Port Isaac

The walk starts at the cliff-top car park in Port Isaac and descends to Port Gaverne, then follows the valley behind Port Gaverne and climbs through farmland to the top of the hill where there are excellent views over the valley and Port Gaverne. The route then descends into the neighbouring valley and crosses Roscarrock Hill, following the coast path around Lobber Point to Port Isaac, with magnificent views of the harbour. The walk returns past Port Isaac harbour and through the village then via the cliffs overlooking Port Isaac.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate-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, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic fishing village and harbour of Port Isaac
  • Spectacular coastal views from Pine Haven and Lobber Point
  • Port Gaverne beach - sandy at low tide
  • Collection of historic photos in Port Gaverne Hotel
  • Views of rolling countryside from Roscarrock hill and near Trewetha
  • Restaurants, pubs and shops in Port Isaac

Alternative walks in same location

Directions

  1. From the car park at Port Isaac, turn left and head down the hill to Port Gaverne to a junction with a lane on the right with a public footpath sign.

    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).

  2. Turn right down the lane with the public footpath sign, next to the old pilchard cellars, and follow it until it ends beside a footpath sign for Trewetha.

    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.

  3. At the end of the lane, continue ahead past the houses and follow the path ahead you pass through a gap and reach a waymark on the right.

    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".

  4. At the waymark, turn right and follow the path that climbs up the hill. Follow it to emerge in the corner of a field and cross this to a waymark on the fence ahead.

    Cornish tradition states that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return from their clifftop lookouts to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the pilchard fishermen returned to land. It traditionally contains flour, lard+butter, milk, sugar and raisins and is similar in appearance to Welsh cakes, but the magic ingredient is a heavy spicing of nutmeg. It is made by crumbling all of the dry mixture together, then adding the raisins and mixing to a dough with milk. The dough is then rolled to a thickness of about 1/2", and traditionally a criss-cross pattern is scored across the top which signifies the nets used by the fishermen. It was originally cooked on a griddle, as with Welsh cakes. Hevva cake has had a recent revival (if you taste it, you'll see why!) and is now on sale in many supermarkets as well as bakeries in Cornwall.

  5. Cross stile beside the waymark then follow the path along the hedge until you reach another stile.
  6. Cross the stile, and the one opposite, and continue along the hedge until you reach a stile onto the road.
  7. Cross the stile and turn left along the lane. Follow it around the bend past Trewetha Farm, until you reach a junction to the right just past Trewetha cottage.
  8. At the junction, turn right onto the lane marked with the public footpath sign, and follow it to the end.
  9. At the end of the lane, take the path ahead and follow it down into the valley to a footbridge over the stream.
  10. Cross the footbridge and turn right. Follow the path to a junction by a signpost.

    Biologically, there is no such thing as "toads": there are just many species of frog, some of which were given the name "toad" if they were a bit drier- or wartier- looking. However, the 2 species of frog known as the "Common Frog" and "Common Toad" are those you are most likely to encounter in Cornwall, so for discerning fairytale princesses, here's how to tell them apart:

    • Common Frog: always found in or near water; smooth moist skin (green or brown and able to change colour slightly to match surroundings); lays eggs in a cluster.
    • Common Toad: quite often found in dry places; dry, warty skin which is always grey or brown; lays eggs in long strings.
  11. At the signpost, turn left towards Tresungers; follow the path to a waymark.

    The path to the right leads to what was once Port Isaac Mill. In the 19th Century, this was a bakery and the owner would carry his produce down the valley by donkey to a shop in Middle Street. The stream has been used for milling since mediaeval times, and the name Port Isaac is from the Cornish for "corn port".

  12. Turn sharply right at the waymark and follow the path along the left hedge to reach a gate.
  13. Go through the gate to reach a lane. Bear left along the lane until you reach a stile on the right, just before a waymark.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you must: 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.
  14. When you reach the stile on your right, cross it and follow the left hedge and fence to a kissing gate in the corner of the far hedge.
  15. Go through the gate onto the lane. Turn left and follow the lane a short distance until you reach a track on the right signposted to the coast path.
  16. Turn right down the track and follow it to a gate.
  17. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a pair of gateways in the corner of the field.

    The wooden pole in the field is probably a "wreck post".

    Wreck posts, resembling a telegraph pole with wooden steps, were used for Coastguard practice exercises. The post emulated the mast of a sinking ship. A "shore" team would fire a rocket carrying a light line known as a whip to a man on the post. Once he caught this, it was secured to the post and a heavier line known as a hawser was pulled out using the light line and secured to the post. This was then used to haul out the Breeches Buoy (a lifebelt with an attached pair of shorts) that the crew member could be rescued with.

