Circular walk around Gribbin Head from Polkerris to Readymoney Cove

Polkerris, Gribbin Head and Readymoney Cove

A circular walk near Fowey from the tiny harbour of Polkerris, past the daymark tower on Gribbin Head and along the coast where Daphne Du Maurier lived and based many of her books on, to the sandy beach at Readymoney Cove, returning on the Saint's Way.

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From Polkerris beach, the walk follows along the coastline of Gribbin Head to the daymark on the point. From here, the route continues along the coast to the beach at Polridmouth where the shipwreck was Daphne Du Maurier's inspiration for the murder scene in her book Rebecca. The walk passes a couple more small coves on the way to St Catherine's Castle overlooking Readymoney Cove. At the cove, the walk joins The Saints Way and follows this through Covington and Menabilly woods and past Trenant farm to the chapel at Tregaminion. A path across the fields links to the Polkerris cliff path which completes the circular route.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 6.7 miles/10.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • Pretty harbour at Polkerris
  • Daymark on Gribbin Head can be climbed on Sundays in summer
  • Fort at Readymoney Cove with views over Fowey and Polruan
  • Sandy beaches at Polkerris, Polridmouth and Readymoney Cove

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Rashleigh Inn


  1. Go down the steps from the bottom corner of the car park and follow the lane down to the beach.

    Polkerris is thought to mean "fortified cove". This is likely to date from the early mediaeval period and may have referred to an Iron Age or Roman-era fortified settlement overlooking the cove. A bronze brooch was found on the beach which is thought to date from the 1st or 2nd Century.

    In Tudor times, and possibly earlier, Polkerris was the main fishing port in St Austell Bay. There are records of a sizeable pilchard fishery from 1583 and mentions of a mackerel fishery in the 17th Century. In the early 18th Century, the village was developed by the Rashleigh family for more intensive pilchard seining which involved construction of the quay and one of the largest cellars in Cornwall. After the pilchard fishery declined from the 1830s, a smaller mackerel fishery continued a little longer until the collapse of mackerel stocks in the late 19th century due to overfishing.

  2. At the beach, turn left up the tarmacked track and follow this to a sign for the toilets. Turn right up the tarmac path leading from the sign and when you reach the concrete steps, climb these and follow zig-zag up the bank past one waymark to reach a waymark beside a couple of steps on the right.

    During Victorian times, the Polkerris lifeboat station was built and what is now the Rashleigh Inn was the Coastguard station. The Coastguard cottages were originally built for what was known as the "Preventative Service", responsible for catching smugglers. There was another pub called the General Eliot which was situated in the car park of the Rashleigh Inn but it was swept away by the sea in a storm! The lifeboat station closed in 1922 and was transferred to Fowey instead. The cannons embedded muzzle-first in the harbour wall are from the Napoleonic wars.

  3. At the waymark, turn right and follow the coast path to a gate.

    Throughout the 19th century, mackerel was fished commercially off Cornwall and by the end of the 19th century, there were hundreds of drift netters. These decimated the mackerel stocks and by the 1930s, mackerel were so scarce that the fishery had virtually closed. By the 1960s, the mackerel had recovered and were plentiful for the next couple of decades. More recently, they have noticeably declined again which is thought to be due to intensive trawling in Scottish and Icelandic waters. The South West Handline Fisherman's Association operate a more sustainable fishing model, and readers are encouraged to buy line-caught fish.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach another gate.

    At the lowest point of the field, just before you reach the gate on the far side, a path leads through the undergrowth to the rocky point and from here it's possible to climb down to the beach.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast and then up a long flight of steps to reach a waymarked gate.

    Whilst you stop to get your breath back, 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
  6. When you reach the gate, go through and continue along the coast path to reach a kissing gate.

    The small beach just before you reach the kissing gate is known as Peel Cove. Its sheltered position on the eastern side of St Austell bay means that floating objects such as jellyfish can get washed up here. The largest of the species commonly seen around the coast is the barrel or football jellyfish, on account of its shape. It is also known as the dustbinlid jellyfish which gives a hint of the size that it can reach: large specimens have caused media excitement regarding "jellyfish the size of wheelie bins". Fortunately, they don't have stinging tentacles.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and turn right away from the field gate. Follow the path to a waymark where the path forks in a wooded area.

