The nearest town to where we were staying at Crantock was Newquay, so our first full day in Cornwall for Summer 2015 began there…
Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: Jon Bouys
Attractions: Newquay Harbour, Newquay Beach, Fistral Beach, Towan Beach, RNLI Lifeboat Station, War Memorial, Huer’s Hut, The Headland, Headland Hotel, Atlantic Hotel, St Michael’s Church, Towan Island, Towan House etc
Not long after we parked up, we soon found perhaps the best vantage point in the entire town, atop a wall looking down towards the Harbour (back left), and the vast expanse of Towan Beach in front of us.
Newquay is a popular destination for surfers, and there are a number of beaches in the area, each with different types of water conditions available, so for example Towan is ideal for smaller surfing waves, and swimming, whilst others such as Fistral Beach and Tolcarne have stronger waves.
Following a steep staircase down the side of the cliff from our previous position, we wandered down towards the Harbour. The tide was out, and the various small fishing vessels that serve the town were sat high and dry. They have been the backbone of the town for centuries, as Newquay grew up predominantly as a fishing village in the 19th century, after the harbour was built during the 1830’s.
This all changed when the Atlantic Coast Line opened in 1874, running a spur from the Cornish Main Line towards the coast at Newquay. The new rail links connected the town with the rest of the country, and like many other seaside towns such as Blackpool, it became popular as a tourist destination, with a number of large hotels being built to accommodate the new regular visitors.
The beaches around the town are always busy with locals, swimmers and surfers alike, particularly during summer. Luckily, the Newquay Lifeboat team has been on standby to help anyone who gets into trouble off the coast since 1860, when the original lifeboat, called the “Joshua” arrived in the town at the first of three incarnations of the Lifeboat Station, over on Fore Street.
The present day version, pictured above, is located within the harbour walls, always ready to respond to an emergency.
Towan Beach really is enormous, and our vantage point on the Harbour Wall offers a stunning view across the beach, with the town centre high above it in the background. Perhaps the most standout landmark on the towns skyline is the Tower of St Michael’s Church, which we would get much closer to later.
It’s incredible to think that almost the whole beach is covered at high tide, which creates some rather unusual living conditions for one resident of Newquay…
When the tide is fully in, it cuts off a large cliff of rock off to the side of the beach called “Towan Island”, shown on the left. At the top of the rock, a full 80 ft high, is a large, private house completed in 1901, which until 2015 was owned as a private residence, although now it is perhaps Cornwall’s most exclusive rental destination for a week at a time.
Connected to the rest of Newquay only by a private suspension bridge which reaches to the other cliffs on the mainland, there have been a number of famous inhabitants at the house, including:
Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851 – 1940): Sir Oliver was a noted Physicist from Staffordshire, famous for his many inventions, which include additions to the Radio, and the Spark Plug, which was also worked on by his son, Alexander Lodge, the actual owner of the house whom he visited regularly.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930): The famous creator of Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson in his series of Crime Novels, Sir Arthur was very fond of Newquay, and also a close friend of Sir Oliver. Presumably Sir Arthur suggested this island retreat, and he visited a few times.
We were now stood atop the cliffs at the far side of Towan Beach, directly opposite Towan Island where I took the previous picture. This area, around “Narrowcliff Road” effectively acts as the towns promenade, and offers not only some great views across the beach, but also a large open public space in which to relax.
The town green was full of colourful deck chairs, and we also got a more up close look at St Michael’s Church, just behind them. Officially dedicated to St Michael the Archangel , it was designed by Sir Ninian Comper (1864 – 1960, Scottish Architect from Aberdeen) and is the second Church to serve the town. It’s hard to imagine the building without its landmark Tower, however this was only added in 1967. Sadly the whole Church was later gutted by fire in the 1990’s, although it was rebuilt from the ashes and continues to serve the community.
The original Church was completed in 1858, as a Chapel of Ease where parishioners could pray away from the main Parish Church, which at that time was at nearby St Columb Minor. Newquay wouldn’t become it’s own individual Parish until 1882, when the Chapel of Ease became a full Parish Church. It was replaced in 1909 by Sir Ninian’s new Church, after the original was razed to the ground to build a new Woolworths Store, part of the chain created by Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852 – 1919) in New York in 1878. The Company was designed as a discount store, and opened various department stores across the US. They eventually went bust in 1997, but their sister company Foot Locker continues to trade.
