Port Quin to Port Isaac

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.

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). 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. Satnav: PL293SU
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

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
  • Pretty wooded valley at Pine Haven with bluebells in spring

Alternative walks in same location

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 until you reach a bench, just before another kissing gate.

    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. From the bench, keep left to follow the coast path around the headland, until you reach another bench, overlooking the folly.
  5. From the bench, follow the coast path, over the headland, until you reach another bench, at the top of Kellan Head.
  6. From the bench at the top of Kellan Head, 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.
  7. From the bench, follow the path along the fence, and around to the right, until you reach a kissing gate on Varley headland.
  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.

    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, until you 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). 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".

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

    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.

  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.

    Stargazy pie is a pastry-based fish pie which, by tradition, is filled with whole pilchards. The pilchards are stuffed with a mixture of bacon, parsley, onions, cider and breadcrumbs. Boiled eggs and bacon are used to cover the pilchards, which are cooked with their heads sticking out of the pastry (hence the name). This allows the oils, released during cooking, to flow back into the pie, keeping the pie moist.

    According to legend, the first stargazy pie was made one Christmas in the 16th century, when Tom Bawcock saved the starving villagers of Mousehole by taking his boat out in storm-force winds to bring home a huge catch. Where the starving villagers got the eggs, bacon, pastry and other ingredients from isn't explained in legend, but nevertheless, Tom Bawcock's Eve is still celebrated in Mousehole every December 23 with a lantern parade.

  16. Follow the path, to the left of the waymark, until you reach a stone stile in front of a footbridge
  17. Cross the stile and bridge. Turn right at the far side of the bridge, and follow the path until you reach a stile.
  18. Cross the stile into a field. Follow the right-hand hedge to the corner of the field. NB Don't go through the gap in the hedge into the next field.
  19. Stay in the field and turn left, following the right hand hedge inland towards Roscarrock Farm. As a farm comes into sight, you'll reach a track going through a gate, to the right. Make your way to the gate.

    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".

  20. Turn right through the gateway and follow the track along the left hedge, to another gateway.
  21. Continue following the track, along the left hedge of the fields, until you reach a final gate, next to a stone stile.
  22. Cross the stile and continue in the same direction on the path, downhill slightly, until you reach a waymark at the bottom of the far hedge.

    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.
  23. From the waymark, follow the path ahead, keeping the hedge on your left, it until it ends at a gate.
  24. 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 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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