    The larger beach below you is known as Platt Cove. Platt is the Cornish word for "flat", 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.

  8. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path to reach a gate.

    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.

  9. Go through the gate and cross the meadow to the tower.

    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.

  10. From the daymark, follow the long, meandering path down the meadow to reach a gate at the bottom.

    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.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the path until it passes between a pair of posts and merges onto another path. Follow the path over a wooden walkway to reach a signposted gate on the left opposite a granite post on the right.

    From geography lessons at secondary school, you'll probably know that wave-cut platforms form where waves hit the cliff face and create a wave-cut notch into which the cliffs above eventually collapse. The reason the cliffs are eroded faster than the platform below them is more in the realms of physics:

    • The energy from a wave is concentrated when it breaks against the cliffs; when waves are breaking onto the gently-sloping platform, their energy is more diffuse.
    • On the platform, the force from the waves is spread along the breadth of platform as the tide recedes. However, the cliff face usually takes a beating not just at the very highest point of the tide, but also for some of the time either side.
    • The tide rises and falls sinusoidally with time, in other words, it changes at its most slowly at high tide where it can spend a bit more time bashing the living daylights out of the cliff face.

    Nevertheless, the platform does slowly erode. At Porthleven it is estimated that the platform is eroding at a rate of 1mm every 5 years.

  12. Turn right after the granite post and follow the path along the coast until you reach the steps onto the concrete sea defence at the next cove.

    On the rocks on the right-hand side of the beach are the remains of the Romanie.

    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.

  13. Go down the steps and follow the path along the top of the sea defence, crossing the stepping stones to reach a waymark.

    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.

  14. At the waymark, bear right to stay on the coast path and follow it beneath the trees to reach a pedestrian gate.
  15. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach a pedestrian gate.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    In March 1937, the 3500 ton Kanteong, at the time the world's largest tin dredger, was on tow from the builders' yard in Holland to the Far East when she capsized in a storm off the Eddystone reef. She had to be abandoned, and drifted down the coast until she hit the rocks at Fowey, broke up and sank. At low tide, a huge iron gear wheel is visible above the surface of the water, and below the surface is the remains of the massive dredging arm, complete with buckets.

  17. Go through the gate and cross the small valley to a pedestrian gate into a field. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to reach another pedestrian gate on the far side of the field.

    Skylarks are the most common member of the lark family in Britain and are often known simply as "larks".

    Almost all European countries have reported a rapid decline in lark numbers over recent years. In Britain, two-thirds of the population has disappeared in 30 years. This is thought mainly to be due to intensive agriculture and particularly the autumn sowing of cereals. When cereals were sown in the spring, the fields of stubble that remained after harvest provided an environment where larks could nest during the winter.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path down into the valley to reach a waymark.

    The farm overlooking the valley, called Coombe, is now owned by the National Trust and run as a B&B. It is a typically matter-of-fact Cornish place name, simply meaning "valley".

    Cornwall has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • tenow - valley floor
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream (from Old English)
  19. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path up the steps to reach a gate. Go through this and continue on the path to pass along the edge of a large field (following around the fenced section). Continue to reach a pedestrian gate in the bushes on the far side.

    The two fields alongside the valley of Coombe containing benches are known as Allday's Fields. This was previously a golf course, hence some of the lumps and a number of the benches are located on former tees. The course stretched down into the valley of Coombe where two of the greens were located. The Fowey Golf Club was founded in 1907 and the 9 hole cliff-top course was played until WW2 when the land was requisitioned. An attempt was made to resurrect the course and the club after the war but it only lasted a few years. The land was eventually bought by a wealthy businessman (James Allday) who gave the fields to the town in 1951.

  20. Go through the gate and immediately turn right at the junction. Follow the path until it forks again and keep left this time at the fork to take the upper path. Continue until the two paths rejoin below a shelter.

    The location of Fowey close to the mouth of the estuary made it vulnerable to attack by sea. The town was destroyed by fire during invasions by French, Spanish and other pirate ships in 1330, 1380 and 1457. Following the 1380 raid, blockhouses were built on either side of the estuary mouth. A chain spanned between them that could be raised to close the channel in times of need. The chain was later confiscated by the King after boats from Fowey and Polruan were convicted of Piracy.

