Port Isaac to Polzeath

The route follows the Coast Path (also known as the rollercoaster) from Port Isaac to the sheltered inlet of Port Quin. From here the route passes the clifftop folly that was used as a gambling den and the mines on Doyden Point before reaching the sandy beaches of Epphaven Cove and Lundy Bay. The walk continues along the rugged coast around the headlands of The Rumps and Pentire Point before entering the Camel Estuary, passing the sandy beaches of Pentireglaze and reaching Polzeath.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 9.4 miles/15.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Bus: 96 from Polzeath to Port Isaac
  • Start from: Port Isaac car park
  • Parking: Polzeath beach car park. Satnav: PL276TB
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Picturesque fishing villages of Port Quin and Port Isaac
  • Spectacular coastal views
  • Wildlife including seals, birds of prey and many types of seabird
  • Remains of an Iron Age fort at The Rumps
  • Golden, sandy beaches at Epphaven Cove, Lundy Bay, Pentireglaze and Polzeath

Directions

  1. Follow the track from the back of the car park, leading along the cliff edge. Keep right along the coast and follow the path until it emerges onto Fore Street in Port Isaac.

    The pier at Port Isaac was built during the reign of Henry VIII. In around 1536, the village was described as: "Porthissek, a pretty fisher village, lyeth about a three miles from the mouth of the aforesaid brook lower bywest on Severne shore. There resorteth a brook to Porthissek: and there is a pier and some succour for fisher boats.". By the reign of Elizabeth I, as well as a busy fishing port, Port Isaac had become an important centre of export, shipping slate from the local quarries to France and Belgium.

  2. Turn right down Fore Street and follow it past the harbour to Roscarrock Hill where there is a coast path signpost to Port Quin.

    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.

  3. Turn right up Roscarrock Hill, signposted to Port Quin, and follow the road to the top.

    By the 1800s, Port Isaac had enough Methodists to support different chapels for 2 factions of Methodism. In 1836, a Methodist Free Church chapel was built at the foot of Roscarrock Hill, above the fish cellars; meanwhile, the Weslyans worshiped in Middle Street. By 1867, the Roscarrock Hill Methodist Chapel could no longer accommodate the swelling congregation. It was therefore converted into a Sunday school and a larger chapel built next door. The chapel bell was retrieved from a wrecked ship, The Bencoolen, which sank off the Bude Coast.

  4. At the top, take the waymarked path on the right and follow this up some steps to reach a waymark in an opening through a hedge.

    Roscarrock,on a hill near Port Isaac, is named after a prominent Cornish family who owned the Manor which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. During Tudor times, Nicholas Roscarrock was imprisoned for being a Catholic activist and tortured on the rack, which he miraculously survived, only to be imprisoned again 8 years later. After finally being released, he wrote his only surviving work, "The Lives of the Saints".

  5. From the waymark, follow the path around the headland and down into the next valley to reach a waymark at the bottom of the valley.

    The Castor 1 was a cargo ship, nearly 60 metres in length built in the 1950s in Germany. In November 1980, she was on her way back from Londonderry to Par when her engines failed near Port Isaac. Whilst being towed into the harbour, she capsized and sank. The main wreck is lodged in the rocks just outside Port Isaac Harbour and has been broken up by the sea, scattering debris across the seabed of the harbour entrance.

  6. Keep right at the waymark and go through the kissing gate. Cross the bridge and climb the steps opposite. Follow the path until you reach a gate.

    The rocky cove is known as Pine Haven and at low tide there are a number of rockpools.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  7. Go through the gate and cross the headland to the kissing gate opposite.
  8. Go through the gate and follow the path to a bench from which a long flight of steps descend from the headland.
  9. Go down the steps and follow the path around the bay until you eventually reach a bench at the top of the headland opposite (Kellan Head).
  10. From the bench at the top of Kellan Head, follow the path around the headland to reach a bench overlooking the inlet of Port Quin.

