Trebarwith Strand to Backways Cove

A short circular walk from the long, sandy beach of Trebarwith Strand to the rugged rocky cove at Backways in which sea foam tornadoes form in windy weather, and returning over the massive headland of Dennis Point with panoramic views of Port Isaac Bay.

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The walk climbs from the valley to the tiny Trebarwith village, then descends through fields to coastal heath alongside the stream to reach Backways Cove. The route then follows the coast path over Dennis Point, where there are spectacular views over Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac Bay, to reach the Port William inn.

The track between the fields near Trebarwith Farm can be slippery as a spring runs along part of it. You may want to take a pole.

Reviews

We’ve done this walk and, whilst it’s not that far, the rewards are great. Breathtaking coastal views yes but the walk towards Backways across farmland and open countryside is spectacular. More like Scotland than Cornwall.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.2 miles/3.5 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Trebarwith Strand council car park
  • Parking: Council car park PL340HB. Turn down the road to Trebarwith Strand from the B3263 at the bottom of Trewarmett Hill. Follow the road past a crossroads. The car park is the first one on your right.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views over Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac Bay from Dennis Point
  • Wildflowers and wildlife at Backways Cove
  • Sand, surf and rock pools on Trebarwith Strand
  • Forage for blackberries and parasol mushrooms in late summer and early autumn, and sloes in autumn and early winter
  • Bizarre sea foam tornadoes during winter storms at Backways Cove
  • Fantastic views of Trebarwith Strand from the Port William Inn

Directions

  1. From the car park turn left and walk up the road away from the beach until you reach the crossroads above the Mill House Inn.

    The Mill House Inn is situated where Trebarwith Valley is crossed by the road from Treknow to Trebarwith Village. The Mill House, formerly known as Treknow Mill, dates back to before Victorian times and was a corn mill. The mill wheel was constructed in the 19th Century. Some of the field names on the tithe map of 1840 also suggest there were once a windmill situated at the top of Treknow perhaps dating back as far as mediaeval times, catching the westerlies blowing up Trebarwith Valley.

  2. Turn right up the steep hill and follow the lane until you reach Trebarwith Farm on your left.

    The settlement of Trebarwith was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Treberbet. The name is from the Cornish word perveth and means "middle farm". The name of the nearby beach - Trebarwith Strand - was taken from this small farmstead, but the large, sandy beach has become far more well-known than the place from which its name originates. In fact just about everyone uses "Trebarwith" to refer to the beach and distinguishes the settlement as "Trebarwith Village".

  3. Turn right down the stony track opposite the Trebarwith Farm sign (you'll see a public footpath sign once you turn onto the track) and go through the kissing gate on the left of the gate. Follow the track across the field to a waymark at a fork in the track.

    Just to the left of the track, an overgrown building can be seen which was a watermill powering a large threshing machine.

    A watermill powering a large threshing machine was once located near the start of the track from Trebarwith Village to Backways Cove. The 20ft diameter water wheel, which can still be seen in the undergrowth, was connected to a drive shaft which ran (and still remains) under the road, and powered a threshing machine in a stone barn at Trebarwith Farm, which prior to this, had been powered by horses. The threshing machine allowed the previously time-consuming manual task of separating wheat and barley grains from the stalks and husks to be automated, saving large amounts in labour costs.

  4. At the waymark, go through the left-hand gateway and follow the track through a short sequence of 3 metal gates to where it bends to the right and you reach a waymark on top of the hedge.

    During the warmer months, you may well see red-brown cattle grazing the fields here.

    The cattle breeds known as Devon were also the traditional breeds used in Cornwall until recent years. The South Devon breed, affectionately known as "Orange Elephant" or "Gentle Giant", is the largest of the British native breeds: the largest recorded bull weighed 2 tonnes. They are thought to have descended from the large red cattle of Normandy, which were imported during the Norman invasion of England. The other breed, known as "Devon Ruby" or "Red Ruby" (due to their less orange colouration), is one of the oldest breeds in existence, with origins thought to be from pre-Roman Celtic Britain.

  5. At the waymark, go through the opening on the left and follow along the hedge to pass an opening and reach a waymarked gate.

    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.
  6. Go through the waymarked gate ahead and continue ahead across the field to reach a gateway in the middle of the far hedge.

    Between Tregardock and Backways Cove lie the remains of Treligga Aerodrome (HMS Vulture II). Both the observation/control tower and the reinforced hut near the sea (towards Backways Cove) are still standing, as are the accommodation and service huts near Treligga village. The control tower has quite recently been repaired and converted into accomodation.