  21. Bear left to reach the signpost indicating the path to St Catherine's Castle. Keep left after this to reach a junction of paths.

    At the shelter, the path on your right (either over the rocks or the path avoiding the rocks) is a short one-way path to the top of the fortifications, which block entry to the castle. The Catherine's Castle sign marks another one-way path to the main (lower) castle area, from which there are steps up to the building above.

    St Catherine's Castle is named after the headland (St Catherine's Point) and was initially constructed in Tudor times as part of Henry VIII's south coast defences. It was maintained during the Tudor period and manned by Royalists during the early part of the English Civil war. By 1684 it was described as ruinous, although it was used during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1855 it was refurbished and two 64-pounder guns were mounted below the blockhouse but it was abandoned again by the end of the 19th Century. During WW2, concrete defences were added (most of which have since been removed) and two naval guns were installed; the gun emplacements below the castle are the remains of these, adapted from the Victorian cannon emplacements.

  22. Bear right at the junction and follow the main path downhill until you reach a junction of paths by wooden fence and waymark.

    Like its domesticated relatives, wild garlic grows from a bulb. To distinguish it from other wild plants from the onion/garlic family (such as the three-cornered leek), the species sometimes just called "wild garlic" (Allium ursinum) is often known by the name ramsons or broad-leaf garlic. The scientific name (meaning bear leek) is because the bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears on the European mainland.

    The growing conditions for trees varies from year to year (e.g. there might be a drought one summer). The "bad years" and "good years" are reflected in the widths of the rings. The pattern of good and bad summers is the same (more-or-less, depending of the location) for every tree so this forms a calendar - the known sequence of wide and narrow rings can be used to assign an exact year to each ring. This can also be done with dead and even fossil trees both to date them and get an idea of what the climate was doing at the time.

  23. When you reach the junction by the fence, keep left and follow the path to reach a waymark to Tregaminion.

    Before continuing on the route, you can take a short diversion down the path to the right to reach Readymoney Cove or a slightly longer one to the centre of Fowey (which is roughly ten minutes walk from Readymoney Cove), by keeping right at all junctions along the road.

    It has been suggested that Readymoney Cove was a very early premediaeval trading place, which is consistent with the Saint's Way meeting the coast here. The name "Readymoney" is thought to be from redeman meaning "stony ford"; red was an Old Cornish word for ford (as in Redruth) and men means stone. The "stony" part is often assumed to mean "pebbly" but could alternatively be a reference to exposed bedrock such as that seen on the path down to the cove which may have originally continued across the river crossing before the area was developed.

  24. Continue ahead at the waymark and follow the track until it ends at a lane.

    Ferns produce 2 different types of leaf (although they often look quite similar). The normal leaves are used for photosynthesis of sugars just like in other plants. Ferns also produce a special kind of spore-bearing leaf which can often be identified from the dots on the underside. In hart's tongue ferns, these are really obvious.

  25. Turn left onto the lane, signposted for The Saint's Way and follow it to a T-junction.

    The Saint's Way forms the route all the way to Tregaminion.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  26. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a junction with Lankelly Lane.

    Another place that alexanders are commonly found is near the sites of mediaeval settlements, in particular religious settlements where they were cultivated by monks as a vegetable. In mediaeval cuisine they were used as an alternative to celery (which was a more bitter plant back then). It was traditionally one of the "pot herbs" that were added to stews and the dried seeds can also be used as a spice. Alexanders were particularly useful during lean winters as its new growth is available in the late Autumn, before many other spring greens.

    Red campion is also known by a few local names including Johnny Woods (from its habitat) and Ragged Jack (from its flower shape). Some are colour references such as Scalded Apples, and particularly in the southwest, Red Riding Hood. Cuckoo-flower is a reference to the time of year that it flowers. Another name - "Batchelors' buttons" - suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young men.

  27. Keep left along Prickly Post Lane to a Saint's Way signpost. Turn left at the signpost and go down the path on the left side of the hedge ahead (not the track on the right) to reach a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path to a kissing gate at the bottom of the valley.
  28. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path under the bridge and up the other side of the valley to reach a stile.

