THE GANNEL RIVER & ESTUARY
The Gannel River & Estuary is a key landmark in Newquay, creating a high-tide divide between Newquay and neighbouring Crantock, and the South West Coast Path beyond. The unusual geography and tidal flooding has created a unique and unspoilt landscape that is enjoyed by nature lovers, adventurers and wildlife alike. A stones throw from the town centre of Newquay yet seemingly another world, the Gannel is a hugely underrated spot to explore locally.
WHAT IS THE GANNEL?
The Gannel is a river whose estuary runs inland from Crantock beach, that separates Newquay from Crantock and Pentire Headland. A stunning and quiet, nature-rich place that provides an antidote to the busy-ness of Newquay town. At low tide the area is a walkers and dog walkers haven and at high tide the entire estuary floods creating a shallow wetland for birds and other wildlife to flourish.
The Gannel Estuary provides a glimpse of Newquay’s seafaring past, from when it was a major shipping channel for Newquay and surrounding areas, when sea-going vessels brought their cargoes of coal, fertiliser, timber, limestone and earthenware up the river to various small ports Fern Pit to Trevemper. Today you can still see traces of this history in the form of boatyards, moorings, derelict watercraft and even an old quay and lime kiln can still be seen in Penpol creek.
In order to keep this transport route open it required periodic dredging to move storm-dumped sand out of the channel, but since this has not been done since the mid-eighties the Gannel is now only accessible only to small watercraft at high tide and walkers at low.
THE GANNEL TODAY
The Gannel is a completely different place at high tide to low tide providing a nice bit of variety for the regular visitor. Two to three hours either side of low tide both Gannel crossings are accessible on foot, making the entire stretch of estuary walkable – just make sure you wear shoes that can get mucky! Then as the tide floods in kayakers and paddleboarders come out, to enjoy this pristine stretch of flat and wind-sheltered water.
This is also a bird watchers paradise with up to 5000 species having been recorded here including dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, whimbrel, grey plover, greenshank, godwits curlew, widgeon and teal.
CROSSINGS & TIDES
There are two official Gannel crossing points within the Newquay stretch of the river; a low tide foot bridge at the Fern Pit Cafe and another foot bridge close to the Boating Lake. There used to be a high tide ferry at the Fern Pit Cafe but this was decommissioned in 2019 – today, the only way around the Gannel at high tide is by road (unless you have a personal watercraft). The Fern Pit Cafe footbridge (pictured) can be crossed 2-3 hours either side of the low tide (approximately, tide depending) with the Boating Lake bridge giving an extra half hour window for crossings either side of the low tide. Crossing the Gannel at Crantock Beach may look simple but is ill advised due to soft sand and fast flooding tides.
CIRCULAR WALK FROM NEWQUAY
The Gannel delivers one of the most beautiful circular walks that is directly accessible from Newquay, and the route is packed with Cornish charm! Set out two-hours before low tide, making your way from Newquay down to the Boating Lake and Trenance Gardens, through the gardens and across the Gannel Road at the end to meet the Gannel River. Cross the river via the low-tide footbridge and follow the path towards Penpol Creek. Bear left onto the creek-side path and use the crossing point below the shallow stream. Follow the road up the hill on the other side and when you reach a T-junction, bear right. This road leads you into the village of Crantock. Walk through the village following signs for Crantock Beach. As you approach the beach car park look for the coastal path sign to the right of the main path which takes you along a higher elevation above the estuary. The path ends naturally after a couple of hundred metres and drops you down onto the Gannel Estuary, next to Fern Pit Cafe low tide foot bridge. Cross here, then use the steps on the other side to return to Newquay town, via the Fern Pit Cafe.