Harlyn Bay to Padstow

After a bus journey from Padstow to Harlyn, the walk follows the Coast Path along the sandy beaches of Harlyn and Trevone. It then follows the rugged coastline - consisting of arches, stacks, collapsed caves and blowholes - to Stepper Point. From here, the route passes the Doom Bar on the way up the estuary to Padstow, via the coves known locally as Tregirls beach.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.7 miles/10.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Bus: 56 from Padstow Old Rail Station to Harlyn
  • Start from: the bus stop at Harlyn Bay
  • Parking: Padstow. Satnav: PL288BL
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy surf beaches at Harlyn and Trevone
  • Sandy beaches at Hawker's Cove, Harbour Cove and St George's Cove
  • Coastal wildlife and wildflowers
  • Rich coastal scenery wih arches, islands and collapsed caves
  • Panoramic views from the daymark on Stepper Point
  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Padstow
  • Local Cornish food in Padstow

Alternative walks in same location

Directions

  1. Walk down the ramp onto the beach to the right of the bridge. Turn right along the beach and make for the flight of steps leading up to the headland.

    Harlyn Bay faces Northeast which means that the prevailing southwesterly winds are offshore. This is very good news for surfing, but due to the sheltered location it needs a good size swell to produce surf of any size. The best waves are reported to be at mid tide.

    The original name was Ar-Lyn which is Cornish for "facing the lake". This is presumably based on the bay facing away from the prevailing wind and therefore having calm waters. The "h" seems to have been gained during mediaeval times after the Norman conquest when the land-owning gentry didn't speak Cornish.

  2. Climb the steps and turn left. Follow the path a short distance until it forks.

    Cellars above Harlyn Bay were once used for processing pilchards. Pilchards were also landed and processed in Padstow.

    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".

  3. Keep right to stay on the main gravel path and follow this around the coast until you eventually reach a kissing gate.

    The offshore rock is Gulland Island.

    Gulland is the most westerly and largest of the 3 rocky islands around the Camel estuary, lying between Stepper Point and Trevose Head. The name "Gulland" is likely to be a corruption of the Cornish word goelann meaning "gull", and the rock appears as "the gull rock" on map of 1576. It is reported to be used by seals as a nursery. Puffins can also sometimes be seen here and it is postulated this might be a small colony distinct from the larger colony on The Mouls.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach another kissing gate.
  5. Go through the gate and keep left on the path along the edge of the field to reach another gate.
  6. Go through the gate to reach a waymark. Turn right in the direction waymarked and follow the path until you eventually reach the slate-hung cottage overlooking the cove.

    The beach, known locally as Rocky Beach, is called Newtrain Bay.

    To the left of Trevone beach is Newtrain Bay, known locally as Rocky Beach (for obvious reasons). At low tide there are many rockpools including a very large one which forms a natural swimming pool. There is also some quite good snorkelling across the reefs of Newtrain Bay which are frequented by wrasse and small pollock. Trevone became a popular resort when the railway was extended to Padstow; whether the name Newtrain is linked to this is unclear.

  7. At the cottage, merge onto the lane ahead and keep left along this to pass along a row of houses, until you reach a sign for Trevone Bay Surf Store before a car park on the left.
  8. Turn left at the Trevone Bay Surf Store sign and follow the path down to the beach.

    There are two beaches in Trevone Bay. The rightmost beach, alongside the headland, is sandy and simply known as Trevone Beach. To the left is Newtrain Bay, known locally as Rocky Beach (for obvious reasons).

  9. At the bottom of the steps, turn right along the beach and follow the wall to reach the road. Turn left onto the road and follow it a short distance uphill until you reach a coast path sign on the left.
  10. Go up the steps and follow the coast path to a stile.

    In 1765, there is an account by William Rawlings written to the Earl of Dartmouth. When his servants were 3 miles from St Columb, they encountered 60 horses carrying a cargo from a beach 2 miles west of Padstow "having each three bags of tea on them of 56 or 58lbs weight". This points to Trevone being used as the landing point, which makes sense as it is a reasonably sheltered and concealed beach.

  11. Cross the stile and keep left on the path to reach a waymark at the end of the headland.

    Barnacles and lichens can be used to gauge the position of the high-tide line on rocks and therefore a dry place to leave your possessions whilst you go swimming if the tide is coming in.

