Port Quin to Port Isaac

A circular walk along the rollercoaster path from Port Quin, descending into Port Isaac, with spectacular views of the harbour, via the old houses of Roscarrock Hill including Doc Martin's, one with roof timbers tied on by an anchor chain, and the Sunday School with a bell from a shipwreck.

Get the app to guide you around the walk

Phone showing walk for purchase
Download the (free) app then use it to purchase this walk.
Phone showing Google navigation to start of walk
The app will direct you via satnav the start of the walk.
Hand holding a phone showing the iWalk Cornwall app
The app leads you around the walk using GPS, removing any worries about getting lost.
Person looking a directions on phone
Each time there is a new direction to follow, the app will beep to remind you, and will warn you if you go off-route.
Phone showing walk map page in the iWalk Cornwall app
A map shows the route, where you are and which way you are facing.
Phone showing walk directions page in the iWalk Cornwall app
Detailed, triple-tested directions are also included.
Phone showing facts section in iWalk Cornwall app
Each walk includes lots of information about the history and nature along the route.
Person look at phone with cliff scenery in background
Once a walk is downloaded, the app doesn't need a phone or wifi signal for the walk.
Phone showing walk stats in the iWalk Cornwall app
The app counts down distance to the next direction and estimates time remaining based on your personal walking speed.
Person repairing footpath sign
We keep the directions continually updated for changes to the paths/landmarks - the price of £1.99 for a walk includes ongoing free updates.
Loading...
The walk follows the coast path from the pretty fishing village of Port Quin to Kellan Head, with spectacular views over the natural harbour. The route follows the rugged coast to Varley Head, past the rocky cove at Pine Haven, and on to Lobber Point where there are fantastic views of Port Isaac, before descending alongside Port Isaac harbour. The return route is an easy walk, through pretty woodland and fields, back to Port Quin.

Reviews

Lovely primrose patches on circular walk from Port Quin ~ Port Isaac
A beautiful walk - with some wonderful exposures of pillow lavas right on the footpath!
Thoroughly recommend this walk... views are fab

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.8 miles/7.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Port Quin National Trust car park
  • Parking: National Trust car park (limited space) PL293SU. From Delabole turn right off the B3314 at St Endellion then bear left, then right at Long Cross following the road to the bottom of the coast; the car park is on your left. From Polzeath, head towards Delabole and turn left after the Portreath Bee Centre; the car park is on your right after the fish cellars at the bottom of the hill.
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Picturesque fishing villages of Port Quin and Port Isaac
  • Spectacular coastal views
  • Wildlife including seals, birds of prey and many types of seabird
  • Pretty wooded valley at Pine Haven with bluebells in spring

Directions

  1. From the car park, turn left towards the sea. Pass the large house on your right onto the slipway to reach a coast path sign.

    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.

  2. Turn right, in the direction indicated by the sign. Follow the path up the steps to reach a kissing gate.
  3. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to where a kissing gate leads into a field above.

    There are spectacular views of the inlet and Doyden Castle on the way up the hill.

    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.

  4. Keep left to pass the gate and follow the path along the fence until you reach another bench overlooking the folly.

    Wild thyme grows along the coast and flowers from June to September with tiny pink flowers. During mediaeval times, the plant was a symbol of bravery, possibly due to derivation from the Greek word thumos, meaning anger or spiritedness. An embroidered motif of a bee on a sprig of time is said to have been given by mediaeval ladies to their favoured knight.

    Coastal land management including removal of excess gorse and grazing to keep taller plants in trim has allowed wild thyme to become more widespread as well as the Cornish chough. Wild thyme is a nectar source for many bees and butterflies and the food plant for young caterpillars of the large blue butterfly.

  5. From the bench, follow the coast path up several flights of steps and around the headland until you reach another bench overlooking the bay.

    In the past, when the cliffs were grazed regularly, this provided habitat for wild thyme and red ants on which the large blue butterfly depends. As farming became more intensified and cliff-top grazing stopped, the cliffs became overgrown and there was too much shade. Consequently the large blue became extinct in the UK in 1979. Now the cliffs are once more being grazed and the conditions are suitable, work is underway to reintroduce the large blue to Cornwall after highly successful reintroductions in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

  6. From the bench, follow the path all the way around the bay until you ascend a final steep set of steps to reach a waymark beside a bench.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

  7. From the bench, follow the path along the fence and around to the right until you reach a kissing gate on Varley headland.

