Smoky shreds of mist came drifting in from the sea across the blue Cornish sky.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Herring gulls were circling with steely cries over Port Gaverne’s narrow rocky inlet. The persistent sea has cut the north Cornwall coast into dozens of these havens, where tiny fishing villages lie sheltered on a slip of a beach. Port Gaverne is one of the tiniest, no more than a hamlet, centred round its cheery hotel and a couple of boats.
It was a steep climb out of the valley, a salutary early morning shock to the system. Fat white sheep cropped the wet fields around Trewartha, from where a stony lane lined with royal blue borage and the episcopal purple flowers of honesty dropped away to cross a stream in a boggy dell. I puzzled my way across and up to a viewpoint over Port Isaac’s huddle of houses caught in a downhill stampede between the slopes of the valley.
A high-banked lane headed north towards the sea, then a field path led into another deep dip and on over cattle pastures to Port Quin, a fishing haven even smaller and quieter than Port Gaverne. Suddenly I knew exactly where I was, though I’d not been here for more than 50 years. Oh, the power of childhood holidays! The steep upward lane, high-perched Doyden Hotel where the family had stayed, the castellated folly of Doyden Castle on its tump of headland where we’d walked a dewy circuit every morning! It all came rushing back from wherever such sounds and pictures and smells are stored all the while.
I walked up to the tower and sat with my back to the wind, looking round the long semi-circle of Port Quin Bay to the rock spires of The Rump and the big rugged lump of The Mauls island out in the sea. Yellow gorse, green headlands, black rock, blue sky, turquoise sea – elemental colours in absolute perfection.
Mist began to steal in again, muting those sharp colours. I turned for home along the South West Coast Path, up and down innumerable steps, round rocky bays where the dark shapes of peregrines darted almost too quickly to be seen, and fulmars planed the air currents on stiff wings and glanced incuriously with their round black eyes as they passed me by.
Start: Port Gaverne, Port Isaac, Cornwall PL29 3SQ (OS ref SX 003808).
Getting there: Bus – Service 584 (westerngreyhound.com), Camelford-Wadebridge
Road – Port Gaverne is signposted off B3267 in Port Isaac (B3314 from A39 at Wadebridge)
Walk (8½ miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer 106): In Port Gaverne follow ‘Port Gaverne Hotel car park’ sign. Pass car park; on over stile by gate (‘Trewetha ½’). In 150m, fork right (005806, yellow arrow/YA) up steep path. At top, right over stile (YA); up to road at Trewetha (005802). Left round bend; right (‘Footpath, Port Isaac’) down green lane to cross stream in boggy dell (000800). Left for 50m, bending right to meet walled lane by stone stile among trees. Right here; in 20m, fork left up walled path; up and through gate; on up lane. In 350m, on 2nd left bend, right over stile (997800, YA); follow hedge, then fence (YAs) right of Homer Park to road (996802).
Left for 50m; right (‘To The Coastpath’) along lane. In ⅓ mile, through gate (992807); left along field edge with wall on left, down to cross stream (991805, ‘Port Quin’). Right up path; at top, right and follow field edge round to left. In 200m, right (988808, YA) along field edge track. In ¾ mile, cross wall stile by gate; track bends right uphill, but keep ahead, down across field, aiming for distant house. Follow track (YAs); in ¼ mile, cross stile by house, down to road in Port Quin (973805). Ahead across bridge; round left bend, then right bend, up road; in 150m, right over stile (970805); follow Coast Path to Doyden Castle (967806).
Return along Coast Path via Port Quin and Port Isaac for 4 miles (steep!) to Port Gaverne.
NB: Boggy and confusing in dell below Trewetha; many hundreds of steep steps on Coast Path between Port Quin and Port Isaac.
Lunch: Picnic. Tea: Cafés in Port Isaac
Accommodation: Port Gaverne Hotel, PL29 3SQ (01208-880244; port-gaverne-hotel.co.uk) – cheerful pub with rooms