    Barnacles need to be covered with seawater each day so they grow below the high-water mark for neap tides.

    Black tar lichen occurs just above the barnacle zone. It is quite tolerant of spray and short periods of immersion in seawater so it typically grows in areas which are out of the water at neap tides but may get briefly immersed during spring tides.

    Orange marine lichen is less tolerant of immersion in seawater but can otherwise often out-compete black tar lichen so this usually grows just above the high water mark for spring tides where it may get an occasional splash.

  12. At the waymark, bear right along the coast path and follow it past the Round Hole on your right and another waymark on your left until you reach a gateway in a wall.

    Trevone Round Hole is situated in the middle of the headland on the right-hand side of Trevone beach. The Round Hole is a collapsed cave with a channel that is still open to the sea. At high tide, on a calm day, it's possible to kayak right though to the inside; however this is most unwise if there is a swell running.

  13. Go through the gateway and follow the main path across the coastal heath until you reach a stile.

    The many caves along the coast here provide ledges where seals haul themselves out of the water. The caves are not accessible from the land so the seals are safe from predators; although there are few land predators today which would be unwise enough take on a seal, they were once hunted here by bears as well as humans.

    Seals are not closely related to other marine mammals. In mediaeval times seals were classified as fish and could therefore be eaten during lent and on fridays and saturdays. However, as you might be able to guess from their features, seals are closely related to dogs, bears and otters. In fact, a dog is very much more closely related to a seal than a cat. The seal species most frequently seen along the Cornish coast are grey seals and common seals.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the path over a small headland and down into a steep ravine, over a footbridge, to a stile.

    The islands ahead are known as the Merope Islands. The middle of the three islands has a blowhole on the seaward side. In a big swell, near high tide, it can blow a jet of water 100ft into the air. You can get a view from the very end of the headland, before you descend into the valley.

  15. Cross the stile and follow the path up to the left and then down to a waymark in the next (Treguddra) gorge.
  16. Cross the stream at the bottom of Treguddra gorge. On the other side there is a choice of paths. Take either the one directly ahead to the waymark at the top of the hill, or the path to the left (which has good views of the Merope Islands) then follow the cliff path uphill to reach the waymark.

    From the cliffs, there are good views of Trevose Head. The larger beach to the left is Harlyn Bay; the one to the right is Mother Ivy's Bay. To the right of this is the Padstow lifeboat station.

  17. From the waymark, continue on the coast path until you reach a stile.

    In early summer, birdsfoot trefoil can be seen flowering along the coast path.

    The Birdsfoot Trefoil has yellow flowers tinged with red that look like little slippers and appear in small clusters. They are followed by seed pods that look distinctly like bird's feet or claws. Common names referring to the flowers include 'Butter and Eggs', 'Eggs and Bacon', and 'Hen and Chickens' and to the seed pods the delightful 'Granny's Toenails'.

    It is a member of the pea family and is poisonous to humans (containing glycosides of cyanide) but not to grazing animals and can be grown as a fodder plant. It is the larval food plant of many butterflies and moths, and an important nectar plant for many Bumblebee species.

  18. Bear left over the stile and follow the path through a kissing gate to a stile.

    Lichens are a partnership of two different organisms: a fungus providing the "accommodation" and an alga or cyanobacterium providing the "food" through photosynthesis. The fungal partner provides a cosy, sheltered environment for the alga and tends it with mineral nutrients. However, the alga partner is more than simply an imprisoned food-slave: it is such a closely-evolved alliance that the fungus is dependant on the alga for its shape and structure. If the fungal partner is isolated and grown on an agar plate, it forms a shapeless, infertile blob.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the path. Where the path forks, the two paths rejoin later so either will do. Continue until you reach a gate at Butter Hole.

    By mid-late summer, Burnet moth caterpillars have fed themselves up on trefoil and pupated into adult moths.

    Red-and-black-spotted Burnet moths can often be seen feeding on nectar-bearing flowers alongside the coast path. The red colour is a warning that they contain hydrogen cyanide. The larvae normally create it by breaking down more complex cyanide compounds from the birdsfoot trefoil on which they feed. However they are also able to synthesise it themselves in environments where it isn't readily available from food plants.

