Rock to Polzeath circular walk

Rock to Polzeath

A circular walk across the dunes and headland between Rock and Polzeath returning via St Enodoc Church where Sir John Betjeman is buried.

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The walk follows the dunes from Rock to Daymer Bay and Trebetherick Point where the wreckage of vessels which foundered on the Doom Bar is still scattered. The walk then joins The Greenaway path to Polzeath passing some small coves where a very patient search might be rewarded with a tiny cowrie shell. The return route follows the stream up the valley from Polzeath then crosses golf courses and fields to reach St Enodoc Church and then Rock via the dunes.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 5.8 miles/9.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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


  • Golden, sandy beaches at Rock, Daymer Bay, Broadagogue Cove and Polzeath
  • Panoramic views across Polzeath beach and Hayle Bay
  • Surreal purple-and-green-striped rocks and remains of shipwrecks around Trebetherick Point
  • Panoramic views along Daymer Bay and across the Camel Estuary to Stepper Point
  • St Enodoc Church - burial place of Sir John Betjeman and itself once buried in the dunes

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Mariners
  • The Oystercatcher


If the tide is fully out you can optionally walk all the way along the sand to Daymer Bay car park and pick up the route at direction 11. You can also rejoin the route just after direction 7 if the tide is part-way in.

  1. Go up the steps beside the toilets and turn right. Follow the path by the fence uphill for a few paces to a junction of paths.

    By the 1880s, Rock was established as a small industrial settlement with quarries, crane and a limekiln. Stoptide and Porthilly were separate small hamlets. Rock consisted of roughly a dozen buildings including a hotel. Due to its sheltered position in the Camel Estuary, Rock became popular for sailing. In 1890 the first golf course was built. These were two hobbies favoured by the upper-class "sportsmen" of the time and this established Rock as a destination for this socioeconomic group. As with many of Cornwall's most-publicised tourist attractions (e.g. Tintagel Castle and Bedruthan Steps), the patterns established in Victorian times are still being repeated and reinforced in the 21st Century.

  2. Keep left at the fork and follow the path past the steps to the beach and then parallel to the beach for a few hundred metres to reach a stream crossing at the bottom of a flight of steps.

    It's estimated that on average around 1 tonne of fishing gear is left in the ocean every minute either by being lost or discarded. This is known as "ghost gear" as it drifts through the ocean, killing marine life in its path. This includes over 100,000 whales, dolphins and turtles every year as well as countless fish and seabirds. When it finally washes up on beaches, it makes up around 10% of all marine litter.

    A number of initiatives are underway to try to prevent fishing gear being dumped in the sea which even include recycling old nets into skateboards. However, since the gear that's already in the sea can take 600 years to break down, you can help by spotting any washed up on the beach. If you come across a small amount of fishing gear on a beach that's safe to remove then bin it. If you spot some that's too large to deal with yourself then take a photo and email it to, describing where it is and giving an idea of size.

  3. Cross the stream to the path opposite then keep left at the waymark to keep following the path parallel to the beach. Continue to reach a deeply-carved path leading to the left just before a waymark on the path ahead.

    On the opposite side of the Camel estuary is the Doom Bar, on which you may see waves breaking or even exposed sand, depending on the state of the tide.

    The Camel Estuary is notorious for the Doom Bar - a sand bar which has caused many ship and small boat wrecks. For ships sailing into the bay on the prevailing SW wind, a great hazard was caused by the immediate loss of power due to the shelter from the cliffs. Once becalmed, they would drift helplessly and run aground on the Doom Bar. Therefore rockets were fired from the cliffs, to place a line onboard, which could then be used to pull the ship to the shore. Along the coastal path, on the cliff top, is an abandoned manual capstan which was used to winch the ships towards the harbour.

  4. Turn left before the waymark and follow the path downhill to a T-junction. Turn right at this to pass the trees on your right and follow the main path until it forks.
  5. Keep right at the fork and follow the main path across the dunes towards the hill in the distance until just before the path ahead climbs uphill, a small path departs to the right past an area of ivy on the bank on the right.

