Circular walk around Port Isaac and Port Gaverne

Port Isaac

A short circular walk in Doc Martin Country including the pretty fishing village of Port Isaac and the historic beach of Port Gaverne with birds-eye views over the harbour.

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The walk starts at the cliff-top car park in Port Isaac and descends to Port Gaverne, then follows the valley behind Port Gaverne and climbs through farmland to the top of the hill where there are excellent views over the valley and Port Gaverne. The route then descends into the neighbouring valley and crosses Roscarrock Hill, following the coast path around Lobber Point to Port Isaac, with magnificent views of the harbour. The walk returns past Port Isaac harbour and through the village then via the cliffs overlooking Port Isaac.

Considerations

  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer. Wellies after prolonged wet weather.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Historic fishing village and harbour of Port Isaac
  • Spectacular coastal views from Pine Haven and Lobber Point
  • Port Gaverne beach - sandy at low tide
  • Collection of historic photos in Port Gaverne Hotel
  • Views of rolling countryside from Roscarrock hill and near Trewetha
  • Restaurants, pubs and shops in Port Isaac

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Golden Lion
  • The Port Gaverne Hotel

Alternative walks

Directions

  1. From the car park at Port Isaac, turn left and head down the hill to Port Gaverne to a junction with a lane on the right with a public footpath sign.

    Port Gaverne, the tiny settlement and inlet neighbouring Port Isaac, was more prominent than Port Isaac in the past. In fact, the settlement at Port Gaverne dates back to mediaeval times, being recorded in the 1300s. The sheltered inlet made it a good place to launch boats and it is still a popular place to launch small craft today.

    The name was previously recorded as Port Kerne and on maps from the 1800s as Port Keverne. One of the quirks of the Cornish language is that "k" often transforms into "g" when placed after another word, which might have resulted in "Porthgeverne" (which is not far from how some of the locals still pronounce it).

  2. Turn right down the lane with the public footpath sign, next to the old pilchard cellars, and follow it to a concrete step with public footpath sign at the end of the tarmac.

    There were 4 large pilchard cellars built in Port Gaverne at the start of the 1800s which can still be seen at the bottom of the hill leading up to Port Isaac. In their heyday, in the early 1800s, it is suggested that they could have processed 1,000 tons of pilchards in a week.

  3. Climb the step and follow the narrow path to a junction of paths with a green "Private Land" sign to the right.

    The pilchard fisheries rose to their peak in Victorian times. The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout "Hevva!, Hevva!" (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".

  4. Continue ahead a few paces to reach a fork the path. At the fork, turn right to follow the path that climbs up the hill. Follow it up the steps to reach a waymarked stile leading into a fenced section along the edge of the field.

    Cornish tradition states that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return from their clifftop lookouts to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the pilchard fishermen returned to land. It traditionally contains flour, lard, butter, milk, sugar and raisins and is similar in appearance to Welsh cakes, but the magic ingredient is a heavy spicing of nutmeg. It is made by crumbling all of the dry mixture together, then adding the raisins and mixing to a dough with milk. The dough is then rolled to a thickness of about half an inch, and traditionally a criss-cross pattern is scored across the top which signifies the nets used by the fishermen. It was originally cooked on a griddle, as with Welsh cakes. Hevva cake has had a recent revival (if you taste it, you'll see why!) and is now on sale in many supermarkets as well as bakeries in Cornwall.

  5. Cross stile then follow the path between the hedge and fence until you reach another stile.

    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.

  6. Cross the stile and the one opposite, and continue along the hedge until you reach a stile onto the road.

    The hedge on the left is planted with blackthorn.

    Blackthorn stems are often covered in fungi or bacteria and if a thorn punctures skin, these can sometimes cause infection. Any splinters left in the skin can also disintegrate over time and result in an immune response. If a puncture wound becomes infected, it's a good idea to get it checked-out in a minor injuries unit in case antibacterial or anti-fungal treatment is needed to prevent it escalating.

