Port Gaverne to Barretts Zawn

A circular walk from Port Gaverne around Port Isaac Bay to Barretts Zawn where a tunnel leads to the beach, through which donkeys used to haul slate.

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The walk starts from Port Isaac car park and goes down the hill to Port Gaverne, then around the headland where fulmars nest on the rock ledges, to where the cliff edge meets the lane at Cartway Cove. The walk follows the coast along Bounds Cliff to the deep ravine at Ranie Point and on to Barretts Zawn. The route follows the valley inland to the farm at Hendra and returns to Port Gaverne along the lane.

The Coast Path between Ranie Point and Barretts Zawn is very steep and does not have steps. It is therefore unwise to attempt this walk when the ground is wet.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106,109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6 miles/9.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Port Isaac car park
  • Parking: Port Isaac car park PL293AB. Take the B3267 into Port Isaac and bear right along New Road towards Port Gaverne. The car park is on your left after about 100 metres.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Historic settlement of Port Gaverne which predates Port Isaac
  • Sandy beach at low tide at Port Gaverne
  • Spectacular panoramic views over Port Isaac Bay from the coast path
  • Clifftop views over Barrett's Zawn beach
  • "Donkey Hole" - a hidden tunnel to Barrett's Zawn beach (entry not recommended)
  • Local food and drink at Port Gaverne hotel (pub and restaurant)
  • Return route along pleasant country lanes lined with wildflowers in spring and summer

Directions

  1. 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.

  2. Follow the road behind the beach to the car park on the far side of the beach.

    Industrialisation of fishing and the introduction of rail transportation during Victorian times led to over-exploitation of the Cornish pilchard stocks to meet an insatiable demand from the Italian market and the population crashed. Possibly as a knock-on consequence of the lack of availability, demand from Italy dried up and this has allowed pilchard stocks to recover.

  3. 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).

  4. 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, just before the path ahead crosses a raised concrete area with an iron railing.

    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.

  5. Turn right and follow the path along the edge of the coast until another small path leads off to the left just before the path ends on a wider path.

    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 disrupts the waterproofing of predatory birds' feathers in a similar way to a crude-oil spill, so they avoid preying on fulmars.

  6. Take the inner of the two paths on the left to stay back from the cliff edge, then follow the path past a number of benches until it eventually emerges on the road.
  7. Turn left onto the road and after the wall, left up the drive of Silver Spray (with a Coast Path sign to Trebarwith Strand) and follow it to the end of the tarmac.

    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.

  8. Follow the grassy path from the end of the tarmac past the end of the fence. Continue on the coast path ahead along the cliff tops, crossing some stiles along the way, until it drops into a valley and you reach a wooden walkway.

    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.

  9. From the walkway, follow the path up to the top of the cliff to reach a waymarked kissing gate.

    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.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead signposted to Tintagel for a mile, crossing some stiles along the way, until you descend to a stream at the bottom of a steep valley.

    There are more than 20 breeding pairs of Peregrine falcons along the coast from Bude to Padstow.

    The peregrine falcon can reach over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its hunting stoop (high speed dive) making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. In 2005, a peregrine was measured at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph). The air pressure at this speed could damage a bird's lungs. However small bony tubercles on a falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving. In Cornish dialect, these falcons are known as "winnards" and local expressions include "shrammed as a winnard" (meaning chilled) and "rumped up like a winnard" (meaning huddled).

  11. From the bottom of the valley, follow the very steep path up the headland to a stile at the top.

    This is one of the steepest and most difficult climbs on the South West Coast path in Cornwall. You can enjoy the sense of achievement when you eventually make it to the top.

  12. Cross the stile and follow the path over 2 more stiles and past one waymark with a single arrow to a second waymark with multiple arrows 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.

  13. At the waymark, turn right onto the footpath heading inland and follow this until you reach a fence.

    Coastal slate quarries are confined to a small area of about five miles either side of Tintagel and relatively little is known about their history. In order to work the vertical cliff face, strong points were built from stone above the working areas. From these, ropes were dropped down the quarry face. Men were lowered down the faces on these ropes to split blocks of slate from the face. The slate was hauled up the cliff face on these cables which were wound using "horse whims" - capstans powered by horses or donkeys walking around a circular platform. The stone was split and shaped on "dressing floors" on the cliff top, originally covered with sheds. The remains can be seen as level terraces and are marked by screes of waste rock on the cliff below. Splitting was (and still is) done with a bettle (hammer) and chisel, hence the name of the pub in Delabole.

  14. Climb the fence into a long thin field and follow the left hedge to pass a post with a white arrow on a green background and reach a gap in the hedge connecting the fields.

    Electric fences are powered with a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of electricity; this is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. The power is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant in a similar way to stinging nettles. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  15. At the gap between the fields, stay in the same field and follow the left hedge towards the house until you reach a gate in the corner on the left.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  16. Go through the gate and follow the track to join another track leaving the house. Follow this away from the house to where it goes through a gate with another white arrow on a green background.
  17. Follow the track through the gate and continue to reach a farmyard.

    The three farms of Higher, Middle and Lower Hendra date from mediaeval times. They were recorded individually in the mid-14th Century.

    Hendra is a common Cornish place name meaning "home farm" (from the Cornish word hendre which itself is based on the words hen meaning old, and dre is equivalent to tre). Hendra was also used as a boy's first name with the meaning literally "from the family farm".

  18. Keep right in the farmyard, passing the barns on the left and then bear right onto the track to reach the lane.
  19. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach the sign for Port Gaverne and a Coast Path sign on the left.

    Brambles grow all along the road to Port Gaverne.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    A project to analyse blackberries picked from busy urban roadsides vs quiet rural lanes found that there was a slightly elevated level of lead in the blackberries from busy roadsides which is thought to have accumulated in the soil when leaded fuel was in common use. Surprisingly, commercial blackberries from supermarkets also showed higher levels of lead than the wild blackberries from rural lanes.

  20. Turn left after the Coast Path sign on the left and follow the footpath which emerges next to the Port Gaverne Hotel.

    The Port Gaverne Hotel was originally the Union Inn frequented by crews of the slate vessels. It was built by shoemaker and fisherman James Stroat who "kept it and then spent all he had". His brother William was a Master Mariner and apparently "a good merry old toper". On the walls of the pub, there are lots of photos and paintings of Port Gaverne and Port Isaac from the 1800s and early 1900s.

  21. Turn right and follow the lane to the beach. Turn left up the hill to reach the car park at Port Isaac.

    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.

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

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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