Portwrinkle to Downderry circular walk

Portwrinkle to Downderry

A circular walk around Whitsand Bay to Downderry from Portwrinkle where the ghost of Silas Finn is said to haunt the cliffs.

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The walk follows the coast path from Portwrinkle to Cargloth Cliffs then there is gradual descent to Downderry beach. From Downderry, the route climbs Trewall Hill to No Man's Land and then follows small lanes and footpaths back to Portwrinkle.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 6.7 miles/10.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in Summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 108 OS Explorer 108 (laminated version)

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Pubs on or near the route

  • The Inn on the Shore

Adjoining walks


  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.

    Alexanders are very salt tolerant so they thrive in Cornwall's salty climate. They are just as likely to be found along coastal footpaths as along country lanes. New growth appears in the autumn so during the winter, when most other plants are dormant, it is a dominant source of greenery along paths and lanes in exposed coastal areas.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    A similar-looking bird called the whinchat is also present in the summer but this can be identified by a white stripe across its eye. Both stonechats and whinchats can often be spotted perching on dead sticks or brambles protruding above gorse and heather, and consequently the term "gorse chat" or "furze chat" has been used locally to mean either species. For a long time, stonechats and whinchats were thought to be members of the thrush family but genetic studies have revealed they are actually members of the (Old World) flycatcher family.

  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 have 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.

    Burdock flowers in July and August with pink flowers which look a little like thistle flowers. However burdock's soft, broad, foxglove-like leaves make it easy to distinguish.

    The "bur" in name of the plant (and also the word for the rough edges on metal) comes from the Viking word for "bristle". The "dock" is a reference to the large leaves. It was known as butterdock in East Cornwall dialect, perhaps because the leaves were used to wrap butter as with butterbur leaves.

    Burdock seeds contain small hooks which attach to passing animals or clothing. After a walk in the woods in 1941 that was followed by the lengthy process of removing these from clothing and dogs, a Swiss engineer realised that there was scope to apply this to something useful. The product inspired by nature (aka "biomimicry") was described as "the zipperless zipper". Today is it better known by the name of company he founded based on the French words for velvet (velour) and hook (crochet): Velcro.

    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 continue on the path to reach some steps. Climb this and follow the path a few paces further around the end of a wall to reach a waymark.

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

    In late spring and summer, listen out for the characteristic song of skylarks hovering high above the ground. The rapid song takes place in quite a narrow frequency range but can contain more than 450 syllables used in highly variable patterns. This is the reason it sounds a bit like the "modem" devices used to transfer digital data as an audio signal.

  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.

    Common knapweed (also known as black knapweed) is most easily recognised by its bright purple thistle-like flowers but without spiky leaves. It's actually a member of the daisy family and is often seen along paths and roadside verges. Other names for the plant include "hardhead" (used in Cornwall in Victorian times) and "loggerhead" due to the sturdy flower heads. "knap" is from the Middle English word for "knob" and consequently another name for the plant is "knobweed".

    It is an important plant for pollinating insects and was rated in the top 5 for most nectar production in a UK plants survey. In terms of plants that produce both nectar and pollen, it is rated as the top producer overall, producing a good amount of each.

    Looe Island has been inhabited since the Iron Age. Roman coins, pieces of Amphora and stone boat anchors all point to continued habitation and possibly trade before the Dark Ages. From the 13th to the 16th Centuries, the island was known as St Michael's Island, and after 1584 it became known as St George's Island.

    Looe Island also had a history of smuggling, and the first cottage on Looe Island was built by smugglers. The second cottage on the island was built by the Revenue to clamp down on the smuggling!

    In 1965 the island was bought by two sisters who lived there for the rest of their lives. The island was left to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust who now manage it as a nature reserve.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path until it emerges onto a road.

    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 parts of the plant are edible by humans and the flavour of the leaves 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 November to April. By mid-May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

    The long leaves can be mistaken for bluebells or daffodils which are both poisonous but do not smell of onions. However, fingers that have previously picked 3-cornered leeks also smell of onions and so mistakes have been made this way.

    Since the multi-lobed leaves are found in shade, whist the teardrop leaves are found in sun, this allows the leaves of ivy plants growing up trees to be used as a compass. Unless something is in the way then the sunniest side of a tree is to the south and the shadiest is to the north.

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

    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 snorkelers.

  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 Norfolk).

    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 a group of buildings with a 1925 date. Pass these to reach a public footpath to Trewrickle on the right just after the last barn.

    Based on the long distances covered by swallows, a swallow tattoo was popular with sailors to show off their sailing experience. One tradition is that a sailor would gain one swallow tattoo for each 5,000 nautical miles sailed, so a sailor with two swallows had travelled over 10,000 nautical miles.

    The name buzzard is from mediaeval English buisart which itself came from the Old French word buson. It is based on the Latin word for hawk or falcon buteo hence its scientific name is Buteo buteo.

  18. Go through the pedestrian gate beside the footpath sign and follow along the fence on the right until it ends. Continue ahead across the field to the stile opposite in the bottom fence.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a stile in a 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. It's an evergreen so leaves can be seen all year round but there's usually a flurry of new growth in mid March when new leaves can be seen gradually unfurling over a number of days. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as the underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places and are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  20. Cross the stile and continue on 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.

    From December until the spring, celandine leaves are quite noticeable along the edge of paths. They have a shape similar to a "spade" in a pack of cards and are patterned with lighter green or silvery markings.

    Most waymarks you'll encounter are yellow, which is the convention for marking public footpaths, of which there are over 2000 miles in Cornwall. Permissive paths often use other colours such as black, white or green. Red and blue are reserved for byways and bridleways, respectively.

  23. Carefully cross the road to the footpath opposite and follow this until it emerges through a gateway with a bell onto a track.

    The idea here was that wooden gates across the path, when closed, trigger a bell when they are opened. These were closed when golf is being played and warn golfers that there are people crossing the path. On our last visit, one of the gates had been removed so the future of this arrangement seems a little uncertain. Let us know if you find it's been repaired and we'll update this. In any case, be on the lookout for flying golf balls when crossing between the two gateways.

  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.

    In mediaeval times, golf balls were made from wood. In the 17th Century, the "featherie" was created, made from leather and stuffed with feathers. In the mid-1800s balls moulded from sap were the first to be mass-produced. They could also be heated and re-cast if they went out of shape from being hit. However people noticed that battle-scarred balls that had been used a long time seemed to fly more consistently. Golf ball manufacturers began etching different protrusions on the surfaces in attempts to improve the aerodynamics. The potential of a ball of elastic bands was discovered by a bored golfer waiting for a friend to finish work and by the 1890s, these were being coated in sap to make golf balls. In the early 1900s, it was found that indentations (rather than protrusions) on the surface resulted in better aerodynamics.

  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.

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