  20. Go through the gate and follow the path around the edge of Butter Hole to the point where the path splits.

    The SS Arthurtown was a small cargo ship. In 1944 it was on its way from Southampton to Androssan with a cargo of scrap steel and old engine blocks. It struck The Quies off Trevose Head in fog and attempted to limp into Padstow harbour but didn't quite make it and sank off Stepper Point. The steel cargo has concreted together in the seawater which preserves the ship's shape even though much of the hull has corroded away. However, the rear of the ship is missing due to unsubtle salvage techniques in the 1970s involving dynamite. According to one source, this detonated the explosives in a torpedo that the ship was carrying.

  21. Take the leftmost path and follow it around Butter Hole to a gap in the wall.
  22. Go through a gap and then keep right, along the wall. Note there is a sheer drop into a collapsed cave, known as Pepper Hole, to the left. Follow the path until you reach a waymark.

    If you look for a pile of stones, you should be able to make out a path that runs alongside it. This leads to a small quarry on the edge of Pepper Hole which is a nice spot for a picnic. It's almost impossible to see into Pepper Hole without falling down it (so be careful) however the sound of the waves crashing into it at high tide is impressive.

  23. At the waymark, follow the path to the daymark, affectionately known as "The Pepper Pot".

    The 40ft stone tower on Stepper Point, affectionately known as "The Pepper Pot", was built as a daymark - a navigation beacon for seafarers during daylight. At 240 feet above sea level, it is visible from 30 miles away. When it was built in 1830, the daymark cost the sum of £29. The money was raised by giving donors voting rights in the Harbour Association: one guinea would buy one vote.

  24. From the daymark, follow the path alongside the wall on the right, to the end of the wall. Bear right through the gap at the bottom and follow the path to a stile.

    A large amount of Blue Elvan was once shipped to South Wales from the quarry on Stepper Point at the mouth of the Camel Estuary. There's no way down to the quarry from the coast path, though there are quite good views from the sea on the boat trips that go from Rock and Padstow.

    Elvan is very hard volcanic rock formed where magma intruded into other rocks to form a (vertical) dyke or (horizontal) sill that cooled fairly quickly, resulting in fairly small crystals. Chemically it is very similar to granite, but in the case of granite, slower cooling resulted in large crystals. Elvans can be seen in many of the churches across Cornwall where it is often used for intricate parts of buildings, such as doorways, so they can be finely carved.

    The term "greenstone" is used by quarrymen to describe igneous rocks that, unlike granite, are rich in iron and magnesium and these give it a blue-green colour. When greenstone is formed as a sill or dyke it is sometimes called "blue elvan". This is also quite common in Cornwall and has been quarried for a long time: in the Neolithic period, stone axes made from blue elvan were exported from Cornwall to various parts of Britain.

  25. At the stile, keep left to stay on the coast path and continue up the estuary through one kissing gate until you reach a second kissing gate (at Hawker's Cove).

    The Stepper Point coastguard lookout, facing out from the mouth of the Camel Estuary, re-opened in 2000 and is now manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution. It is electrically self-sufficient from its solar panels and wind turbine.

    The National Coastwatch Institution was set up to restore visual watches along the UK coastline after two Cornish fishermen lost their lives within sight of an empty Coastguard lookout in 1994. The first station - at Bass Point on The Lizard, where the fishermen had died - opened in December 1994. The organisation, staffed by volunteers, now runs 50 lookout stations around England and Wales.

  26. Go through the kissing gate into a parking area. Follow the track from the other side until you pass a coast path sign and reach some steps on the left.
  27. Turn left to go down the steps and follow the path by the fence. Follow it in front of the cottages to emerge back on the lane.

    The cottage on the left, with the slipway leading onto the beach, was Padstow's original lifeboat station.

    The first Padstow lifeboat was built by the Padstow Harbour Association in 1827 and kept at Hawkers Cove. The RNLI took over the station in 1856. In 1931, the original boathouse in Hawker's Cove was replaced with a new boat house and roller slipway for a second motor lifeboat to join the one already running from the second station to the south of Hawker's Cove. The station closed in 1962, due to Hawker's Cove being filled by sand as the river channel moved across the estuary. This left only the station to the south operating for a few more years, before it also became blocked with silt.

