years ago things were very different. The village was at the heart of the Cornish tin mining industry with a number of mine workings in and around the village. Visitors may wonder why, if this was the case are there no remnants of this industry such as the iconic engine houses which dot the Cornish landscape. In fact there are, and one of these is in plain sight right on the beach. Most people will notice the huge rock arch in the cliffs towards Droskyn Point - well this is not a natural rock formation and in fact once housed a water wheel which pumped out the adjacent mine. It is actually suggested that this might have been the site of the earliest mine in Cornwall.

Another of Perranporth's mines was Wheal Leisure. If this sounds familiar it probably isn't anything to do with the mining heritage of the district. It is more likely you saw it in the Poldark TV adaptation as this is the name of Ross Poldark's mine. This is no coincidence for the author of Poldark, Winston Graham, was a long term resident of Perranporth and doubtless drew much of his inspiration from the area. It isn't hard to imagine that horses racing across the low tide sands of Perranporth beach, or ships being wrecked against the cliffs at Droskyn.

In reality mining had pretty much died out in Cornwall as Graham wrote his Poldark books. One of the last mining endeavours in Perranporth was along the cliffs towards St Agnes at Cligga Head. Here wolfram, the ore of tungsten, was mined up until the 1940s. This had an important role in the manufacture of munitions during both world wars. The location was also shared with an explosives factory which was owned by the Nobel company. 

Surfing

Perranporth Wave
Perranporth Surf

Situated just a few miles west of the UK's self proclaimed surfing capital of Fistral Beach, Perranporth also offers some great waves. Whilst it might be quieter than the Newquay beaches it still gets pretty busy here during the summer months, the good news though is that with miles of beach the crowds can thin out. Or at least that's the theory.

In practice the best waves tend to be in one or two spots along the beach. Experienced surfers tend to head towards Droskyn Point at the western end of the beach. The banks are often good here, plus the massive granite headland offers some protection from the prevailing southwesterly winds. At the very opposite end of the beach is another highly rated spot - Penhale Corner. Here a long walling right hander peels off Ligger Point, but it is something of a rarity and is easily affected by the wind and rips.

That said, I have to say some of the best waves I've surfed in Cornwall have been bang in the middle of Perranporth Beach, so in reality there are plenty of choices along this massive stretch of sand.