Rock to Polzeath

A circular walk across the dunes and headland between Rock and Polzeath returning via St Enodoc Church where Sir John Betjeman is buried.

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The walk follows the dunes from Rock to Daymer Bay and Trebetherick Point where the wreckage of vessels which foundered on the Doom Bar is still scattered. The walk then joins The Greenaway path to Polzeath passing some small coves where a very patient search might be rewarded with a tiny cowrie shell. The return route follows the stream up the valley from Polzeath then crosses golf courses and fields to reach St Enodoc Church and then Rock via the dunes.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.8 miles/9.4 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Rock council car park
  • Parking: Council car park PL276FD. Head along the main road in Rock towards the beach and follow it to the very end: it ends at the car park
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Golden, sandy beaches at Rock, Daymer Bay, Broadagogue Cove and Polzeath
  • Panoramic views across Polzeath beach and Hayle Bay
  • Surreal purple-and-green-striped rocks and remains of shipwrecks around Trebetherick Point
  • Panoramic views along Daymer Bay and across the Camel Estuary to Stepper Point
  • St Enodoc Church - burial place of Sir John Betjeman and itself once buried in the dunes

Directions

If the tide is fully out you can walk all the way along the sand to Daymer Bay car park and pick up the route at direction 11. You can also rejoin the route just after direction 7 if the tide is part-way in.

  1. Go up the steps beside the toilets and turn right. Follow the path past one waymark on the corner to a waymark at a junction of paths.

    Due to its sheltered position in the Camel Estuary, Rock has been popular for sailing for decades. There is a car park with toilets and a slipway to launch boats into the estuary. Rock is also home to Sharp's brewery. There is a pub, next to the car park, which serves food, and a café. A passenger ferry to Padstow runs frequently and, if it's not too busy, will let you take bikes across.

  2. Keep left at the waymark and follow the path past the steps to the beach and then parallel to the beach for a few hundred metres to reach a stream crossing at the bottom of a flight of steps.

    It's estimated that on average around 1 tonne of fishing gear is left in the ocean every minute either by being lost or discarded. This is known as "ghost gear" as it drifts through the ocean, killing marine life in its path. This includes over 100,000 whales, dolphins and turtles every year as well as countless fish and seabirds. When it finally washes up on beaches, it makes up around 10% of all marine litter.

    A number of initiatives are underway to try to prevent fishing gear being dumped in the sea which even include recycling old nets into skateboards. However, since the gear that's already in the sea can take 600 years to break down, you can help by spotting any washed up on the beach. If you come across a small amount of fishing gear on a beach that's safe to remove then bin it. If you spot some that's too large to deal with yourself then take a photo and email it to sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk, describing where it is and giving an idea of size.

  3. Cross the stream to the path opposite then keep left at the waymark to keep following the path parallel to the beach. Continue to reach a fork in the path just before a waymark.

    On the opposite side of the Camel estuary is the Doom Bar, on which you may see waves breaking or even exposed sand, depending on the state of the tide.

    The Camel Estuary is notorious for the Doom Bar - a sand bar which has caused many ship and small boat wrecks. For ships sailing into the bay on the prevailing SW wind, a great hazard was caused by the immediate loss of power due to the shelter from the cliffs. Once becalmed, they would drift helplessly and run aground on the Doom Bar. Therefore rockets were fired from the cliffs, to place a line onboard, which could then be used to pull the ship to the shore. Along the coastal path, on the cliff top, is an abandoned manual capstan which was used to winch the ships towards the harbour.

  4. Continue ahead on the main path to reach a waymark in the middle of the path.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay, making it the longest river in Cornwall after the Tamar.

    The name Cam-El is from the Cornish meaning "crooked one". It is documented that only the upper reaches of the river, above Boscarne, were originally known as the "Camel". The section from Boscarne to Egloshayle was known as the "Allen" and below this, it was known as "Heyl".

    The River Camel is classed as a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive. The river is a breeding ground for otters, Atlantic salmon and bullhead (a small fish that looks a bit like a blenny but is more closely related to lionfish and scorpionfish).

  5. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path downhill to reach another waymark. Turn right at this and follow the main path until it forks.
  6. Keep right at the fork and follow the main path across the dunes towards the hill in the distance. As you approach the white house, head towards this to reach a waymark just behind a bush.

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

  7. At the waymark, follow the coast path ahead and around the side of the hill. As the path descends, follow it through some bushes to a fork.

