Port Isaac to Trebarwith Strand (bus+walk)
- Distance:9 miles/14 km
- Walk grade:Strenuous
- Start from:Trewarmett
- Recommended footwear:walking boots
- Restaurants and pubs in Port Isaac
- Port Isaac harbour
- Port Gaverne beach
- Port Gaverne hotel (pub and restaurant)
- One of the most extreme sections of coast path on the North Cornish coast!
- Tregardock Beach
- Views over Port Isaac Bay from the coast path
- Backways Cove
- Views over Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac Bay from Dennis Point
- Explore the beach at Trebarwith Strand
Warning: This is a tiring coastal walk which is not for the faint-hearted, involving steep ascents and descents particularly in the latter half of the walk. Most locals will respond with an expletive if you suggest you are doing this walk. If you're not training for the Marines, we recommend the Boscastle to Trebarwith walk instead which is less extreme.
- To start this walk you need to get a bus from Trewarmett to Port Isaac: take the 594 to Camelford; this then becomes the 584 and continues through Delabole to Port Isaac (total bus journey time is 45min). Get the first 594-584 bus of the day as you'll want the whole day for this walk.
- Get off the bus at Port Isaac "central" garage
- You may want to explore Port Isaac and stock up with provisions before setting out. When you are ready, head back around the coast to the car park and out onto the road towards Port Gaverne (the way the bus took you into Port Isaac).
There are several pubs, bars and restaurants in Port Isaac:
- The Golden Lion near the harbour - an old fisherman's pub
- The Slipway Hotel has a restaurant which specialises in seafood
- The Crow's Nest near the car park which has nice views over the Bay
- The Old School - a bar and restaurant on the way up the hill
- The Mote on the quayside - a bar and restaurant which specialises in local food
- Walk down the hill from Port Isaac towards Port Gaverne to reach the old pilchard sheds at the bottom of the hill.
There were 4 large pilchard cellars built in Port Gaverne at the start of the 1800s which can still be seen at the bottom of the hill leading up to Port Isaac. In their heydey, in the early 1800s, it is suggested that they could have processed 1,000 tons of pilchards in a week.
- Follow the road behind the beach to the car park on the far side of the beach.
Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".
- Follow the road uphill for a short distance until you reach a flight of steps to the left.
Port Gaverne, the tiny settlement and inlet neighbouring Port Isaac, was more prominent than Port Isaac in the past. In fact, the settlement at Port Gaverne dates back to mediaeval times, being recorded in the 1300s. The sheltered inlet made it a good place to launch boats and it is still a popular place to launch small craft today.
The name was previously recorded as Port Kerne and on maps from the 1800s as Port Keverne. One of the quirks of the Cornish language is that "k" often transforms into "g" when placed after another word, which might have resulted in Porthgeverne (which is not far from how some of the locals still pronounce it).
- Climb the steps and keep left on the path out towards the headland, passing a pair of benches, until you reach a final path leading off to the right.
During the summer, particularly at weekends, Port Gaverne is a popular spot for Pilot Gig racing.
The six-oared elm boats known as Pilot Gigs were general-purpose work boats, but one of their uses was to transport the pilot to and from a ship, which resulted in the name. The first boat to meet a ship gained the business of transporting the captain (and thus being paid) and thus a "race" came into being, with different boats competing for business. Today, Gig Racing is of a recreational nature, but the boats are still built to the exact well-documented specification of the originals. Elm wood is highly resistant to water, so much so, that town water mains were made of elm before the widespread availability of iron.
- Turn right and follow the path along the edge of the coast until it comes back onto the road.
Look out for Fulmars which nest along the cliff faces. You'll often see them soaring over the tops of the cliffs as they circle in to land.
The fulmar is a grey and white bird related to an Albatross although it can be mistaken at a distance for a gull. Close up, the beak is the giveaway: the fulmar has a tube on its beak which is visible as a black bar across the beak at a distance. The tube is a gland for excreting salt from the seawater that they drink. As a defense mechanism, the fulmar regurgitates foul smelling oil from its stomach - the name comes from the Old Norse for "foul" (full) and "gull" (mar). The oil, potentially fatally disrupts the waterproofing of predatory birds' feathers in a similar way to a crude-oil spill, so they avoid preying on fulmars.
- Turn left onto the road and after the wall, left up the drive of Silver Spray signposted to Trebarwith Strand and follow it to a waymark.
The road from Port Gaverne which joins the Delabole road was quarried out in the early 1800s by the Delabole Slate company and known as "The Great Slate Road". Around 100 ships a year came to Port Gaverne to collect slate, each capable of carrying 50-80 tonnes. It would take thirty wagons, pulled by over a hundred horses, to load a sixty ton ship. The slates were loaded by women, who then packed them in straw to protect them on the voyage. The incoming ships also brought coal from Wales and limestone, for the local limekiln, which was used to whitewash the cottages.