  7. Cross the stile and turn left onto the road. Follow it around the bend past Trewetha Farm, until you reach a junction to the right just past Trewetha cottage.

    The first record of the settlement of Trewetha is from 1201 when it was spelt Trewerthan. Other than tre meaning "farmstead", the origin of the name is not known. Given the name is in the Cornish language, it's likely that it dates from before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

  8. At the junction, turn right onto the lane marked with the public footpath sign and follow it as it fades out into a track to the end where a grassy path continues downhill.

    Buddleia are originally from northwest China and Japan where they grow in forest clearings, on riverbanks and on limestone outcrops where they are able to survive with minimal nutrients. They were introduced into the UK as an ornamental plant in the late 19th Century and can found in many gardens. Some have escaped and established a niche on industrial land which resembles their native limestone outcrops.

    The shrub is commonly known as the Butterfly Bush as the flowers are profuse, rich in nectar and are in the shape of champagne flutes; butterflies and bees have sufficiently long drinking apparatus to reach the bottom.

    The plant has two types of leaf; the broad green leaves are replaced with shorter hairy grey leaves during the winter which are more resistant to frost and the drying effect of cold winds.

    As plants go, bindweed is virtually indestructible as not only can the entire plant regenerate from a tiny fragment of root but the seeds can survive in the ground for up to 50 years. The root system can extend to a depth of 16 feet which makes it very difficult to control organically.

    The plant with sticky green seeds is known as cleavers due to the ability to attach to clothing or animals. The use of "to cleave" meaning "to adhere" has Saxon origins but has become less common in recent years perhaps due to the confusion of having a more well-known meaning which is virtually the opposite. A Cornish dialect name recorded as cliders in Victorian times is likely to be a corruption of this.

    Goosegrass is another common name of the plant due to its attractiveness to poultry as a nutritious food. It contains tannins which make it too bitter for humans. Other common names include sticky willy.

  9. At the end of the track, take the path leading downhill and follow it into the valley to a footbridge over the stream.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    All plants in the onion family including three-cornered leeks are poisonous to dogs. Keep dogs away from the plant and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    Hawthorn's red berries, also known as haws, are abundant in September and October. These are an important winter food for birds such as thrushes and small mammals such as dormice and wood mice.

    In sheltered places, hawthorn trees can reach 20-40ft in height and live up to 400 years. In harsher environments such as the coast and moors they can be as little as 5-6ft tall.

  10. Cross the footbridge and turn right. Follow the path to a junction by a signpost.

    Biologically, there is no such thing as "toads": there are just many species of frog, some of which were given the name "toad" if they were a bit drier- or wartier- looking. However, the 2 species of frog known as the "Common Frog" and "Common Toad" are those you are most likely to encounter in Cornwall, so for discerning fairytale princesses, here's how to tell them apart:

    • Common Frog: always found in or near water; smooth moist skin (green or brown and able to change colour slightly to match surroundings); lays eggs in a cluster.
    • Common Toad: quite often found in dry places; dry, warty skin which is always grey or brown; lays eggs in long strings.
  11. At the signpost, turn left towards Tresungers. Follow the path to a waymarked junction of paths just before a stone stile.

    The path to the right leads to what was once Port Isaac Mill. In the 19th Century, this was a bakery and the owner would carry his produce down the valley by donkey to a shop in Middle Street. The stream has been used for milling since mediaeval times, and the name Port Isaac is from the Cornish for "corn port".

  12. Turn sharply right at the waymark and follow the path into a field and along the left hedge to reach a gate.

    Thistle flowers are rich in nectar and provide an important food source for bees and butterflies. The common thistle was ranked in the top 10 nectar producing plants in two different UK plant surveys. The seeds also provide an important food source for small birds such as goldfinches. The plants themselves are eaten by the caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly.

    Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry.

    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.