    Dunes (called towans in Cornish) form when dry sand from the beach is blown by the wind, and initially lodges against an obstruction, eventually forming a ridge. More sand can then accumulate against the ridge and vegetation such as marram grass can then take hold, preventing the resulting sand hill from washing or blowing away. Erosion of the vegetation by foot traffic can cause the dunes to disintegrate, so areas are sometimes fenced off to allow the all-important weeds to recover. Most of the major dunes on the North Cornish coastline are thought to have formed from around 5,000 years ago when sea levels finally stopped rising after the glacial ice from the last Ice Age had finished melting.

  8. Keep right to stay on the dunes and follow the path into a sandy area. Cross to the small path leading along the river and follow this over a footbridge to a T-junction in the path in front of a dune restoration sign.

    Since water drains away quickly through the sand, marram grass has evolved a number of strategies to capture and retain water including its waxy, curled leaves which contain hairs inside to minimise evaporation caused by moving air. Its roots form a fibrous mat which trap water but also play a vital role in stabilising the dunes by stopping the sand blowing away. During the 17th Century, large amounts of marram grass were harvested for thatch and this destabilised the dunes so much that farms, estates and even entire villages were buried.

  9. Turn right, indicated for the church, and follow the path until you reach a fork.

    Although the current town of Rock has only been built relatively recently, it is thought that in mediaeval times there might have been a settlement somewhere between St Enodoc church and St Michael's Church at Porthilly, and that this became overwhelmed with sand and was abandoned. In 1778, the shifting sands revealed a chapel and cemetery containing slate coffins and human bones. There are also reported finds of kitchen utensils such as spoons, ornaments and jewellery and English coins spanning the reigns of Henry I to Elizabeth I. Excavations at Porthilly to lay pipes have also found that the thick layer of sand seems to have been laid down after Tudor times.

  10. Keep left at the fork to pass between the bushes and emerge at a junction of paths. Keep left to follow the path out onto the beach then turn right to follow the top of the beach to reach the flight of steps leading to the car park.

    Daymer bay is situated around the corner from Polzeath, facing into the Camel Estuary. The beach lies directly in front of the car park, down a short flight of steps. The sheltered estuary means that Daymer Bay is popular for windsurfing, kitesurfing etc. There is a beach at all states of the tide and the waves are never very big so it's a safe place to take young children paddling, though in deeper water the tidal river currents can be strong so swimming out into the estuary is not advised.

  11. Go up the steps and turn left at the top. Walk along the edge of the car park to join the path leading along the coast. Follow this to a gap in the wall on the point beside a post with a yellow sign.

    Trebetherick Point at Daymer Bay is a geologist's paradise, deemed "difficult and controversial (therefore interesting and exciting!)" by the Open University Geological Society. The rest of us can admire the pretty green-and-purple-striped slate!

  12. Continue ahead on the gravel path and follow it to a crossing of paths with a "To The Beach" sign.

    As you round the point, next to the path are the remains of shipwrecks, washed ashore in heavy seas.

    On 11 April 1900, the sailing ship "Peace and Plenty" was returning from fishing and, on rounding Stepper Point at the entrance to the Camel Estuary, was becalmed. The vessel was anchored but in the rough sea, the ship began to roll and the anchor dragged. Eventually she struck Greenway Rocks on the opposite side of the estuary. The Padstow lifeboat "Arab" was launched and anchored close to the stricken ship. A tremendous wave struck the lifeboat, breaking ten oars and washing eight of her crew overboard. The men managed to regain the lifeboat without loss of life but due to the lack of oars, it was incapacitated. Using the remaining oars and the anchor cable, the coxwain managed to manoevre the boat into a creek where the crew jumped ashore, moments before she was dashed against the rocks. The new Padstow steam lifeboat was then launched, but as it left the harbour, a large wave broke and capsized it; eight of her crew of eleven were drowned and it was also wrecked. The Trebetherick rocket brigade managed to attach lines to the "Peace and Plenty" just before it sank beneath the surface, and five of the eight crew were saved.

  13. Continue ahead on the gravel path and follow this to reach a footbridge.

    The 40ft stone tower on Stepper Point, affectionately known as "The Pepper Pot", was built as a daymark - a navigation beacon for seafarers during daylight. At 240 feet above sea level, it is visible from 30 miles away. When it was built in 1830, the daymark cost the sum of £29. The money was raised by giving donors voting rights in the Harbour Association: one guinea would buy one vote.

