Barrett's Zawn and Dannonchapel

A circular walk including some of the more remote parts of the coast path around Port Isaac Bay, passing the Donkey Hole at Barrett's Zawn and returning through the abandoned hamlet of Dannonchapel.

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The walk follows the valley and climbs onto the headland above Barrett's Zawn. There is a tunnel to the beach through which slate used to be hauled - it's still just possible to crawl through to the beach but not recommended. The walk continues along the coast to the ravine at Dannonchapel, heading inland past a ruined manor along footpaths and lanes to the start of the walk.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Clifftop views over Barrett's Zawn beach
  • "Donkey Hole" - a hidden tunnel to Barrett's Zawn beach (entry not recommended)
  • Eerie 1000-year old ruined hamlet of Dannonchapel
  • Panoramic views over Port Isaac Bay from the coast path
  • Birds of prey hunting along the deep gorge at Dannonchapel
  • Country lanes and tracks lined with pretty wildflowers in spring and summer

Directions

  1. From the triangle where you parked, walk along the lane in the direction signposted to Port Gaverne, to the main road.

    Swallows migrate to India, Arabia and Africa for the winter. Journeys of over 7000 miles have been recorded.

    Birds are technically considered reptiles and the only surviving group of dinosaurs as they are the descendants of the group known as theropods (that Tyrannosaurus rex belonged to). The oldest bird fossils are about 150 million years old and looked like small, feathered dinosaurs with sharp teeth.

  2. Cross the road onto the lane to Port Gaverne and follow it until you reach a signpost saying "To the coastpath".

    The road from Port Gaverne which joins the Delabole road was quarried out in the early 1800s by the Delabole Slate company and known as "The Great Slate Road". Around 100 ships a year came to Port Gaverne to collect slate, each capable of carrying 50-80 tonnes. It would take thirty wagons, pulled by over a hundred horses, to load a sixty ton ship. The slates were loaded by women, who then packed them in straw to protect them on the voyage. The incoming ships also brought coal from Wales and limestone, for the local limekiln, which was used to whitewash the cottages.

  3. Turn right in the direction signposted "To the Coastpath", onto a concrete track to Middle Hendra Farm and follow this into the farmyard.
  4. Follow the track around to the left, passing the farm buildings on your right. Bear left onto a track indicated by a green footpath sign and follow it to the end of the barn.

    Hendra is a common Cornish place name meaning "home farm" (from the Cornish word hendre which itself is based on the words hen meaning old, and dre is equivalent to tre). Hendra was also used as a boy's first name with the meaning literally "from the family farm".

  5. Keep left down the track indicated by the green sign, and follow the track to the gateposts leading into the parking area of the house where another grassy track departs to the right.

    Despite being called red campion, its flowers are most definitely pink - varying quite widely in shade from vibrant deep pinks to very pale. The plant is known by a few local names including Johnny Woods, Ragged Jack, Scalded Apples, and particularly in the southwest as Red Riding Hood. Another name - "Batchelors' buttons" - suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young men.

  6. Bear right onto the track and Follow this around the right side of the house to a gate.
  7. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the right-hand hedge to a post with an arrow in front of the trees.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  8. At the post, bear left to stay in the field and follow the waymarked path alongside the woodland on your right to a fence at the end of the field.

    Wooded coastal valleys such as this small one are used for shelter by deer which venture out into the fields beside the coast path at quiet times, particularly in the very early morning.

    Red and Roe deer are the two truly native species of the six found in the UK and both have pointy, branching (rugose) antlers. The Red deer is the largest of the species and has a characteristic large white V on its backside whereas the Roe deer just has a small white patch.

    The fallow deer was introduced by the Normans and has flat, elk-like (palmate) antlers and an inverted black horseshoe surrounding a white patch on its rear end.

    In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, three "exotic" Asian species (munjac, sika and Chinese water deer) were introduced. These all have quite rounded ears whereas the European species all have pointy "elf-like" ears.

    Roe deer, Fallow deer and Red deer are all present in Cornwall and the populations of all three species has increased substantially over the past decade, possibly by as much as a factor of ten. There are also a small number of munjac deer, but far fewer than in the rest of England.

  9. Climb the fence onto a path and follow this towards the coast until you reach a junction with the coast path with a granite post ahead.

    In autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas although more tend to shrivel as the autumn advances. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. This is because freezing breaks down the bitter tannins. Therefore you can pick your sloes in September before they go too wrinkly and then pop them in the freezer to achieve the same thing.

    In 1991, sloes were found in the stomach contents of a 5,300 human mummy in the Alps, indicating that they were part of the Neolithic diet. Alone they are extremely bitter but with enough sugar, they can be made into a range of preserves.

