Padstow to Harbour Cove

The walk starts along the harbour and then winds through Padstow's streets to reach the ancient church and Prideaux Place, once the site of St Petroc's monastery. The walk continues via Tregirls Farm to the Doom Bar where hundreds of ships have been wrecked. The return route to Padstow is along the beaches of Harbour Cove, Hawker's Cove and St George's Cove which merge into a vast expanse of golden sand at low tide offering an alternative to the Coast Path.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.1 miles/5 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Padstow car park
  • Parking: Padstow. Satnav: PL288BL
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Padstow's historic harbour
  • Ornate Elizabethan manor of Prideaux Place
  • Panoramic views over the Camel Estuary from Tregirls
  • Sandy beaches at Harbour Cove and St George's Cove
  • Local seafood in Padstow

Directions

  1. Follow the edge of the harbour past the Chough Bakery until you reach the lane beside the ice cream shop, "Harbour Ice".

    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.

  2. Turn left down the narrow lane, passing The Old Ship Hotel and the pasty shops on your left until you reach the Padstow Institute.

    Although most of the buildings in Padstow are from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, the street pattern near the harbour dates from the mediaeval period.

  3. Continue ahead passing the Institute on your right until you reach a junction to the right into Lanadwell Street at Stein's Pattiserie.

    The celebrity chef and presenter Rick Stein lives in, and is heavily invested in, the Padstow area. At the time or writing, he and his (ex wife) business partner own four restaurants, four shops, a cookery school, a cluster of self-catering holiday cottages, a pub and 40 guest rooms in and around Padstow! Unsurprisingly this is controversial: Padstow is cynically referred to by some locals as "Padstein", whilst others point out his enterprises employ over 400 local people and potentially attract more visitors to Padstow than perhaps otherwise would have been the case. Either way, there are now lots of places to eat in Padstow.

  4. Turn right into Lanadwell Street and pass the London Inn to reach a junction by the Golden Lion.

    The Golden Lion is the oldest inn in Padstow, dating back to the 14th century. Many sales of salvaged goods took place in the "Long Room" behind the Inn. During the May 1st Obby 'Oss festival, the Golden Lion acts as "stable" for the Old 'Oss.

  5. Turn right beside the Golden Lion and follow Middle Street until it ends in a T-junction.

    Mummer's Day is an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration that occurs every year on Boxing Day and New Year's Day in Padstow. It was originally part of the pagan midwinter celebrations where people all over Cornwall would guise dance ("geese dance") which involved disguising themselves by wearing masks or blackening their faces. Jumping to the conclusion that the blackened faces are some kind of ethnic representation, a number of people have wrongly speculated that the event originated from freedoms being given to the occupants of passing slave ships which stopped in the port to allow slaves a bit of free time and space in the town. Consequently quite a lot of confusion has arisen in recent times, including an incorporation of "minstrel" songs into procession (which is thought to stem from support for the abolition of slavery from the Methodist movement) and the alternative name "Darkie day" attracting allegations of racism. In recent years, Padstonians have worked to "de-clutter" the ceremony of this modern confusion, paring it back to the original traditional carols and using the name Mummer's Day.

  6. Turn left and follow the lane to a fork at the Cross House Hotel.

    The annual Obby 'Oss (Hobby Horse) celebration in Padstow on 1st May is thought to be a relic of the Celtic Beltane festival marking the arrival of spring. It is among the oldest May day traditions in Europe.

    The festival starts at midnight with singing of a traditional night song and by dawn the town is dressed in greenery, flowers and flags, and the maypole prepared. Two groups of dancers then precess through the town singing the traditional day song, with one member dressed as the 'Oss - a stylised horse costume with a black cape under which they attempt to catch young maidens in the town. It is thought that the origin of the maiden catching was to bring them "luck" (i.e. fertility).

    The two 'osses are known as "Old" and "Blue Ribbon". The latter is a 19th century addition by the Temperance movement in an attempt to discourage the consumption of alcohol by the Old 'Oss followers, which has not been entirely successful! Each 'oss has a "stable" (the Golden Lion Inn for the Old 'Oss, and the Institute for the Blue Ribbon 'Oss) from which they emerge at the start of the day's proceedings and retire at the end.

  7. At the fork, keep left and follow the lane past St Petroc's church on your left until you reach a junction on your right (Tregirls Lane).

    There have been 3 churches on the site of St Petroc's in Padstow. The first, was built in the early 6th Century by Petroc and was destroyed in 981 by the Vikings. In the 12th Century, another church was built, which is thought might have been of sandstone and therefore didn't last long. This was replaced by the current church in the early-mid 15th Century. The cream-coloured stone in the interior, used for the columns, was imported from Normandy; the dark stone used for the font and windows is blue elvan quarried from Cataclew Point between Harlyn and Mother Ivy's bay.

  8. Turn right at the junction, passing Prideaux Place on your left, and follow the lane through the arch until the lane ends at Tregirls Farm.

