Portwrinkle to Downderry

A circular walk around Whitsand Bay from Portwrinkle to Downderry which includes a mile along the beach at low tide.

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The walk follows the coast path from Portwrinkle to Cargloth Cliffs, then there is an optional descent through The Skerrish for a low-tide walk along Downderry beach. From Downderry, the route climbs Trewall Hill to No Man's Land and then follows small lanes and footpaths back to Portwrinkle.

Reviews

Thoroughly enjoyed this walk, stunning views.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 6.7 miles/10.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Portwrinkle
  • Parking: Portwrinkle PL113BP
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in Summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Inn on the Shore

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, facing the sea, follow the lane to your right, past the "No Vehicular Access to the Beach" sign to reach a junction beside a "No access for motor vehicles" sign.

    The first harbour at Portwrinkle was thought to have been built in 1605, just after the end of the Tudor period, to support a pilchard fishery. A few stones from this original structure remain, and can be seen at low tide. The majority dates from 1822 when the quay was rebuilt after being destroyed by a storm. The storms of 2014 also punched a hole through the harbour wall, which has since been repaired. During Victorian times, the village was also known as Portwrickle.

  2. Keep left to follow the lane ahead and continue past the slipway and uphill until you reach a coast path sign to Downderry next to a gate on the left.

    The walls of the 17th Century pilchard cellars still stand above Portwrinkle harbour. Part of the building has been restored and converted into holiday accommodation.

  3. Go through the gate beside the coast path sign and follow the path to a pedestrian gate.

    All parts of the Alexanders plant can be eaten and this was traditionally one of the "pot herbs" that were added to stews. Alexanders was particularly useful during lean winters as it was available so early (in December and January) before many other spring greens. It is a good source of vitamins A and C and iron. The flavour has been described as somewhere between parsley and angelica. The dried seeds can also be used as a spice.

  4. Continue through the gate and follow the coast path to eventually reach another pedestrian gate after climbing the headland.

    In 1917, the SS Rosehill was passing Fowey on its way from Cardiff to Devonport with a cargo of coal when it was torpedoed by the German U-Boat UB40. The damaged vessel was towed for the remainder of its journey but sank in Whitsand Bay just before reaching Devonport. By the end of World War One, UB40 had sunk over 100 ships.

  5. Go through the gate and cross the field to the gate opposite. Continue following the path through a sequence of gates to pass a black-and-white, triangular nautical marker and reach a waymark where the path climbs alongside a fence.

    Ravens nest along the coast.

    Ravens are the largest member of the crow family and has a bigger wingspan than a buzzard. They are most easily distinguished from other members of the crow family by their very large black beak which has a hooked top. Other members of the crow family have straighter beaks. Their call is a deep croak.

  6. Follow the path uphill from the waymark, along the fence, to reach a pedestrian gate.

    In Jan 1914, the A7 along with 5 other submarines took part in a series of dummy attacks against surface ships in Whitsand Bay. Part-way through the exercise the A7 failed to surface after diving for an attack run. The surface ship returned to where the submarine had dived and found an uprush of bubbles indicating the submarine was attempting to blow water from the ballast tanks in a desperate attempt to surface. A buoy was dropped to mark the position but by the time rescue ships had arrived, the buoy could not be found. The 11 man submarine crew only had enough air to last six hours and perished. A six day search operation was conducted to locate the submarine to find out what had gone wrong. The submarine was found to be so firmly embedded into the mud on the seabed that all attempts to pull it free failed. A video has been made of the story which is available on YouTube

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a waymark on the point.

    In late spring and summer, listen out for the characteristic song of skylarks hovering high above the coast. The coastal heath is a particularly good habitat for them, being mild but with fairly short vegetation in which they can hunt for insects.

  8. When you reach the waymark, keep right to follow the path up the steps and continue to reach a pedestrian gate between a pair of metal gates.

    For many centuries, it was traditional for landowning families to create trusts from the land and assets so future generations could live off the income, but were unable to dispose of the assets so these would be available for future generations. The Duchy estate is an example of this and was created in 1337 by Edward III to provide his son (and future Princes of Wales) with an income. Consequently, unlike other Royals, the Prince of Wales and his family are not paid for by the taxpayer via the Civil List; instead their living costs and all their charitable activities (such as The Prince's Trust) are funded by income from the Duchy estate.

    Only 13% of the Duchy land is in Cornwall; the rest is dotted over 23 other counties with some in London but most is in the South West of England, with nearly half on Dartmoor.

  9. Go through the waymarked wooden gate ahead and follow the coast path to reach another pedestrian gate.
  10. Go through the gate and follow the path until it emerges onto a road.

    During the 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.

    The flavour of three-cornered leeks is relatively mild so they can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or chives. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By mid May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  11. Turn left and follow the road downhill. Continue until you reach a small track to the right marked "Trewall Hill".

    Downderry beach can be reached by turning left into West Camps Bay, just past Trewall Hill, and following the footpath sign at the bottom.

