Walk - Sir John Betjeman Walk

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From the Rock Quarry car park take the path at the far end, on the estuary side, and go through into the dunes to pick up the South West Coast Path heading to your right, above the beach and towards the sea.

Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman is buried at St Enodoc Church a little way ahead, having fallen in love with the area and moved here. He called the shoreline to Daymer 'a mile of shallow pools and lugworm casts'. Between the long stretches of golden sand on both sides of the estuary is the Doom Bar, a sandbank which has been responsible for many a shipwreck over the centuries. According to local local legend the Mermaid of Padstow cast this sand across the mouth of the River Camel in a fit of pique, after she fell in love with a local lad, who mistook her for a seal and shot her (see the Padstow & Stepper Point Walk).

Rock Dunes have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the number of unusual species which thrive in the maritime grassland, including rare plants such as Sea Spurge, whose waxy green leaves preserve noisture in this dry sandy soil, and the Dense Silky-Bent Grass, with hairy heads growing on its knobbly stalks. In the same poem, Betjeman remarked on the many wild herbs: 'As winds about the burnished path through lady's-finger, thyme and bright varieties of saxifrage...'

As well as being an SSSI, the River Camel is classified as an EU Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Otters breed further upstream, as do Atlantic salmon, boosted by stocks reared in a local hatchery and released into the river when they are full-grown. Another rare inhabitant of the Camel is the weird bullfish, also known as a 'miller's thumb', with its massive head surrounded by a ruffle of fins and its little tapering body.

The plants attract many insects too. 'Hover-flies remain more than a moment on a ragwort bunch,' says Betjeman, and 'Red Admirals basking with their wings apart'.

  1. When the path forks, bear left, to carry on above the water towards Brea Hill.

On the summit of Carn Brea there are Bronze Age burial mounds, up to 4000 years old, and the remains of a Roman encampment, used as a lookout point over the estuary a couple of millennia later.

  1. As you approach Brea Hill, various paths head away around the back of it on your right, and down to the beach on your left, but ignore these and carry on along the path around the front of the hill, climbing gently over its lower slopes. From here keep going around the shoreline towards Trebetherick. As you near the beach at Daymer Bay, a path snakes downhill onto the sand. A detour via this path takes you down over some fascinating rocks, and from there you can head across the beach to the car park at the far end. If you opt to stay on the path above the beach, follow it to the car park at the far end of the beach.

The rocks are another feature of the SSSI, and are of considerable geological significance. Beside the path as you reach the beach at Daymer are exposures of Harbour Cove slates and Polzeath slates. Both rocks are unusually rich in fossils in this area, helping geologists to date the rock beds to the Devonian period, more than 350 million years ago.

  1. In the car park turn right and go through onto Daymer Lane. Carry on along this road for a short distance until you come to the private road on your right, with the footpath signposted to St Enodoc Church.
  2. Follow the lane between the houses and onto the little footpath beyond, leading out onto the heath. Stay with the path, ignoring the paths that cross yours and the others that fork from it, until you get to St Enodoc Church, on your left, about a quarter of a mile beyond Daymer Lane.
  3. It is a small detour up to the church, where Sir John Betjeman's grave is on the right just after the gate. Take advantage of the seating dotted around the churchyard to enjoy the estuary views which so inspired him.

Sometimes known as St Gwinnodock, St Enodoc was a Welsh hermit, possibly one of the many missionary offspring of the fifth-century King Brychan of Brycheiniog who sailed to Cornwall to help the area's beleaguered Christian population fight a rising tide of paganism brought in by the Anglo-Saxons. Enodoc lived in a cave near the Jesus Well, on the far side of the Rock golf course, and he used the well for baptisms. After his death his shrine was moved to the site of the present-day church, which was built in the fifteenth century around a twelfth-century Norman cruciform chapel.

Throughout history the church was repeatedly buried in drifting sand. At one time it was so deeply shrouded that in order to attend services, the vicar and his congregation had to descend into the church through the sanctuary roof. The sand was removed and the church restored in 1863. A later incumbent's son noted that 'the sands had blown higher than the eastern gable, the wet came in freely, the high pews were mouldy-green and worm-eaten and bats flew about, living in the belfry. The communion table had two short legs to allow for the rock projecting at the foot of the east wall.' 

From the church gate turn right and drop onto the path which skirts the woods at the foot of Brea Hill, to follow it through the golf course, watching out for golf balls as you go.

  1. When you come to the footbridge, carry on along the tarmac drive through the golf course which will bring you eventually to a small path which leads to Jesus Well, where Enodoc lived and baptised his converts. From the well retrace your steps to the drive, this time taking the lane opposite, which heads south towards the estuary, turning right onto the road at the bottom to return to the car park. For a shorter route back from the footbridge, without a detour to Jesus Well, pick up the waymarked footpath which returns to the car park via the golf course. Take care to stay on the path which is marked out with white stones, and be on your guard throughout for flying golf balls.

The Jesus well is so named because Jesus Christ was said to have visited in his teens, when he landed in Looe with his great-uncle, Phoenician tin merchant Joseph of Arimathea, and travelled up through the south west to Glastonbury (see the Lammana Chapel Walk). 

  1. When you reach the road, turn right and then right again to return to the car park.

Before you reach the car park, Rock Lifeboat Station can be seen on the river front on your left. In 1993 the Padstow Harbour Commissioners approached the RNLI proposing the need for an Inshore lifeboat to cover the River Camel Estuary. This had previously been covered by the Harlyn private rescue service, but it was no longer operating any boats.  At this time incidents occurring inside the Doom Bar were being dealt with by other local vessels. An inshore lifeboat station was established at Rock, for one season's evaluation. It was to be independent from Padstow all-weather lifeboat station. From 1995, Rock was permanently established as an all year round inshore lifeboat station. The single storey boathouse was completed in 1997 providing housing for the lifeboat and launching vehicle.

Nearby refreshments

There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Rock, or catch the ferry across to Padstow.

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