The Gannel River

Newquay Town Trail disc by the River Gannel Newquay, photo by Keith Riley
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Newquay Town Trail disc by the River Gannel Newquay, photo by Keith Riley

The Gannel is a tidal river. Although no longer navigable, in the past, schooners and lighters (barges) were poled or rowed up the river channel on the incoming tide, carrying coal, timber or sand to Trevemper Bridge where it was distributed inland. In 1838, the East Wheel Rose Mine started discharging mine waste into the river, causing silting and black slimes to coat the once clean river bed. Complaints were made to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that, because of the silting, the river was becoming ever more difficult to navigate and getting up the river was only possible on the highest tide. Because the silting has continued, we can only assume that their complaints fell on deaf ears.
From where the stone walling ends and the bank is cut back further from the rest, at the height of Newquay’s fishing past, pilchard and mackerel boats were once moored out of the fishing season.
This was also the site of the Gannel Shipyard where many ships were built, by the Clemens family. The last, ironically, named the Triumph, in 1872.
Can you see the remains of a rowing boat leaning against the bank? Behind this was situated a Steam Box. This was used to make supple the long wooden planks, ready for fixing to the sides of the ships. Further along is a flattened area, once a dock. This was the Reeds boatyard, just two of many boat building yards that operated around the town between 1849 and 1906.

The peaceful Gannel estuary, Newquay, photo courtesy of Keith Riley
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The peaceful Gannel estuary, Newquay, photo courtesy of Keith Riley

Penpol Creek was were Horatio Thatcher moored both his museum ships. The first ‘Ada’ was a two-masted schooner which started life carrying coal before ending up home to a museum of curios. During the second world war, American servicemen, stationed further along Penpol Creek, would pay a shilling to see the exhibits and at the peak of its popularity, the ‘Ada’ saw as many as one hundred visitors per day. One day, in 1940, the pilot of a German plane saw the ‘Ada’ sitting low in the water and believing her to be full of something for the British war effort, dropped three bombs on her before being chased of by one of our boys in blue. It was announced on the radio that, “A German bomber successfully bombed a ‘heavenly’ ladened schooner on the river Gannel.” This must have surely been propaganda, because the bombs missed the ‘Ada’ and landed in the field behind Trethellan Farm. Her end finally came in 1951. Having been sold for £40, much of her pitched pine decks were removed, before she was set alight. The ‘Ada’ burned for two weeks.

Old image of the footbridge across the River Gannel
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Old image of the footbridge across the River Gannel

The second ‘Ada’, similar to a motor torpedo boat which ferried ball-bearings from Scandinavia during the second world war, then became home to the ever growing Thatcher collection before she too was ceremoniously burnt in 1964 after she too had begun to rot.
Walking at dusk on a warm summer evening can be both a beautiful and mysterious experience, as the Gannel estuary is another area of Newquay that is believed to be haunted. The legendary Gannel Crake often cries out to weary travellers. Its eyrie and haunting sound, has been likened to the cry of a tortured human soul or the death cry of an animal as it becomes victim to fate.
On your way to Mount Wise, see if you can find Newquay’s original fire station Bell.