Gribbin Head

A circular walk on the headland near Fowey where Daphne Du Maurier lived and formed the basis for scenes in her books.

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The route starts beside Menabilly and descends to the coast at Polridmouth where the shipwreck can be seen on the beach at low tide. The walk then follows the coast to the daymark on the top of the headland which can be climbed on Sundays in the summer. The route follows the coast into St Austell bay and turns just above Polkerris to circle back via a small lane.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

I've just completed the walk round Gribbin Head. Fabulous scenery. Using the iWalk app has opened up a new love for walking.
Beautiful polridmouth ..a lovely walk this one .. a stop n stare one.
One of our favourite walks - done it often.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.6 miles/5.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Daymark on Gribbin Head can be climbed on Sundays in summer
  • Views over St Austell Bay
  • Sandy beach at Polridmouth and some small coves around the headland
  • Optional extension to the beach and harbour at Polkerris

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Turn right out of the car park and follow the track to reach the farm.

    On the opposite side of the lane, often obscured by trees, is Menabilly.

    Since the 16th Century, Menabilly has been the ancestral home of the Rashleigh family, who originated as powerful merchants in the 16th century. The gardens were landscaped and the surrounding woodland was planted in the 18th Century. The house was rebuilt after a fire in 1822 and was greatly extended in size.

    During the early 20th century, John Rashleigh III resided mainly near Okehampton and it fell into decay. It was leased to Daphne du Maurier in 1943, who restored it and lived there until 1969 when it was returned to the Rashleigh family, who occupy it once again. Manderley, in Du Maurier's novel Rebecca, is thought to be based on Menabilly.

    More about Menabilly

  2. Follow the track around a bend to the left and pass the houses. Continue on the track until a path departs to the left just before the track ends in a gate into a field.

    Daphne Du Maurier was born in London in 1907 and began writing from an early age. Her parents were in the theatre, which helped her to launch her literary career. The family visited Cornwall for holidays and bought a second home at Bodinnick in 1926. In 1943 Daphne moved to Cornwall full-time where she spent the majority of her life.

  3. Bear left onto the path and follow this downhill towards the coast to reach a gate.

    Being attached to tasty a blackberry means that bramble seeds are spread widely. Mammals, birds, insects and even some fish will eat blackberries. Bramble seeds can survive up to 100 years in the soil, which helps them to colonise recently-cleared land.

  4. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path over some wooden walkways and onwards to reach a junction of paths, with the main waymarked path departing to the right between a pair of posts.

    The beach ahead is Polridmouth.

    Polridmouth is pronounced locally as "pridmuth". The cottage behind the beach is thought to be the inspiration for the boathouse in Daphne Du Maurier's novel "Rebecca". The ornamental lakes by the cottage were created in the 1920s by the building of a dam. It was used as the basis of a decoy airfield in the Second World War to emulate Fowey harbour. Dams additional to the one remaining were built to create a fake harbour and lights were then placed around the lake, orchestrated to emulate those in Fowey. At least one bomb is known to have been drawn away from Fowey, and on average, it has been estimated that around 5% of German bombs were diverted by decoys, saving thousands of lives across the whole of Britain.

  5. Turn right onto the waymarked path and follow this to reach a gate.

    In January 1930, The Romanie was on her way back from Fowey to Par when she was caught in a sudden storm. The three masted iron sailing ship of just over 100ft in length was pushed into Polridmouth Bay where she lost power and she drifted helplessly onto the rocks. Her captain and crew managed to escape without loss of life but the ship was a write-off. The rusting remains can still be seen at low tide and when Daphne Du Maurier walked along the beach during the mid 20th century, the wreck inspired her to make the beach the setting for the murder of her character "Rebecca", and the wreck of her boat.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path up the hill to the tower on the top.

    Du Maurier's inspiration for her horror story "The Birds" was the sight of a farmer being harassed by a flock of gulls as he ploughed a field near Gribbin Tower.

    Aggressive behaviour by seagulls has become more widely witnessed in recent years - a seagull has even drawn blood when we have been testing the walks (clearly, a Cornishman would not let go of his pasty!). Biologists think that seagulls are no more aggressive than they always have been and it is simply that humans are making food more easily available. Most fishermen know that a seagull wouldn't hesitate to snatch a mackerel from half-way down the throat of another seagull and us holding a pasty or ice cream is no different.