  18. Go through the gateway on the left and bear left in line with the end of the headland, until you cross the brow of the hill; then head for a gap in the right hedge.

    In the late spring and throughout the summer, look out for purple betony flowers along the coast path.

    Betony is a grassland herb, common on the coast, with pretty purple anthers that stick out from the plant. The name is derived from the ancient Celtic words bew (meaning head) and ton (meaning good) as it was used as a cure for headaches. From Roman times onwards, it was believed to be a cure for a number of things (the Romans listed 47!) including drunkenness; even as late as the 1800s, Richard E. Banks stated that you should "Eat betony or the powder thereof and you cannot be drunken that day" and John Gerard (1597) said that "It maketh a man to pisse well". Betony was also used to ward away evil spirits (hence it is planted in a number of churchyards) and also to make a dark yellow dye for wool.

  19. Go through the gap in the hedge and follow the scrub on your left until you reach the coast path.

    In September 1918, the British collier "Milly" was on its return to South Wales from France, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine, two and a quarter miles west of Tintagel Head. Two men died but the remainder of the crew were saved by another passing ship. The wreck is in 46 metres of water and is slowly sinking into the sand front-first. However, a good deal of it is still discernible and it is a fairly popular spot for divers. The stern gun was salvaged and is outside the Golden Lion pub in Port Isaac.

  20. Turn right and follow the coast path towards Port Isaac until you reach a gap in the hedge next to a waymark.

    In 1833, Frederick Trevan recorded the foundering vessel - Sloop Theodore of Yaughall - being rescued at Port Isaac in 1821: "Captain Timothy Daisy from Yaughall for Plymouth with potatoes. Vessel seen dismasted. Boarded with difficulty by boat from Port Isaac. Saw no one on deck but heard violin below. The Pats were enjoying themselves it being St. Patrick's Day to whose guidance, of course, they entrusted the vessel. They had entrusted the helm to a boy the day before and he had jibbed her and carried away the mast. The boat people with difficulty got her into Port Isaac after being at it all night. The potatoes were sold at Port Isaac and Padstow and off they went for dear Ireland. Crew exceedingly dirty - great quantity of lice. The Captain would put his hand into his bosom, take one out and address it saying 'Ach, dear honey, I wish you and I were in Dublin' and then replace it."

  21. From the waymark, follow the path down into Port Isaac to where it emerges onto a lane.

    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.

    By 1500, Port Isaac had a flourishing pilchard industry and was considered one of the most important fishing harbours on the north coast. Salted pilchards and pilchard oil were exported to Italy. A number of fish cellars were built in Tudor times and their remnants were uncovered when the foundations were dug in the 1820s for the Victorian fish cellars which now occupy the same sites. The sheds where the women cleaned and salted the pilchards now house the fish merchant and tiny aquarium. It's still an active fishing port with locally landed fish available for sale at the fish merchants.

  22. Bear left onto the lane and follow it downhill (past Doc Martin's house) to a junction at the bottom of the hill.

    Following the construction of the pier, a busy period of development began within Port Isaac which lasted until the beginning of the seventeenth century, though by the end of the Tudor period, most of the present day streets were already laid out.

    The village of Port Isaac was originally centred around a flat open space at the southern end of the harbour known as The Platt. This was used as a workplace by the fishermen, a venue for the weekly markets, and as a safe place to draw up the boats during spring tides.

  23. Turn left and follow the main road past the Mote House and the Golden Lion. Continue up the hill past the Old School until you reach Cliff Cottage.

    The Mote (now a restaurant) was the first Inn in Port Isaac, built in 1542 and originally called the Mote Inn. It later became the Bristol Inn and then The Commercial.

    The Golden Lion, at the foot of Fore Street in Port Isaac, was built in the 18th Century, along with two other inns. The larger stones at the base of the inn could indicate it stands on the site of a former quay. It was claimed that contraband was stored in the cellars during the 18th Century. It features as "The Crab and Lobster" in the ITV comedy drama series, Doc Martin.

  24. Turn left down the coast path, just past Cliff Cottage, and follow it around the headland to the car park overlooking Port Gaverne.

    The Old School in Port Isaac was built in the mid 1870's, designed by Cornwall's most famous architect Silvanus Trevail who also designed Tintagel's Castle Hotel. The old school closed in the mid 1970's when it was replaced by a new primary school on Mayfield Road, and is now Old School Hotel and Restaurant. It has been returned to its former purpose, as the Portwenn primary school where the character Louisa Glasson (played by Caroline Catz) teaches in the ITV Comedy Drama, Doc Martin.

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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