Walk - John Betjeman Walk from Padstow
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Depending upon the tide, catch the Ferry across the River Camel to Rock from one of two points. At LOW WATER the ferry operates from St Saviour’s Point. At other times the ferry operates from Padstow harbour. www.padstow-harbour.co.uk/phc_ferry gives more details.
From The Meadow, take the path down either to St Saviour’s point or to the harbour.
- From the car park in Rock 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.
The late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, buried at St Enodoc Church a little way ahead, called this shoreline “a mile of shallow pools and lugworm casts”. There are long stretches of golden sand on both sides of the estuary, and between them stretches the Doom Bar, which has been responsible for many a shipwreck. Local legend attributes this to the wrath of the Mermaid of Padstow (see the Stepper Point Walk). She placed a curse on all sailors venturing here after a local lad shot her, mistaking her for a seal.
Rock Dunes are a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the number of unusual species which thrive in the maritime grassland. These include rare plants like Sea Spurge, with its waxy green leaves climbing long thin stems like ladders to the tiny yellow flowers growing in cups at the top, as well as the Dense Silky-Bent Grass with its knobbly stalks and hairy heads. There are also many wild herbs, as Betjeman noted in the same poem: “As winds about the burnished path through lady's-finger, thyme and bright varieties of saxifrage...”
This richness of plant life encourages an equal diversity of insects: “Hover-flies remain more than a moment on a ragwort bunch,” says Betjeman, and talks of “Red Admirals basking with their wings apart”.
- When the path forks, bear left, to carry on above the water towards Brea Hill.
Brea Hill was a Roman encampment, providing a good lookout point over the Camel; but the Romans were by no means its first residents. Bronze Age people were also drawn to it for its vantage point, a millennium or two before them. There are burial mounds on its summit from that period, and rough paths leading up the hillside towards them.
- 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. 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.
The area is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its rocks, which are of considerable geological significance. These are exposures of Harbour Cove slates and Polzeath slates. Both of these are unusually rich in fossils, which have helped to give an accurate date to the local rock beds of the geological Devonian period.
If you opt to stay on the path above the beach, follow it to the car park at the far end of the beach.
- 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.
- 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 or fork from it, until you get to St Enodoc Church. This is, on your left, about a quarter of a mile beyond Daymer Lane.
- 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.
St Enodoc sometimes known as St Gwinnodock was a hermit who arrived here from Wales and lived in a cave near the Jesus Well, on the far side of the golf course. Tradition has it that he baptised his converts at the well. After his death his shrine was moved to the site of the present church.
The current church is thought to date from around the fifteenth century. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries it was so deeply buried in drifting sand that the vicar and his parishioners had to descend into the sanctuary through the roof to attend services. The sand was removed and the church restored in the nineteenth century. According to a later incumbent's son, “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.”
The church is open daily from 7.30am until dusk.
From the church gate turn right and drop onto the path which skirts the woods at the foot of Brea Hill.
Follow it through the golf course, watching out for golf balls as you go!
- When you come to the footbridge, there is a choice of routes.
Carrying on along the tarmac drive through the golf course will bring you eventually to a small path which leads to Jesus Well.
The well is also said to have been visited by Jesus in his teens, when according to some traditions he travelled up through the south west to Glastonbury with his uncle, Phoenician tin merchant Joseph of Arimathea.
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.
- When you reach the road, turn right and then right again to return to the car park.
To return to Padstow take the Ferry remembering that the ferry arrives in Padstow from one of two points in Padstow depending upon the tide.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in both Rock and Padstow.