From Discover Newquay
Great Western is a popular family beach lying just north of Towan beach. It is comprised of several coves offering some degree of seclusion.
The beach is backed by high cliffs and at high tide is just a small rectangle of sand. The best time to visit this beach is at low tide when it joins with Towan and Lusty Glaze to create a vast expanse of golden sand. Access is via a steep winding path between Barracuda Night Club and Great Western Hotel. This hotel also has a private lift to the beach. The beach is also ideal for novice surfers.
Emma Smith, author of 'The Great Western Beach' has some wonderful childhood memories of Newquay. She writes:
My recollections of the Great Western Beach go back 80 years and more, but some things relating to that distant era have presumably not changed. It must still be reached, I suppose, by way of the very steep road (would it seem less steep nowadays?) - better surfaced, probably, than it was then, but still with a hair pin bend fairly near to the top. At this bend there used to be a flight of steps leading up to a viewing platform, with railings round it, perched on the extreme edge of the cliff. Is it still there, I wonder? And those quarrelsome jackdaws which I so often stood watchingfrom beneath, as they flew to and fro, squabbling over possession of holes in the road's high granite retaining walls - do they still build their nests inside the same square drainage holes, and still make such a fuss about it?
When I was a child there was a row of stately but decrepit Edwardian beach-huts parked immoveably, summer and winter, at the foot of the hill. They must, of course, have disappeared ages ago. But the slipway, where the road ended, a slope of concrete that I would run barefoot up and down, up and down - the slipway must surely be there still? Or has it disappeared - been modified, or replaced perhaps entirely by something else?
The Great Western Beach, though, can't ever fundamentally change. How could it? On the right hand side a jutting headland effectively separated and cut it off - and no doubt continues to do so - from the neighbouring Tolcarne Beach; but when the tide was at its lowest a huge expanse of golden-yellow sand stretched away to the left, joining what we always considered to be ourGreat Western Beach to the Towan Beach. And on past it to the silted-up harbour where Newquay's fishing fleet had found shelter in the more prosperous years of a thriving pilchard industry, before the 1914-1918 war.
Midway between our Great Western Beach and the Towan Beach there stood, I remember, a solitary pinnacle of rock known as the Bishop's Rock, a few yards behind which appeared the gaping mouth of, not a natural cave, but a tunnel excavated for a special purpose in the face of the cliff. The steps giving access to this gloomy opening were slimy with seaweed. As children we would sometimes dare one another to defy the stern Strictly Private noticeboard and venture beyond it into the darkly dripping chilly interior of what resembled a Dragon's lair. Instead of a dragon, however, we were confronted within by a barrier of iron bars guarding the bottom of an empty lift-shaft. It was by means of this lift-shaft, and the elevator it was intended to house, that guests who stayed at the Victoria Hotel - a building situated immediately overhead - were once able to enjoy the convenience of descending directly from their rooms above to the beach below, and the opportunity for exclusive bathing.
I say 'once' because I don't remember ever having seen any hotel visitors emerging from the darkness of that sinister looking entrance in the cliff face. Very possibly - indeed, probably - by the second half of the 1920's the lift had ceased to function. Can anyone throw light on the history of what strikes me today as having been an unusual and enterprising feat of early seaside engineering?
Emma Smith - January, 2009.
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