Port Gaverne to Barretts Zawn

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 at Ranie Point 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: Strenuous
  • Start from: Port Isaac car park
  • Parking: Port Isaac car park. 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. Satnav: PL293AB
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

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

Alternative walks in same location

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.

    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. 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.

    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 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.
  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. At the waymark, turn right onto the footpath heading inland, until you reach a stile.

    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.

  13. Cross the stile into a long thin field and follow the path near the left hedge to a waymark in a gateway at the end of the trees.
  14. At the waymark, stay in the field and follow the left hedge, towards the house, until you reach a gate.
  15. Go through the gate and follow the track past the house to join a track leaving the house. Follow the track around a bend until the track forks either side of a stone wall.
  16. Follow the right-hand fork, through the gate, and into the 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".

  17. Keep right in the farmyard, passing the barns on the left and then bear right onto the track to reach the lane.
  18. Turn right onto the lane and follow it all the way back to the Headland Hotel above Port Gaverne.

    Wild Fennel grows along the road as you approach Port Gaverne.

    Originally from the Mediterranean, fennel has naturalised in the UK, particularly in coastal areas and is recorded as far back as the 10th century.

    The greek word for fennel is "marathon"; the name of the sporting event originates from a battle which took place in a field of fennel.

    The leaves, seeds and also flowers of the wild fennel can be used in cooking. Of these, the flowers are the most potent and also the most expensive to purchase.

  19. In front of the Headland Hotel, follow the public footpath to the left 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.

  20. 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 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.

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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