Walk - Port Isaac & Porteath
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
If you are starting the walk in Port Gaverne, take the South West Coast Path to Port Isaac (an extra half mile) and then follow the directions below.
- From the cliff top car park on New Road, pick up the South West Coast Path towards Port Quin and follow it around the headland and Port Isaac harbour.
The Port Isaac lifeboat station was established in 1869 following the delivery of two lifeboats, Richard and Sarah. The former boathouse building was until recently the Post Office but is now a gift shop. In the early 1960s the RNLI introduced the Inshore Lifeboat, and in 1967 the Port Isaac Station reopened with a new inshore lifeboat. Since that time, the lifeboat has responded to more than 623 calls, saving more than 333 lives. Today, the station is manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing full coverage of part of the north coast of Cornwall. The current lifeboat is called 'Copeland Bell'.
In July 2012, the crew of the lifeboat received gallantry medals following a dangerous rescue, only the second time in RNLI history that all the crew of an inflatable lifeboat have received gallantry medals. It was the first time a silver medal was awarded to a member of a Port Isaac crew since 1870.
From the south side of the harbour, turn right up Roscarrock Hill and follow the narrow lane past the Wesleyan Chapel to the end of the road. Turn right, towards the cliffs, and go through the kissing gate and up the steps beyond. Follow the South West Coast Path around Lobber Point and with it drop down into Pine Haven.
- Ignoring the path up the valley to your left, carry along the Coast Path as it climbs the steps ahead of you. The path follows the fence up and down around the ragged coastline for the next mile or two, giving you a wonderful workout with breathtaking views!
- At Varley Head follow the Coast Path as it continues to rollercoaster around Greengarden Cove and then Downgate Cove.
The Coast Path cuts across the back of Varley Head, but this is open access land, which means that you may wander freely around the headland beyond, if you want to linger and admire the coastal views. You are asked to keep dogs on leads, however, to protect ground-nesting birds as well as livestock, whose grazing has an important part to play in the conservation management of the headland. The grassland, arable field margins and seed-bearing crops on the farmland here are being managed for farmland birds, such as the corn bunting and the Cornish national bird, the chough, as well as to protect wildflowers and important archaeology.
At Scarnor Point, just before you go down the steps to Downgate Cove, there are two Bronze Age burial mounds above you on the hillside.
As you round Kellan Head, there are tremendous views over the natural harbour at Port Quin, and the handful of cottages nestling in the valley at its head. On the headland opposite is Doyden Castle, a folly built by Samuel Symmons early in the nineteenth century so that he and his friends had a private venue for their drinking and gambling habits. In striking contrast, the formal Doyden House, on the hillside behind it, was built by a former governor of Wandsworth Prison as his retirement home a century later, after he'd spotted the site from a fishing boat and recognised its panoramic potential.
Doyden Castle is now owned by The National Trust as a holiday rental. Please remember to respect the privacy of anyone staying here.
- Dropping down into Port Quin, turn right on the road to pass the slipway.
It is said that Port Quin was abandoned twice over the centuries: once when the pilchards failed, and once when all the men were lost at sea and the women could not carry on without them. A few yards up the road to your left as you reach Port Quin are the tumbledown remains of just a few of the abandoned cottages, built into the rock face, although before the village was abandoned there were as many as 94 people living here, in 23 different houses. At the back of the beach, as you carry on past the slipway, there are the fish cellars where the pilchards were salted.
Carry on up the hill and around the sharp right-hand bend, to pick up the footpath over the stile on your right into the field towards Doyden Castle. Head towards the fenced shafts on the cliff top at Gilson's Cove, beyond the folly.
Doyden Castle was used in the filming of the TV series Poldark, based on the novels by Winston Graham, and was portrayed as the house of the doctor Dwight Enys.
The fenced shafts are the old antimony mines. Antimony is a lustrous grey metal which is too brittle to be used by itself, and so soft that objects made of it would wear out rapidly; but it was used in the production of pewter, and as a black pigment for both make-up and painting.
- From the mine shafts follow the Coast Path past Pigeon Cove and up to Trevan Point.
On the rocky summit of Trevan Point there are great views across Port Quin Bay. The island off The Rumps, on the far side of the bay, is called the Mouls, where there are breeding colonies of a number of seabirds, including puffins, gannets and kittiwakes. In 1946, the 815-ton coaster Sphene was wrecked when she struck the Mouls in heavy seas and sank in the bay ahead of you. Her cargo of coal went down with her, but the crew all safely abandoned ship. Nowadays it is a popular site for divers, and the Mouls is a favourite venue for boat trips from the River Camel.
Unlike the rest of the coastline around here, which is predominantly slate, the headland at The Rumps is formed from volcanic rock, and there are the remains of a prehistoric promontory fort on its twin humps (see the Pentire Point & The Rumps Walk).
- At Trevan Point carry on along the Coast Path, ignoring the path heading inland, and drop down to Epphaven Cove, making your way from there around Pennywilgie Point to Lundy Bay.
The sandy beach at Epphaven can only be reached by means of the Coast Path, and at low tide it is a delightfully secluded cove with caves and rock pools.
Lundy Bay, too, is a stunning place, with its rocks and surf and tiny waterfall, as well as the heathland on the steep hillside above and the trees lining the valley away to the west. On the far side of the beach is Lundy Hole, a natural archway through to a remarkable open cave, said by locals to have been made by the devil when he was pursuing St Minver, but known by geologists to have been formed by the collapse of a seacave (see the Pentire Point & The Rumps Walk, and the Padstow & Stepper Point Walk). Sand from the beach used to be hauled up the cliff-face here by horse-powered pulleys.
- Reaching Lundy Bay, turn off the Coast Path and take the path heading directly uphill on your left, climbing southwards to the top of the hill and then following the path to the road beyond to Port Quin Cross at Porteath, where you can catch the bus back to Port Isaac. Alternatively you can continue along the Coast Path for another 4½ miles to Polzeath (see the Pentire Point & The Rumps walk) and catch the bus back from there.
There are a number of restaurants, pubs and tearooms in Port Isaac, as well as the Beehive Tearoom in the Bee Centre in Porteath.