In Cornwall, we are blessed with an amazing network of footpaths to reach many of the best spots for seeing wildlife. We asked John Alden of iwalknorthcornwall.co.uk to recommend five circular walks where he’s seen loads of wildlife.
The Mouls (also known as Puffin Island) is one of the last places on the North Coast where the once numerous Atlantic Puffin can still be seen.
Only 100 years ago, there were vast puffin colonies all along the coast and most of these colonies are now completely extinct; the reason why remains a mystery.
The Mouls also provides nesting sites for a range of other seabirds, from the massive gannets and black-backed gulls to the petite razorbills and guillimots.
The islet is actually the tip of an iceberg: beneath the water is a vast reef that rapidly rises 100 feet from the sea bed. Due to the protruding headlands and the large mouth of the Camel Estuary, strong tidal currents pass around the reef and carry food to waiting predators. This makes it a good place to see pods of dolphins: I’ve seen both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins around The Mouls and off Pentire Point.
Another thing to look out for is a fin flapping from side-to-side on the surface of the water: this is likely to be an Ocean Sunfish, which are quite often seen in Port Isaac Bay in the summer. These bizarre-looking disc-shaped fish are the world’s largest bony fish with full-grown adults weighing over a tonne. They drift in the ocean currents feeding on plankton and in between, lie on their side at the surface and sunbathe.
This stretch of coast mid-way between Tintagel and Port Isaac has no road access and is consequently quite isolated.
Tregardock beach is a mile long beach of beautiful golden sand at low tide which is unlikely to have more than 10 people on it even in the height of summer.
The beach has plenty of rockpools, but is only accessible around low tide, so time your walk carefully if you want to include some rockpooling.
There has been a manor at Dannonchapel for around 1000 years, but the hamlet was finally abandoned in the 20th Century and is now owned by the National Trust; cattle and fox cubs now wander through the ruined farm buildings.
For the best chances of seeing mammalian wildlife, do this walk early in the morning: last time I was there I saw foxes, deer and a stoat, all on the same walk.
Dannonchapel was one of the westernmost of the coastal slate quarries surrounding Tintagel. Like the hamlet, the quarry was also abandoned. On an island joined by a narrow isthmus, you can still see rows of finished roofing slates. The original name for Dannon (in the days before any “chapel” was built) was Duuenant which meant “deep valley”; this valley is home to buzzards and kestrels, and you may see peregrines too as these nest along the coast here.
Although the clue is in the name, there are actually two Holy Wells competing for the title at Holywell. The likely original is the one in a sea cave that can only be reached at low tide, created by a freshwater spring dissolving limestone (probably from fragments of seashell). The dissolved calcium carbonate then precipitated into the series of white basins covered in blood-red algae which may well have had a certain appeal to knife-wielding druids.
The headlands of The Kelseys and West Pentire and the adjoining Cubert Common nature reserve provide a good habitat for kestrels which can be seen carrying off prey such as lizards in their talons.
Between the headlands, is the sheltered cove now known as Porth Joke or Polly Joke but originally named Pol Lejouack, meaning Jackdaw Cove.
There are still plenty of Jackdaws nesting around here today and have also been a few sightings recently of the Cornish Chough in this area, though their main stronghold is currently at the western end of the Cornish peninsula.
Last time I did this walk there were also a number of seals in the cove, showing off to any spectators they could find along the coast.
In terms of flora, West Pentire is renowned for its display of wildflowers in late spring and the Penhale Sands dune system which runs from Perranporth to Holywell is nationally important for the rare plants that thrive in the lime-rich shell sand.
A century and a half ago, the slate quarries of Trebarwith Valley near Tintagel were literally exploding with industrial activity. Although dynamite was manufactured in Victorian times whilst many of the quarries were still in production, only gunpowder was ever used for blasting as the supersonic shockwave created by high explosives such as dynamite would shatter the brittle slate into tiny fragments.
Today the quarries are silent apart from the flutter of bird wings and the once barren quarry faces and tips have been colonised by a plethora of plant life.
The walk starts by following the stream from Jeffrey’s Pit towards its source and then loops back through the valley to pass through the Trebarwith nature reserve.
This is another walk where going in the early morning will maximise your chances of seeing deer, foxes and stoats/weasels.
The ancient woodland is carpeted with primose, celendine and bluebells in spring and the stream is home to brown trout, frogs, toads and newts; in summer you may also see damselflies and dragonflies.
The quarries themselves provide good habitats for rodents and lizards which support populations of buzzards and kestrels.
This is a walk to do at low tide and includes a mile and a half of beach from Watergate Bay to Trevelgue head.
The beaches of Fruitful Cove and Whipsiddery have plenty of rocks, so this is a perfect walk to combine with rockpooling.
The large pools around Zacry’s Island seem to be good for species you’d normally only expect to find in the sea such as starfish and shoals of sandeels and tiny mullet. There is also some both colourful and massive seaweed on the rocks here towards the low tide line.
The large rockpool in boulder cavern at Whipsiddery had an impressive number of blennies when I was there last and there are a number of others along the edge of Trevelgue Head.
Once you’ve finished exploring the beach, there is the remains of an Iron Age hillfort on Trevelgue Head and the blowhole which is active at mid tide.
The walk back along the coast path has spectacular views over the beaches and the coastal heath is home to a range of butterflies and moths including the red-and-black-spotted burnet moth. The bright colours are a warning that the burnet moth is full of cyanide, which it extracts from its foodplant birdsfoot trefoil growing along the coast path.
App support for your walk
All the walks featured here are also available as mobile phone apps which are designed to keep track of where you are on the walk route so you can concentrate on other things (taking photos in my case). By default, the apps will bleep and vibrate when there is a new direction to follow; for “stealth mode”, uncheck “play sound on alerts” on the settings screen so you can tiptoe up to the wildlife.