- At the waymark past Silver Spray, follow the coast path ahead along the cliff tops until it drops into a valley and you reach a footbridge.
As you walk along the coast path, you'll likely see a number of gulls gliding along the cliff edges. The large ones, with black feathers all along their back and a red mark on their bill, are Greater Black-backed Gulls.
The Greater Black-backed Gull is the largest member of the gull family and a bird of formidable size, with a wingspan of nearly 6ft. Unlike other gulls, the Greater Black-backed Gull is highly predatory. Young birds are a significant portion of its diet and it tends to live amongst other seabirds where it can eat the neighbours. It has also been known to swallow whole rabbits and even eat young lambs. It often steals food from other seabirds using its large size to intimidate them into dropping it, and consequently it is sometimes referred to as a pirate.
- From the footbridge, continue up the other side of the valley to a waymark.
Ocean Sunfish can sometimes be seen on hot summer days basking on the surface, with their fin flapping out of the water as they lie on their side sunbathing. They are extremely weird-looking fish, resembling a large round dinner place with no real tail, just two large fins at the top and bottom and two smaller ones on the sides (doing the flapping). The average weight of a full grown adult sunfish is a tonne - the largest known bony fish, which is particularly impressive on a diet principally of jellyfish.
- From the waymark, follow the path ahead, signposted to Tintagel, for a mile until you descend to a stream at the bottom of a steep valley.
- From the bottom of the valley, follow the very steep path up the headland to a stile at the top.
This is probably the steepest and most difficult climb on the South West Coast path in Cornwall. You can enjoy the sense of achievement when you eventually make it to the top.
- Cross the stile and follow the path over 2 more stiles and past one waymark to a second waymark where a path joins from the right.
The beach at the bottom of the cliffs is Barrett's Zawn.
Barrett's Zawn is a remote beach on the rugged coast between Port Isaac and Tintagel. It is located just north-west of the farm hamlets of Hendra. The beach can only be accessed by sea or via the now disused tunnel on the north side of Delabole Point which was known locally as the "Donkey Hole", because it was once used by donkeys bringing up slate from the beach quarry below.
It is still just possible to crawl through the tunnel to the beach but part of the tunnel roof has collapsed and it is now not recommended to go through the tunnel as the high cliffs above are unstable. If you do decide to risk it, be aware: there is one narrow squeeze in the tunnel where you'll need to get down onto your belly to slide over a rock, though the rest of the tunnel is reasonably tall; you will also need a torch as it's pitch black in the central section of the tunnel.
- The path plunges into another deep valley at Delabole Point and back up the other side
- And another valley... You get the idea. You were warned!
- The path passes the ruined farm at Dannonchapel (on your right)
The ruined hamlet of Dannonchapel, near Tregardock, is over 1000 years old and included a manor house first recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 when it was known as Duuenant. Its Domesday entry notes that it had "land for 3 ploughs" and 40 acres of pasture. The name comes from the Cornish "downans" which means deep valley. The suffix 'chapel' was added later in the 1300s.
- Go through the gate and follow the steps down into the valley. Where a path leads off the steps to the right, follow this to zig-zag down the valley and rejoin the cliff-edge path. Continue to a gate and footbridge at the bottom.
- Cross the bridge over the stream and follow the path past a waymark (in the direction of Tregardock). Continue through a gate near the top of the cliff until you reach another waymark.
- At the waymark, keep left on the coastpath across a wooden footbridge. Follow the coastpath alongside several more fields until you eventually reach a kissing gate with a National Trust sign for Tregardock Cliffs.
Along the coast, in the late summer and autumn, you can sometimes find parasol mushrooms, obvious from their huge size and umbrella shape. They are one of the best eating mushrooms and have firm white flesh.
- Go through the gate and follow the path through another kissing gate and down to a waymark at the bottom of the valley.
When you reach the waymark, you can turn left to go down to the beach. When you're done at the beach, follow the path back up to the waymark.
Tregardock beach is about a mile along the coast from Trebarwith Strand, in the direction of Port Isaac and is reached via a public footpath that crosses the coast path to reach the farm at Tregardock. There is no beach at high tide at Tregardock. As the tide goes out, several small beaches merge into a long stretch of sand. A waterfall plummets from the cliffs at the back of the beach and there are some caves within the cliffs. The largest part of the beach is on the left and this gets cut off as the tide rises, so check the tide times carefully and don't get stranded when the tide comes in!
