Seven Bays

The walk starts at the Porthcothan beach and follows the coast path past a series of inlets used by smugglers to the sandy beaches of Treyarnon and Constantine Bay. The route then passes Booby's Bay, where a buried shipwreck is sometimes revealed by storms, and climbs onto Trevose head past a collapsed cave to reach the lighthouse. The final part of the walk is above the sheltered sandy beaches of Mother Ivey's Bay and Harlyn Bay with an optional short extension to Trevone Bay.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Bus: 56 from Harlyn Bay to Porthcothan
  • Start from: the bus stop in Porthcothan
  • Parking: Harlyn Bay car park. HASH(0x81334db70) Satnav: PL288SB
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in dry weather

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy surf beaches at Constantine, Booby's Bay and Harlyn
  • Alternating headlands and narrow coves used for smuggling, offering panoramic views
  • Rugged coastline with rock stacks, arches, blowholes and caves
  • Rockpools at Treyarnon, Constantine and Booby's Bay
  • Circular abyss created by a collapsed cave on Trevose Head
  • Iconic lighthouse on Trevose Head and lifeboat station at Mother Ivey's Bay
  • Coastal heath rich in birdlife and wildflowers
  • Sheltered cove at Mother Ivey's Bay with azure water in Summer

Directions

  1. The walk begins with a bus journey from Harlyn to Porthcothan. From the bus stop at Porthcothan, follow the lane behind the beach and over the bridge to a track on the left, marked with a coast path sign to Treyarnon.
  2. At the coast path sign, turn left onto the track and follow it a short distance until a path departs from the right. Bear right onto this path and follow it, passing through a pedestrian gate, until you reach a waymark.
  3. At the waymark, keep left and follow the path until it forks just before the end of the headland.

    There is a beach at all states of the tide at Porthcothan, though the beach massively increases in size at low tide, and consequently the tide comes in very fast. At the top of the beach, in the sand dunes, is a store. There are also public toilets in the car park, on the opposite side of the road.

    On the left side of the beach there are some double rock stacks. Before 2014, one of these (known as Jan Leverton's Island) was one large rock with a pair of "windows" going through it, but the central section containing the windows was obliterated by storm waves leaving a stack on either side. To the far left of the beach is a collapsed cave that has openings both onto the beach and the end of the headland through which it's possible to clamber at low tide.

  4. At the fork, bear right and follow the path to a kissing gate.

    The rock stack at the end of the right-hand headland at Porthcothan is known as Will's Rock. This is because smugglers left a man from the Revenue on the rock to drown in the rising tide, however the officer (presumably named Will) survived to tell the tale.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path to another kissing gate.

    Corn buntings nest along this stretch of coast.

    The corn bunting is a small brown bird and as its name suggests, it has a preference for cereals. Consequently it has been living alongside humans since Neolithic times when our ancestors started to domesticate cereal crops. Its common name "fat bird of the barley" gives away its appearance, resembling a very portly skylark that looks like it would have trouble getting off the ground, let alone hovvering. Its call is equally unglamourous, described as the shaking of a bunch of keys. Sadly, the once common and familiar bird has vanished from many areas and is now endangered. The rapid decline is thought to be due to industrialisation of arable farming methods. In Cornwall, the coastal land management provides an important habitat in which the birds thrive.

  6. Go through (or around) the gate and follow the wall on your left to reach another gate.
  7. Go through the gate and keep left at the waymark to reach a second waymark on the point.

    The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage. It is known locally as "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways. Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut.

  8. At the waymark, bear right and follow the path to a kissing gate.
  9. Go through the kissing gate and follow either of the paths which rejoin. Continue along the cliff edge until you reach a fork in the path at the back of the inlet.
  10. At the fork, keep left on the path along the edge of the coast and follow it down some steps to a crossing over a stream bed.
  11. Cross the stream (if flowing, via the stepping stones) and follow the waymarked path to a fork as you pass through a gap in the hedge.
  12. Cross the stream and follow the path ahead, passing a waymark, to reach a kissing gate.
  13. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path diversion around Fox Cove until you reach a waymark beside a bench on the headland.

    In 1969, the Helmsley, a tanker of over 1000 tonnes, foundered on the rocks off the Cornish coast. The ship sent a distress signal, reporting they had foundered off Lizard Point in the English Channel. The emergency services, despite ever widening their search, could find no sign of a massive sinking tanker anywhere in the English Channel. The mist was so thick that the crew had completely lost track of the ship's location: the ship was actually in the North Atlantic, off Trevose Head. The sinking ship finally ran aground at Fox Hole. Miraculously, all members of the crew managed to climb the 100ft cliff to safety, before the ship broke up on the rocks. The wreckage was cut up and removed, so there are no visible traces of the wreck today.