  13. Go through the gate to reach a track. Bear left to follow the track uphill to a cattle grid and gate.

    A large proportion of buzzards diet is earthworms and carrion and consequently they have a reputation for being lazy and scavengers. However, when they need to be, buzzards are formidable predators. Diving on rabbits and small mammals from a slow or hovering flight, or from a perch, they nearly always make the kill on the ground.

  14. Cross the cattle grid or go through the gate and follow the track along the right hedge until you reach a stile in the corner of the field.

    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.
  15. When you reach the stile on your right, cross it and follow all the way along the left hedge and fence to the corner of the far hedge to reach a kissing gate onto a lane.

    To your right, the headland in the distance is Tintagel Head, forming the far side of Port Isaac Bay. The flat part at the end with a notch is The Island which forms part of Tintagel Castle. The suspension bridge now spans the notch. At the time the castle was built, the gap was small enough to span with some large tree trunks.

  16. Go through the gate onto the lane. Turn left and follow the lane a short distance until you reach a track on the right with a metal gate opposite North Light and The Courtyard.

    The lane was originally the route from Port Isaac to the parish church at St Endellion which is roughly another mile further on from here. The walk to church each Sunday also involved a steep climb out of the valley from Port Isaac.

  17. Turn right onto the track, follow it through the metal gate and continue until it ends in a gate into a field.

    Roscarrock,on a hill near Port Isaac, is named after a prominent Cornish family who owned the Manor which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The farm is fortified with castellations which are thought may have been a deterrent for pirates. The grain store at the farm dates from the 16th Century and still stands on staddle stones.

    During Tudor times, Nicholas Roscarrock was imprisoned for being a Catholic activist and tortured on the rack, which he miraculously survived, only to be imprisoned again 8 years later. After finally being released, he wrote his only surviving work, "The Lives of the Saints".

  18. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a pair of gateways in the corner of the field.

    The wooden pole in the field is probably a "wreck post".

    Wreck posts, resembling a telegraph pole with wooden steps, were used for Coastguard practice exercises. The post emulated the mast of a sinking ship. A "shore" team would fire a rocket carrying a light line known as a whip to a man on the post. Once he caught this, it was secured to the post and a heavier line known as a hawser was pulled out using the light line and secured to the post. This was then used to haul out the Breeches Buoy (a lifebelt with an attached pair of shorts) that the crew member could be rescued with.

  19. Go through the gateway on the left and bear left in line with the end of the headland, until you cross the brow of the hill; then head for a gap in the right hedge.

    In the late spring and throughout the summer, look out for purple betony flowers along the coast path.

    Betony is a grassland herb, common on the coast, with pretty purple anthers that stick out from the plant. The name is derived from the ancient Celtic words bew (meaning head) and ton (meaning good) as it was used as a cure for headaches. From Roman times onward, it was believed to be a cure for a number of things (the Romans listed 47!) including drunkenness; even as late as the 1800s, Richard E. Banks stated that you should "Eat betony or the powder thereof and you cannot be drunken that day" and John Gerard (1597) said that "It maketh a man to pisse well". Betony was also used to ward away evil spirits (hence it is planted in a number of churchyards) and also to make a dark yellow dye for wool.

    The Castor 1 was a cargo ship, nearly 60 metres in length built in the 1950s in Germany. In November 1980, she was on her way back from Londonderry to Par when her engines failed near Port Isaac. Whilst being towed into the harbour, she capsized and sank. The main wreck is lodged in the rocks just outside Port Isaac Harbour and has been broken up by the sea, scattering debris across the seabed of the harbour entrance.

  20. Go through the gap in the hedge and follow the scrub on your left until you reach the coast path.

    In September 1918, the British collier "Milly" was on its return to South Wales from France, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine, two and a quarter miles west of Tintagel Head. Two men died but the remainder of the crew were saved by another passing ship. The wreck is in 46 metres of water and is slowly sinking into the sand front-first. However, a good deal of it is still discernible and it is a fairly popular spot for divers. The stern gun was salvaged and is outside the Golden Lion pub in Port Isaac.

