Coastlining 26: Padstow – Port Isaac

Date: Sunday 26th August 2014      Distance walked: 12 miles      Total distance: 255 miles

2014.08.24 (1) Rock ferry
Padstow-Rock Ferry

It’s good to be back on the (other) coast again. It’s somehow been two months since I wandered down into Padstow with my soggy jacket hung on the back of my rucksack to dry out in the June sun. I’ve got to the point where day walks are no longer feasible due to the length of time it would take me to get to and from my start and end points. I didn’t manage to get two days off work together during July excepting one occasion when it was so hot I couldn’t even sit in my back garden in Falmouth for more than five minutes let alone endure ten plus miles of strenuous coast path. So August came along, bringing wetter, windier weather on the back of various Atlantic hurricanes. Unusually for a bank holiday I’m not actually at work so I’ve hitched a lift back to Padstow with Annie who’s working at a craft fair there for the next two days. I’ll take her dog Luna for a walk while she’s manning her stall and she’ll meet us in Port Isaac this evening.

The tide’s on the make but it’s still too low for the ferry to depart from the harbour so Luna and I walk back out of town towards St Saviour’s Point, taking the lower path down to the sandy beach on the river estuary. There doesn’t seem to be a particular point at which the ferry can land so we hang about on the sand bank with the rest of the passengers while the tide rises and the yellow ferry arrives from Rock on the opposite side. It’s one of those amphibious truck-boats so when it gets to this side of the river it just drives up onto the sand and lowers its ramps. I was expecting to have to coax or carry Luna onto it after her aversion to the Fowey ferry but she just trotted on as if it were a car or bus or normal land-based vehicle and spent most of the short trip to the other side of the river eyeing up the man who was eating something at the front of the boat.

2014.08.24 (3) Daymer Bay
Daymer Bay and the Camel Estuary

We disembarked onto the golden sands of Daymer Bay. The official footpath skirts the dunes of St Minver Lowlands beyond the village of Rock, rounding the base of the tautological Brea Hill (brea is the Cornish word for ‘hill’) which looks like it’s been turned out of a round bottomed pudding basin. Behind the hill-hill and low network of dunes is the little St Enodoc church where John Betjemen is buried (and, of course, a golf course). Luna and I took the beach route as the tide was so far out that looking across to the mouth of the River Camel it almost looked like we could walk right across to Hawker’s Cove on the western shores of the estuary. Where river met sea the bookends of Stepper Point on the west and Pentire Point on the east ended as abruptly and vertically as if they’d been cut through with a knife. 

The sands of the beach stretch all the way from the cluster of houses (ie, holiday homes for those with Money) at Rock up to Trebetherick Point where a shelf of zebra-striped slate fans out at low tide at the base of the low cliff shelf at Greenaway Beach. The rock was green and purple – like at Downderry, which it feels like I passed so long ago now on the south coast, but much narrower stripes. It was an easy walk round Trebetherick to Polzeath, which was busy. Rain started spotting. I bought a pasty for lunch later and then got stuck in a car park trying to find my way back onto the coast path as Luna wasn’t allowed to walk on the beach. I stopped soon after making it up onto the grassy slopes heading out to Pentire Point to put the waterproof trousers on because the rain was more than spotting and looked like it was setting in for the day. In fact it turned out that it wasn’t, but after the soaking I got between Porthcothan and Padstow I wasn’t taking any chances. Luna didn’t like getting wet and tried to dry herself by rubbing on the grass – not sure she quite gets the concept of rain and the fact that it gets everything wet.

2014.08.24 (11) Padstow Bay
Padstow Bay from Pentire Point: Polzeath-Trebetherick Point-the Camel Estuary-Stepper Point-Trevose Head

Up to Pentire Point was a moderate and undulating walk over cliff top grassland. There was a good view across Padstow Bay, the estuary looking like a large beach from this perspective, Stepper Point and beyond out west along the coastline to the dip and rise of Trevose. The grasslands had turned khaki, the fields, gold. Swallows swooped over the late summer grass. A man was walking in the opposite direction with a lobster pot over one shoulder. Sheep were grazing on the very brink of the cliff edge. I was glad to be out, sorry to have missed so much time between then and now. Over the past few weeks high summer had become late summer. The meadow flowers have mostly gone. Knapweeds were raising their raggedy heads and thistle blooms had graduated to fluffy seeds heads like tufts of fur.

Round Pentire Point and I felt like I was looking ahead to new territory. Far far up to the east I could see a headland in the distance and I realised it was Hartland Point: I could see Devon. Out to sea a shape on the skyline could only be Lundy Island. Off the top end of the headland the Rumps Point promontory – so named for its double-lumped shape –sticks out northwards into the sea. It looked like a mini granite intrusion into the slate coastline. I walked round the eastern-most ‘bum-cheek’, Luna pioneering ahead and posing artistically on the skyline looking out to the offshore islet of The Mouls. A low gap in the peninsular neck of the Point gave a good view through to Pentire Farm being combine-harvested, with cylindrical bales on fields like corded carpet and Trevose Head framed in the distance under a sky like a watercolour painting. Feathered willowherb interspersed dried and bronzed seedheads, barley heads and oat escaped from the arable fields nearing harvest that were frequently separated from the cliff edge only by the coast path and a stone faced hedge. Berried honeysuckle decorated the more vegetated hedges, and joy of joys, the blackberries were ripening. They were delicious. Luna and I ate many. She didn’t quite get the idea of them to start with and wouldn’t eat them off the floor but seemed quite keen when I fed them straight into her mouth. One day I’ll teach her to pick them off the bushes.

