Newquay Coast | It's History & Unique Features
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Newquay Coast | It's History & Unique Features

Join us on a journey through time as we unravel the captivating tales and distinct landmarks that define the Newquay coastline

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Here at Cornish Wave we're proud to call Newquay home and cherish the rich tapestry of people, places, and history that defines this extraordinary area. It's the remarkable landscapes and spirit of the locals which makes Newquay such a captivating place to live, work and visit.
Much of Newquay’s heritage is rooted in its maritime history, and as avid lovers of the sea, we're fascinated by the tales of yesteryears. We delight in sharing these stories with our customers as part of our activity sessions, ensuring that every experience with us is not just thrilling but also steeped in the lore of our coastal community.

newquay harbour


Formerly known as Towan Blystra, Newquay traces back to the 15th century when it was nothing more than a humble village nestled amidst the Cornish coastline. The name Towan Blystra, Cornish for 'blown dune,' aptly described its windswept surroundings. However, despite its picturesque setting, the village faced challenges due to its exposed anchorage, vulnerable to the fierce winds blowing in from the North East.

In 1439, recognising the need for a solution to this problem, the local Burghers took a bold step and petitioned Bishop Lacey of Exeter for permission and financial assistance to construct a new quay. This ambitious endeavour aimed to provide a protected harbour, shielded from the relentless elements, and facilitate maritime activities crucial for the village's growth and prosperity.
With the Bishop's blessing and support, construction began on the "New Quay," marking the dawn of a new era for the village. Over time, as the quay took shape and the harbour flourished, the once-sleepy village transformed into the vibrant coastal town we know today as Newquay.

It is this historic decision and the enduring legacy of the "New Quay" that bestowed upon the town its present-day name, symbolising its resilience, maritime heritage, and the enduring spirit of its inhabitants.


Newquay is today synonymous with surfing and seaside holidays, but up until the early 20th century, it was a small fishing village most famous for its Pilchards! Lookouts would cry “Heva!” to call out the fishing fleet when pilchard shoals were spotted. If you follow the Southwest Coast Path behind the Harbour you'll discover one nestled just above the Fly Cellars. Continue along the path, and atop Towan Headland, you'll come across another hut, offering a glimpse into the area's rich maritime heritage.

If you are cycling around Newquay our Lewenick Loop cycle route takes you past both of these huts.


Headlands at it's heart

Much of the north cornish coast is littered with headlands, errored over the years by the Atlantic and which today give us the little bays and beaches which surround Newquay. We’ve mentioned Towan Headland many times and for good reason. This prominent coastal feature in Newquay is as picturesque as they come and juts out into the sea offering stunning views and creating a large sheltered area and natural lea from the prevailing south-westerly winds and swells.

Towards the southwestern edge of the headland, the formidable Cribbar wave roars to life during autumn and winter swells, nestled beside the cherished Little Fistral Beach & Fistral Beach, the home of British surfing. Venturing southeast, you'll find the calm, sheltered waters of the infamous "Gazzle."


One of the most popular coasteering areas in the UK is only minutes from the Cornish Wave headquarters. Due to the shape of the headland resembling an armpit, the area is now known locally as the Gazzle, meaning “Armpit” in Cornish. The Gazzle headland overlooks two of the top Cornwall surf spots – Towan Beach and Fistral Beach.


Towan Headland is home to an old Lifeboat station. At one point the steepest lifeboat slipway in Europe. Our Newquay Coasteering routes typically start or pass by this old piece of history. The Lifeboat House (now an artist’s studio) was built in 1899. After the rescue the boat could not be dragged back up the slip, so would return to the Newquay Town Beaches where it was mounted on a trailer and pulled by a team of horses back to the lifeboat house. The first lifeboat to be in service here was the Willy Rogers. The most famous, however, was the James Stevens. In addition to her many successful rescues, she was launched three times for royalty.

Coasteering is an exciting way to step into the local Cornish history and culture – with a sense of real adventure! All of our coasteering sessions take in many of the coastal features mentioned in this article and include some fun facts fun facts about Newquay's maritime heritage.


