Map for A circular walk from Port Quin to Port Isaac
  1. From the car park, turn left towards the sea. Pass the large house on your right onto the slipway to reach a coast path sign.

    Port Quin is a tiny cluster of fisherman's cottages around a sheltered inlet in Port Isaac Bay. In the early 19th century, the settlement of Port Quin had upwards of 20 houses but was then suddenly deserted. There is a local legend that one night, a violent gale sank the entire fishing fleet, leaving 32 women widowed. The name is a corruption of the Cornish "Porth Gwynn" which means "white cove". Portwenn - the Anglicised version of this - is used as the name of the fictional village in the ITV Comedy Drama series "Doc Martin". The harbour itself was used for filming the 1970s Poldark series.

    More about the history of Port Quin

  2. Turn right, in the direction indicated by the sign. Follow the path up the steps to reach a kissing gate.
  3. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to where a kissing gate leads into a field above.

    There are spectacular views of the inlet and Doyden Castle on the way up the hill.

    On the end of Doyden Point at Port Quin, is a small castellated building known appropriately as Doyden Castle. Doyden Castle is a cliff-edge folly built in 1830 which was allegedly used for decadent gambling parties. The sheer cliff edges and (at the time) unfenced mineshafts would presumably have been more than a little hazardous for drunken revellers. It's now owned by the National Trust and let as holiday accommodation. The wine bins still remain on the lower ground floor.

  4. Keep left to pass the gate and follow the path along the fence until you reach a bench overlooking the folly.

    The Sea Campion flowers from June to August and can be recognised by the white petals emerging from the end of a distinctive inflated envelope. Their grey-green leaves are fleshy, which protect them from drying out in salt-laden winds.

    According to folklore, to pick a Sea Campion was to invite death. This might be something to do with the precipitous locations in which they grow! Consequently another name for the plant is "dead man's bells".

    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.

    The seal species most frequently seen along the Cornish coast is the grey seal. Common seals are also sometimes seen. Seals are not closely related to other marine mammals. The skeleton of an adult male grey seal (apart from the limbs) closely resembles that of a leopard. However, as you might be able to guess from their facial features, seals are most closely related to dogs, bears and otters. In fact, a dog is very much more closely related to a seal than a dog is to a cat.

  5. From the bench, follow the coast path up several flights of steps and around the headland. Continue on the path all the way around the bay until you ascend a final steep set of steps to reach a waymark beside a bench.

    Scurvy grass has thick, flesh leaves that look a little similar to ivy leaves in shape and its flowers have 4 white petals forming a cross. It flowers around the same time as primroses - in March and April - and the flowers have a pleasant scent reminiscent of jasmine. It is a member of the cabbage family, related to rocket and horseradish and the flavour is hot like horseradish.

    Scurvy grass gets its name as it was salted and carried aboard ships to help prevent scurvy during long sea voyages as it is rich in vitamin C. The saltiness combined with the powerful hot flavour might well have needed a daily ration of rum to wash it down!

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

    The Cow and Calf are two rocks directly out from Port Quin; one rock is larger than the other - hence the name. They are the topmost part of a reef rising approximately 10 metres from the sea bed which is entirely submerged at high tide, but breaks the surface at low tide.

  6. From the bench, follow the path along the fence and around to the right until you reach a kissing gate on Varley headland.

    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.

    Cornwall has the longest stretch of coastline of any county in the UK, stretching for roughly 400 miles around 80% of the county, and there are over 300 beaches. Wherever you are in Cornwall, you are never more than 16 miles from the sea, and from the majority of hills you can see it on a clear day.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and cross the headland to the gate on the other side.

    Just before the gate on the other side, a path runs out onto Varley Head over a stile. This is a nice spot for a picnic on a sunny day.