    Prideaux Place, situated at the top of Padstow, is an Elizabethan manor house which has been the home of Prideaux family for 14 generations. It was built in 1592 by Nicholas Prideaux and survived unaltered until the 18th century when Edmund, Nicholas's great grandson, influenced by his Grand Tour through Italy in 1739, created a formal garden and updated the house by installing modern sash windows and coal burning grates.

    Consequently, the house combines some traditional Elizabethan architecture with the 18th century exuberance of Strawberry Hill Gothic. Of its 81 rooms, 46 are bedrooms and only 6 of those are habitable (the rest are as the American Army left them at the end of the Second World War). The deer park is thought to be the oldest in the country and has been dated back to its enclosure by the Romans in 435 AD.

  9. At the end of the lane, walk to the sign on the building ahead, then turn right to reach a stile beside the gate.

    According to legend, St Petroc arrived from Ireland around 520 AD and settled here. After his death, a monastery called Lanwethinoc was built on the hill above the harbour in Padstow. The monks there acquired land from Portreath to Tintagel. After the Viking raid of 981 documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the monks moved inland to Bodmin taking the relics of St Petroc with them. The site of the monastery has never been identified with certainty, but it is thought to be based on the present parish church with an extension towards Prideaux Place.

  10. Cross the stile and turn left onto a track. Follow this along two fields until you reach a waymark, on your right, at the end of the second field.

    To your left, across the estuary, is Daymer Bay and directly ahead are the cottages at Hawker's Cove where the Padstow Lifeboat was originally launched. The headland ahead is Stepper Point along which the river channel used to run. Over the last century the channel has moved towards the middle of the Estuary, possibly caused by sand piling up against the many hundreds of shipwrecks in the channel. The lifeboat has therefore had to be relocated and now launches from Trevose Head.

    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.

  11. Follow the track, past a waymark on the left, until the track bends sharply left, and a path continues ahead into the dunes.

    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.

  12. Take the path ahead, over the dunes, towards Harbour Cove until you reach a crossing of paths.

    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.

  13. Where some other paths cross, you can turn right along either of the paths across the dunes to join the coast path. Make your way around Gun Point to the tiny wooded valley at St George's Cove, either along the path or beach. 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.

    Dunes (called towans in Cornish) form when dry sand from the beach is blown by the wind, and initially lodges against an obstruction, eventually forming a ridge. More sand can then accumulate against the ridge and vegetation such as marram grass can then take hold, preventing the resulting sand hill from washing or blowing away. Erosion of the vegetation by foot traffic can cause the dunes to disintegrate, so areas are sometimes fenced off to allow the all-important weeds to recover. Most of the major dunes on the North Cornish coastline are thought to have formed more than 5,000 years ago when sea levels finally stopped rising after the glacial ice from the last Ice Age had finished melting.

  14. 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.

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

    Padstow's fishing industry reached its heydey in the nineteenth century, by which time there were also six shipyards. In the 1880s, shipbuilding declined when wooden ships were replaced by iron but the town was fortunate that by the end of the nineteenth century, east-coast trawlers made Padstow the centre of their winter fishing.

    When the railway opened in 1899, this quickly became important for fish export and during the 1920s, there were still well over 100 fishing boats in the harbour. When the railway closed in 1967, the fishing industry went into decline but recovered somewhat in the 1980s with Padstow being recorded as the 3rd largest fishing port in the South West in 1986.

    The fishing fleet is much smaller today but is still active, and the National Lobster Hatchery is based beside the car park on the South Quay.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the left (lower) path until you reach a junction where another surfaced path departs to the left.

    The National Lobster Hatchery, located on the quayside at Padstow, are aiming to create a sustainable shellfish fishery in Cornwall by providing a predator-free environment for lobsters to grow past the zooplankton stage where they normally mostly perish. The lobsters are reared in captivity until they are a year old - the age when they set up home in a burrow. They are then released at different points around the coast to replenish stocks caught by fishermen. There is a visitor centre there where you can find out more about what they do and meet the lobsters.

  17. Follow the path ahead until you reach the harbour.

    The first stone pier in Padstow was built during the 16th Century. Many of the buildings around the quays were originally warehouses used in marine trading during the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Like many ports in North Cornwall, Padstow's economy was based on a mixture of fishing and import/export. During the middle ages, Padstow exported copper, tin and lead ores, slate, pilchards and agricultural produce. In Victorian times, coal was imported from Wales and timber from Quebec.

  18. Continue ahead and follow the edge of the harbour to return to the car park.

    During the nineteenth century when emigration from Cornwall was at its height, Padstow was the centre from where many people left to start a new life in the Americas and Canada. The ships importing timber from Quebec or Prince Edward Island would offer cheap travel to passengers wishing to emigrate. Many of the ships themselves were either built in Padstow or in Canada by earlier Cornish immigrants. In 1841 (after the Cornish potato famine), Padstow was the UK's third most important departure point for Canada, surpassed only by Liverpool and London.

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