Friday, 22 July 2016


The beach at Porthcothan is backed by dunes and is popular with families, although care needs to be taken due to the strength of the currents.  At low tide, when the beach expands in size considerably, the tide comes in rapidly.  Facilities include a store, a car park with public toilets, and a surf school.  Smuggling used to be rife here, and a reminder of those days remains in the form of Will’s Rock, a rock stack at the end of one of the headlands overlooking the beach.  The story goes that smugglers left a man from the Revenue on the rock to drown in the rising tide.  However the man, Will, survived to tell the tale.  On the other side of the beach are some double rock stacks.  One of these, known as Jan Leverton’s Island (I have been unable to find out why – answers on a postcard) used to be a single large rock with a pair of  “windows” going through it, but the section containing the windows was knocked out by storm waves, leaving a stack on either side.  There is also a collapsed cave with openings onto the beach and the end of the headland, big enough to scramble through at low tide.   Nearby Park Head is the site of an Iron Age fort.  Fans of Poldark may recognise the beach at Porthcothan, since it was used in the BBC production to represent Nampara Cove near Ross Poldark’s home.

There has been a battle brewing over the management of the beach at Porthcothan.  Apparently in late 2014 some locals rerouted a stream in an attempt to protect the Porthcothan sand dunes.  A noble cause one would suppose, but unfortunately they neglected to get permission from the Council or the Marine Management Organisation.  This infuriated some of the other residents, who wanted to enlist the help of experts before wading in and taking action to manage the site.  A salutary lesson for anyone tempted to take such matters into their own hands.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Tony Atkin, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Trevose Head got an airing during the last Christmas season when the BBC broadcast a stylish Agatha Christie thriller called And Then There Were None.  Towards the end of the series there was a shot of a striking cliff-top hole – this was the so-called Round Hole at Trevose Head.  The ‘hole’ in question has been formed by the collapse of the roof of a  a sea cave.  Trevose Head is also home to a lighthouse, first built in1847 as an extra defence between Lundy and Land’s End.  The headland boasts a golf club for those wanting to practise their golfing moves against a spectacular backdrop.   Just below the headland is Constantine Bay, which enjoys a reputation as one of the best surfing beaches in Cornwall.  Named after a 6th century Cornish saint, the beach and its neighbour Booby’s Bay are just two of seven beaches within easy reach of the area. Although the beach is popular with surfers, swimmers should beware of the rips arising from the west-facing aspect.

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Photo by Harry Lawford, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 4 July 2016


This quiet outpost of Padstow is the former home of the Padstow lifeboat – and of actor Edward Woodward, who lived there in the latter part of his life.  Situated on the west side of the Camel Estuary, it is a good place for observing leisure craft as they inch their way past the Doom Bar sandbank.  Walkers heading out here along the South West Coastal Path pass Gun Point, where there was a gun emplacement during the Napoleonic War.  Beyond Hawker’s Cove the path leads to Stepper Point, topped by a tower built as a landmark for sailors.

There are two beaches near the village of Trevone, one sandy, the other with rock pools and a natural swimming pool at low tide.  Just as well, since the strong tides here make sea bathing risky.  The cliffs above the beach feature a Blow Hole which attracts a lot of interest.  St Saviour’s Church in the village is unusual in that it was built relatively recently, in 1959, as a replacement for an earlier wooden mission church.  The roof is made of slate from Delabole and the walls of iron-rich local sandstone.  As the stone is weathered the iron works its way outwards to give a hard casing.  

Map of the area. 

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Hawker's Cove.  Photo by Chris J. Dixon, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


When I was growing up in Cornwall in the 1960s and 70s, Padstow was a typical Cornish fishing port backed by a picturesque warren of narrow streets where tourists wandered around enjoying cheap and cheerful Cornish treats such as pasties, fish and chips, ice cream and fudge.  Nothing fancy in other words.  All that changed, however, with the opening of TV chef Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, an upscale eatery offering something rather more sophisticated than battered cod.  Stein subsequently put Padstow on the map with his TV series, in which, along with the cooking, his mischievous dog, the late lamented Chalky, was seen getting up to no good against the gorgeous backdrop of the Camel Estuary.  Stein added to his empire with a string of other businesses, including a second restaurant, a delicatessen and an upmarket fish and chip takeaway, and soon people were jokingly referring to Padstow as ‘Padstein’.

An unfortunate side effect of all this is that Padstow has become a very expensive place to live.  I remember a certain restaurant critic once sneeringly observed that there were no locals eating in Stein’s flagship restaurant when he visited.  Well, that may just be because the locals can’t afford it, nor can they afford the increasingly sky-high property prices in the area.  In 2007 both Stein and Jamie Oliver, another famous chef running businesses in Cornwall, were threatened by Cornish nationalists incensed at their inflationary influence on the county.

Anyway, that’s enough of that.  In Elizabethan times Sir Walter Raleigh used to hang out in the town while serving as Warden of Cornwall.  By the 19th century Padstow was a thriving commercial port, although larger vessels were prevented from using it because of the Doom Bar sandbank (see previous post).  A ferry links Padstow to Rock, avoiding a long roundabout journey via Wadebridge, and in summer there are boat trips, including a ‘safari’ option to see seals and other wildlife.  Down by the harbourside is the National Lobster Hatchery, which aims to safeguard the lobster population with its conservation work.  St Petroc’s church in the centre of town was built in the 13th century, and its features include a memorial to Sir Nicholas Prideaux, who built the 16th century Prideaux Place, just outside Padstow, an Elizabethan manor with a deer park.

Padstow has a number of events during the course of the year, but probably the oldest and best known event is known as the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival, held on May Day.   The event is thought to be a relic of an ancient fertility rite traditionally held at the start of Spring.  The Oss (horse) is a man dressed in a black ‘cape’ with a grotesque masque who dances around the town trying to grab young girls.  I must confess I have never been to Padstow for this event, but I remember being terrified by the idea of it as a child.

For a list of events in the Padstow area follow this link. 

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Photo by Simon Huguet, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 11 June 2016


This stretch of the North Cornwall coast was a favourite of the late Poet Laureat Sir John Betjeman, who used to holiday in the area with his family.  In fact one of his poems, Greenaway, describes the coast between Polzeath and Daymer Bay, waxing lyrical about “this turfy mile, these clumps of sea-pink withered brown”, about how “mighty rollers mount to cast small coal and seaweed on the shore” and “spurting far as it can reach the shooting surf comes hissing round...”.  A short walk from the bay is a low-slung granite church with a tower shaped like a slightly crooked witch’s hat.  This is St Enodoc Church, where Sir John is buried, and which used to be buried in sand.

Rock lies opposite Padstow at the mouth of the Camel Estuary, and is reckoned to be one of the most expensive locations in the country for real estate, so much so that it has been nicknamed ‘Kensington-on-Sea’.  A certain TV chef  recently bought a property there for a cool 4.4 million, and proceeded to upset the neighbours with plans to demolish the property, dating from the 1920s, and replace it with a larger one.  Rock’s illustrious visitors include film stars and royalty, and earlier this year it was reported that the resort could be forced to close its beach to swimmers because of the sheer concentration of yachts and other pleasure boats filling the waters.  Ah well, us ordinary mortals will be happy to leave the beach to the rich and famous, plenty of others to choose from along this stretch of coast.  

At the mouth of the estuary, and visible from Daymer Bay, is a sandbank called Doom Bar, so called because of the danger it presents to shipping.  Sharp's Brewery, based in Rock, has named one of its most popular ales after this coastal feature.

Map of the area. 

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Daymer Bay. Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons