Polkerris, Gribbin Head and Readymoney Cove

From Polkerris beach, the walk follows along the coastline of Gribbin Head to the daymark on the point. From here, the route continues along the coast to the beach at Polridmouth where the shipwreck was Daphne Du Maurier's inspiration for the murder scene in her book Rebecca. The walk passes a couple more small coves on the way to St Catherine's Castle overlooking Readymoney Cove. At the cove, the walk joins The Saints Way and follows this through Covington and Menabilly woods and past Trenant farm to the chapel at Tregaminion. A path across the fields links to the Polkerris cliff path which completes the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.7 miles/10.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Polkerris car park
  • Parking: Polkerris car park. From the A3072, follow the road signposted "Polkerris and Beach" Satnav: PL242TL
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Pretty harbour at Polkerris
  • Daymark on Gribbin Head can be climbed on Sundays in summer
  • Fort at Readymoney Cove with views over Fowey and Polruan
  • Sandy beaches at Polkerris, Polridmouth and Readymoney Cove

Directions

  1. Go down the steps from the bottom corner of the car park and follow the lane down to the beach.

    Polkerris is thought to mean "fortified cove", which is supported by a number of cannons from the Napoleonic wars now embedded in the harbour wall, muzzle first. From the 17th century, the village was based around mackerel fishing until the collapse of mackerel stocks in the late 19th century due to overfishing. The Lifeboat station was built in 1859 and closed in 1922 when a lifeboat was stationed at Fowey instead.

  2. At the beach, turn left up the track past the Polkerris Village Hall and follow this for a sign for the toilets. Turn right up the path leading from the sign and follow the waymarked path up the steps and zig-zag up the bank past one waymark to reach a waymark with multiple arrows at a junction of paths.

    Mackerel come inshore during the summer and autumn to feed on prawns and small fish such as sandeels. They often occur in large shoals which at the surface can make the sea appear to "boil", often accompanied by excited seabirds. Although they cruise at a speed of around 2 knots, mackerel can reach 10 knots in short bursts.

  3. Turn right at the waymark and follow the coast path to a gate.

    Just before you reach the gate, a path leads though the undergrowth to the rocky point and from here it's possible to climb down to the beach.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach another gate.

    Mackerel are excellent culinary fish, rich in essential oils, vitamins and minerals including omega-3 fatty acids. Throughout the 19th century, mackerel was fished commercially off Cornwall and by the end of the 19th century, there were hundreds of drift netters. These decimated the mackerel stocks and by the 1930s, mackerel were so scarce that the fishery had virtually closed. By the 1960s, the mackerel had recovered and were plentiful for the next couple of decades. More recently, they have noticably declined again which is thought to be due to intensive trawling in Scottish and Icelandic waters. The South West Handline Fisherman's Association operate a more sustainable fishing model, and readers are encouraged to buy line-caught fish.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast and then up a long flight of steps to reach a waymarked gate.

    Whilst you stop to get your breath back, the main beaches around the back of the bay from right to left are:

    • Par - the huge sandy beach stretching from the headland all the way to the docks
    • Carlyon Bay - in the middle of the bay with an offshore rock
    • Porthpean - on the far left
  6. When you reach the gate, go through and continue along the coast path to reach a kissing gate.

    The small beach just before you reach the kissing gate is known as Peel Cove. Its sheltered position on the eastern side of St Austell bay means that floating objects such as jellyfish can get washed up here. The largest of the species commonly seen around the coast is the barrel or football jellyfish, on account of its shape. It is also known as the dustbinlid jellyfish which gives a hint of the size that it can reach: large specimens have caused media excitement regarding "jellyfish the size of wheelie bins". Fortunately, they don't have stinging tentacles.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to a waymark in a wooded area.

    The larger beach below you is known as Platt Cove. Platt is the Cornish word for "flat", and the "square" in many Cornish towns and villages was known as "The Platt", and still is in some cases such as Wadebridge and Port Isaac.

  8. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path to reach a gate.
  9. Go through the gate and cross the meadow to the tower.

    The 84ft tall tower on Gribbin Head was erected by Trinity House in 1832 as a daylight navigation aid for shipping, enabling ships to distinguish Gribbin Head more easily from other headlands along Cornwall’s south coast. It is now owned by the National Trust and can be climbed on some Sundays during summer; a flag is flown to show when it is open.