- At the waymark, take the coast path towards Trebarwith Strand. Follow the path over a slate footbridge and up the side of the valley to a gate.
- Go through the gate and follow the coast path across Treligga Common, passing over the headlands of Tregonnick Tail and Start Point, until you reach a slate bridge at the bottom of the deep valley at Backways Cove.
Between Tregardock and Backways Cove lie the remains of Treligga Aerodrome (HMS Vulture II). Both the observation/control tower and the reinforced hut near the sea (towards Backways Cove) are still standing, as are the accommodation and service huts near Treligga village. The control tower has quite recently been repaired and converted into accomodation.
Before the Second World War, HMS Vulture II was used as a glider site. However the Admiralty requisitioned 260 acres of land in late 1939 for the purposes of constructing an aerial bombing and gunnery range. Unusually, the entire operation at HMS Vulture II was staffed by the Women's Royal Naval Service.
On 16 September 1943, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was forced to make an emergency landing at HMS Vulture II. The pilot, Capt Jack Omohundro, had ignored a red flare warning him to keep clear. The plane was chronically short of fuel and running on three engines after a raid on U-boat pens at Nantes in France. The bomber had left its formation to try and preserve what little fuel it had left. Spotting the tiny Treligga airstrip, he skillfully landed 'wheels-down' just 50 yards short of the Wrens quarters.
- Cross the bridge and bear left to cross a wooden footbridge over a stream.
From here you can follow the paths to the left to explore the rocky beach of Backways Cove. The path to the left, before you cross the slate bridge, leads down to the cove but is slippery in wet weather. On the other side of the footbridge, paths lead to the remains of the quarry workings.
Backways Cove is a small rocky inlet and beach at the bottom the the valley below Trebarwith Village, just south of Trebarwith Strand. The location features in "The International Directory of Haunted Places":
"Backways Cove, a North Cornwall inlet just up the coast from Trebarwith Strand, is still haunted by many unidentified presences who are thought to be the spirits of shipwrecked sailors whose bodies washed up there after they drowned. Numerous ships were torn apart on the jagged rocks offshore, and the shadowy spirits of their crew are still trying to make it to shore."
- After exploring Backways Cove (via the path leading towards the sea) return to the waymark beside the footbridge and follow the path up the steps to reach a waymark.
- Turn right in the direction indicated by the waymark, to stay on the coast path and follow it to the next waymark.
A tale of Backways Cove was recounted by a folklore enthusiast called Kath:
Many years ago a man with two sons farmed in the vicinity, and on his death left his entire estate to his eldest son, cutting out the younger one without a penny. The younger son went away wracked with jealousy that fomented over time to be an obsession until, convinced that he had been cheated of his birthright he set out to wreak revenge on his elder brother. One night he crept onto the farm and set fire to the buildings. The blaze took hold and the entire property was razed to the ground. The ruins of this once prosperous farm may still be seen near Backways - a few stones from the farmhouse and outbuildings were all that remained. Only in the morning did he discover that his brother had died the day before - and left the entire estate to him.
- Turn left at the waymark and follow the coast path to a waymark beside the fence near the top of the headland.
During stormy weather, sea foam is driven into Backways Cove by the wind and vortices form against the sheer cliffs resulting in small tornadoes of sea foam.
Sea foam (also known as "spume") is formed due to organic compounds known as surfactants present in seawater. Under turbulent conditions, the surfactants form persistent bubbles which float to the surface, stick to each other through surface tension and are driven onshore by the wind. The surfactant compounds themselves arise from processes such as the offshore breakdown of algal blooms.
On beaches, sea foam can conceal deep pools and gullies with an apparently flat, uniform surface. Tread carefully, especially on beaches you don't know well, to avoid walking off the edge of a precipice or vanishing into icy cold water.
- At the waymark, stop to admire the view and get your breath back, then follow the coast path to a gate.
Gull Rock lies approximately 500 metres offshore from Trebarwith Strand and has given its name to RR Gordon's crime thriller set in the area. It is made of a very hard volcanic material that has withstood the sea whilst the slate around it has been worn away. On the seaward side, where a chunk of the rock has cracked off, you can see the tightly folded volcanic rocks within.
Recently the rock has turned green during the spring and summer, and brown in autumn, due to Rock Samphire colonising the side facing the beach, which is sheltered from the westerly winds, helped by fertiliser provided by the seabirds also colonising the sheltered side of the rock.
In the 1800s, the rock at Trebarwith (or Trebarrow as it was known then), was known as Otterham Rock, or Rocks, acknowledging the rocks to the side of the main rock which protrude a small amount from the water. Below the surface of the water, these are part of an extensive reef.
