Com­bine Corn­wall’s cul­tural his­tory, its mag­i­cal pa­tron saint with some glo­ri­ous coastal views

Cornwall Life - - INSIDE - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Robert Hes­keth

Robert Hes­keth sets off in search of St Pi­ran

As well as great coastal views, this walk ex­plores Pen­hale Sands and passes St Pi­ran’s Ora­tory, with an op­tional di­ver­sion to St Pi­ran’s Old Church and St Pi­ran’s Cross. Pi­ran is the pa­tron saint of Corn­wall and vi­tal to her pride and sense of iden­tity. No one vis­it­ing the county can fail to no­tice St Pi­ran’s ubiq­ui­tous flag, the Cor­nish flag, a white cross on a black back­ground.

St Pi­ran has been iden­ti­fied with St Ciaran of Saighir (both share the same fast day, 5 March), who prob­a­bly lived in the 5th or 6th cen­tury. Ac­cord­ing this tra­di­tion, Pi­ran founded this ru­ined chapel on Per­ran Sands af­ter his mirac­u­lous ar­rival from his na­tive Ire­land, tied to a mill­stone af­ter be­ing cast into the sea by the jeal­ous king of Le­in­ster. Be that as it may, St Pi­ran is ven­er­ated in Wales and Brit­tany, as well as Corn­wall and was prob­a­bly one of many Celtic mis­sion­ar­ies to travel be­tween th­ese closely re­lated com­mu­ni­ties in early Me­dial times.

The orig­i­nal ora­tory was likely built of wat­tle and daub, but re­placed by stone later. Aban­doned in the 12th cen­tury, the ora­tory was ex­ca­vated by an­ti­quar­i­ans in the early 19th cen­tury. When ex­ca­vated again in 1910, a large num­ber of buri­als were dis­cov­ered, in­clud­ing the skele­ton of a woman with a child in her arms and a skull placed in a stone cist.

Re­buried in 1980, it was ex­ca­vated yet again in 2014. What we see to­day is the small nave and chan­cel, which may have been sep­a­rated by a wooden rood screen. A stone bench ex­tends around much of the in­te­rior and there are door­ways at the south and east.

Wind-blown sand has al­ways been a prob­lem. A sec­ond church (now known as St Pi­ran’s Old Church) was built in the 12th cen­tury to­wards the edge of Pen­hale Sands. This too was even­tu­ally en­gulfed by sand and the last ser­vice held there in 1795. It was par­tially dis­man­tled and el­e­ments of it used to build a third church fur­ther in­land at Per­ran­z­ab­u­loe. It was ded­i­cated to St Pi­ran in 1805.

Be­tween St Prian’s Ora­tory and the

Old Church is the 8ft tall St Pi­ran’s Cross. Be­lieved to be the ear­li­est stone cross recorded in Corn­wall, it is ded­i­cated to tin­ners and min­ers.

*Please note that Pen­hale Sands are criss­crossed with paths. Fol­low the di­rec­tions care­fully and take a map (prefer­ably Ex­plorer 104) and a com­pass.


Park care­fully, us­ing the long layby on a mi­nor road run­ning north to­wards Mount from the B3285 Per­ran­porth/Goon­hav­ern road, SW 775 553. Go through the small gate op­po­site the lane run­ning south-east. Fol­low the path across the dunes. There are sev­eral ‘un­of­fi­cial’ paths, but the cor­rect

one heads north north-west. You will soon pick up a line of low white con­crete posts. Di­vert left to visit a prom­i­nent Ro­man Cross (SW768 563) on top of the dunes.

Di­vert right and down­hill to visit St Pi­ran’s Ora­tory at SW767 56400. To visit the re­mains of St Pi­ran’s church and St Pi­ran’s Cross, head east across the dunes for 500m and then re­trace your steps to St Pi­ran’s Ora­tory.

Fac­ing the ora­tory, turn left (west) and fol­low the line of fence posts. Turn left at the Coast­path way­mark. Again, there are sev­eral ‘un­of­fi­cial’ paths, but the proper path heads south south-west over the dunes. Con­tinue on the coast path par­al­lel to the beach. Great views of Per­ran Bay open out.

Con­tinue ahead on the coast path when you reach a way­mark and path junc­tion. Con­tinue along the edge of the dunes and par­al­lel to the beach for 300m. Again, there are sev­eral paths lead­ing in­land across the dunes, but take the most used and level one to meet a broad track. Turn left and fol­low this track, keep­ing just left of new housses to a road op­po­site a garage. Turn left for only 20m. Turn left up steps on the pub­lic foot­path. At the top of the steps, bear right and up­hill. Cross a track and fol­low the path ahead care­fully, us­ing the white stones to guide you across the golf course (be­ware of fly­ing balls!).

Reach­ing a road, cross with cau­tion. Con­tinue over a stile and cut di­ag­o­nally left across a field as signed to a stile in the top field cor­ner. Cross and con­tinue to the road. Cross care­fully and fol­low the pub­lic bri­dlepath ahead. Turn right at the lane and con­tinue to the start.

Per­ran Sands is a firm favourite among lo­cals and hol­i­day mak­ers - and it’s easy to see why

Look out for the Ro­man Cross that sits on Per­ran Sands

This walk takes in stun­ning views as well as a slice of his­tory with nearby St Pi­ran’s Ob­ser­va­tory and St Pi­ran’s Cross - be­lieved to be the ear­li­est Cor­nish cross and ded­i­cated to tin­ners and min­ers.

The view of the dunes from the Ro­man Cross which sits in the dune

Surf’s up: af­ter ex­plor­ing the his­tory of Corn­wall’s pa­tron saint en­joy the coast

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