    The calcium carbonate from seashells has been a key factor in Cornwall's natural and industrial history due to the shortage of lime-rich rocks. The golden colour of the sand on the beaches is due to the small fragments of shell and in the past this was transported around Cornwall using horses, donkeys, canals and even by railway. You may be wondering where the shellfish themselves got the calcium carbonate from in the first place, since it was so scarce. As well as the "salt" (sodium chloride) that you can taste, sea water contains a range of other dissolved salts and around 1% of the dissolved material is calcium. Molluscs are able to extract the calcium ions from the seawater which they use to construct their shells.

  6. Bear right to pass alongside the ivy then follow the path around a bend to the right and up the bank. Pass to the left of a windswept tree to join a well-worn path. Follow this to reach a T-junction just behind a bush with a waymark to the left.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay, making it the longest river in Cornwall after the Tamar.

    The Camel Estuary is a geological ria - a deep valley flooded by rising sea levels after the last ice age, stretching from the headlands of Pentire Point and Stepper Point all the way to Wadebridge. The estuary is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Marine Conservation Zone.

  7. At the junction, turn left and follow the coast path past the waymark and around the side of the hill. As the path descends, follow it through some bushes to a fork.

    Erosion of the vegetation by foot traffic can cause the dunes to disintegrate, so areas are sometimes fenced off to allow the all-important weeds to recover, particularly the seaward edge which is both the most fragile and most visited area. During the 1970s-80s erosion was at its worst but many dunes have since been stabilised. Some of the fencing has now been removed to allow some bare areas of sand to be created which are necessary for the natural process of sand migration to the dunes further inland.

  8. At the fork, keep right to stay on the dunes and follow the path into a sandy area. Cross this to the small path leading upstream along the river and follow this over a footbridge to a T-junction in the path in front of a dune restoration sign.

    Since water drains away quickly through the sand, marram grass has evolved a number of strategies to capture and retain water including its waxy, curled leaves which contain hairs inside to minimise evaporation caused by moving air. Its roots form a fibrous mat which traps water but also plays a vital role in stabilising the dunes by stopping the sand blowing away. During the 17th Century, large amounts of marram grass were harvested for thatch and this destabilised the dunes so much that farms, estates and even entire villages were buried.

  9. Turn right (indicated for the church) and follow the path until you reach a fork with a path leading onto the golf course.

    Although the current town of Rock has only been built relatively recently, it is thought that in mediaeval times there might have been a settlement somewhere between St Enodoc church and St Michael's Church at Porthilly, and that this became overwhelmed with sand and was abandoned. In 1778, the shifting sands revealed a chapel and cemetery containing slate coffins and human bones. There are also reported finds of kitchen utensils such as spoons, ornaments and jewellery and English coins spanning the reigns of Henry I to Elizabeth I. Excavations at Porthilly to lay pipes have also found that the thick layer of sand seems to have been laid down after Tudor times.

  10. Keep left at the fork to pass between the bushes and emerge at a junction of paths. Keep left to follow the path between the fences (sometimes a stream in winter) onto the beach then turn right to follow the top of the beach to reach the flight of steps leading to the car park.

    Daymer bay is situated around the corner from Polzeath, facing into the Camel Estuary. The beach lies directly in front of the car park, down a short flight of steps. The sheltered estuary means that Daymer Bay is popular for windsurfing, kitesurfing etc. There is a beach at all states of the tide and the waves are never very big so it's a safe place to take young children paddling, though in deeper water the tidal river currents can be strong so swimming out into the estuary is not advised.

  11. Go up the steps and turn left at the top. Walk along the edge of the car park to join the path leading along the coast. Follow this to a gap in the wall on the point beside a post with a yellowy-green sign.

    Trebetherick Point at Daymer Bay is a geologist's paradise, deemed "difficult and controversial (therefore interesting and exciting!)" by the Open University Geological Society. The rest of us can admire the pretty green-and-purple-striped slate!

  12. Continue ahead on the gravel path and follow it to a crossing of paths with a "To The Beach" sign.

    As you round the point, next to the path are the remains of shipwrecks, washed ashore in heavy seas.

