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The River Gannel Estuary: Walks, Wildlife and Activities

While Newquay’s famous main beaches tend to steal most of the headlines,  the pretty River Gannel Estuary has a quiet fascination all of its own. From local legends to rare wildlife, soul-stirring views and glorious walks, it is an area well worth a look for the visitor and just a few footsteps from our doors at the Pentire Hotel. Here is our own in-a-nutshell guide to one of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets:
The River Gannel Estuary: Walks, Wildlife and Activities
A typical Gannel View; the estuary is packed with life and mystery


Starting Points: The Slipway and River Gannel Ferry

To access the estuary, a little slipway beneath Riverside Crescent is the easiest route from the north shore. Here you’ll find the cute Fern Pit Café, who also run the River Gannel Ferry, taking visitors across the water for the grand sum of £1.20 or 60p for kids (it operates between 10am-6pm most days). The café is also the place to buy a crab line, beach games or even some bait for a spot of bass fishing.  Whichever way you decide to enjoy your time on the Gannel, do respect the sea and keep a check on local tide tables.

River Gannel Walks, Rides and More

You could explore the north side of the estuary on foot (do be careful, because tides can change quickly and the salt marshes are fragile habitat, not to mention sticky places!), but the ferry will take you to a fine route on the South West Coast Path, where there are some fine views and walks to be enjoyed. Our recommended Newquay Walks section has some great suggestions, including a lovely romatic walk along Crantock Beach and the estuary.

Walking is just one way to enjoy the area, however. You could hop in a canoe or kayak; or you could get in touch with Trenance Stables to explore on horseback. This has to be one of the loveliest ways of all to explore and take it all in.

Crantock Beach view
A Crantock Beach View, complete with golden sand and summer gorse.

Historic Places on the Gannel

It might be hard to imagine these days, but once upon a time today’s tranquil estuary was a busy hub of activity. Indeed, you can see various remnants from down the ages. Trethellan, for example, has been inhabited for many centuries. There are still the remnants of an Iron Age Village here, while lead mining took place in more recent history. Large, ocean bound ships would have been commonplace, both to export local metal and bring in coal from Wales.

The sidestream of Penpol Creek is another interesting spot. You can still see the remains of an old quay and lime kiln here, although the clang of industry has been replaced by birdsong since the days of the Industrial Revolution. 

Last but not least, Crantock is a lovely old village for a quick visit, with Celtic origins stretching back to the 5th Century. The Old Albion Inn is a particularly classic old school pub, should you fancy a well-earned pint on your walk, while Crantock Bakery make a mean Cornish Pastie.

Gannel Estuary Wildlife and Precious Habitat

For any lover of the natural world, there is a wealth of life on the River Gannel, including some rare and highly specialised species. Plants in this salty, acidic environment have to be hardy and well adapted and include species such as sea purslane and vibrant yellow clusters of kidney vetch.

The creatures that live here have to be equally well-adapted. Indeed, the Gannel Estuary is one of the best places for birdwatching around Newquay. Many species have been sighted, from various types of plover to greenshanks, little egret and godwits; unsurprisingly, waders and dippers love the rich pickings of the margins and salt marshes. Do bring a pair of binoculars if you have them!

Oyster Captcha

Sea Fishing on the River Gannel Estuary

Although you won’t find huge fish present, the River Gannel is a pretty and interesting location to try a spot of sea fishing. You won’t need heavy tackle or anything fancy. Nor is it heavily fished, although a handful of locals manage to catch a few, typically by starting out fishing from about two hours before high tide as the water comes up.

Common species include flounder, small mullet and school bass, to worm or lures. In flood, the water becomes very messy- but in better, more settled conditions you could also try fly fishing for the bass with a sandeel imitation (the Gannel teems with them in summer!). Do be aware that all sea bass fishing is now strictly catch and release wherever you are in Cornwall and the UK. Be prepared to use your eyes and feet to find the fish- but the mouth of the river is always an obvious spot for a bite or two.
Cornish Bass
Cornish bass (picture: Dominic Garnett/ Turrall Flies)

The Mystery of the Gannel Crake

Of all the Newquay ghost stories, the phenomenon of the Gannel Crake is one of the most famous among locals and stretches back well over two centuries. It is best described as a torturous, haunting sound that usually occurs early or late in the day. Is the sound made by a visiting creature, or could it be something more sinister? Even non-superstitious types have been known to freeze in their tracks when the cry rings out!

Written by The Pentire Hotel