    In the past, when the cliffs were grazed regularly, this provided habitat for wild thyme and red ants on which the large blue butterfly depends. As farming became more intensified and cliff-top grazing stopped, the cliffs became overgrown and there was too much shade. Consequently the large blue became extinct in the UK in 1979. Now the cliffs are once more being grazed and the conditions are suitable, work is underway to reintroduce the large blue to Cornwall after highly successful reintroductions in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path along the coast and down a long flight of steps to reach a footbridge.

    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."

  9. Cross the bridge, head up the steps, through the kissing gate and follow the path around the headland until you reach a waymark beside a gateway overlooking Port Isaac harbour.

    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.

  10. From the waymark, follow the path down towards Port Isaac until 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.

  11. Bear left onto the lane and follow it a few paces downhill until you reach a signpost on the right marking the inland route to Port Quin, opposite the parking area for North Cliffe and Garden Flat.

    By the 1800s, Port Isaac had enough Methodists to support different chapels for 2 factions of Methodism. In 1836, a Methodist Free Church chapel was built at the foot of Roscarrock Hill, above the fish cellars; meanwhile, the Weslyans worshipped in Middle Street. By 1867, the Roscarrock Hill Methodist Chapel could no longer accommodate the swelling congregation. It was therefore converted into a Sunday school and a larger chapel built next door. The chapel bell was retrieved from a wrecked ship, The Bencoolen, which sank off the Bude Coast.

  12. After exploring Port Isaac, make your way back to this signpost and follow the path indicated to Port Quin uphill beneath the trees to reach a stone stile in the path.

    Around 400 million years ago, green algae made its way from the sea to the land and the first liverworts appeared. These ancient, very simple plants are still around today. DNA studies suggest that all land plants and mosses may have originally evolved from early liverworts.

    Liverworts are found in damp, shady places but form flat structures that almost resemble soft corals. Their name is based on the appearance of the leaves which was thought to resemble an animal liver. Like mosses, liverworts don't produce flowers but instead reproduce via spores.

  13. Cross the stile and continue along the path through a field until you reach another stone stile.

    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.

    The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed". They are also known as "snowbell" due to their white bluebell-like flowers.

    Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting. Cornish pilchards were the favoured ingredient for the brazenly-flavoured spaghetti alla puttanesca ("puttanesca" transliterates to "like a whore").

  14. Cross the stile and bear left slightly up the field, passing the fallen post in the middle, towards a waymark to the right of the gateway in the far corner.

    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.

  15. Follow the path to the right of the waymark until you reach a stone stile in front of a footbridge

    As gorse ages, it accumulates more dead material. The spiky, springy nature of the plant even when dead means air can circulate well through the dead material and when this dries out in the summer, it substantially increases the risk of fires. As gorse seeds have evolved to withstand fire, controlled burning can be used to used to keep the gorse at a young age where uncontrolled fires are less likely.

  16. Cross the stile and bridge. Turn right at the far side of the bridge and follow the path until you reach a bypassed stile leading into a field.

    Primrose flowers provide an important nectar source for pollinators that hibernate over winter and emerge quite early like brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies - these are some of the first butterflies to be seen in spring. Primrose is also the food plant for the caterpillars of the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly.

    Trees grow from a microscopically thin layer of cells that sits between the bark and the wood. On the outside it produces the inner bark (phloem) and on the inside it produces the outer section of wood (xylem).

  17. Pass around the stile and follow the right-hand hedge to the corner of the field then stay in the field and continue inland towards Roscarrock Farm. As a farm comes into sight, you'll reach a track going through a waymarked gateway to the right. Make your way to the gateway.

    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. Turn right through the gateway (or cross the stile if the gates are shut) and follow the track along the left hedge to another gateway.

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairiness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration.

  19. Continue following the track along the left hedge of two fields until you reach a final gate next to a stone stile.

    The harvest scenes in the BBC's Poldark series were filmed in the fields here.

    In farms around Cornwall, harvest was celebrated with traditions such as "crying the neck".