  14. At the bench, bear right and follow the waymarked path past Warren Cove until it passes between a pair of fences at Pepper Cove and you reach a fork at the end of the fence.

    Pepper Cove is one of the narrow inlets between Treyarnon Bay and Porthcothan. When pepper was taxed heavily, smugglers would land boatloads of the spice in this inlet, which gave rise to the name. Once inside the inlet, the boat was hidden from the sea and could be safely landed as the beach is sandy and of a gentle gradient allowing relatively large boats to be beached safely. The neighbouring Wine Cove presumably has a similar origin for the name.

  15. At the end of the fences, turn left and follow the path along the coast to reach another fork in the path.

    In the 1780s, Britain was in financial crisis after losing the American War of Independence. High levels of duty were imposed on luxury goods in order to recoup the national debt and this included the curing salt vital to the pilchard industry which was taxed at around 4000%! Consequently many Cornish fishermen that were previously legally employed by the trade were driven into illegal smuggling. Towards the end of the 18th Century, nearly half a million gallons of brandy and more than a quarter of a million pounds of tea were being smuggled into Cornwall each year. This continued until the 1840s, when Britain adopted a free-trade policy that slashed import duties. Within ten years, large-scale smuggling was just a memory.

  16. At the fork, keep left and follow the path to a waymark on the end of the headland.
  17. From the waymark, follow the path past another waymark and some benches until you reach a fence behind a gully on Treyarnon beach, where a path connects from the right and there is a gap in the wall ahead.

    The cliffs overlook Trethias Island.

    Trethias Island is situated on the left side of Treyarnon beach. The island is separated from the headland by a deep gully which is filled with water except at low tide. At the seaward end of the gulley there is an opening on the left-hand side which leads into a large cave which passes through the headland and emerges in the cove adjacent to Treyarnon.

  18. Go through the gap in the wall ahead and follow the main path in the direction of the houses (ignoring small paths on the left) until it emerges onto a driveway to a cottage.
  19. Cross the grassy drive to the path opposite and follow this down the steps to reach the beach.

    During the spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems and, as the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or leeks. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  20. Cross the beach and take the surfaced track opposite. Follow this towards the house named "Trewalder" to reach a larger track.

    There is a beach at Treyarnon at all states of the tide, backed by sand dunes. On the right side of the beach is a very large rockpool that acts as a natural swimming pool when the tide goes out. On the left side of the beach is Trethias Island. Towards the back of the beach on the right side, next to the car park, is a café and public toilets.

  21. Turn left and follow the track past the lifeguard hut and toilets to a coast path sign by the entrance to the Youth Hostel.
  22. Turn left off the track onto the path and follow it around the headland until you reach a gate with a waymarked stile beside it.
  23. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the lane to reach a path on your left leading down to the beach.
  24. Cross the beach to reach a flight of steps leading up from the far side, near the island.
  25. Walk up the steps and along the cliff behind Booby's Bay until the path meets some tracks leading inland.

    Against the rocks of Booby's Bay is the shipwreck of the SV Carl.

    The wreck of the SV Carl lies against the rocks of Booby's Bay, next to Constantine Bay. The SV Carl was in Cardiff docks when war broke out in 1914 and was impounded. In 1917 it broke free in a storm whilst it was being towed to London to be broken up for scrap. An eyewitness account was recalled in 1966:

    The Carl went aground on the outer reef... Two Admiralty tugs came from Devonport to try to refloat her. They got her off the reef, but as soon as they had done so, the towing hawser on each tug parted, Carl went ahead out of control and grounded on the inner reef. She was there examined by salvage experts...who found no damage whatever to the hull. The Admiralty tugs therefore had another try to tow her off, but once more both ship’s towing harnesses parted. Carl broke her back and became a total loss. But for the unusual misfortune of both towing hawsers parting on two successive attempts Carl would in all probability have been salvaged.

    The 60ft (18m) wreck lay buried beneath the sand with only the occasional part (often just part of the anchor) protruding until the huge storms of early 2014 stripped more than a metre of sand from the beach, exposing the wreck in an excellent state of preservation from being under the sand.

  26. Where the path meets a track, keep left along the coast path until you reach a kissing gate in the wall at the far end.

    A number of prehistoric flint tools have been found in the Booby's Bay and Trevose Head area. The flints were likely to have been from pebbles washed ashore from the offshore chalk deposits that run under the Celtic Sea, possibly from the Haig Fras reefs approx 100 miles to the west of Trevose Head. The flint tools are thought to date from around 6500BC. In that period, sea levels were much lower and Trevose head would have been a couple of miles inland and forested.

  27. Go through the kissing gate, bear left to stay on the coast path and follow it out onto the headland, passing an old stile and a huge collapsed cave, until you reach a gap in a wire fence.