    The white flowers along the coast in July and August which resemble a more compact version of Cow Parsley are the delightfully-named Sea Carrot. Unlike Cow Parsley, the flowers start off pink and become white as they open and sometimes have a single dark red flower in the centre. The Sea Carrot is technically the same species as a wild carrot, from which the carrot was domesticated, but is shorter, stouter and more splayed out than a wild carrot. The two converge the further north and east that you go in Britain: West Cornwall is therefore the pinnacle of Sea Carrot evolution. You should avoid touching the leaves of the Sea Carrot as they can make skin hypersensitive to ultraviolet light which can result in blistering caused by extreme sunburn.

  8. Go through the kissing gate and cross the headland to the gate on the other side.

    Just before the gate on the other side, a path runs out onto Varley Head over a stile. This is a nice spot for a picnic on a sunny day.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast and down a long flight of steps to reach a footbridge.

    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."

  10. Cross the bridge, head up the steps, through the kissing gate and follow the path around the headland until you reach a waymark beside a gateway overlooking Port Isaac harbour.

    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.

  11. From the waymark, follow the path down into Port Isaac until 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.

  12. Bear left onto the lane and follow it downhill until you reach a signpost on the right marking the inland route to Port Quin, opposite the parking area for North Cliffe and Garden Flat.

    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.

  13. After exploring Port Isaac, make your way back to this signpost and follow the path indicated to Port Quin uphill beneath the trees to reach a stone stile in the path.

    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).

  14. Cross the stile and continue along the path through a field until you reach another stone stile.

    Sardines and pilchards are names for the same fish. Sardine was traditionally the name given to the smaller individuals and pilchards were the ones that managed to avoid being caught for a while longer. Pilchards have been deemed by marketeers as un-sexy, possibly because those sold in tins during the late 20th Century tended to be the larger, less-bony specimens. Therefore pilchards are now marketed as "Cornish sardines" when they are sold fresh.

  15. Cross the stile and bear left slightly up the field, passing the post in the middle, towards a waymark to the right of the gateway in the far corner.

    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.

  16. Follow the path to the left of the waymark until you reach a stone stile in front of a footbridge

    Gorse, also known as furze, is present as two species (Common Gorse and Western Gorse) along the Atlantic coast. Between the species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century).

  17. Cross the stile and bridge. Turn right at the far side of the bridge and follow the path until you reach a bypassed stile leading into a field.

    Although most primroses tend to be pale yellow, in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.

  18. Pass around the stile and follow the right-hand hedge to the corner of the field then inland towards Roscarrock Farm. As a farm comes into sight, you'll reach a track going through a waymarked gateway to the right. Make your way to the gateway.

    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".

  19. Turn right through the gateway and follow the track along the left hedge to another gateway.

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairyness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration. Wheat is amazingly easy to turn into flour: once ripe, wheat grains easily pop out from the husk and a handful of these in a pestle and mortar results in lovely wholemeal flour. In contrast, the husk is very much more firmly stuck to barley grains and specialist mechanical processing is required to de-hull it, producing pearl barley.

  20. Continue following the track along the left hedge of two fields until you reach a final gate next to a stone stile.

    The harvest scenes in the BBC's Poldark series were filmed in the fields here.

    In farms around Cornwall, harvest was celebrated with traditions such as "crying the neck".

    Neck - a miniature sheaf of wheat with four plaited arms, intertwined with everlastings and the more durable of flowers. The stalks of wheat brought down by the last sweep of the scythe are brought home in thankful triumph, and woven as described. In the evening, the sheaf or zang is taken into the mowhay, where are assembled all the harvest party.

    A stout-lunged reaper proclaims: "I hav'en! I hav'en! I hav'en!"
    Another loud voice questions: "What hav'ee? What hav'ee? What hav'ee?"
    "A neck! A neck! A neck!" is the reply;
    and the crowd take up, in their lustiest tones, a chorus of "Wurrah".

    General merriment follows and the draughts of ale and cider are often deep. The neck may be seen hanging to the beam of many of our farm-houses between harvest and Christmas eve, on which night it is given to the master bullock in the chall. "Hollaing the neck" is still heard in East Cornwall, and is one of the cheerfullest of rural sounds.

    Since the 20th century, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies has been reviving this tradition; the ale part sounds good.

  21. Cross the stile and continue in the same direction on the path, downhill slightly, until you reach a waymarked the gap at the bottom of the far hedge.

    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.
  22. From the waymark, follow the path ahead, keeping the hedge on your left until it ends at a gate.
  23. Cross the stile next to the gate onto the lane, turning right to reach the car park at Port Quin.

    Wild Fennel grows in and around the car park at 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.

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.

Please recycle your ink cartridges to help prevent plastic fragments being ingested by seabirds. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?