    Port Quin is a tiny cluster of fisherman's cottages around a sheltered inlet in Port Isaac Bay. In the early 19th century, the settlement of Port Quin had upwards of 20 houses but was then suddenly deserted. There is a local legend that one night, a violent gale sank the entire fishing fleet, leaving 32 women widowed. The name is a corruption of the Cornish "Porth Gwynn" which means "white cove". Portwenn - the Anglicised version of this - is used as the name of the fictional village in the ITV Comedy Drama series "Doc Martin". The harbour itself was used for filming the 1970s Poldark series.

  11. From the bench, continue along the path until you reach a kissing gate on your left, leading into the field above.
  12. At the kissing gate, keep right to stay on the main path and pass the kissing gate. Follow the path downhill to reach another kissing gate.
  13. When you reach the kissing gate, go through and continue downhill until the path ends in an alleyway.

    Wild fennel grows alongside the cottages and around the car park in Port Quin.

    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.

  14. At the bottom of the steps, turn left to reach the road. Turn right on the road and follow it past the slipway, and uphill around the hairpin bend until you reach a stile on your right a little further up the hill.

    At low tide there are some rockpools on the beach. On a low spring tide, we've encountered full-grown lobsters in the rockpools here.

    Lobsters are among the planet's oldest inhabitants with fossil remains dating back more than 100 million years. They are also extremely long-lived with some individuals reaching ages in excess of 80 years. A specimen of over 50 years old was caught in Cornwall in 2012 and was given to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay; it was a metre long and weighed 4kg. The heaviest lobster recorded was caught in 1934 and weighed an immense 19kg!

  15. Cross the stile and keep right to follow the path downhill. Follow the path past a waymark on the edge of the inlet until you reach a waymark signposted to Epphaven.

    The tiny castellated building on Doyden Point is fittingly known as Doyden Castle. When you reach the Epphaven waymark, you can follow the track to the right to have a closer look and return to the waymark to continue on the route.

    On the end of Doyden Point at Port Quin, is a small castellated building known appropriately as Doyden Castle. Doyden Castle is a cliff-edge folly built in 1830 which was allegedly used for decadent gambling parties. The sheer cliff edges and (at the time) unfenced mineshafts would presumably have been more than a little hazardous for drunken revellers. It's now owned by the National Trust and let as holiday accommodation. The wine bins still remain on the lower ground floor.

  16. At the waymark, follow the path ahead waymarked to Epphaven to reach a track by a pillar. Follow the path opposite to the mineshaft, fenced with a ring of upright slates.

    The Cow and Calf are two rocks directly out from Port Quin; one rock is larger than the other - hence the name. They are the topmost part of a reef rising approximately 10 metres from the sea bed which is entirely submerged at high tide, but breaks the surface at low tide.

  17. From the mineshaft, continue along the coast path, through a pair of gates, until you reach a stile at Trevan Point.

    There were two mines at Port Quin. Near Doyden Point, there are mineshafts of Gilson's Cove Mine either side of the coast path. This was a mixed lead/silver and antimony mine from which a little copper ore was also extracted. One shaft goes down to sea level, the other deeper. Between the two shafts where the coast path runs is the remains of the platform for a horse-powered winding device, known as a whim, which was used to haul ore up from the mine. Further inland is Port Quin mine which was solely an antimony mine.

    Antimony is in the same chemical group as tin, lead and mercury and was used in alloys, particularly with these metals, including solder and printing lead. Like lead and mercury, it is toxic if ingested (which wasn't known at the time), so mining it was probably not a recipe for a long life.

  18. Cross the stile and follow either of the paths ahead, which join after a short distance. Follow the path down the valley until you reach a waymark to Epphaven.