  12. Follow the narrow lane up Trewall Hill and continue until the lane eventually ends at a crossroads.

    The 1447 tonne iron sailing ship Rodney was built in 1874 as a sister ship to the Cutty Sark and was the fastest ship in her fleet, able to keep pace with the Cutty Sark. In 1895, she lost her figurehead in bad weather in the English Channel and this washed ashore six months later in Whitsand Bay. By 1901, the ship was renamed The Gypsy. On a return voyage from Chile with a cargo of nitrates there was a second unlucky encounter involving Whitsand Bay: losing her bearings she ran aground on the reef at Downderry and became stranded. The wreck became a hazard to fishing boats so it was blown apart with explosives. The result is strewn over a large area of seabed to the west of the slipway. The wreck is in around 7 metres of water which makes it popular with snorkellers.

  13. Cross the road to the small lane opposite and follow this until it ends in a junction.

    The area is known as No Man's Land and the structure to the left is No Man's Land Reservoir (a covered reservoir).

    Sometimes a small area of common land with unclaimed or disputed ownership occurred close to or between parish boundaries, often ignored due to relatively poor agricultural value. The name nonesmanneslond was recorded in 1320 for such areas. This has also given rise to place name of Nowhere (in Norfork).

    In this case, the area of land lies well inside Deviock parish.

  14. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until it also ends in a junction.

    The large hill in the distance to the left is Kit Hill.

    Kit Hill Country Park, which includes the hill and surrounding area, was donated by the Duke of Cornwall to the Cornish people to mark the birth of Prince William in 1985. The hill was formed in the same way as Bodmin Moor by magma pushing up beneath the existing sedimentary rocks to form a body of granite and mineral veins in the cracks formed as the granite cooled. The name "kit" comes from the Old English word for a bird of prey, and the Country Park still has a population of buzzards and sparrowhawks.

  15. Bear left onto the road and follow it past Hendra to a junction on a bend next to a large 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".

  16. Join the small lane ahead and follow this to a group of houses at a crossroads.

    Studies have shown that crows are capable of self-discipline. If offered one piece of food now or two later, the crows will resist temptation and wait. However if the initial piece of food is a high value item such as sausage, they won't take the risk.

  17. Continue ahead on the lane to pass a barn then descend to another group of buildings. Pass these to reach a public footpath to Trewrickle on the right just after the last barn.
  18. Go through the pedestrian gate beside the footpath sign and follow along the fence on the right until it ends. Continue ahead to the stile opposite in the bottom fence.

    A pair of buzzards have a territory which includes a number of possible nesting sites which can be as many as 20. They move nesting site each year which prevents build-up of nest parasites such as bird fleas. The new nest is decorated with fresh green foliage.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a stile in an isolated section of wooden fence.

    Hart's tongue ferns grow along the bank on the left.

    The ferns with solid leaves are appropriately called hart's tongue as the leaf resembles the tongue of a deer. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places are are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  20. Cross (or bypass) the stile and follow the path over a footbridge and a stile to emerge onto a lane.

    The stream continues a few hundred metres more to Polscoe and then becomes a tidal creek known as Sconner Lake which joins the River Lynher.

  21. Turn right onto the lane and follow it uphill to a public footpath sign on a bend.

    To the left, the lane leads to Sheviock.

    The settlement of Sheviock dates from mediaeval times and was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 when it was owned by the church of Tavistock. The place name is thought to be from the Cornish word sevi and the ending -ack, and mean "abounding in strawberries".

  22. Bear left off the lane at the footpath sign and follow the path uphill through the fence. Continue on the path until it ends on a road.

    The name Celandine is thought to come from the Latin word for swallow. It is said that the flowers bloom when the birds return in spring and fade when they leave in autumn.

  23. Carefully cross the road to the footpath opposite and follow this until it emerges onto a track at a sign urging caution when a bell sounds.

    The wooden gates across the path, when closed, trigger a bell when they are opened. These are closed when golf is being played and warn golfers that there are people crossing the path. Be on the lookout for flying golf balls when crossing between the two gates, particularly if the gates are closed. Also if you found the gates closed, make sure you close them behind you so the next walkers reaching this point also trigger the bell.

  24. Follow the track a short distance then bear left onto the footpath with a sign and wooden gateway. Follow the path until it ends in a car park.

    Snowdrops flower here in the early spring.

    Snowdrop bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants to reduce the use of pesticides.

  25. Cross the car park and follow the driveway leading from it around a bend to the right to meet the road. Turn right onto the road to return to the car park.

    Silas Finn, known locally as Finny, was an 18th Century smuggler who used to land contraband on the beaches of Portwrinkle, which were not well-known to the Revenue men. Various accounts of his story exist, but according to one, he was caught red-handed and was offered the choice of the hangman's noose or to assist in catching fellow smugglers. He reluctantly chose the latter and ended up betraying not only his close friends but also his sister. The local legend is that his restless ghost ("gook") still haunts the cliffs between Crafthole and Portwrinkle.

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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