    On 11 April 1900, the sailing ship "Peace and Plenty" was returning from fishing and, on rounding Stepper Point at the entrance to the Camel Estuary, was becalmed. The vessel was anchored but in the rough sea, the ship began to roll and the anchor dragged. Eventually she struck Greenway Rocks on the opposite side of the estuary. The Padstow lifeboat "Arab" was launched and anchored close to the stricken ship. A tremendous wave struck the lifeboat, breaking ten oars and washing eight of her crew overboard. The men managed to regain the lifeboat without loss of life but due to the lack of oars, it was incapacitated. Using the remaining oars and the anchor cable, the coxwain managed to manoeuvre the boat into a creek where the crew jumped ashore, moments before she was dashed against the rocks. The new Padstow steam lifeboat was then launched, but as it left the harbour, a large wave broke and capsized it; eight of her crew of eleven were drowned and it was also wrecked. The Trebetherick rocket brigade managed to attach lines to the "Peace and Plenty" just before it sank beneath the surface, and five of the eight crew were saved.

  13. Continue ahead on the gravel path and follow this to reach a footbridge.

    The 40ft stone tower on Stepper Point, affectionately known as "The Pepper Pot", was built as a daymark - a navigation beacon for seafarers during daylight. At 240 feet above sea level, it is visible from 30 miles away. When it was built in 1830, the daymark cost the sum of £29. The money was raised by giving donors voting rights in the Harbour Association: one guinea would buy one vote.

  14. Cross the bridge and turn left. Follow the path along the fence to eventually emerge on the road.

    Surfing in the UK became popular in the 1960s, driven by the music of The Beach Boys and the Hawaiian influence in California. However there were pioneer surfers in Cornwall and the Channel Islands shortly after the First World War. In the 1920s, the young men of Perranporth were provided with coffin lids by the local undertaker for use as surfboards.

  15. Turn left and follow the road to reach the shops and continue a few paces until you reach a track on the right leading between the shops.

    The name Polzeath comes from the Cornish words for "dry" and for "pool/harbour", perhaps because there is a beach at all stages of the tide. Down the left side of the beach, there are some good rockpools at low tide. The rest of the beach is very flat and sandy, which can make for some long rides (and paddles!) if you are surfing. This also means that in the shallows, the waves are small which makes it safer for small children to paddle or surf than some of the steeper beaches further north. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards and there is usually a separately flagged Malibu area to avoid surfers mowing down swimmers.

    The tide goes out and comes in a long way so bear that in mind to avoid floating picnics. In the event of such a catastrophe or for those more inclined, there are a number of cafés around the beach and even a grocery shop. There is often an ice cream van on the beach in the summer, so parents may want to be armed with change to avoid diplomatic incidents.

  16. Turn right onto the track (beside the Polzeath Gardens sign) and follow it until you pass through a car park to reach a No Through Road sign.

    The Cornish palm is neither originally from Cornwall nor a palm! It is from New Zealand where it is known as the cabbage tree, being neither related to or tasting anything like cabbage. The top of the stem from which the leaves shoot was harvested by the Maori, resulting in something resembling an artichoke. It is bitter so it was traditionally eaten with fatty meats such as eel to make it palatable. The largest specimen of the plant is thought to be around 500 years old and has a circumference of nine metres at the base! It was introduced to Britain after being collected on Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

  17. Continue ahead onto the stony track to where it forks to go into the holiday park.
  18. Keep left at the fork to follow the track ahead. Continue around the corner past Shilla Mill to reach a footbridge.

    Slate is formed when clay or volcanic ash is compressed under millions of years of deposits to form shale, and then the shale is subject to a (relatively low, in geological terms) heat and pressure transforming it into a harder, less-crumbly rock - slate. The heat and pressure can arise from an intrusion of molten magma into the sedimentary rocks or from the friction associated with collision of tectonic plates. Like shale, slate also has a layered structure, splitting into thin sheets which have proven ideal for shedding water from roofs without collapsing them under the weight of stone. However, the direction that the slate splits into layers is often not the same as the direction of the layers that were laid down in the original shale. This is because a reorganisation of the mineral components occurs during the metamorphosis, based on the direction that the pressure was applied. In other words, it's possible to have stripey slates.