    Dartmoor ponies, bred for hauling goods, have been recorded living on the wild and unhospitable moors since the Middle Ages. They are unsurprisingly a very hardy breed and have a lifespan of around 25 years. Over the 20th Century, their numbers declined from just over 25,000 in the 1930s to about 5,000 by the start of the 21st century when only around 800 ponies were known to be grazing the moor. Dartmoor ponies have recently found a new niche as conservation grazers. As well as on moorland, they are used by the Wildlife Trusts to graze the coast to prevent bracken and gorse taking hold.

  19. At the waymark, keep right along the coast path and descend into the valley beside the beach (Epphaven Cove), to reach another waymark.

    Epphaven Cove is submerged at high tide, and is rocky until the lowest part of the tide when a sandy beach is revealed. At low tide, the beach merges with the adjacent beaches to form a continuous strip of sand around Lundy Bay.

  20. Continue ahead on the coast path, through the gate, in the direction waymarked to The Rumps. Follow the waymarked path until you reach a waymark signposted to Pentire Point and Porteath at the next beach (Lundy Bay).

    On 15 December 1979, the wind had been blowing westerly force 11 since the previous day and that morning had reached force 14 on the anemometer at RAF St Mawgan. Padstow lifeboat station was informed that the Greek vessel Skopelos Sky, three miles north west of Trevose Head, had transmitted a mayday distress signal and needed immediate help. The cargo had shifted in the huge sea and consequently the ship had a dangerous list. Due to the massive waves, which the lifeboat's coxwain described as "like being an insect in a ploughed field", rescue with the lifeboat was impossible as one moment it was alongside the ship's deck and the next beside the propellers. Consequently, the ship's crew had to be rescued by helicopter. The last man remaining aboard - the captain - was winched clear of the deck, seconds before the ship was hit by a huge breaker and rolled onto the rocks at Doyden Head. The ship has now been totally smashed to pieces by the sea with some wreckage buried in the sand and some amongst the cliffs.

  21. At the waymark, cross the stream in the direction of Pentire Point and keep right at the forks in the path. Follow this past a collapsed cave and onwards until it merges with another path and then forks at a waymark.
  22. At the waymark, take the path to the right waymarked to Pentire Point and follow this until you reach a gate.
  23. Go through the gate and follow the path across the heath to reach another gate.
  24. Go through the gate and follow the path until you go through a gap in the wall and reach a waymark marked Pentireglaze.
  25. From the waymark, continue ahead in the direction signposted to The Rumps, passing through one gate until you reach a second gate (with "Jean and Eric's gate" carved along its edge),
  26. Go through the gate to a waymark and continue in the direction of The Rumps until you reach the top of a flight of steps where a path departs from the right to a viewpoint.
  27. When you reach the path onto Com Head, keep left to stay on the coast path until you reach a gate.

    To get 360 degree panoramic views of the coastline, you can take a short diversion along the path on the right to the top of Com Head. On your left is the Rumps headland with The Mouls islet. To your right is Doyden Point at Port Quin. Behind you is the Camel Estuary; the headland with the daymark is Stepper Point.

  28. Go through the gate and continue on the coast path to reach another gate above some sandy beaches.
  29. Go through the gate and continue towards the headland until you reach another gate across the path.

    About a mile out into the bay on your right, lies the wreck of the SS Sphene.

    The SS Sphene was a steam-powered coal coaster that sank in Port Isaac Bay in 1946 after hitting the reef around The Mouls in bad weather. The remains of the ship now rests on the sandy seabed in 22 metres of water. At the start of the 21st century, the wreck was snagged by a trawler which ripped off the winch and foredeck. Despite this and some collapse of the midships due to corrosion over the decades, the wreck is still fairly intact and popular with divers as it hosts a lot of marine life.

  30. Go through the gate and bear right through the gap in the ramparts of the cliff fort, onto the headland to where the path forks.

    The twin-headed promontory known as The Rumps is formed from hard basaltic rock and projects north into the Atlantic Ocean. Its two headlands lie east-to-west: The Mouls lies off the eastern headland; the western headland is named Rumps Point.