  10. From the daymark, follow the long, meandering path down the meadow to reach a gate at the bottom.

    In the mid-1980s, engineers identified ancient underwater channels criss-crossing the seabed in St Austell bay which had become filled with tin-rich sediment. However, no further exploration was done after the price of tin dropped. In recent years, the price of tin has been steadily increasing as the relatively rare metal is used in the production of electronic devices. These reserves are now being re-examined, with possible exploratory work to follow.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the path until it passes between a pair of posts and merges onto another path. Follow the path over a wooden walkway to reach a signposted gate on the left opposite a granite post on the right.
  12. Turn right after the granite post and follow the path along the coast until you reach the steps onto the concrete sea defence at the next cove.

    On the rocks on the right-hand side of the beach are the remains of the Romanie.

    In January 1930, The Romanie was on her way back from Fowey to Par when she was caught in a sudden storm. The three masted iron sailing ship of just over 100ft in length was pushed into Polridmouth Bay where she lost power and she drifted helplessly onto the rocks. Her captain and crew managed to escape without loss of life but the ship was a write-off. The rusting remains can still be seen at low tide and when Daphne Du Maurier walked along the beach during the mid 20th century, the wreck inspired her to make the beach the setting for the murder of her character "Rebecca", and the wreck of her boat.

  13. Go down the steps and follow the path along the top of the sea defence, crossing the stepping stones to reach a waymark.

    Polridmouth is pronounced locally as "pridmuth". The cottage behind the beach is thought to be the inspiration for the boathouse in Daphne Du Maurier's novel "Rebecca". The ornamental lakes by the cottage were created in the 1920s by the building of a dam. It was used as the basis of a decoy airfield in the Second World War to emulate Fowey harbour. Dams additional to the one remaining were built to create a fake harbour and lights were then placed around the lake, orchestrated to emulate those in Fowey. At least one bomb is known to have been drawn away from Fowey, and on average, it has been estimated that around 5% of German bombs were diverted by decoys, saving thousands of lives across the whole of Britain.

  14. At the waymark, bear right to stay on the coast path and follow it beneath the trees to reach a pedestrian gate.
  15. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach a pedestrian gate.
  16. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach another pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    In March 1937, the 3500 ton Kanteong, at the time the world's largest tin dredger, was on tow from the builders' yard in Holland to the Far East when she capsized in a storm off the Eddystone reef. She had to be abandoned, and drifted down the coast until she hit the rocks at Fowey, broke up and sank. At low tide, a huge iron gear wheel is visible above the surface of the water, and below the surface is the remains of the massive dredging arm, complete with buckets.

  17. Go through the gate and cross the small valley to another gate into a field. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to reach another pedestrian gate on the far side of the field.
  18. Go through the gate and follow the path down into the valley to reach a waymark.

    The farm overlooking the valley, called Coombe, is now owned by the National Trust and run as a B+B. It is a typically matter-of-fact Cornish place name, simply meaning "valley".

    The Cornish language has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream
    • tenow - valley floor
  19. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path up the steps to reach a stile. Cross the stile and continue on the path to pass along the edge of a large field. Continue past the bench and sign for Alldays Fields to reach a pedestrian gate.

    The two fields alongside the valley of Coombe containing benches are known as Allday's Fields. This was previously a golf course, hence some of the lumps and a number of the benches are located on former tees. The course stretched down into the valley of Coombe where two of the greens were located. The Fowey Golf Club was founded in 1907 and the 9 hole cliff-top course was played until WW2 when the land was requisitioned. An attempt was made to resurrect the course and the club after the war but it only lasted a few years. The land was eventually bought by a wealthy businessman (James Allday) who gave the fields to the town in 1951.

  20. Go through the gate and turn right at the waymark. Follow the path until it forks again and keep left this time at the fork to take the upper path. Continue until the two paths rejoin below a shelter.

    The location of Fowey close to the mouth of the estuary made it vulnerable to attack by sea. The town was destroyed by fire during invasions by French, Spanish and other pirate ships in 1330, 1380 and 1457. Following the 1380 raid, blockhouses were built on either side of the estuary mouth. A chain spanned between them that could be raised to close the channel in times of need. The chain was later confiscated by the King after boats from Fowey and Polruan were convicted of Piracy.

  21. Bear left to reach the sign to St Catherine's Castle (which is down the path to the right). Keep left at the Catherine's Castle sign to reach a junction of paths.

    At the shelter, the path on your right (either over the rocks or the path avoiding the rocks) is a short one-way path to the top of the fortifications, which block entry to the castle. The Catherine's Castle sign marks another one-way path to the main (lower) castle area, from which there are steps up to the building above.

    St Catherine's Castle is named after the headland (St Catherine's Point) and was initially constructed in Tudor times as part of Henry VIII's south coast defences. It was maintained during the Tudor period and manned by Royalists during the early part of the English Civil war. By 1684 it was described as ruinous, although it was used during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1855 it was refurbished and two 64-pounder guns were mounted below the blockhouse but it was abandoned again by the end of the 19th Century. During WW2, concrete defences were added (most of which have since been removed) and two naval guns were installed; the gun emplacements below the castle are the remains of these, adapted from the Victorian cannon emplacements.