  21. Once you descend to the coast path, turn right and follow the path towards Port Isaac until you reach a gap in the hedge next to a waymark.

    In 1833, Frederick Trevan recorded the foundering vessel - Sloop Theodore of Yaughall - being rescued at Port Isaac in 1821: "Captain Timothy Daisy from Yaughall for Plymouth with potatoes. Vessel seen dismasted. Boarded with difficulty by boat from Port Isaac. Saw no one on deck but heard violin below. The Pats were enjoying themselves it being St. Patrick's Day to whose guidance, of course, they entrusted the vessel. They had entrusted the helm to a boy the day before and he had jibbed her and carried away the mast. The boat people with difficulty got her into Port Isaac after being at it all night. The potatoes were sold at Port Isaac and Padstow and off they went for dear Ireland. Crew exceedingly dirty - great quantity of lice. The Captain would put his hand into his bosom, take one out and address it saying 'Ach, dear honey, I wish you and I were in Dublin' and then replace it."

  22. From the waymark, follow the path down into Port Isaac to where it emerges onto a lane.

    Port Isaac is a pretty fishing village with narrow winding alleys running down the steep hillside to the harbour. Particularly noteworthy is the number of 18th and 19th century white-washed cottages and granite, slate-fronted houses, many officially listed as of architectural or historic importance. Port Isaac was a busy coastal port from the Middle Ages to the mid 19th century, where cargoes like slate, coal and timber were shipped in and out. The stone pier was built in Tudor times, and the rest of the harbour in the 19th century. The economy was also heavily based around the pilchard trade.

    By 1500, Port Isaac had a flourishing pilchard industry and was considered one of the most important fishing harbours on the north coast. Salted pilchards and pilchard oil were exported to Italy. A number of fish cellars were built in Tudor times and their remnants were uncovered when the foundations were dug in the 1820s for the Victorian fish cellars which now occupy the same sites. The sheds where the women cleaned and salted the pilchards now house the fish merchant and tiny aquarium. It's still an active fishing port with locally landed fish available for sale at the fish merchants.

  23. Bear left onto the lane and follow it downhill (past Doc Martin's house) to a junction at the bottom of the hill.

    Following the construction of the pier, a busy period of development began within Port Isaac which lasted until the beginning of the seventeenth century, though by the end of the Tudor period, most of the present day streets were already laid out.

    The village of Port Isaac was originally centred around a flat open space at the southern end of the harbour known as The Platt. This was used as a workplace by the fishermen, a venue for the weekly markets, and as a safe place to draw up the boats during spring tides.

  24. Turn left and follow the main road past the Mote House and the Golden Lion. Continue up the hill past the Old School until you reach Cliff Cottage.

    The Mote (now a restaurant) was the first Inn in Port Isaac, built in 1542 and originally called the Mote Inn. It later became the Bristol Inn and then The Commercial.

    The Golden Lion, at the foot of Fore Street in Port Isaac, was built in the 18th Century, along with two other inns. The larger stones at the base of the inn could indicate it stands on the site of a former quay. It is thought that contraband was stored in the cellars during the 18th Century. It features as "The Crab and Lobster" in the ITV comedy drama series, Doc Martin.

  25. Just past Cliff Cottage, turn left onto the coast path and follow it around the headland to the car park overlooking Port Gaverne.

    The Old School in Port Isaac was built in the mid 1870s, designed by Cornwall's most famous architect Silvanus Trevail who also designed Tintagel's Castle Hotel. The old school closed in the mid 1970s when it was replaced by a new primary school on Mayfield Road, and is now Old School Hotel and Restaurant. It has been returned to its former purpose, as the Portwenn primary school where the character Louisa Glasson (played by Caroline Catz) teaches in the ITV Comedy Drama, Doc Martin.

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