    Some mosses are able to absorb 20-30 times their own weight in liquid. Moss was used in several ancient cultures as nappies: babies were carried in a moss-lined bag to prevent leaks. Moss has also traditionally been used to line hanging baskets which are very prone to drying-out. Areas of moss help to protect soil from erosion by runoff and rivers from sediment and flooding by capturing rainfall and giving it chance to soak slowly into the soil.

  29. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a kissing gate.

    A project to analyse blackberries picked from busy urban roadsides vs quiet rural lanes found that there was a slightly elevated level of lead in the blackberries from busy roadsides which is thought to have accumulated in the soil when leaded fuel was in common use. Surprisingly, commercial blackberries from supermarkets also showed higher levels of lead than the wild blackberries from rural lanes.

    Sorrel is common in fields and hedgerows and easily recognisable by its red seeds at the top of a tall stalk. The leaves resemble small, narrow dock leaves.

    Sorrel is used both in soups or as a salad vegetable. The leaves have a pleasant lemony flavour. The plant was known in Cornwall during Victorian times as "green sauce".

    In common with many vegetables, sorrel contains oxalic acid. Exactly how much is a bit unclear: many articles mention "high amounts" though some published studies report a lower percentage than in spinach, parsley or rhubarb, though don't specify how easily soluble the oxalic acid is in each case. Oxalic acid is poisonous if enough is consumed and prolonged exposure can cause kidney stones. So use sorrel reasonably sparingly and don't eat it every day.

  30. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a lane.
  31. Cross the lane and follow the path over the stone stile. Continue on the path between the wall and fence to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    Barbed wire was first used in Victorian times with several different people independently inventing and patenting different designs. Modern barbed wire is made from steel which is then galvanised to prevent it rusting (at least until the zinc coating dissolves away). The barbed wire used for fencing is often made of high-tensile (springy) steel which is suited to being laid in long, continuous lengths. As it is forbidden by the Highways Act of 1980 for barbed wire to block a Public Right of Way, one practical solution used by farmers is to put a plastic sheath over the barbed wire where it passes over a stile. In the rare circumstance that you encounter exposed barbed wire on a stile, the most likely cause for this is mischievous cattle pulling off the plastic sheaths; let the Countryside Team know and they can alert the landowner.

  32. Go through the gate, follow the path down the steps and cross the footbridge. Follow the path along the fence to reach a kissing gate.

    Further down the valley to the left is the manor house of 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

  33. When you reach the gate, go through and cross the footbridge. Then follow the path across the meadow to a gate into a farmyard.

    Hemlock (also known as water dropwort) is a member of the carrot family (related to cow parsley and alexanders) and is common in damp, shady places, particularly near streams. The stems are tubular and quite thick like alexanders and the leaves look quite like coriander (more toothed on the edges than alexanders). New leaves begin to shoot in early winter and by February these are starting to grow into quite noticeable small plants. It flowers in April and May with white flowers similar to cow parsley. It has a deceptively pleasant sweet smell but don't be tempted to try eating it: this is the most poisonous plant in UK. Just a handful of leaves can kill a human and a root contains enough poison to kill a cow.

    The word "farm" has the same origins as (e.g. law) "firm". Both words are related to the mediaeval Latin word firma meaning "fixed payment". Its original use in English was to do with contracts and leasing (which is why "to farm out" means "to subcontract"). In fact the word "farm" had no association with food production until the 19th Century. In the 16th Century it began to be applied to leasing of land and the association with farmland developed from this.

  34. Go through the gate, turn right onto the track and follow it through a gate to a Saint's Way sign on the farm buildings. Turn right in the direction indicated to reach a gate out of the farm. Go through the gate and follow the track to a lane.
  35. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign on the left.

    As you turn right onto the lane, the entrance to Tregaminion chapel is on your left.

    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.

  36. Go through the gate and follow the path across the field to reach a waymark.

    Surveys have revealed that some European countries are losing a third of their honeybee colonies every winter. Yields of some crops such as apples are already being affected by lack of bees and some commercial plants have been recorded reaching levels of 70% under-pollination.

    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.

  37. Bear right at the waymark and follow the path to the Toilets sign at Polkerris. Turn right at the sign to reach the lane and return to the car park.

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