Combine Cornwall’s cultural history, its magical patron saint with some glorious coastal views
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.
BOOTS ON? LET’S GO!
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