2014.08.24 (25) Kellan head
Port Quin Bay to Kellan Head

Ahead, eastwards, the coastline looked attractively hilly – although the consequences of traversing such varied relief as this didn’t really occur to me at the time. We reached Lundy Hole where another collapsed cave had created a rock arch in the cliff edge, shortly followed by Epphaven Cove, an attractive rocky beach with quartz veins like stretch marks in its slate rock. Luna was looking pretty tired by this point despite being frequently refuelled with blackberries. When we stopped for a break she lay down and shivered, looking at me with forlorn eyes as if to say don’t make me go any further. Sadly this was to be a walk of three stages: the beachy stage of Daymer Bay and the Camel Estuary; the moderately undulating grassland walk from Polzeath round Pentire Point; and the ‘attractively hilly’ stretch from Lundy Cove onwards which turned out to be unexpectedly strenuous.

It didn’t look far – on the map at least – to Port Quin, and it wasn’t really, but first we came on a little surprise at Doyden Castle. I think I’d been expecting the sort of earthworks associated with the idea of ‘castle’ on the coastal cliffs, like the promontory forts of Treryn Dinas or Bosigran. This one is an actual castle, a squat grey micro-fortress like a real life sandcastle turned out on the top of the cliffs above the inlet of Port Quin. The word folly seemed to fit. It was built by local businessman Samuel Symons in 1827 as a place to entertain friends. I sort of wanted to live in it. (In fact you can rent it out: it’s owned by the National Trust. I checked out its webpage and having seen inside I definitely want to live in it!) Port Quin itself was smaller than I expected, more Pemberth than anywhere else, but less granite: a handful of cottages and a slipway to the landward end of the deep inlet tucked right into the crease of the cliff before Kellan Head, Doyden Castle standing guard at the western edge of its harbour entrance.

The next three inches of map translated to many steps up and many steps down along and around and over the hilly line of the coast towards Port Isaac: Polperro-Lansallos severity, or Porthpean-Mevagissey. Perhaps this is where the advantage would have lain in doing the walk ‘the right way round’ which would have meant a gentler warm-down for the afternoon walking Pentire Head to Rock. My knees were aching. Luna was tired – dog tired (sorry) – but plodding gamely at my heels, only to be bounding ahead up a huge set of steps ascending the hillside. Maybe the blackberries had given her a fructose sugar-rush. Looking back from a point at the crest of a slope the soil creep outlined the levels of relief like the orange lines on the map, the footpath following and etched a little deeper with wear. Purple pom-pom pincushions of devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis dotted the verge and the cliff slopes, a Cadbury purple later summer counterpart to my early summer favourites.

It took a lot longer to reach Port Isaac than I’d anticipated due to the severity of the path. The town was hidden in an indiscernible gap between two headlands, so I couldn’t even see how close or far away I was until I was right upon it. Suddenly there in a deep cleft in the coastline, like that of Port Quin but bigger, its harbour arm reached across from the steep-sided cliff, houses spread from the valley to the clifftop on the eastern side. I was to meet Annie in the harbour, having received a phone call wondering where I was when I was somewhere on a point Port Quin and Port Isaac and not really sure where I was having lost track of all the ups and downs I’d made on the way. I could see her waiting as Luna and I walked down the path on the western flank of the inlet, but as she didn’t know where we were coming from she didn’t see us and was apparently on the point of giving up and heading somewhere she could get phone signal to try and find out what had happened.

2014.08.24 (53) Port Isaac
Port Isaac

It was a grey evening. The tide was high and green in the harbour. We struggled to find a pub that hadn’t been gastro-d or had more than a single vegetarian option and ended up walking all the way up to the top of the village to the somewhat appropriately titled ‘The Edge’ (although it’s now been Nathan Outlawed so we’re lucky we got to eat there while we could still afford it – especially as I was paying). We put Luna to bed in the car and Annie impressed the bar staff with my feat of accomplishment in arriving there on foot all the way from Rock whilst I discovered just what I looked like on so much fresh air and exercise in the mirror of the restaurant’s facilities. Windswept would have been a tactful generosity. From our table by the window there was a fantastic view out all the way to Tintagel Head. It looked like a pleasant flat cliff top walk all the way there. But I’ve seen the deeply indented contours on the map that indicate the clefts and valleys hidden from this perspective. And the next section of the path is the first time since Pendeen-St Ives that the SWCPA has given a severe classificiation…



[coastlining [′kōst‚līn·iŋ] – the process of obtaining data from which the coastline can be charted]

In the spring of 2014 I set out to walk the coast of Cornwall. I started at Plymouth, crossed the River Tamar, which separates Cornwall and Devon, and began walking west along the south coast of the most south-westerly peninsula of the British Isles, and then east along the north coast until, 300 miles later, I reached Marsland Mouth where a small river enters the Atlantic Ocean and I stepped back into Devon.
Why? Because it’s there. Because I am here. Because I can, and because I want to.
What will be gained from the expedition? Unquantifiable experiences, an unimaginable amount of mud on my boots, clothes and face, and probably several thousand photos of sea views, rocks and flowers.
Other than that, who knows? Watch this space.

5 thoughts on “Coastlining 26: Padstow – Port Isaac

    1. You would have liked it more if I hadn’t edited out the part where she got her bark collar to spray citronella in another dog’s face 🙂

    1. Thank you! It’s amazing where sheep manage to get to, isn’t it? I suppose they have got four legs, much better for balance. Four legs good, two legs bad…

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