  19. Cross the footbridge and continue a few paces to a junction of paths with a waymark. Follow the path to the left to emerge on a golf course.
  20. Once on the golf course, walk across the grass to join the stony path and then follow the path with white marker stones alongside the bushes. Continue uphill to where the path meets a fairway.

    The golf course at Roserrow is now known as "The Point" due to the rather nice view of Pentire. Although the course's website states that "suitable golfing attire is compulsory", there is no need to dress in Argyle jumpers for this part of the route. However, please respect the grass when crossing the fairways (e.g. avoid stabbing it with walking poles). Also take note of the locations of any players and direction of play, to avoid any parts of your anatomy impeding the progress of golf balls.

  21. Cross the fairway to the line of white stones and cross the next fairway to the white post beside the wall with two white marker stones.

    Look out for golf balls coming from the left as you walk onto the first fairway, and from the right on the second fairway.

  22. Turn left and follow the path along the hedge which merges onto a track. Follow the track around the corner to the right and continue on the track until it ends on a tarmac lane.

    The magpie is believed to be one of the most intelligent of all animals. The area of its brain used for higher cognitive function is approximately the same in its relative size as in chimpanzees and humans. Magpies can count, imitate human voices, recognise themselves in a mirror and have been observed regularly using tools to keep their cages clean. It has even been suggested that magpies may feel complex emotions, including grief.

  23. Cross the tarmac to the path opposite. Follow the path along the fence until the fence ends.
  24. Continue ahead and follow the line of white stones to reach a gap in the wall.

    Conifers evolved around 300 million years ago, a long time before the first dinosaurs. For nearly 200 million years, conifers were the dominant form of trees and it wasn't until around 65 million years ago that broadleaf trees were out-competing conifers in many habitats.

  25. From the gap in the wall, head to the two white stones and then head down the hill towards the white stones to a stile in the hedge marked with red posts.

    This area of the golf course seems to be a good spot for giant puffballs.

    There are a few different species of fungi known as puffballs. The genus name Lycoperdon is derived from latinised versions of the Greek words for "wolf fart". The largest species - the giant puffball - is edible and can grow to sizes ranging from a citrus fruit to a watermelon. The largest found was close to 4 feet across!

    To be edible they must be pure white (not yellowish or any other colour) all the way through and fairly spongy, like a loaf of bread. If it is very dense, look closely to see if there is an immature mushroom cap developing inside. If so, throw it away immediately as that is a poisonous type of button mushroom, not a puffball!

  26. Cross the stile and stream and climb the steps to the field. If there is a wire between the two posts, unhook this with the insulating handle to pass through the electric fence (and re-hook behind you). Bear right slightly across the field to reach a pair of posts in the second of the two openings in the hedge on the right.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  27. Pass through the electric fences, unhooking as needed via the insulating handles, to go through the gap in the hedge. Then go through a final electric fence to join the narrow path leading ahead between the posts and follow this to a stile.

    The first documented use of an electric fence is by a woman in Cincinnati who invented it to protect a museum display from the public. This appears in her 1832 book "Domestic Manners of the Americans".

    The application to livestock came roughly a century later. In New Zealand, an electric fence initially invented to stop a horse rubbing against the horse owner's car was being marketed commercially in the 1930s. The capacitor discharge approach to create pulses of electricity was also invented in New Zealand in the 1960s.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the track until it ends in a junction with the road.

    The house name Bowji is from the Cornish word for "cow shed". The Bowgie Inn near Crantock is perhaps the best known example. It's built up from bow - the Cornish word for cow (related to "bovine") and the Cornish word for "house" - chy.

  29. Cross the road to the stile opposite and climb this into the field. Follow the path across the field to reach a gap in the hedge on the far side leading to a stile.

    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.

  30. Follow the path to the stile and cross this into the field. Continue ahead across the field towards the church spire to a gate in the fence opposite.

    Rooks eat pretty much anything but their primary food source is earthworms and insect larvae which their beak is evolved to probe for.

