At first glance, when you visit Perranporth, you might think it is just another attractive seaside town on the North Cornwall coast overshadowed in name, perhaps, by its near neighbour Newquay. Eight miles south of Newquay, Perranporth actually has a significant role in Cornish history – and its very name tells the story.
For Perranporth (Perran’s Port) is named after St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. Legend tells of a man cast out of Ireland for having miraculous powers and, surviving a stormy sea, he came ashore at Perranporth. Here he built an oratory in the 7th century to promote Christianity and later a church at Perranzabuloe. The oratory is now buried amongst the dunes just north of the town, but is currently being investigated in an archaeological dig – you can visit the grounds where the dig is taking place. The second church at Perranzabuloe is a charming stone building and is a great starting place for some lovely inland walks.
St Piran is also known for his accidental discovery of tin in Cornwall when black stones on his fireplace got hot and out leaked a white liquid. With tin mining becoming a major industry in Cornwall, particularly around St Agnes five miles south of Perranporth, St Piran also became the patron saint of tinners. The Cornish flag, a white cross (the tin) on a black background (the granite stone), is known as the St Piran’s Cross.
The sandy beach may have welcomed St Piran all those years ago. Today it welcomes thousands of holidaymakers and surfers, keen to experience the three miles of soft sand and the rolling surf for which North Cornwall is so renowned. Perranporth beach is one of the top Cornish beaches for surfing and one of the best beaches for families in Cornwall.
For lovers of sand that perhaps don’t wish to lie out on a beach all day or get zipped up in a wetsuit, Perranporth’s beach is backdropped by hundreds of acres of grass-clad sand dunes. They’re great for scrambling over or taking the dog for a walk; buy a skimming board from one of the many surfing shops in town and use it for ‘surfing’ the dunes.
There’s no doubt that the beach is the major attraction in Perranporth. Head to Chapel Rock on the south side of the beach for a safe, shallow, open sea pool whose waters are refreshed with every incoming tide if the sea waves are simply too ferocious to contemplate. Beach wheelchairs can be hired from Perranporth Gardens Charities to offer those with physical impairments the opportunity to enjoy the lovely golden sand. The charity looks after the Boscawen Gardens, filled with tropical plants, and a picturesque boating lake in the centre of town.
St Piran’s Road, the main street in Perranporth, caters for tourists and locals alike. Yes, there are numerous ‘tourist’ shops selling touristy wares and souvenirs. But unlike other tourist towns, there’s a decent butchers and a great bakery – Berrymans – where you can pick up superb scones and Hevva cake, a Cornish speciality that’s a cross between a scone and a rock cake; it looks like a giant scone and is delicious with some local clotted cream.
Further along the road is Perran Dairy Ice Cream Parlour, where you can watch the ice cream being made on the premises, just as it has been for 50 years. There are loads of flavours to select from – or if you can’t decide, opt for a ‘Big Dipper’ with enough scoops to last all day.
Some of the best views of Perranporth are from the top of Cliff Road. There are plenty of benches for a sit down and a superb grassy spot for a picnic overlooking the beach and the coastline towards Holywell Bay. But for outstanding views and some quiet contemplation (but for the noisy crashing of the waves), head south on the B3285 and turn off for Trevellas.
Trevellas Coombe, land owned by the National Trust, is an out-of-the-way valley that’s pretty special. Once used for tin mining, there are the remnants of stone buildings and a lone chimney stack, but the channelled views with a ‘private’ beach (there’s every chance you’ll get the little cove to yourself) are outstanding, with cliff-edge views towards St Agnes.
Campsites in Cornwall have long been popular and this small seaside resort is no exception. In fact, there are no fewer than 13 caravan parks near Perranporth, within three to four miles.
Top five things to do in Perranporth
Climb into the saddle and go horse riding with Reen Manor Riding Stables along Perranporth Beach, or an enjoyable longer pub ride. Shorter rides along quiet Cornish lanes and bridleways are also available. Experienced pony trekking assistants accompany all rides so newcomers, novices and experienced riders are welcome.
View the Cornish coast from 2000 feet in the air while taking a trial flying lesson from a World War Two aerodrome. Trial lessons with Perranporth Flying Club can last between 30 minutes and an hour and include instruction for you to take control of the aircraft. It makes an ideal taster session for people who might want to learn to fly. There are aerial views of Cornwall online here.
For a rainy day, visit Perranzabuloe Museum for an insight into the social and industrial past of Perranporth with displays of mining, fishing, costume, farming and surfing. Entry is free.
Wander a few miles south to discover the tin mining area around St Agnes and count how many chimney stacks you can see. Visit Blue Hills Tin, an old tin mine where handmade tin jewellery, tableware and gifts are made.
When to visit Perranporth
So, if you're considering heading to one of the many campsites in Perranporth, what's on? Perranporth’s biggest annual event is St Piran’s Day (5 March), which includes a big parade.
April brings the town’s shanty festival, SHOUT, while July heralds Perranporth Carnival Week. Duck races are held every Wednesday during August, and September sees further energy exerted in the Perranporth Triathlon.
How to get to Perranporth
Inspired to spend your caravan holidays in Cornwall? Then you'll need to know how to get to Perranporth. Junction 31 of the M5 south of Exeter links with the A30, the dual-carriageway spine through Devon and Cornwall.
Locally, turn off the A30 onto the A39 at Indian Queens, then soon onto the A392, followed by the A3075 just after Newquay, signposted Perranporth. At Goonhavern, turn right onto the B3285 for Perranporth. All the routes are completely accessible when towing.
Once you are near the town, folow specific instructions from your chosen campsites near Perranporth.