  7. Bear right from the tower and follow the path to a gate.

    The 84ft tall tower on Gribbin Head was erected by Trinity House in 1832 as a daylight navigation aid for shipping, enabling ships to distinguish Gribbin Head more easily from other headlands along Cornwall’s south coast. It is now owned by the National Trust and can be climbed on some Sundays during summer; a flag is flown to show when it is open.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path to a waymark where a track joins from the right.

    The larger beach below you is known as Platt Cove. Platt is the Cornish word for "flat" or "plot" (of land), and the "square" in many Cornish towns and villages was known as "The Platt", and still is in some cases such as Wadebridge and Port Isaac.

  9. Bear left onto the track and follow this to a field gate with a kissing gate to the left.

    The pyramidal hill on the skyline is the Great Treverbyn Tip.

    By the second half of the 19th Century, China Clay production had intensified and finding enough space for long "finger dumps" of waste material without covering up good clay ground was becoming troublesome. To take up less space, "sky tips" were created where steep railed inclines were used to pile the waste into high peaks (forming the "Cornish Alps").

    Not many remain as when a coal tip in Aberfan collapsed in 1969 killing 144 people, many of the Cornish sky tips were levelled as a precaution. China clay extraction in the 20th Century was on an even larger scale and the waste dumps from these were flat-topped structures seeded with grass to help stabilise them.

  10. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the coast for three quarters of a mile until you reach another gate.

    The main beaches around the back of the bay from right to left are:

    • Par - the huge sandy beach stretching from the headland all the way to the docks
    • Carlyon Bay - in the middle of the bay with an offshore rock
    • Porthpean - on the far left
  11. Go through the gate and follow the path down the steps. Continue to reach another gate.

    In the mid-1980s, engineers identified ancient underwater channels criss-crossing the seabed in St Austell bay which had become filled with tin-rich sediment. However, no further exploration was done after the price of tin dropped. In recent years, the price of tin has been steadily increasing as the relatively rare metal is used in the production of electronic devices. These reserves are now being re-examined, with possible exploratory work to follow.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path to a gate into an arable field.

    Just after the gate, a path leads through the undergrowth to the rocky point and from here it's possible to climb down to the beach.

  13. Go through the gate and join a gravel path at a waymark. Follow the path to a junction of paths at a waymark at the bottom of a couple of steps.

    The edges of fields are typically less productive areas (e.g. due to the shade from hedges) so for purely economic reasons a margin was sometimes left around the main crop. However, field margins have been found to play such a crucial role for protecting soil and water and enhancing biodiversity on farms that there are now legislative requirements for farmers to maintain uncropped field margins.

    More than 150 plants are characteristic of arable land but due to agricultural intensification, these and the insects and birds which depend on them have declined. The field margins are areas where these biologically important weeds can thrive.

    When fields are ploughed and tilled, rainwater can wash the loose soil out of the fields. The vegetation on margins acts as a barrier and strains out many of the particles of soil from the rainwater.

    When fertilisers are applied to the crops in the field, the margin helps to reduce the amount drifting over the hedges when it is applied. The plants around the margin then act as a sponge, helping to hoover up nutrients that wash off the crop.

  14. Turn right at the junction and follow the path across the field to reach a gate.

    The path to the left zig-zags down the steep hill known locally as Cardiac Hill to Polkerris.

    Polkerris is thought to mean "fortified cove", which is supported by a number of cannons from the Napoleonic wars now embedded in the harbour wall, muzzle first. From the 17th century, the village was based around mackerel fishing until the collapse of mackerel stocks in the late 19th century due to overfishing. The Lifeboat station was built in 1859 and closed in 1922 when a lifeboat was stationed at Fowey instead.

  15. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow this for just over half a mile to return to the car park.

    Tregaminion chapel was built as a Chapel of Ease for Menabilly, to save a long commute to the parish church in Tywardreath. Work began in 1813 and the foundation stone was laid in 1813 by Rachel, the wife of William Rashleigh but 6 months after this she died. The chapel was completed as a memorial to her. As the rest of the foundations were being dug, a carved stone bearing the Rashleigh arms was found and it is built into the wall over the porch. The chapel took another 2 years to complete and was finally consecrated in 1816. William Rashleigh remarried and a son was born and baptised in the chapel in 1817. Many of the items within the church, such as the pulpit, predate the building. Two mediaeval stone crosses were also brought from the Milltown area, one formerly used as a bridge. The chapel was renovated (with a new roof) in 1993.

either as a GPS-guided walk with our app (£2.99) or a PDF (£1.99)

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