SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 43: Rock to Port Gaverne
Monday, June 15, 2015
A few more days of poor weather kept me off the Coast Path for a little longer than I would have liked, until a bright and almost cloudless Monday morning gave me an opportunity to return to the coast. Before I could resume my walk, I had to cross from Padstow's North Quay to the village of Rock, which lies across the River Camel beyond a sizeable sand bar (picture 1). This is the last of eleven ferry crossings on the South West Coast Path, and the only one on the latter half of the path, the previous ferry being at Helford Passage near Falmouth.
Before long the little ferry arrived (picture 2) and I joined a dozen other passengers for the short ride across the 800 metres of water to Rock, where the ferry beached itself beside a slipway below the Rock Inn at the northern end of the village (picture 3).
In the carpark above the slipway, a Coast Path signpost points the way along a sandy path through scrub, skirting the lower slopes of Cassock Hill, with good views back across the river to Padstow (picture 4).
A fairly flat path heads up the middle of a broad stretch of dunes separating the river from a golf course until the path reaches the round hump of Brea Hill. There is a nice view towards the mouth of the Camel here (picture 5) as the path runs around the foot of the hill to turn into Daymer Bay (picture 6).
The route heads up to the back corner of the beach to find a footbridge over a small stream, following a path through the dunes to the middle of the beach and then crossing the rest of the beach on the sand to reach a large carpark. A broad path sets off around the edge of the flat Trebetherick Point, much of which is occupied by holiday homes. More interesting are the rocks to the left of the path, however. Dating from the Pleistocene Period, the dark rocks contain many lighter bands which run through the rocks in parallel lines (picture 7).
Having rounded the point, the path is relatively straight for the next kilometre until it reaches the village of Polzeath, where the route circles around the next point into Hayle Bay. The path descends to join a road behind the sandy beach, turning left past a large beachside carpark and several shops before a signpost on the left points into another carpark. A road leads out of the carpark and between houses for about 100 metres until another signpost on the left takes the route up onto a narrow path between the cliff edge and the back fences of a long row of houses, overlooking the popular beach (picture 8).
Beyond the last house the route runs along a narrow clifftop park below Atlantic Terrace before swinging up to join the road at a bend. Just beyond the first house on the left, the Coast Path turns off the road on an enclosed path leading down the side of a long sandy inlet called Pentireglaze Haven (picture 9).
The path crosses the back of the haven then heads out across the lower slopes of Pentire Point for a little more than a kilometre to reach the tip of the point at the mouth of the River Camel. Here the path turns sharp right to follow a stone wall uphill (picture 10), climbing steadily up to a higher vantage point by a rocky outcrop, with good views across the estuary towards Stepper Point and its daymark, which I had visited on the previous stage of the walk (picture 11).
Turning away from the Camel, the path continues up a gentler slope alongside the stone wall and soon the Y-shaped headland of The Rumps comes into view about a kilometre distant (picture 12).
The stone wall is followed through several clifftop fields above some more impressive outcrops before the path eventually drops down to the narrow neck of the headland (picture 13). The Rumps, with its twin mounds, was the site of an Iron-Age fort and the Coast Path passes through the remnants of defensive earthworks before turning away from the headland and climbing back up to renew its acquaintance with the stone wall.
The route now sticks closely to the seaward side of the wall, just outside farmers fields and never far from the clifftop, for a little over two kilometres. The path circles around the top of a rocky inlet, climbs over Com Head amongst knee-high wildflowers (picture 14), then passes high above the isolated Pengirt and Downhedge Coves to reach Carnweather Point, which overlooks Lundy Bay (picture 15). Here the path finally parts company with the wall and heads down into the second of three rocky little coves in Lundy Bay (picture 16), passing an archway that was once the entrance of a now-collapsed cave. Despite its relative isolation, the cove was quite popular, with several dozen visitors exploring the rocks and sand.
The path climbs over a little point to the third cove, which was completely deserted despite being virtually identical to the last, then makes a strenuous climb up to a jagged outcrop on the top of Trevan Point.
A long, gentle descent from Trevan Point (picture 17) then takes the path down into a hollow behind Doyden Point, aiming for a cairn by the side of a vehicle track that leads up to Doyden Castle, an early-18th-century folly tower perched on the hill (picture 18). The Coast Path cuts across the low ground behind the point, reaching the edge of the deep inlet of Port Quin, from which there is a better view of the folly (picture 19). The path heads inland by the water (picture 20), soon joining a lane leading to the end of the inlet, where a small cluster of stone cottages (all owned by the National Trust) make up the hamlet of Port Quin.
The lane leads across the back of the inlet before the route turns left behind a garage then right to climb up between two cottages (picture 21) and onto the hillside behind, where a fairly level path runs back to the mouth of the inlet (picture 22).
Leaving Port Quin behind, the walking soon becomes more challenging. The next stretch of the path snakes its way around the ragged edge of Kellan Head (picture 23), at times quite steeply, confined to a narrow strip of land between a wire fence and the cliff edge.
Just when you think you're about to reach the summit of the headland at the top of a steep set of rough-hewn steps, your motivation is tested by the discovery that there's actually a second, higher peak hidden behind it with the path first dipping down along the cliff edge before climbing up again to circle around the peak. On the other side I found a handy bench where I was able to rest and survey the path ahead along Reedy Cliff to Scarnor Point and Varley Head (picture 24).
The path along Reedy Cliff was hard work, with several steep ups and downs, including a zig-zag path going almost all the way down to the edge of Dovegate Cove before climbing up again to cross the hillside towards the sheer face of Scarnor Point (picture 25). A very long flight of steps winds its way up the steep, grassy hillside to the top of the cliff, where the path turns along the top of the cliff, following a wire fence around the high edge of Scarnor Point and along the next hillside to the back of Varley Head.
The route cuts across the headland, heading downhill towards a gate with the village of Port Isaac visible in the distance beyond Pine Haven and Lobber Point (picture 26), then continues along the undulating clifftops, circling around the tops of three small rocky coves before descending steeply into Pine Haven (picture 27). Across a small footbridge the path climbs up onto Lobber Point, where a well-worn trail crosses the sloping hillside to a good vantage point over Port Isaac's sheltered harbour (picture 28).
The path now descends above the edge of the harbour to join a street, Roscarrock Hill, on the edge of the village, following it down to meet Fore Street at the back of the harbour.
Fore Street turns left by the Golden Lion pub (picture 29), climbing along the other side of the harbour past an attractive old school building, now a restaurant (picture 30). When the road curves away to the right, the Coast Path keeps ahead on an enclosed footpath that runs around the point in front of clifftop houses. This path soon joins a lane that runs past a large carpark to merge into another road running down the side of the long, shallow inlet of Port Gaverne (picture 31), a small fishing hamlet that was also an important port for the export of local slate through most of the 1800's until the railways came to North Cornwall in 1897.
At the back of the harbour (picture 32), I left the Coast Path for the day, with 20.2 kilometres covered since stepping off the ferry at Rock. Beyond Polzeath the walking had been a bit harder than I had expected, with almost 1,000 metres of ascent and descent on the rugged coastline -- a taste of things to come on the next few stages.
After the walk I had a couple of hours to wait for my bus, so I retraced my steps to Port Isaac to explore around the harbour, taking some extra photos for a friend who had informed me that the village is the main filming location for the Doc Martin television series. The village has almost one hundred listed buildings, most from the 18th and 19th centuries and most clustered around the back of the harbour.