  31. Go through the gate and bear right towards the white stone then turn left onto the path between the banks where two paths depart, each marked with white stones. Follow the one towards the church spire to reach the church entrance.

    St Enodoc church is located amongst the greens of the St Enodoc Golf Course. The church dates from the 12th century and is said to lie on the site of a cave where St Enodoc lived as a hermit. It is thought that St Enoder (aka Enodoc) was the grandson of the 5th Century Celtic King Brychan.

    Over a number of centuries, the church became virtually buried by the towans (dunes) and was known locally as "Sinking Neddy". In order to collect its tithes, the church had to host services at least once a year so the vicar and congregation had to enter through a hole in the roof during this period. During the 19th century, the church was excavated and later it became a favourite place of Sir John Betjeman who is buried in the churchyard.

  32. Follow the gravel path downhill from the church to a junction of paths.

    Brychan was a legendary Celtic king (originally born in Ireland) who ruled over Breconshire in South Wales and was viewed as the father of the Celtic saints.

    Several mediaeval manuscripts state that he was married three times but the numbers of children vary from 12 to 63 with 24 being the most commonly reported number. There is also little agreement in the lists of names between Cornish and Welsh manuscripts. It is thought that the list of his children may have grown over time as more people claimed themselves or their local saint to be descended from what was seen as the holy family.

  33. Turn left and follow along the right edge of the green to a white footpath sign then follow the white marker stones alongside the line of red posts to reach a sandy path.
  34. Join the sandy path ahead and follow this and the small footpath leading from it indicated by white stones. Continue over the grassy mounds to reach a gravel track.

    In 1889, some local golf enthusiasts laid out a few holes amongst the dunes at Rock and they formed St. Enodoc Golf Club in 1890. A course was built in 1890 but initially only consisted of 9 holes. It wasn't until 2 years later that another 9 were added. In 1907, a new 18 hole course was laid out, which forms the basis of today's course, with a number of alterations in the intervening years. The course now ranks within the top 100 in the world.

  35. Cross over the track and join the path marked with white stones. Follow this to reach the stone bridge crossing the pond.

    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.

  36. Cross the bridge to reach a waymark. Turn left and follow the track until it ends on a strip of tarmac.

    On the slopes of the valley created by the stream that feeds the lake is a holy well known as the Jesus Well.

    The Jesus Well at Rock is said to be where St Enodoc baptised converts to the Christian faith in the 6th Century and the water is still used for baptisms. The well was rebuilt in Victorian times and was restored to its current form in the 20th Century. The reason for it being known as Jesus Well is connected with the tale of a visit to the estuary by tin-trader Joseph of Arimathea with the young Jesus.

  37. Cross the tarmac to the path opposite with a large white marker stone. Follow the path along the line of white marker stones all the way across the golf course to the back of a sign where the path forks. Keep left here to pass a white boulder and keep left through some bushes to a junction of paths with a coast path waymark.

    "Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was unhappy with the people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian façade.

  38. Turn left at the waymark and follow the waymarked coast path, ignoring any smaller paths leading from this. Continue past two waymarks to reach a waymark post with a tree on the opposite side of the path.

    The estuary is a popular spot for windsurfing.

    Boards with vertical sails were in use by Polynesians for short trips between islands. The idea of using a universal joint to connect a sail to a board was conceived in 1948 by Newman Darby in the USA who spent the next two decades perfecting the approach. The first boards went on sale during the 1960s and the sport of windsurfing was popularised in the 1970s.

  39. Take the path ahead from the waymark and then follow the waymarked path back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    Rock has been referred to as "Britain's Saint-Tropez", the "Kensington of Cornwall" and "Chelsea-on-sea" due to its popularity as a holiday or second home location for celebrities (including Prince Harry, the actor Hugh Grant, the Rothschilds, the Sainsburys, the Freuds, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Jay Kay of Jamiroquai, Gordon Ramsay and David Cameron). Contrary to stereotypes about how celebrities might spend their holidays and despite the density of fine dining establishments in and around Rock and Padstow, Bodmin's Barnecutt's bakery still very much holds its own here. It's only a matter of time before "Wasson my 'ansome?" is customary in the House of Lords.

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