  10. Bear right onto the coast path and follow it downhill into the valley, passing the cliffs overlooking Barretts Zawn, until you reach a waymark beside a grassy hollow.

    At the back of the grassy hollow is the start of the tunnel to Barrett's Zawn beach.

    Barrett's Zawn is a remote beach on the rugged coast between Port Isaac and Tintagel. It is located just north-west of the farm hamlets of Hendra. The beach can only be accessed by sea or via the now disused tunnel on the north side of Delabole Point which was known locally as the "Donkey Hole", because it was once used by donkeys bringing up slate from the beach quarry below.

    It is still just possible to crawl through the tunnel to the beach but part of the tunnel roof has collapsed and it is now not recommended to go through the tunnel as the high cliffs above are unstable. If you do decide to risk it, be aware: there is one narrow squeeze in the tunnel where you'll need to get down onto your belly to slide over a rock, though the rest of the tunnel is reasonably tall; you will also need a torch as it's pitch black in the central section of the tunnel.

    You can walk along the left side of the stream and get out onto the rock platform where the stream meets the sea.

  11. From the waymark, follow the coast path down to the bottom of the valley to a stile and cross the river over the stepping stones. Follow the path up the other side until you reach a stile over a fence.

    The names of many coastal features are derived from words in the Cornish language:

    • Pen - Headland (Cornish for "top" or "head")
    • Pol - often used to mean Harbour (literally "Pool")
    • Porth - Port but often used to mean Cove
    • Zawn - sea inlet (from the Cornish "sawan" meaning chasm)

    Note that Haven has Saxon origins (hæfen in Old English) which is why it tends to occur more in North East Cornwall (Millook, Crackington, Bude etc).

  12. Cross the stile and follow the path over a second stile until you reach a third stile at the edge of a valley.

    There are more than 20 breeding pairs of Peregrine falcons along the coast from Bude to Padstow.

    The peregrine falcon can reach over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its hunting stoop (high speed dive) making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. In 2005, a peregrine was measured at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph). The air pressure at this speed could damage a bird's lungs. However small bony tubercles on a falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving. In Cornish dialect, these falcons are known as "winnards" and local expressions include "shrammed as a winnard" (meaning chilled) and "rumped up like a winnard" (meaning huddled).

  13. Cross the stile and follow the path down into the valley to reach a footbridge across the stream.

    Hanging valleys are common on the North Cornish coast and are created due to erosion of the relatively hard cliffs by the Atlantic waves being faster than erosion of the valley by a small river. In many cases, this results in a waterfall where the small river meets the sea cliff, though many of these are little more than a trickle in dry weather. When there is a strong onshore gale, the waterfalls sometimes run backwards!

  14. Cross the bridge and go through the kissing gate. Follow the path to a gate in the fence at the top of the valley.

    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.

    In Cornwall, cliffs erode at an average rate of between roughly 3cm - 30cm per year depending on the hardness of the rocks and location. In reality this often happens in infrequent sudden collapses rather than as a steady, gradual process. It was found that one massive storm in 2014 caused around 100 times the average amount of erosion. There are obvious implications from climate change leading to more frequent or more intense storms.

  15. Go through the gate and continue along the coast path until you reach a waymark signposted to Tregardock beside a kissing gate.

    Next to the beach below the ruined hamlet of Dannonchapel, you can still see remains of a slate dressing and shaping floor located on a rock jutting out to sea below the main line of the cliffs. Here, lengths of wall enclose a level platform on the rock where there are traces of dressing waste. At the point nearest the mainland are rows of stacked finished slates, apparently never retrieved and now inaccessible. When the quarry was working, this rocky platform was probably linked to the mainland either by an aerial cableway (known as a blondin) or a horse-powered winch (known as a whim).

  16. At the waymark, go through the kissing gate in the direction of Dannonchapel and continue through the gap in the wall into a field. Then follow along the wall on the left to a gateway on the far side of the field.

    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 thyme 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.

  17. From the gateway, follow the path along the left hand hedge to another gateway onto a track running between the ruined farm buildings.

    The ruined hamlet of Dannonchapel, near Tregardock, is over 1000 years old and included a manor house first recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 when it was known as Duuenant. Its Domesday entry notes that it had "land for 3 ploughs" and 40 acres of pasture. The name comes from the Cornish downans which means "deep valley". The suffix "chapel" was added later in the 1300s.