  28. Turn left onto the lane and follow it to the Coast Path sign on the bend.

    The Camel Estuary is notorious for the Doom Bar - a sand bar which has caused many ship and small boat wrecks. For ships sailing into the bay on the prevailing SW wind, a great hazard was caused by the immediate loss of power due to the shelter from the cliffs. Once becalmed, they would drift helplessly and run aground on the Doom Bar. Therefore rockets were fired from the cliffs, to place a line onboard, which could then be used to pull the ship to the shore. Along the coastal path, on the cliff top, is an abandoned manual capstan which was used to winch the ships towards the harbour.

  29. At the coast path sign on the bend, turn left onto a narrow path alongside the fence. Follow the path to a waymark and around a corner to a gate.

    The building now called "The Old Lifeboat Station" was Padstow's second lifeboat station.

    In 1899, a second lifeboat station was built at Padstow, a short distance upriver of Hawker's Cove, for a new steam lifeboat.

    In a rescue in April 1900, as she was leaving the harbour, the steam lifeboat was caught by a heavy swell, capsized and wrecked, killing eight of her crew of eleven. Padstow's first motor lifeboat was commissioned in 1929, operating from this station. Due to river silting, in October 1967, the lifeboat was relocated to Mother Ivy's Bay on Trevose Head.

  30. From the gate, follow the coast path down to a stile at Harbour Cove.

    There are reports that an Irish smuggling vessel once chased an Excise ship into the harbour at Padstow, then hung out flags and fired guns as a sign of victory. Afterwards, the smugglers sailed on to Newquay to unload their cargo, where the customs authorities were described as being "very obliging about watching the wall".

  31. Cross the stile, continue past the waymark where the stream emerges on the beach, keep right along the fence and follow the path through some bushes until you reach a waymark and a couple of steps leading onto a track.

    The local dialect in Cornwall included a number of words related to smuggling. For the purveyors themselves there was:

    Troacher - a hawker of smuggled goods.

    ..and a word specifically for smuggled liquor:

    Custom (pron. coostom) - raw, smuggled spirits. "A drap o' coostom."

    ...and also the barrels to transport it:

    Anker - a small keg or cask of handy size for carrying by hand, or slung on horse-back.
  32. From the steps, turn left onto the track and cross over the double wooden walkway. Follow the path towards the dunes to where a path leads onto the beach.

    Harbour Cove is the beach on the opposite side of the Camel Estuary from Daymer Bay. There is a beach at all states of the tide at Harbour Cove although at low tide, the vast beach stretches out towards Doom Bar and merges with the other beaches, making it possible to walk around Gun Point to St George's Cove across the sand. Harbour Cove is also known locally as Tregirls beach, named after Tregirls Farm. In 1600, the name was originally "grylls" but was corrupted into "girls" over the years. It's possible the name of the farm arises from the Grylls family who were part of the Cornish gentry.

  33. You have a choice of routes at low tide, either along the beach or - the only option at high tide - along the dunes. Along the dunes: follow the path to a fork at a large tree; keep left here and follow the path over the dunes and round Gun Point to the wooded valley at St George's Cove. If you go via the beach: continue around the headland, past the Gun Point and turn right to head inland between the trees, up the middle of the valley; then turn left where the path ends.
  34. From St George's Cove, continue up the estuary, along the coast path, to a waymark in front of the War Memorial.

    The Camel Estuary is a breeding ground for bass and is a designated conservation area. Fishing for bass is illegal during the closed season in the summer and autumn. Given they are normally found in the sea, bass are surprisingly tolerant of freshwater and sometimes venture quite a long way upriver.

  35. Go through the gate ahead and past the Memorial, to the gate on the other side.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay. The name Cam-El is from the Cornish meaning "crooked one". It is documented that only the upper reaches of the river, above Boscarne, were originally known as the "Camel". The section from Boscarne to Egloshayle was known as the "Allen" and below this, it was known as "Heyl".

    The River Camel is classed as a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive. Bullhead, Atlantic Salmon and Otters breed in the river.

  36. Go through the gate and follow the left (lower) path into Padstow, to the quayside.

    Padstow is a very old port town facing into the Camel Estuary (formerly Petrockstow after St Petroc). Possibly from as early as 2500 BC, Padstow has been used as a natural harbour, linking Brittany to Ireland along the 'Saints Way' from Fowey. In the Middle Ages, it was known as Aldestowe (the 'old place', to contrast with Bodmin, which was the new place). The Cornish name Lannwedhenek or Lodenek derives from the Lanwethinoc monastery that stood above the harbour in Celtic times.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

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