  14. Cross the bridge and turn left. Follow the path along the fence to eventually emerge on the road.

    Surfing in the UK became popular in the 1960s, driven by the music of The Beach Boys and the Hawaiin influence in California. However there were pioneer surfers in Cornwall and the Channel Islands shortly after the First World War. In the 1920s, the young men of Perranporth were provided with coffin lids by the local undertaker for use as surfboards.

  15. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left. When the pavement ends, climb the steps to follow the path along the fence then follow the road over the bridge. On the other side, join the path along the front of the shops to reach a track leading between the shops beside a Polzeath Gardens sign.

    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.

  16. Turn right onto the track on the far side of the Polzeath Gardens sign and follow it until you pass through a car park to reach a No Through Road sign.
  17. Continue ahead onto the stony track to where it forks to go into the holiday park.
  18. Keep left at the fork to follow the track ahead. Continue around the corner past Shilla Mill to reach a footbridge.

    Slate is formed when clay or volcanic ash is compressed under millions of years of deposits to form shale, and then the shale is subject to a (relatively low, in geological terms) heat and pressure transforming it into a harder, less-crumbly rock - slate. The heat and pressure can arise from an intrusion of molten magma into the sedimentary rocks or from the friction associated with collision of tectonic plates. Like shale, slate also has a layered structure, splitting into thin sheets which have proven ideal for shedding water from roofs without collapsing them under the weight of stone. However, the direction that the slate splits into layers is often not the same as the direction of the layers that were laid down in the original shale. This is because a reorganisation of the mineral components occurs during the metamorphosis, based on the direction that the pressure was applied. In other words, it's possible to have stripey slates.

  19. Cross the footbridge and continue a few paces to a junction of paths beside an old stile. Follow the path to the left to emerge on a golf course.
  20. Walk across the grass to join the stony path and then follow the path along bushes, past the signs and white marker stones. Continue uphill to where the path meets a fairway.

    The golf course at Roserrow is now known as "The Point" due to the rather nice view of Pentire. Although the course's website states that "suitable golfing attire is compulsory", there is no need to dress in Argyle jumpers for this part of the route. However, please respect the grass when crossing the fairways (e.g. avoid stabbing it with walking poles). Also take note of the locations of any players and direction of play, to avoid any parts of your anatomy from impeding the progress of golf balls.

  21. Cross the fairway to the line of white stones and cross the next fairway to the white posts beside the wall.

    Look out for golf balls coming from the left as you walk onto the first fairway, and from the right on the second fairway.

  22. Turn left and follow the path along the hedge which opens out into a track. Follow the track around the corner to the right and continue on the track until it ends on a tarmac lane.
  23. Cross the tarmac to the path opposite. Follow the path along the fence until the fence ends.
  24. Continue ahead and follow the line of white posts to reach a final post in front of the bushes.
  25. Turn left and follow the wall to the corner then turn right to keep the wall on your right and follow it until it ends.

    Look out for golf balls coming from the left as you walk onto the fairway.

  26. Bear left down the hill from the end of the wall to a stile in the hedge marked with red and white posts.

    This area of the golf course seems to be a good spot for giant puffballs.

    There are a few different species of fungi known as puffballs. The genus name Lycoperdon is derived from Latinised versions of the Greek words for "wolf fart". The largest species - the giant puffball - is edible and can grow to sizes ranging from a citrus fruit to a watermelon. The largest found was close to 4 feet across!

    To be edible they must be pure white (not yellowish or any other colour) all the way through and fairly spongy, like a loaf of bread. If it is very dense, look closely to see if there is an immature mushroom cap developing inside. If so, throw it away immediately as that a poisonous type of button mushroom, not a puffball!

  27. Cross the stile and stream and climb the steps to the field. Unhook the bungee between the two posts to pass through the electric fence (and rehook behind you). Bear right slightly across the field to reach another bungee/post arrangement in the second of the two openings in the hedge on the right.

    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.
  28. Go through the gap in the hedge via the bungees in the electric fences. Then go through a final bungee to join the narrow path leading ahead between the hedge and fence and follow this to a stile.
  29. Cross the stile and follow the track until it ends in a junction with the road.
  30. Cross the road to the stile opposite and climb this into the field. Follow the path across the field to reach a gap in the hedge on the far side leading to a stile.

    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.

  31. Follow the path to the stile and cross this into the field. Continue ahead across the field towards the church spire to a gate in the fence opposite.
  32. Go through the gate and turn right towards the white stone then left to keep the bank on your left. Follow the path marked with white stones to the church entrance.

    St Enodoc church is located amongst the greens of the St Enodoc Golf Course. The church dates from the 12th century and is said to lie on the site of a cave where St Enodoc lived as a hermit. It is thought that St Enoder (aka Enodoc) was the grandson of the 5th Century Celtic King Brychan.