Of course various Woolworths Stores would also be opened across the UK (and various other countries), eventually forming an independent company from the 1980’s onwards. The UK arm of the chain collapsed in 2008, and all of it’s stores closed within a few months.
Moving into the town centre itself, Newquay is very much geared around it’s position on the coast, with various shops selling seaside souvenirs, fresh fish restaurants etc, and there are still all of the usual shops you would expect to find in most town centres, creating a nice mixed environment.
The original hotels that were built here with the advent of the railways still exist, and can be found scattered around the town. The architecture of Newquay is also quite interesting, as a lot of the major developments were only built from the 1930’s onwards, making a small fishing village into the large town that is gradually swallowing smaller outlying villages into it’s suburbs. Newquay feels very modern, almost a new town with the amount of relatively recent rapid expansion, and yet there are the older sections, the old Hotels, the Harbour etc, which give it a rather unique layout and feel.
A number of Newquay’s landmarks lie away from the town centre, towards the Headland area around Fistral Beach which lies to the West of the centre. En route, there is a good example of a hidden architectural treasure from Newquay’s past, located on Fore Street. If you look to the far left of the picture above, you can see “The Fort Inn”, which was actually completed in 1830 when it was built as a large house which you could let for Summer if you wanted to stay in the area.
Reaching the Headland itself, a small road leads in a circle around the Easternmost section, called King Edward Crescent, just next to the Atlantic Hotel, one of the early Hotels I was talking about earlier, completed in 1892.
A far older building just across the road however, gazing out towards the town centre is a small, squat white building called “The Huer’s Hut”, which is perhaps the oldest building in the town, as it has been dated to the 14th century. A plaque on the side of the building explains its function:
“Used as a look-out by a Huer at the time of year when shoals of Pilchards were expected in the bay. A call on his horn raised the Hue and cry alerting the townsfolk to the arrival of the fish”.
The Huer would then use special hand signals to guide the local fisherman into the correct positions to catch as many fish as possible. The plaque goes on to say it is thought that before this it had been used as a beacon tower to warn ships off the rocks here.
The other major landmark on the headland is the Newquay War Memorial, completed in 1921 to honour the dead of World War I, although it has since been updated to cover World War II, the Falklands War, and the War in Afghanistan. The unveiling ceremony was headed by the then Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VIII (1894 – 1972), albeit briefly.
In the background you can see the rest of the town, with the Memorial occupying a commanding position across Newquay. It is stood where an Old Coast Guard Look House used to be located, installed during the Napoleonic Wars with France during the 19th century in case of attack by sea.
The Memorial, aside from being opposite the Atlantic Hotel, is also close to “The Headland Hotel”, built in 1900 to designs by Silvanus Trevail (1851 – 1903, Cornish Architect). Whilst Edward VIII visited Newquay to unveil the War Memorial in 1921, this was at least his second visit, as he stayed at the Headland in 1911 along with his brother, the future King George VI (1895 – 1952) after they suffered a bout of the Mumps during their training at Dartmouth Naval College, which we visited last year.
Plans to develop the rest of the headland around the Hotel were scuppered due to a number of riots which broke out when severe development of Newquay began with the arrival of the new Hotels, leaving the headland itself as a pleasant, natural rocky outcrop.
You get some fantastic views across the Atlantic the further out you get, as well as one looking back towards the town…
The full majesty of the grand Atlantic Hotel, along with the slender, silhouetted form of the War Memorial provided a fantastic final look at the town, as we soon headed off into the rest of Cornwall for the afternoon.
Newquay is a pleasant town, in a great location in one of England’s most scenic counties. There is plenty to see and do, with multiple beaches for the surfing enthusiasts, lots of history in the town for the knowledge buffs, and of course a large beach to relax on for everyone else! Transport links to the town are very good, with Newquay Railway Station providing direct services to the village of Par where you can change for the Cornish Main Line, which runs West past Truro to Penzance, and East up towards Bristol, London and the North. Special services are in place at Newquay over summer due to the high number of tourists, with all local services suspended, and special trains run by CrossCountry coming all the way from Edinburgh via the North of England (Newcastle, Manchester etc), along with direct services all the way to London by First Great Western.
By road the nearest motorway is in the neighbouring county of Devon around 82 miles away, with the M5 beginning at Exeter and heading North towards Birmingham, although various local main roads can easily get you across Cornwall.
After an interesting morning exploring Newquay, we pressed on, towards the small town of Perranporth…