  22. Bear right at the junction and follow the main path downhill until you reach a junction of paths by wooden fence and waymark.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  23. When you reach the junction by the fence, keep left and follow the path to reach a waymark to Tregaminion.

    Before continuing on the route, you can take a short diversion down the path to the right to reach Readymoney Cove or a slightly longer one to the centre of Fowey (which is roughly ten minutes walk from Readymoney Cove), by keeping right at all junctions along the road.

    It has been suggested that Readymoney Cove was a very early pre-mediaeval trading place, which is consistent with the Saint's Way meeting the coast here. The name ‘Readymoney’ is thought to be from redeman meaning "stony ford"; red was an Old Cornish word for ford (as in Redruth) and men means stone. The "stony" part is often assumed to mean "pebbly" but could alternatively be a reference to exposed bedrock such as that seen on the path down to the cove which may have originally continued across the river crossing before the area was developed.

  24. Continue ahead at the waymark, as indicated by the blue arrow and follow the track until it ends at a lane.

    The Saint's Way forms the route all the way to Tregaminion.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  25. Turn left along the lane, signposted for The Saint's Way and follow it to a T-junction.
  26. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a junction with Lankelly Lane.
  27. Keep left along Prickly Post Lane to a Saint's Way signpost. Turn left at the signpost and go down the path on the left side of the hedge ahead (not the track on the right) to reach a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path to a kissing gate at the bottom of the valley.
  28. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path under the bridge and up the other side of the valley to reach a stile.
  29. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a kissing gate.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles. Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry. Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michealmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

  30. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a lane.
  31. Cross the lane and follow the path over the stone stile. Continue on the path between the wall and fence to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    Barbed wire was first used in Victorian times with several different people independently inventing and patenting different designs. Modern barbed wire is made from steel which is then galvanised to prevent it rusting (at least until the zinc coating dissolves away). The barbed wire used for fencing is often made of high-tensile (springy) steel which is suited to being laid in long, continuous lengths. As it is forbidden by the Highways Act of 1980 for barbed wire to block a Public Right of Way, one practical solution used by farmers is to put a plastic sheath over the barbed wire where it passes over a stile. In the rare circumstance that you encounter exposed barbed wire on a stile, the most likely cause for this is mischievous cattle pulling off the plastic sheaths; let the Countryside Team know and they can alert the landowner.

  32. Go through the gate, follow the path down the steps and cross the footbridge. Follow the path along the fence to reach a kissing gate.

    Further down the valley to the left is the manor house of Menabilly.

    Since the 16th Century, Menabilly has been the ancestral home of the Rashleigh family, who originated as powerful merchants in the 16th century. The gardens were landscaped and the surrounding woodland was planted in the 18th Century. The house was rebuilt after a fire in 1822 and was greatly extended in size.

    During the early 20th century, John Rashleigh III resided mainly near Okehampton and it fell into decay. It was leased to Daphne du Maurier in 1943, who restored it and lived there until 1969 when it was returned to the Rashleigh family, who occupy it once again. Manderley, in Du Marier's novel Rebecca, is thought to be based on Menabilly.

  33. When you reach the gate, go through and cross the footbridge. Then follow the path across the meadow to a gate into a farmyard.
  34. Go through the gate, turn right onto the track and follow it through a gate to a Saint's Way sign on the farm buildings. Turn right in the direction indicated to reach a gate out of the farm. Go through the gate and follow the track to a lane.
  35. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign on the left.

    As you turn right onto the lane, the entrance to Tregaminion chapel is on your left.

    Tregaminion chapel was built as a Chapel of Ease for Menabilly, to save a long commute to the parish church in Tywardreath. Work began in 1813 and the foundation stone was laid in 1813 by Rachel, the wife of William Rashleigh but 6 months after this she died. The chapel was completed as a memorial to her. As the rest of the foundations were being dug, a carved stone bearing the Rashleigh arms was found and it is built into the wall over the porch. The chapel took another 2 years to complete and was finally consecrated in 1816. William Rashleigh remarried and a son was born and baptised in the chapel in 1817. Many of the items within the church, such as the pulpit, predate the building. Two mediaeval stone crosses were also brought from the Milltown area, one formerly used as a bridge. The chapel was renovated (with a new roof) in 1993.

  36. Go through the gate and follow the path across the field to reach a waymark.
  37. Bear right at the waymark and follow the path to the Toilets sign at Polkerris. Turn right at the sign to reach the lane and return to the car park.

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 very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • 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 also useful.

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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