- Go through the kissing gate next to the gate, and bear left on the path towards the rock outcrop. Follow it around the headland until it meets a corner in the fence.
The headland on the far side of the bay is Penhallic Point and the one you are now standing on is known as Dennis Point.
Dennis Point is thought to be a corruption of the Cornish word "Dinas" meaning "castle". Clifftop forts on top of headlands such as this were common in the Iron Age. An area on Penhallic Point opposite is also known as "Dennis Scale" which is thought to have similar origins. However no evidence has so far been found that there was a fort on either headland, so it remains an unsolved mystery. The name Dennis crops up elsewhere in Cornwall such as Dennis Hill at Padstow, which is thought to get its name from the rocky outcrop on the hill that looks a bit like a fort.
- Keep left along the fence behind Port William beach until you reach a flight of steps.
- Descend over 100 steps to a reach a waymark.
There are spectacular views of Trebarwith Strand and Penhallic Point on the way down. Make sure you stop walking to admire the view (or read this!) and look where your feet are going when descending the steep steps.
- Follow the path from the waymark and descend a last flight of steps, then follow the path to a waymark just before a stile.
- From the waymark, cross the stile and follow the track to the Port William pub, where a well-deserved refreshment may be in order.
The Port William Inn sits on the cliff top above Trebarwith Strand. The outdoor terrace and conservatories of the Port William offer spectacular views of the beach and coastline for weary walkers to enjoy some well-deserved refreshment. The interior is decorated with various trophies recovered from ship wrecks such as brass propellers, lanterns and even half of a rowing boat!
- After suitable fortification, follow the coast path down to the road at Trebarwith Strand.
Several small beaches make up Trebarwith which, at low tide, join to form a mile long ribbon of golden sand:
- Port William round to the left is strewn with rocks except at the lowest point of the tide. It's popular with local surfers but not recommended for novices due to the rocks and strong currents.
- Trebarwith Strand is in the centre and is the lifeguard-patrolled area. It's sandy on the left and, to the right side, there are more rocks including some good rock pools.
- Lill Cove around to the right. There is a gully between rocks that makes it possible to get through to Trebarwith when access is cut off by the sea (though this route isn't available at high tide). There is also a footpath up from Lill Cove joining the coast path which is accessible at all times of the tide.
- Vean Hole, further to the right, is a continuation of Lill Cove once the tide is a little way out, but is technically a separate beach.
- Hole Beach to the far right. There is some good snorkelling along the right-hand edge of Hole Beach and due to the large numbers of Sea Bass, it's a good spot for beachcasting. Apart from at the lowest couple of hours of the tide, Hole Beach is cut off by the sea.
- From Trebarwith Strand, walk up the lane from the beach until you reach the large Council car park on your left (after the smaller private car park opposite the road to the Port William).
- Turn left into the Council car park and head to a ramp in the far corner, leading into a meadow.
- Go down the ramp and cross the meadow to a path leading from opposite corner and follow this to a stile.
- Cross the stile and follow the path over a two more stiles until you reach a waymark above some steps where the path forks.
The deeply cut holloway from Treknow to Trebarwith Strand, provided access to the harbour and a route for the pack animals to bring lime-rich sand from the beach to neutralise the acidic soil.
Treknow (which in Cornish means 'the valley place') is perhaps one of the oldest 'industrial' settlements in the area dating back to Mediaeval times, based mainly on slate quarrying with some early metal mining. The physical structure of Treknow - its bowl-like formation, in parts literally carved out of the rock - could be the result of early slate excavations. It was in direct response to the needs of industrial workers, in the expanding quarrying industry of the early 19th century, that the rows of cottages were constructed. The use of slate for roofs, chimneys, walls and paving, which contributes so greatly to their character, is further testimony to the dominant role of the local industry.
- Climb the steps and follow the left-hand path towards the telegraph pole ahead to reach a gate next to a signpost.
- Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Walk up the lane until you reach a junction to the right.
- Turn right, and right again at the T-junction with the main road. Follow the main road a short distance until you reach a junction with Trelake Lane on the left.
- Take the left turn up Trelake Lane and follow the lane until it ends in a T-junction with the main road in Trewarmett.
The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage. It is known locally as "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways. Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut.
Port Isaac is a pretty fishing village with narrow winding alleys running down the steep hillside to the harbour. Particularly noteworthy is the number of 18th and 19th century white-washed cottages and granite, slate-fronted houses, many officially listed as of architectural or historic importance. Port Isaac was a busy coastal port from the Middle Ages to the mid 19th century, where cargoes like slate, coal and timber were shipped in and out. The stone pier was built in Tudor times, and the rest of the harbour in the 19th century. The economy was also heavily based around the pilchard trade.