Walk - Mother Ivey and St Constantine
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
If you are starting the walk from the golf course at Constantine, begin at 9, continuing from 1 when you reach Harlyn Bay.
- From the entrance to Harlyn Bay beach car park cross to the far left-hand side of the beach, following the edge of the sand alongside the cliffs until you come to the path on the left, signed for the South West Coast Path. (If the tide is up, follow the road across the bridge and take the second turn on your right, Sandy Lane, to pick up the Coast Path around the right-hand field at the end of the lane). From here follow the Coast Path above the rocks, around Big Guns Cove and out to the tip of the headland at Cataclews ('grey rock') Point.
Archaeologists have found evidence of settlements and associated field systems in this area that date right back through history to the Bronze Age, some 4000 years ago. They have also found flint tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, as much as 10,000 years ago, when hunter gatherers roamed Britain.
- Rounding Cataclews Point, carry on past the holiday parks to the sandy beach at Mother Ivey's Bay.
In 1900, archaeologists investigating a field rumoured to be haunted, beside the path towards Mother Ivey's Cottage, found that it was the site of an ancient cemetery. Antiquarian Sabine Baring-Gould wrote that more than a hundred graves were uncovered, of many dates from the Bronze Age onwards. Slate boxes contained crouched skeletons, as well as bronze armlets and necklaces of blue and amber glass beads.
- Carry on along the Coast Path above the beach (also known as Polventon Bay), passing Mother Ivey's Cottage and climbing gently to the track to the lifeboat station.
Mother Ivey was a sixteenth-century white witch who laid a curse on the family living in the cottage still bearing her name. According to local legend, at a time when the fishing stocks ran low and the people of Padstow were starving, the Hellyer family's pilchard business was doing so well that one day they had a crate of fish left over after the day's sales. Mother Ivey approached them to ask if they would donate it to feed some hungry families; but rather than do that the family ploughed the fish into the soil as a fertiliser.
Mother Ivey was furious, and swore that every time the field was ploughed, someone would die. Sure enough, when the field was next turned over, the Hellyers' eldest son was thrown from his horse and killed. During the 1970s a man using a metal detector in the field died of a heart attack, reviving the superstition, and shortly afterwards, the foreman of a water company laying pipes there also keeled over. The field has been left fallow ever since.
- Carrying on past the houses above the beach, cross the track to the lifeboat house to continue around Trevose Head.
The rocky coastline is hazardous for shipping, and in 1827 a lifeboat was built by the Padstow Harbour Association, stationed at Hawker’s Cove on the River Camel. In 1867 the lifeboat was capsized when going to the help of the Georgiana of Boston, Lincs, which was wrecked at Doombar. 5 out of 13 of the lifeboat crew were drowned. The RNLI voted £210 to the local fund and paid the funeral expenses. The local fund raised £2,188. A new boathouse was built at Hawker's Cove in 1931 for a second boat, but both had closed by 1967 due to river silting.
A new boathouse with a 240-foot slipway was built here at Mother Ivey's Bay, to be replaced by the current building in 2006. The lifeboat can now launch into deep water at any state of the tide.
The Trevose Head lighthouse was first proposed in 1809, because there was no light to guide ships in the Bristol Channel between the Longships to the south and the old Lundy light to the north. Trinity House gave thought to the matter in 1813 and again in 1832, but it was not until 1847 that the lighthouse was built, using oil-fuelled wicks backed by reflectors.
The light is situated on the north west extremity of Trevose Head, with gigantic cliffs of grey granite rising sheer from the sea to a height of 150 feet or more. The tower is 27 metres high. Its white light flashes every 7.5 seconds and can be seen for 20 nautical miles. Its fog signal gives 2 blasts every 30 seconds. On 6th February 1913 the new fog signal was put in to service. Developed by Lord Rayleigh, it took the form of an enormous trumpet. Rectangular in shape the new horn was 36 feet long with the aperture 18 feet by 2 feet, intending to give a wide horizontal spread of sound. it must have been successful as it lasted until 1963 before a replacement was needed.
- From the lighthouse carry on above Stinking Cove and across the neck of the promontory at Dinas Head to Mackerel Cove beyond.
Dinas Head gets its name from the Cornish word 'dinas', meaning 'fort'. It is likely that there was a promontory fort here in the Iron Age, sometime between the eighth century BC and AD 43, using the cliffs to defend the seaward side of the site and one or more earth banks across the neck of the promontory to protect the landward aspect.
- Above Mackerel Cove the path passes a spectacularly collapsed sea-cave (Round Hole) before dropping gently around the neck of the Trevose headland and on to Booby's Bay.
The cliffs on this part of the Cornish coast have been spectacularly sculpted by the pounding waves. In places you can hear the hollow boom of the sea washing through caves in the ground below your feet, where the sea has exploited a weakness in the rock. The air pressure caused by this action weakens the roof of the cave, and where it is close to the surface, eventually the roof falls in. The one here is particularly impressive, but there are others around Stepper Point, including another massive crater just beyond Trevone. Pepper Hole, Butter Hole and Fox Hole – all on the Stepper Point peninsula – are smaller sea caves on the shoreline, and from their names it is thought that they were used by smugglers.
Booby's Bay is named after a small white seabird, similar to a gannet, with a yellow head and black wing tips. The name comes from the way the bird dives offshore in stormy weather. Just above the beach at Booby's Bay, but not open to the public, is an old fisherman's shelter made of driftwood, known as 'Tom Parson's hut'.
- At Booby's Bay the Coast Path passes behind the rocky Constantine Island to travel along the back of the sandy beach at Constantine Bay.
Constantine Island hit the national press in 2008, after an amateur archaeologist discovered the remains of a middle-aged man buried in the Bronze Age, 3500 years ago. The skeleton was interred in a crouched position in a stone cist, an particularly unusual find from a period when the population generally cremated its dead.
- Before you reach the rocks at the far end of Constantine beach, a path leaves on the left, heading inland through the dunes. Turn left onto the path and follow it around the edge of the golf course, carrying on ahead along the green lane to come out on the road by the clubhouse.
- Turn left in front of the clubhouse and follow the road to the junction this side of Harlyn Bay.
Detour left across the golf course to visit St Constantine's Church, an early medieval hermitage preserved beneath a modern roof. St Constantine was one of many Celtic saints working around Cornwall in the sixth century to counteract the tide of paganism which had arrived in England with the Anglo-Saxons after the Romans had left. Also King of Dumnonia, St Constantine was said to have been a far from saintly man in his early life, and fellow Celtic saint Gilda called him an 'unclean whelp'. He was accused of murdering his two young nephews in the sanctity of a church, disguising himself as a bishop in order to do so, although according to twelfth-century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth the killing was justified, as they were the traitorous sons of Mordred, who killed King Arthur.
While he was chasing a deer in later years, however, the animal blundered into the cell of Padstow-based St Petroc, followed by Constantine. The king was so impressed with Petroc's holiness that he had himself and his bodyguard converted on the spot to Christianity. Abdicating his throne in favour of his son, he took up the life of an evangelist himself, founding churches at Falmouth and Illogan as well as the one here.
- Bear right at the junction, signed to Harlyn Bay, taking the footpath on the left after the right-hand bend. Follow the path across the field and on ahead to Sandy Lane. Turn right here to walk to the road.
- On the road turn left to return to the car park.
At Harlyn Bay and Constantine Bay