    The rocks off Trevose Head have been the cause of many shipwrecks, and are the main reason that the lighthouse was built. The single large rock, a couple of hundred metres off Dinas Head, is known as The Bull. The group of rocks just over a kilometre offshore are known as The Quies, though were recorded as the "Cow and Calf" on maps of 1720, continuing the bovine herd further out to sea.

  28. Go through the gap and follow the path ahead to a track. Bear left onto the track and follow it down into the quarry (you may want to take a short diversion onto Dinas Head on the left, then return to the quarry).

    On April 18th 1918, the cargo ship Runswick, carrying coal, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Despite the damage, she didn't sink. The crew were transferred to another vessel which proceeded to tow the Runswick. However, the towing hawsers broke and she drifted onto The Quies, off Trevose Head, and sank. The wreck lies between the innermost two islands and is now festooned with sea life including Cup Corals, Jewel Anemones of different colours, Dahlia Anemones, Sea Squirts, Starfish and Spider Crabs.

  29. Cross the quarry, then follow the path on the other side, up the steps to the road.

    In April 1901, the cargo steamer Whinfield was bound for Cardiff with a cargo of Iron ore. As the ship approached Trevose Head, a fog descended which concealed the lighthouse. Disoriented, the ship ended up deviating inland of its intended course and struck the Quies off Trevose Head. Fortunately the crew managed to escape in a lifeboat before the ship went down. A court somewhat harshly found the captain's seamanship to be substandard and suspended his licence for 3 months, arguing he could have dropped a plumbline to establish he was inshore of his intended course and averted disaster by veering seaward.

  30. Turn left and walk down the road a short distance towards the lighthouse until you reach a path leading up to the right.

    Trevose lighthouse is situated on the north west extremity of Trevose Head. Built in 1847 of granite quarried from the headland, the lighthouse tower is 27 metres tall, and has a range of 20 nautical miles (37 km). Between 1912 and 1995, the lighthouse flashed red (since then it's been white). Up until 1995, the lighthouse had a keeper; now it's automated. Between 1913 and 1963, a fog horn developed by Lord Rayleigh was in use here. This consisted of a 36 foot long rectangular trumpet. Walking along the coast path on a foggy day was not for the feint-hearted back then!

  31. Turn right up the steps and follow the coast path around Trevose Head until the path passes the corner of a wall and forks at a waymark.

    Trevose is at a corner on the Cornish peninsula, so a lot of shipping traffic passed close by. During the first World War, a number of cargo ships were sunk by German U-boats lurking off Trevose Head, or mines laid in the area. Two of the ships sunk here towards the end of the war were cargo ships carrying coal from South Wales.

    The Poldown was a 1370-ton steamship. On 9 October 1917, she was on her way from South Wales with a cargo of coal, when she struck a German mine and sank.

    The Anna Sofie was a large cargo ship of 2577 tons. On 23 July, 1918 she was returning from Northern France to South Wales when she was torpedoed by U55, just off Trevose Head. Four days before sinking the Anna Sofie, the U55 had sunk the Carpathia: the liner that rescued survivors from the Titanic in 1912.

    The approximate position of the Anna Sophie was recorded on Admiralty charts. However, when divers eventually located and dived the wreck, they had a surprise: this was the Poldown with its cargo of coal. For many years, another shipwreck alongside Diver Rock was known about, but its identity was unclear. Once the Poldown had been correctly identified, there were suspicions that this one might be the Anna Sofie. This was finally confirmed by a number found on a steam valve.

  32. At the waymark, follow the path to the left to a cairn between the two benches on the skyline.

    The concrete remains on Trevose head are thought to be linked to a wartime observation post and bombing range in the bay. There was an airstation at Crugmeer during WW1 and an airfield at St Merryn during WW2 so it is possible that elements of the remains date from both periods.

  33. From the cairn, bear right to a stile in the corner where the fence meets the hedge.

    From the cairn, you can make a short diversion onto the end of the headland where there are good views of the lifeboat station and the rocks around Barras Bay. Return the to cairn to continue on the route.

  34. Cross the stile onto the lane and cross the stile opposite onto a path. Follow this along the fence until you reach a stile.

    The lane that the footpath crosses leads to the Padstow lifeboat station.

    The Padstow Lifeboat was relocated to Mother Ivy's Bay in October 1967 due to river silting at Hawker's Cove. The current lifeboat, known as the "Spirit of Padstow", was brought into service on July 17th 2006. Things have moved on a little from Padstow's original lifeboat rowed by hand: this one is controlled using touchscreens, has a top speed of 25 knots and is capable of towing 7 tonne ships. It has a crew of 7, including a doctor.

  35. Cross the stile onto a track and turn left, then immediately right over the stile indicated by the Coast Path sign. Follow the path until you pass a waymark and emerge at the end of a track next to Little Treherrock.

