Looking for something different to do? Check out our top historical places to visit in Newquay so you can experience local culture and have lots of fun too!
Up until the 15th century, Newquay was nothing more than a small village set around the harbour. It was once known as ‘Towan Blystra’. In Cornish, Towan means ‘hill’ and Blystra means ‘Blown’. It’s not hard to imagine why it was called this if you’ve ever stood on the clifftops on a windy day!
In the mid 1400’s, Edmund Lacey (the Bishop of Exeter) found funding to build a ‘new quay’ which gave the town its name! Now, Newquay is thriving town home to beautiful surf beaches, an idyllic fisherman’s harbour, and plenty of cafes and restaurants serving tasty local food.
On the Barrowfields (Next to Tolcarne beach) and Trevelgue Head (on Porth Beach) there are ancient remains of prehistoric burial grounds, plus evidence of both Bronze Age and Iron Age dwellings! If you walk along the headland, you can see the ruins for yourself, plus far-reaching views over the sea towards Newquay town. It’s a breath-taking spot for a refreshing walk and insta-worthy photos.
How Newquay Has Changed
Since the 17th century, Cornwall was famous for its trade industry and smuggling. Crantock beach used to be a popular route into the town. Ships would regularly sail up the estuary and dock on the shore to unload precious goods. The area was once filled with fisherman’s cottages where locals would live and work on the water, fishing and unloading cargo which would be transported by horse and carriage from Crantock to Truro. You can still see round markings engraved in the rocks where the ships used to dock!
In 1835, Newquay’s stone harbour was built, allowing for transport links for Cornwall’s tin, fishing and farming industries. 1876, a rail link was installed through the town, bringing tourism to the town.
Plenty of hotels began popping up around the area, and as time went on, the town became a hub of tourism. In the 1960s, Cornwall’s most famous pastime, surfing began, finding its home on beaches like Fistral and Towan.
As more and more visitors flocked to the area to try their hand at the sport, and see the beautiful scenery around the area, a whole new holiday experience began: touring parks! And so, Hendra Holiday Park arrived in 1972. In the last 50 years, we have seen visitors from across the world as they come to enjoy everything that Newquay and Cornwall have to offer.
Located just outside of the town on the headland overlooking the harbour, you may spot the white Hut. The Huer’s job was to sit day in, day out and watch the sea, hoping to sight shoals of arriving pilchards. Once he saw them splashing through the water, he would shout to the villagers to let them know they were arriving! The fishermen and villagers would then flock to the beaches to help bring in the haul which fed local residents for months.
Huer’s Hut (Courtesy of Visit Newquay)
You can enjoy a lovely walk to see this monument. Walk up from the harbour and around the headland, while taking in the stunning views of Newquay’s coastline! Alternatively, walk from Fistral beach and around the headland for a longer walk and even more breath-taking views!
Smugglers and Wreckers
Cornwall is steeped in history and legend about smugglers, pirates and shipwrecks. In the height of the trade industry through the 18th century, ships would embark from Cornwall with local goods such as pilchards, stone, tin, copper, timber, coal, and mail. Long before Hermes and next day delivery, the UK communicated with the outer world by ship. The Royal Mail Packet ships set off from Falmouth and travelled all over the world, distributing parcels, letters and goods. The crew were often gone for months, or even years, at a time!
Ships also arrived in Cornwall with supplies from exotic places overseas, and would be sold or distributed up country. But when taxes rose and the goods became too expensive to buy for the local people, smugglers began sneaking in illegal goods such as tea, silks, tobacco and brandy at cheaper prices. They were mostly non-violent people who wanted fairer prices, and the trade quickly became normal – some officials even turned a blind eye for a bribe!
But then things took a dark turn. Dangerous people called Wreckers began plotting ways to attack the trade ships off the coast so they could steal their goods. They would use false lights that looked like lighthouses to draw the ships into treacherous areas along the coast. The ships were no match for the rugged rocks and shallow water, and they would be horribly wrecked on the cliffs.
Holywell Bay Shipwreck
The Wreckers would then charge out to the ship and steal the cargo, and even harm the people on board. It’s not surprising that scary stories of ghostly sailors and evil pirates have developed over the years!
You can still find remains of shipwrecks around Cornwall, including Porthleven, Carbis Bay and, locally, Holywell Bay. Keep an eye out if you’re ever walking on the beach. You might see a piece of lost treasure buried in the sand, or even a glass bottle with a message inside…