If you look carefully on the south side of Towan Head, you can see some large boulders and an old harbour wall protruding from the headland. This was once part of an artificial shipping lane from the waters of the Gazzle to the deep water beyond the surf at Fistral Beach. Joseph Treffry, the brains behind the 1848 project, cut a channel through the narrowest part of the headland so ships could sail from Newquay Bay into the deep water of Fistral Bay. The channel became known as Spy Hole. Newquay’s answer to the Panama Canal. For once the Cornish did something first, 33 years before the French started in Central America. Unfortunately, the work was never completed and after Treffry’s death, the channel was filled in as it was deemed too costly.


Hidden away on the furtherst point of Towan headland is an old Second World War gun battery. The battery was built in 1940 and housed two 4-inch naval guns. It was operated by the 396 Coast Battery of the Royal Artillery. The Battery was built to defend the northern beaches of Newquay from Great Western to Watergate Bay. All of these beaches were riddled with mines and defences except Tolcarne Beach. As Tolcarne was privately owned and the proprietors had recently spent money building the promenades and beach huts, they chose to keep it open to the public throughout the war.
Exploring local history along the Newquay coastline

Kayaking is one of the best ways to take an up-close look at local history, culture and the natural environment along the Newquay costline. Start your journey with our Newquay Kayaking Tours.

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Smuggling of all manner of items was rife in Cornwall during the 17th and 18th Century. Tea, tobacco and alcohol being the popular favourites. We explore the historic Smuggler’s coves and secret passageways in our Newquay Coasteering sessions.


There are many notorious smuggling locations in the Newquay area, but the Tea Caverns, located on the headland between Fistral Beach and the Newquay Town Beaches were the most renowned. The Tea Caverns are named for china tea, a much-prized commodity that would reap rich rewards for smugglers. Brandy, wine, silk in fact any other valuable booty was worth the risk of harsh punishment.

Smuggling was not as adventurous as Hollywood movies would like us to think. Most of the local population had some involvement in the profession as it brought with it a better standard of living. The largest operational smuggling vessel could hold 3,000 Half Ankers (Small barrels of around 4 gallons) of spirits. As well as 10 to 12 tons of tea! On Sundays, it was a common sight to see 100 horses waiting on the cliff tops to move the contraband. You can see the exposed tunnels in the cliffs today.


On the top of ‘The Gazzle’ headland you will see an unusual eight-sided building, this was the Coastguard lookout station. From here the preventative Men, employed by the port of Padstow, could keep a watchful eye for smugglers, sometimes known as Freetraders, engaged in their illegal pursuits. If you look back towards the Huer’s Hut you will observe that there are many hiding places in the rocks where smugglers could hide their ill-gotten gains. These and many other caverns dotted along the coast are the result of mining excavations. We shall discover that Newquay has an extremely long history of mining dating as far back as 3000 years BC.

Local Wildlife

The real locals...
Thankfully to this day, Newquay's coastline is still teeming with diverse wildlife, offering nature enthusiasts a wealth of opportunities for wildlife spotting. From majestic seabirds soaring overhead to playful seals frolicking in the waves, the local fauna never fails to captivate visitors.

If you are interested in learning more about wildlife, Newquay Wild Activities offer Environmental Activities in Newquay for all ages.

SEABIRDS: The cliffs and shores of Newquay are home to a variety of seabird species, including fulmars, razorbills, and guillemots. These graceful birds can often be seen gliding effortlessly along the coastline or nesting on the rocky cliffs.
SEALS: Keep an eye out for the adorable seals that inhabit the waters around Newquay. These curious marine mammals can often be spotted lounging on rocks or bobbing in the surf, especially around secluded coves and rocky outcrops.
DOLPHINS & PORPOISES:The waters off the coast of Newquay are also frequented by playful dolphins and porpoises. Lucky observers may catch glimpses of these intelligent marine mammals leaping and diving in the waves.
MARINE FISH: Beneath the surface, a colourful array of marine fish species inhabit the waters around Newquay. From vibrant wrasse to elusive dogfish, the local underwater ecosystem is a fascinating world waiting to be explored.

These are just a few examples of the incredible wildlife that calls Newquay home. With its diverse habitats and rich biodiversity, the coastline of Newquay offers endless opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to connect with nature.

Citation: Cornwall Wildlife Trust - Wildlife in Cornwall

If, like us, you're drawn to the allure of the water, eager to explore the coastline, and fascinated by its rich history and vibrant wildlife, then the Newquay coast offers an unrivalled playground for activities and enjoying the great outdoors.

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