    Mother Ivey's Bay is named after a white witch who is said to have cursed the land of a local fishing family who didn't share their catch with the starving inhabitants of Padstow and instead ploughed the fish into their fields as fertiliser. Since then, mysterious deaths have allegedly occured for people digging in the cursed fields. David Cameron apparently stayed in the cursed house for his summer holiday in 2008 but this didn't seem to have stood in the way of his succession to power, perhaps due to limiting his digging to making sandcastles on the beach.

  36. Pass the path to the beach and head towards gates. Go through the kissing gate to the right of the main gate. Follow the path until you reach the main track onto the beach at the Holiday Park.

    The Saphir was a 1406 ton Norwegian steamship and was another coal-carrying victim of the German U-boats off Trevose head during World War One. It was torpedoed by U94 on 25 May, 1918 and sank 1.5 miles NNW of Trevose Head. The Saphir was U94’s last victim, and the U-boat survived the war to be surrendered less than six months later. The wreck lies alongside a rocky reef. It has fallen and then collapsed to starboard, perhaps as a result of initially landing on the ridge of reef that runs almost parallel to the keel.

  37. When the path joins the track to the beach, turn left then immediately right up the steps and follow the coast path until you reach a gateway.

    The offshore island that you can see is known as Gulland.

    Gulland is the most westerly and largest of the 3 rocky islands around the Camel estuary, lying between Stepper Point and Trevose Head. The name "Gulland" is likely to be a corruption of the Cornish word goelann meaning "gull", and the rock appears as "the gull rock" on map of 1576. It is reported to be used by seals as a nursery. Puffins can also sometimes be seen here and it is postulated this might be a small colony distinct from the larger colony on The Mouls.

  38. Go through the gateway and follow the path to a track. Cross the track to the path opposite, and continue on the coast path around the headland until you reach a stile in front of a house at Onjohn Cove.

    The headland is known as Cataclews Point.

    Cataclews Point is located between Mother Ivey's and Harlyn Bay. "Cataclews" is a corruption of the Cornish Karrek Loos, meaning grey rock. This refers to the quarries on the point which have been worked since Mediaeval times. The stone, sometimes known as Catacleuse, is a form of Greenstone (also known locally as Blue Elvan) and has been carved into features such as doorways and windows in churches such as Padstow's St Petroc's. Although the quarry is no longer being worked, it is designated a "heritage" quarry which means it could be re-opened in the future to extract stone for the repair of heritage buildings.

  39. Cross the stile and keep left on the path past the house to a kissing gate.

    The edge of the coast from Cataclews Point to Harlyn Bay was used as a graveyard in the Bronze Age. There have been many archaeological finds here, particularly as the cliffs have been eroded away and burial cists have been uncovered. For example in 1990, an early Bronze Age burial pit was discovered, in which a pottery vessel contained a bronze pendant as well as cremated remains.

    In 1900, workmen digging the foundations for a new house found over 200 graves. Each one contained a body laying on its side in a crouched position with the head pointing North. One contained the body of a child, buried with two mice. The relics are now in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

  40. Go through the kissing gate and keep right past the path to the beach to reach a small path departing to the left along the coast. Bear left onto the coastal path and follow this to a waymark at Haryln Bay.

    The small beach is named Onjohn Cove, though it merges with the other beaches across Harlyn Bay at low tide.

    In 1865, a labourer found two wafer-thin crescents of gold, known as lunulae, above Onjohn Cove (a small cove between Harlyn Bay and Cataclews Point). They probably date from the early Bronze Age, and are likely to have been grave goods, as there are several prehistoric burial mounds nearby. They are now in the British Museum.

    Lunulae were neck ornaments and have been found dating from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Four have been found in Cornwall and are all made of very thin gold. The crescent shape of lunulae is thought to indicate a symbolic meaning, representing the crescent horns of the moon, and they may thus have been objects of ceremonial significance. A number of similar lunulae have been found in Ireland and also Brittany. It is thought the four found in Cornwall were all made from Irish gold and manufactured either in Ireland or Brittany and brought along the trade route between the two passing through Cornwall.

  41. At the waymark, turn left down the steps and follow the coast path onto the beach. On the beach, turn right and hug the cliff on your right which will eventually bring you out onto the lane at the side of the bridge.

    Harlyn Bay faces Northeast which means that the prevailing southwesterly winds are offshore. This is very good news for surfing, but due to the sheltered location it needs a good size swell to produce surf of any size. The best waves are reported to be at mid tide.

    The original name was Ar-Lyn which is Cornish for "facing the lake". This is presumably based on the bay facing away from the prevailing wind and therefore having calm waters. The "h" seems to have been gained during mediaeval times after the Norman conquest when the land-owning gentry didn't speak Cornish.

  42. You can optionally cross the bridge and continue along the coast path a short distance to Trevone which is the seventh of the Seven Bays, returning here afterwards.

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 referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • Any waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • 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 also useful.

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