    Neck - a miniature sheaf of wheat with four plaited arms, intertwined with everlastings and the more durable of flowers. The stalks of wheat brought down by the last sweep of the scythe are brought home in thankful triumph, and woven as described. In the evening, the sheaf or zang is taken into the mowhay, where are assembled all the harvest party.

    A stout-lunged reaper proclaims: "I hav'en! I hav'en! I hav'en!"
    Another loud voice questions: "What hav'ee? What hav'ee? What hav'ee?"
    "A neck! A neck! A neck!" is the reply;
    and the crowd take up, in their lustiest tones, a chorus of "Wurrah".

    General merriment follows and the draughts of ale and cider are often deep. The neck may be seen hanging to the beam of many of our farm-houses between harvest and Christmas eve, on which night it is given to the master bullock in the chall. "Hollaing the neck" is still heard in East Cornwall, and is one of the cheerfullest of rural sounds.

    Since the 20th century, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies has been reviving this tradition; the ale part sounds good.

  20. Cross the stile and continue in the same direction on the path, downhill slightly, until you reach a waymarked gap at the bottom of the far hedge.

    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.
  21. From the waymark, follow the path ahead, keeping the hedge on your left until it ends at a gate.
  22. Cross the stile next to the gate onto the lane, turning right to reach the car park at Port Quin.

    Wild Fennel grows in and around the car park at Port Quin.

    Originally from the Mediterranean, fennel has naturalised in the UK, particularly in coastal areas and is recorded as far back as the 10th century.

    The Greek word for fennel is "marathon"; the name of the sporting event originates from a battle which took place in a field of fennel.

    The leaves, seeds and also flowers of the wild fennel can be used in cooking. Of these, the flowers are the most potent and also the most expensive to purchase.

    Whizz half a red onion, a couple of sprigs of wild fennel leaves and a clove of garlic in a (small) food processor. Whizz in one fillet of smoked mackerel (skinned), juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt + freshly ground black pepper. Finally whizz in some cream cheese (for a paté) or crème fraîche (for a dip) a spoonful at a time until the desired consistency (thickness) is reached.

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.

During June and July, you might come across a plant on the coast with long and very bright yellow flowers, a bit like elongated gorse flowers. This is likely to Dyer's Broom (also known as Dyers Greenweed). As the name implies, the bright yellow flowers were used to dye clothing. As green was generally a more popular colour than yellow, the yellow fabric was often re-dyed with a blue dye such as woad or indigo to create green cloth. During Victorian times, there was so much demand for the dye that the plant was grown commercially. In West Cornwall, there is a variety of the plant that isn't found anywhere else in Britain.

In late June and July, lady's bedstraw produces clusters of tiny pale yellow scented flowers. The plant has long, thin stems with a star of very narrow leaves at intervals along the stems, a bit like rosemary, or its relative, goosegrass, but is softer than either.

The name has arisen from its use to stuff mattresses as the scent was pleasant and also repels fleas. In Scandinavia, the plant was used as a sedative during childbirth. The plant was also used to produce red and yellow dyes. The light orange colour of Double Gloucester cheese originates from this. The flowers were used in place of renin to coagulate milk but no records remain for the method of how to do this.

Sea beet is also known as "wild spinach" and is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot and Swiss chard. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are at their best during March and April and become tougher as the year goes on.

Sea beet has been cross-bred with domesticated crops to re-introduce some of the disease resistance from the tougher wild plant that were lost in the domesticated plants. It is also able to withstand quite high sodium levels in the soil which allows it to grow in salty conditions on the coast.

Red-and-black-spotted Burnett moths can often be seen feeding on nectar-bearing flowers alongside the coast path. The red colour is a warning that they contain hydrogen cyanide. The larvae normally create it by breaking down more complex cyanide compounds from the birdsfoot trefoil on which they feed. However they are also able to synthesise it themselves in environments where it isn't readily available from food plants.