Cornwall Life visits Newquay, famous for its ten beaches, surfing, shopping and night life

PUBLISHED: 15:07 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:58 20 February 2013

Tolcarne Beach, Newquay

Tolcarne Beach, Newquay

In this May issue, Cornwall Life visits Newquay, famous for its ten beaches, surfing, shopping and night life and finds that there are other sides to the town even if you are seeking a bit of peace and quiet or don't fancy the beach.

Lesley Double discovers that Newquay was first inhabited for its iron deposits rather than for its ten beautiful beaches, which is why many people love the town today

As the surfing capital of the UK, you would be forgiven for thinking that Newquay is only interested in young people, surfboards and nightclubs. But you would be wrong. This north coast town is full of interesting shops, gardens and parks, attractions for all weathers and ten beautiful and very diverse beaches, which attracts not just the surfing fraternity, but families, beachcombers, sailors and wildlife watchers.

Newquay has a long and interesting history. There are signs that man lived here as far back as 1500BC, as pre-historic burial mounds (or barrows) and a burial urn containing remains of a Bronze Age chief were found in the area now known as The Barrowfields. Remains of a Bronze Age village were also found overlooking the River Gannel, but the first signs of a serious settlement in Newquay dates from the Iron Age, when man came to the area to exploit the iron deposits found there.

Later on, thanks to the natural curve of a headland, which provided protection from bad weather, a small fishing village grew up. In the 15th century this village was known as Towan Blystra: 'towan' means sand hill in Cornish, and 'blystra' means blown. The harbour may have been protected from inclement weather coming from one direction, but it was still exposed to winds from the north-east so, in 1439, funds were made available for the local burghers to build a 'new quay'. The name stuck and Towan Blystra became Newquay. This was the beginning of a great era for Newquay, when fishermen were able to take advantage of the great pilchard shoals: this exciting and prosperous time is still remembered today on the town's insignia, which shows two pilchards. By the time of the first national British census in 1801, Newquay boasted 1,300 inhabitants.

When pilchard fishing came to an end, Newquay changed from a fishing town to an industrial one. It became a port for loading tin, lead and china clay, and a railway line opened so produce from the inland clay mines could be easily transported to the coast. Trains not only brought goods to the area but tourists too, and by the late 19th and early 20th centuries hotels had begun to spring up in the town with the wealthy from up-country all keen to enjoy the balmy air and golden beaches. Today there are many hotels, guesthouses and holiday accommodation for visitors with all budgets and tastes, from large, majestic hotels overlooking the sea to tiny self-catering cottages in narrow backstreets.

Away from the main beaches and shopping streets, there are several places where you can enjoy Newquay in relative peace and tranquillity. One of these places is Trenance Gardens with its winding paths, little humpback bridges, beautifully kept flowerbeds and a boating lake complete with ducks. The boating lake contains a treasure: metalwork sculptor Tim Fortune has created a beautiful stainless steel swan, which has a wingspan of 3m (10ft) and appears to be taking off from the water. Margaret Jeffery was walking in the park with her little granddaughter, Megan. "We walk through the park every day, on the way back from school," Margaret explained. "It's a lovely place to spend some time. I can sit on a bench while Megan feeds the ducks. It's hard to believe we are so close to the sea."

A railway viaduct bisects Trenance Gardens, with the boating lake on one side and Newquay Zoo on the other. The Zoo contains over 130 different species in its lush, sub-tropical gardens. It is very keen on conservation projects and this year it opens a new three-acre African Savanna Exhibit, which will contain wildebeest, ostriches, tusky warthogs and zebra, and a new Philippine Species section, with fishing cats and Visayan warty pigs. From 23-31 May, Newquay Zoo celebrates its 40th birthday, with games, treats and surprises.

Back in town, many of the shopping streets are pedestrianised, or have only partial vehicle access. There are plenty of seats and lots to look at. Shops include fudge and Cornish produce, T-shirts and sweatshirts and, not surprisingly, masses of places where you can buy all kinds of surfing paraphernalia. However, if you want something different, you should visit Newquay Bonsai and Oriental Gifts in East Street, the only Oriental furniture outlet in Cornwall. Chris Bragg has always been interested in the Orient and began his business by selling online. Since buying this shop, he has spread out so that, although East Street is his base, his Oriental furniture is also on show at Treloggan Industrial Estate and his bonsai trees are available at Kingsley Village. Some of the furniture is made in China especially for him, and the bonsai trees would grace any room of your house, or even sit well on an outside patio. There are dragons and Samurai warriors, but the most popular item Chris sells is the Chinese lucky waving cat, which, apparently, invites money, property, wealth and friends into the home of whoever owns it.

A stroll from East Street to the sea will take you past a stone that commemorates the visit by the Beatles in September 1967, when they came to Newquay to film part of Magical Mystery Tour.

The Blue Reef Aquarium sits comfortably just beside Towan Beach. At the Aquarium you can come up close and personal with many creatures, including turtles, sharks, jellyfish and seahorses, and learn about some of the weird and wonderful creatures that live in our seas. Free entry to the caf allows you to watch what's happening on the beach while you enjoy your cream tea.

Of course, that's not the only place where you can eat. There are dozens of places, selling all manner of foods, from the cheap and cheerful pasty to the more up-market, Continental cuisine, even a restaurant that specialises in Mexican food. It's a gourmet's delight, as you are sure to find whatever you happen to fancy, and places where you can sit outside and watch the world go by or be indoors in a cosy corner somewhere.

Newquay is a voyage of discovery. Peace and quiet or full of activity: whatever you need is well served in this north Cornish town.

Nearby attractions

You can't come to Newquay without exploring some of the fabulous beaches. There are ten to choose from, so one is sure to suit your mood. Most of the larger beaches have facilities such as shops, cafs, toilets and lifeguards.

These six are within easy access of the town's car parks:

Fistral Beach is the most popular beach for surfers.

Great Western Beach is made up of several sandy coves.

Harbour Beach has safe bathing, easy access and boat trips.

Lusty Glaze is home to the National Lifeguard and Rescue Training Centre.

Tolcarne Beach is west-facing and backed by 150ft cliffs. This is the most popular family beach.

Towan Beach is sandy and rocky and Towan Island is joined to the mainland by a suspension bridge.

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