    The name in Cornish is Din Pentir, meaning "fort at Pentire". Three ramparts (banks and ditches) span the narrowest part of the promontory. These date from the late Iron Age and were once topped by wooden palisades.

  31. At the fork in the path, take the path on the right to the rightmost headland until you reach a rock pillar.

    The island off The Rumps headland on the Western side of Port Isaac Bay is called The Mouls. It is the protruding part of a large surrounding reef which rises from the sea bed some 30 metres below the surface. At mid-tide, strong currents rush through this shallow channel between The Rumps and The Mouls which are often visible on the surface. The Mouls is also referred to as Puffin Island as it is one of the last remaining breeding places for atlantic puffins on the coast. Other seabirds including gannets also breed here.

  32. Follow the path around the end of the headland to reach the back of an inlet.

    The Puffin population in Cornwall has declined dramatically from a population of many thousands at the start of the 20th century to around 30 birds by the year 2000. Puffins are long-lived birds that only produce one egg per year so anything which quickly kills off a lot of the adults has a catastrophic effect on the population. Their demise is likely to be due to lack of food (in particular sandeels) though it's not completely clear how much of this is due to overfishing (and associated damage to the marine habitat by e.g. beam trawlers) and how much is due to the timing of plankton blooms being affected by climate change (resulting in lack of sandeel food).

  33. Follow the path around the inlet, keeping right along the coast, to a rock outcrop at the start of the second headland.

    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.

  34. Bear left on the path uphill, then turn right onto the path heading between the rocky outcrops. Bear left between the rock outcrops to reach the top of the headland.

    As you walk around the headland, 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.

  35. At the top of the headland, continue to bear left around the rock outcrop until you find the path. Follow this back between the ramparts to the coast path.

    From the top of the headland, you can often see gannets flying to The Mouls and sometimes diving for fish on the reefs around the island.

    Gannets are the largest sea birds in the North Atlantic with a wingspan of up to 2 metres and are easily recognisable by their long white wings with black tips. Gannets can dive from up to 30 metres, achieving speeds of up to 100kph as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most seabirds. To achieve this they have air sacs in their face and chest, which act as cushioning when they hit the water. Also they have no external nostrils, instead they are situated inside the mouth.

  36. At the coast path, turn right and follow it until you reach a waymark for Pentire Farm.

    The name "Pentire" is common on the coast for the simple reason that it means "headland": in Cornish pen means head or top and tir means land. Some Anglicised names such as "Pentire Point" (i.e. Headland Point) are somewhat tautological.

  37. Ignore the waymarked path leading inland to Pentire Farm and follow the coast path to the headland until you reach a small waymark on the corner of a wall where there is a bench to your right.

    This headland is a good place to spot dolphins on their way in or out from the Camel Estuary.

    Both Common Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins are quite frequently encountered off Cornwall. Bottle-nosed Dolphins are the species found in marine parks and are the saloon car of the dolphin world: quite large (adults are 7-12ft long), plain grey and tend to cruise at fairly low speeds though they can do short bursts of over 30km/h. Common Dolphins are their sports car cousins: a little smaller (adults are 6-8ft long) with a flashy hourglass-shaped "go faster" stripe of gold at the front and light grey at the back and can swim up to 60km/h. The considerable intelligence of dolphins includes the ability to learn new behaviours from each other and cooperate with other dolphins or even human fishermen to catch fish.

  38. From the bench, continue along the coast path to the point on the headland - this is Pentire Point.

    Next to the bench on your right is a plaque entitled "For the Fallen". The poet Laurence Binyon wrote "For the Fallen" in 1914 while sitting on the cliffs here between Pentire Point and The Rumps. The stone plaque was erected at the spot in 2001 to commemorate this and quotes the stanza popularly known as The Ode.

  39. From the point, follow the coast path around the headland, into the bay towards Polzeath until you reach a waymark at the back of the narrow inlet of Pentire Haven.