    Before the Second World War, HMS Vulture II was used as a glider site. However the Admiralty requisitioned 260 acres of land in late 1939 for the purposes of constructing an aerial bombing and gunnery range. Unusually, the entire operation at HMS Vulture II was staffed by the Women's Royal Naval Service.

    On 16 September 1943, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was forced to make an emergency landing at HMS Vulture II. The pilot, Capt Jack Omohundro, had ignored a red flare warning him to keep clear. The plane was chronically short of fuel and running on three engines after a raid on U-boat pens at Nantes in France. The bomber had left its formation to try and preserve what little fuel it had left. Spotting the tiny Treligga airstrip, he skillfully landed 'wheels-down' just 50 yards short of the Wrens quarters.

  7. Go through the gateway and follow the path across the field to a gate opposite.

    The bottom field is hedged with blackthorn, so if you want to make sloe gin, this is a good place for picking in autumn. Afterwards you can use the gin-infused sloes to make sloe sherry and sloe cider.

  8. Go through the kissing gate next to the gate and follow the path to a waymark beside the stream.

    The river valley to the left is a hanging valley, cut short of sloping into the sea due to erosion of the cliffs by the powerful Atlantic waves.

    The valley above Backways Cove is located just below Trebarwith Village, to the south of Trebarwith Strand. It is rich in wildflowers and heathland butterflies. Notably a species of wild Camomile grows here which is rare in the rest of the country. There is a story that a cow once went missing for 3 days at Backways Cove and reappeared staggering drunkenly after gorging on Camomile; a chemical within Camomile is known to be an intoxicant in animals if ingested in large quantities, so there may be some truth in this!

    The path, leading uphill to the right, goes to the slate quarries.

    Coastal slate quarries are confined to a small area of about five miles either side of Tintagel and relatively little is known about their history. In order to work the vertical cliff face, strong points were built from stone above the working areas. From these, ropes were dropped down the quarry face. Men were lowered down the faces on these ropes to split blocks of slate from the face. The slate was hauled up the cliff face on these cables which were wound using "horse whims" - capstans powered by horses or donkeys walking around a circular platform. The stone was split and shaped on "dressing floors" on the cliff top, originally covered with sheds. The remains can be seen as level terraces and are marked by screes of waste rock on the cliff below. Splitting was (and still is) done with a bettle (hammer) and chisel, hence the name of the pub in Delabole.

  9. Follow the path along the stream to a waymark beside a footbridge.

    To get down to the beach, cross over the stream and make your way carefully over the rocks. They can be slippery when it's wet so it's only advisable in dry weather. The rocky beach of Backways Cove is the result of slate quarrying combined with natural erosion.

    Backways Cove is a small rocky inlet and beach at the bottom the the valley below Trebarwith Village, just south of Trebarwith Strand. The location features in "The International Directory of Haunted Places":

    "Backways Cove, a North Cornwall inlet just up the coast from Trebarwith Strand, is still haunted by many unidentified presences who are thought to be the spirits of shipwrecked sailors whose bodies washed up there after they drowned. Numerous ships were torn apart on the jagged rocks offshore, and the shadowy spirits of their crew are still trying to make it to shore."
  10. After exploring Backways Cove (via the path leading towards the sea) return to the waymark beside the footbridge and follow the path up the steps to reach a waymark.

    A tale of Backways Cove was recounted by a folklore enthusiast called Kath:

    Many years ago a man with two sons farmed in the vicinity, and on his death left his entire estate to his eldest son, cutting out the younger one without a penny. The younger son went away wracked with jealousy that fomented over time to be an obsession until, convinced that he had been cheated of his birthright he set out to wreak revenge on his elder brother. One night he crept onto the farm and set fire to the buildings. The blaze took hold and the entire property was razed to the ground. The ruins of this once prosperous farm may still be seen near Backways - a few stones from the farmhouse and outbuildings were all that remained. Only in the morning did he discover that his brother had died the day before - and left the entire estate to him.
  11. Turn right in the direction indicated by the waymark, to stay on the coast path and follow it to the next waymark.

    The carpets of tiny blue flowers on the coast during April and May are the appropriately-named spring squill, which up close is a star-shaped pale blue flower with a dark blue stamen. They achieve their early flowering by storing energy over the winter in a bulb so they can be the first flowers out on the cliffs before they become overshadowed by larger plants. They thrive in locations which are beaten with wind and salt-laden spray which they are able to tolerate but other plants, which might otherwise out-compete them, cannot.