  18. Follow the track past the buildings and continue on it to reach a gate across the track.

    The farmhouse garden at Dannonchapel included four bee boles - external wall recesses in which woven straw beehives (known as bee skeps) were placed. The woven basket structure provided some insulation for the bees in colder weather. Examples of bee boles and bee skeps can be seen at Godolphin House near Mount's Bay.

  19. Go through the farm gate if open, or kissing gate on the left, and follow the track to a corner with kissing gate and signpost.

    It's possible that after wet weather, what we describe here as a "track" may be what you'd call "a stream"!

    In wet weather, water running off the fields can find a path or track that has been worn by many travellers and adopt this lowest point as a watercourse. If you find yourself walking on a path or track that a stream is running along, it's often best to walk along the watercourse which is likely to have a stony bed. The edges are often soft mud, where you are more likely to sink.

  20. At the gate, bear right to stay on the track and follow it in the direction of the barn until it ends in a gate.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

    The Red Fox has been present in Britain since the last Ice Age and is our most widespread and numerous predator. Foxes are omnivores: as well as hunting small mammals and birds, they will eat fruit and anything else they can scavenge, in fact a major component of their diet is earthworms. This flexibility has allowed them to adapt to farmed and urban environments but also varied natural environments including the coast. In the wild, a lucky fox can live an age of about 8 but the lifespan of most foxes is typically only 1.5 - 2 years. One reason for this is that around 100,000 foxes are killed on roads every year.

  21. Go through the gate next to the barn and cross to the gates opposite. Take the left hand gate and follow the track through several fields until it emerges in a farmyard.
  22. Go through the gate at the end of the track and turn left. Follow the track to the main road.
  23. Turn right along the road and walk approximately 20 metres past a building, to another track; then carefully cross the road to a stile opposite marked with a Public Footpath sign. Cross the stile and bear right across the field to a gateway in the right-hand corner of the far hedge.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  24. Go through the gate into the field on the left and follow the right hedge, heading for the bottom right corner.

    The reason that you may see scruffy sheep with wool falling off is that due to cheap man-made synthetic (plastic) fibres, demand for wool declined through the late 20th and early 21st centuries resulting in many sheep not being shorn due to the low wool price.

    As well as being environmentally-friendly, wool fibre has a number of technical properties that synthetic fibres lack including fire-resistance and the ability to absorb and release moisture. Some novel high-tech uses are now being found for it including biodegradable ground cover matting to control soil erosion. As concerns grow over the effects of plastics in the environment, this may also lead to a renaissance in natural fibres including wool. It may therefore not be too long before demand increases and fields are once again full of neatly-shorn sheep.

  25. Go through the gateway ahead into the next field. Follow the right hand hedge to a stile at the bottom right hand corner.

    There a nice views from these fields across the Camel Valley with the tors of Bodmin Moor in the background. The two highest tors visible are Roughtor on the left and Brown Willy on the right.

  26. Cross the stile and turn left then follow along the hedge a short distance to an iron gate in the corner.
  27. Go through the kissing gate and bear right and follow the path through the trees to emerge on a track.

    The name celandine is thought to be derived from the Greek word for swallow, based on the arrival of swallows being a sign of spring. Lesser celandines are one of the first flowers to appear in springtime, and start flowering in March before the bluebells come out in April. They continue flowering through the bluebell period into May so they are often seen together.

    There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain. As the name of the family implies, they are very good at hovering completely stationary in flight and can switch from very fast flight to a perfect hover in the blink of an eye.

    Many have colour patterns that mimic stinging bees and wasps so predators avoid them even though they don't sting. They are quite convincing con-artists and when caught will push down their abdomen in a simulated stinging action to keep up the illusion.

  28. Turn left onto the track and follow it until it ends on a lane.

    The walls were originally railway bridge crossing the North Cornwall line.

    The North Cornwall Railway was a venture backed by the London and South Western Railway to compete with the Great Western Railway for services to Cornwall. The North Cornwall line ran from Halwill in Devon to Padstow via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge and was built for economy rather than speed, including climbs and curves to avoid costly construction work. The line was opened in sections at the end of the 19th century, reaching Padstow in 1899. There was an aspiration to connect Wadebridge to Truro, but this was never realised. Due to holidaymakers increasingly travelling by car in the 1960s, demand for passenger services dwindled and the line was closed as part of the cuts in 1966.

  29. Turn right onto the lane and follow it for just over three-quarters of a mile to the triangle where you parked.

    Buzzards were once thought to be a threat to game birds and were actively shot. During the 1950s-60s, the combination of myxomatosis nearly wiping out one of their main food sources and use of pesticides such as DDT caused further decline in the buzzard population. Since then the population has gradually recovered and buzzards are now the commonest and most widespread bird of prey in the UK.

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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