    Over a number of centuries, the church became virtually buried by the towans (dunes) and was known locally as "Sinking Neddy". In order to collect its tithes, the church had to host services at least once a year so the vicar and congregation had to enter through a hole in the roof during this period. During the 19th century, the church was excavated and later it became a favourite place of Sir John Betjeman who is buried in the churchyard.

  33. Follow the gravel path downhill from the church to a junction of paths.

    Brychan was a legendary Celtic king (originally born in Ireland) who ruled over Breconshire in South Wales and was viewed as the father of the Celtic saints.

    Several mediaeval manuscripts state that he was married three times but the numbers of children vary from 12 to 63 with 24 being the most commonly reported number. There is also little agreement in the lists of names between Cornish and Welsh manuscripts. It is through that the list of his children may have grown over time as more people claimed themselves or their local saint to be descended from what was seen as the holy family.

    Most of his children were reported to have evangelised Cornwall and North Devon, with many of the churches dedicated to them. Consequently, many of the place names in North Cornwall (St Teath, St Mabyn, St Endellion, St Minver, St Clether, Egloshale, Egloskerry, Advent, Morwenstow, Lelant etc) are associated with the names of his children.

  34. Turn left and follow along the fence and the bottom hedge to reach a gravel path.
  35. Join the gravel path ahead and follow this and the small footpath leading from it. Continue over the grassy mounds to reach a gravel track with a No Entry sign.

    In 1889, some local golf enthusiasts laid out a few holes amongst the dunes at Rock and they formed St. Enodoc Golf Club in 1890. A course was built in 1890 but initially only consisted of 9 holes. It wasn't until 2 years later that another 9 were added. In 1907, a new 18 hole course was laid out, which forms the basis of today's course, with a number of alterations in the intervening years. The course now ranks within the top 100 in the world.

  36. Cross over the track and follow the line of white stones and yellow posts to reach the stone bridge crossing the pond.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  37. Cross the bridge to reach a waymark. Turn left and follow the track until it ends on a strip of tarmac.

    On the slopes of the valley created by the stream that feeds the lake is a holy well known as the Jesus Well.

    The Jesus Well at Rock is said to be where St Enodoc baptised converts to the Christian faith in the 6th Century and the water is still used for baptisms. The well was rebuilt in Victorian times and was restored to its current form in the 20th Century. The reason for it being known as Jesus Well is connected with the tale of a visit to the estuary by tin-trader Joseph of Arimathea with the young Jesus.

  38. Cross the tarmac to the path opposite with a large white marker stone and "Beach" painted on the road. Follow the path along the line of white marker stones all the way across the golf course and through some bushes to reach a fork in the path.

    "Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was most unhappy with the Celtic people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian façade.

  39. Bear left at the fork and left again at the next junction. Follow the path marked with white stones across the dunes until you climb a small hill and pass between some bushes to reach a fork in the path as a fence comes into view.

    Padstow is a very old port town facing into the Camel Estuary (formerly Petrockstow after St Petroc). Possibly from as early as 2500 BC, Padstow has been used as a natural harbour, linking Brittany to Ireland along the 'Saints Way' from Fowey. In the Middle Ages, it was known as Aldestowe (the 'old place', to contrast with Bodmin, which was the new place). The Cornish name Lannwedhenek or Lodenek derives from the Lanwethinoc monastery that stood above the harbour in Celtic times.

  40. Keep right at the fork. As the path descends, keep right at the next fork and cross over the steeply descending path to continue in the same direction and reach a waymark.

    The Camel Estuary is a breeding ground for bass and is a designated conservation area. Fishing for bass is illegal during the closed season in the summer and autumn. Given they are normally found in the sea, bass are surprisingly tolerant of freshwater and sometimes venture quite a long way upriver.

  41. Take the path ahead from the waymark and then follow the waymarked path back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    Rock has been referred to as "Britain's Saint-Tropez", the "Kensington of Cornwall" and "Chelsea-on-sea" due to its popularity as a holiday or second home location for celebrities (including Prince Harry, the actor Hugh Grant, the Rothschilds, the Sainsburys, the Freuds, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, Gordon Ramsay and David Cameron). Contrary to stereotypes about how celebrities might spend their holidays and despite the density of fine dining establishments in and around Rock and Padstow, Bodmin's Barnecutt's bakery still very much holds its own here. It's only a matter of time before "Wasson my 'ansome?" is customary in the House of Lords.

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.

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