  12. Turn left at the waymark and follow the coast path to a waymark beside the fence near the top of the headland.

    During stormy weather, sea foam is driven into Backways Cove by the wind and vortices form against the sheer cliffs resulting in small tornadoes of sea foam.

    Sea foam (also known as "spume") is formed due to organic compounds known as surfactants present in seawater. Under turbulent conditions, the surfactants form persistent bubbles which float to the surface, stick to each other through surface tension and are driven onshore by the wind. The surfactant compounds themselves arise from processes such as the offshore breakdown of algal blooms.

    On beaches, sea foam can conceal deep pools and gullies with an apparently flat, uniform surface. Tread carefully, especially on beaches you don't know well, to avoid walking off the edge of a precipice or vanishing into icy cold water.

  13. At the waymark, stop to admire the view and get your breath back, then follow the coast path to a gate.

    Gull Rock lies approximately 500 metres offshore from Trebarwith Strand and has given its name to RR Gordon's crime thriller set in the area. It is made of a very hard volcanic material that has withstood the sea whilst the slate around it has been worn away. On the seaward side, where a chunk of the rock has cracked off, you can see the tightly folded volcanic rocks within.

    Recently the rock has turned green during the spring and summer, and brown in autumn, due to Rock Samphire colonising the side facing the beach, which is sheltered from the westerly winds, helped by fertiliser provided by the seabirds also colonising the sheltered side of the rock.

    In the 1800s, the rock at Trebarwith (or Trebarrow as it was known then), was known as Otterham Rock, or Rocks, acknowledging the rocks to the side of the main rock which protrude a small amount from the water. Below the surface of the water, these are part of an extensive reef.

  14. Go through the kissing gate next to the gate, and bear left on the path towards the rock outcrop. Then bear right to follow the path around the headland and along the fence until you reach a corner in the fence.

    The headland on the far side of the bay is Penhallic Point and the one you are now standing on is known as Dennis Point.

    Dennis Point is thought to be a corruption of the Cornish word "Dinas" meaning "castle". Clifftop forts on top of headlands such as this were common in the Iron Age. An area on Penhallic Point opposite is also known as "Dennis Scale" which is thought to have similar origins. However no evidence has so far been found that there was a fort on either headland, so it remains an unsolved mystery. The name Dennis crops up elsewhere in Cornwall such as Dennis Hill at Padstow, which is thought to get its name from the rocky outcrop on the hill that looks a bit like a fort.

  15. Keep left along the fence behind until you reach a flight of steps.

    In the spring, it's possible to use the wildflowers as a compass. On the Backways Cove side of the point, spring squill and thrift grow on the south-facing slope facing the sun. The north side facing Trebarwith Strand gets much less sun so shade-loving plants such as bluebells and red campion grow here.

  16. Descend 170 steps to a reach a level area of path.

    There are spectacular views of Trebarwith Strand and Penhallic Point on the way down. Make sure you stop walking to admire the view (or read this!) and look where your feet are going when descending the steep steps.

  17. Continue on the path to descend a flight of 33 steps, then follow the path to a waymark just before a stile.
  18. From the waymark, cross the stile and follow the track to the Port William pub, where a well-deserved refreshment may be in order.

    The Port William Inn sits on the cliff top above Trebarwith Strand. The outdoor terrace and conservatories of the Port William offer spectacular views of the beach and coastline for weary walkers to enjoy some well-deserved refreshment. The interior is decorated with various trophies recovered from ship wrecks such as brass propellers, lanterns and even half of a rowing boat!

  19. After suitable fortification, follow the coast path down to the road at Trebarwith Strand.

    Several small beaches make up Trebarwith which, at low tide, join to form a mile long ribbon of golden sand:

    • Port William round to the left is strewn with rocks except at the lowest point of the tide. It's popular with local surfers but not recommended for novices due to the rocks and strong currents.
    • Trebarwith Strand is in the centre and is the lifeguard-patrolled area. It's sandy on the left and, to the right side, there are more rocks including some good rock pools.
    • Lill Cove around to the right. There is a gully between rocks that makes it possible to get through to Trebarwith when access is cut off by the sea (though this route isn't available at high tide). There is also a footpath up from Lill Cove joining the coast path which is accessible at all times of the tide.
    • Vean Hole, further to the right, is a continuation of Lill Cove once the tide is a little way out, but is technically a separate beach.
    • Hole Beach to the far right. There is some good snorkelling along the right-hand edge of Hole Beach and due to the large numbers of Sea Bass, it's a good spot for beachcasting. Apart from at the lowest couple of hours of the tide, Hole Beach is cut off by the sea.
  20. Walk back up the hill to the car park from the beach to complete the circular walk.

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

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