    The middle of the three islands around the Camel Estuary, which is almost exactly 1km offshore from Pentire Point, is called Newland and is home to seabirds such as cormerants and shags. The reef which surrounds the island contains some large gullies over 10 metres deep and some Pink Sea Fans several metres in height.

  40. At the waymark, keep right in the direction signposted to Polzeath until you reach a gate at the bottom of the steps at the next inlet of Pentireglaze Haven.

    In Cornish, "glas" or "glaze" means a grey-greeny-blue colour. "Grey-green headland" could well refer to the colour of the slate along this section of the coast.

  41. Go through a gate and follow the path until you reach a waymark.

    In 1843, the brig known as Hope, from Fishguard, was laden with copper ore and got into distress in a gale off Port Isaac Bay. Fires were lit in Port Isaac to guide the ship in, but it's thought the crew attempted to make a run for the more sheltered estuary at Padstow. They reached Hayle Bay at the entrance to the estuary, but here the ship was driven against the shore at Pentireglaze and all seven crew drowned.

    Another ship of the same unfortunate name was wrecked off the Cornish coast in 1887. A floating corked bottle was found near the shore of St Just Bar in Falmouth Harbour which contained the following message:

    "To who picks this bottle up out of the deep sea can say it is from a shipwrecks crew. I am, myself, Capt. Two Bars, of the lost schooner, and put it in the paper to let my wife know as I am drowned; God bless all my children and my dear wife, and I will meet them in Heaven. God love them. The crew is G. Smith, J. Brown, G. Emery, J. Russel, and C. Hucker. - 1st January 1887, schooner 'Hope, 'from England."
  42. From the waymark, cross the track to the path opposite and follow this in the direction of the headland until it ends on the corner of a lane.
  43. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past Medla. Cross to the pavement and follow it until you reach Trevlac Edge opposite a coast path sign on the right, just before the lane ends.

    You might have noticed that Hayle Bay is marked on maps as not at Hayle near St Ives but at Polzeath. Although this might look like the cartographer had a prior engagement with local scrumpy, there is another explanation: Heyl is Cornish for "Estuary". Further up the River Camel at Wadebridge is Egloshale, which translates to something along the lines of "church by the estuary".

  44. Cross to the coast path sign opposite and follow the path until it forks at a lifesaving buoy, with steps on the right leading to the beach.

    The casts of sand visible on the beach at low tide are made by lugworms

    The coiled casts of sand that can be seen in damp areas on many Cornish beaches are from lugworms. These resemble earthworms (but have gills) and are rarely seen as they live in U-shaped burrows beneath the sand. The worm typically stays in one burrow for several weeks before moving a short distance under the cover of high tide to make another one. The worms are a fairly popular fishing bait but are more tricky to dig out than one might expect as their burrows are quite deep.

  45. Keep left at the fork and follow the path until it ends in a flight of steps onto a track.
  46. At the bottom of the steps, bear left onto the track and follow it a short distance until it ends. Turn right onto the road and follow it to a car park.
  47. Bear left through the car park and turn down the opening alongside Anne's Cottage surf shop to reach the main road. Turn right along the road to reach the main beach car park, on the other side of the stream.

    The name Polzeath comes from the Cornish words for "dry" and for "pool/harbour", perhaps because there is a beach at all stages of the tide. Down the left side of the beach, there are some good rockpools at low tide. The rest of the beach is very flat and sandy, which can make for some long rides (and paddles!) if you are surfing. This also means that in the shallows, the waves are small which makes it safer for small children to paddle or surf than some of the steeper beaches further north. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards and there is usually a separately flagged malibu area to avoid surfers mowing down swimmers.

    The tide goes out and comes in a long way so bear that in mind to avoid floating picnics. In the event of such a catastrophe or for those more inclined, there are a number of cafés around the beach and even a grocery shop. There is often an ice cream van on the beach in the summer, so parents may want to be armed with change to avoid diplomatic incidents.

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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