131 Port Isaac to Trebarwith Strand

I set off from Port Isaac , along the cliff tops. The sun is shining and there is no rain forecast today, so I am in a happy and optimistic mood. Across the bay is the magical headland of Tintagel.

After the trials of yesterday, today’s walk is going to be easy-peasy, isn’t it?

towards Port Gaverne, Ruth walking the south west coast path, Cornwall

A couple of miles before Tintagel is Trebarwith Strand. Today, Trebarwith Strand is my planned destination. (After the misunderstanding yesterday, I made my husband repeat this several times.)

I walk along the coast road, down into the narrow inlet of Port Gaverne. There I try to follow the path up the side of the inlet, with a walkway that is dedicated to a local artist, Frank McNichol, but the path is closed.

02 footpath closed, Port Gaverne, Ruth coast walking

Retreating, I find the official South West Coast Path. The view back to Port Isaac is lovely, with Varley Head beyond. How different it looks to yesterday! Sadly the really scenic part of Port Isaac is hidden in the dip.

03 looking back at Port Isaac, Ruth's coastal walking

Ahead the coastline curves around. The route looks straightforward, following the cliffs. Some high points to climb, but nothing too difficult.

The lump of Gull Rock sticks out of the sea just off Trebarwith Strand. With my hopes high on this beautiful morning, I am optimistic I will defy my own expectations and make it all the way to Tintagel, where we are staying in a B&B.

04 view ahead to Tintagel across Port Isaac Bay, Ruth on SWCP

How deceptive can a view can be? Yes, the first part of the walk is easy enough, walking along the top of Bounds cliff.

ups and downs of Bounds Cliff, Ruth walking in CornwallThere is a flattish piece of land ahead with a grassy top, glowing in the morning sunshine. I decide I will stop there for a drink and a snack. Should take me about an hour.

But the path soon begins to drop down into little valleys. Each drop is followed by a steep climb up the other side. Up and down. Again and again.

I begin to lose track of where I am. I check my map. I check the view. I don’t seem to be making any progress. Tintagel is still a long way off.

Cliff above Barrett's Zawn, Ruth on south west coat path, CornwallIn the photo on the left you can see how the path follows the steep incline of the slope, close to the edge of the cliff.

Yes, the thin wiggly line down the flank of that slope really is the path. I am glad I have brought my poles.

But it gets worse. Is this Ranie Point? Is the next scrambling slope Delabole Point? Is the rocky beach below the place marked Barrett’s Zawn on my map? Surely the path doesn’t really lead down here?

Yes it does. And going down is the easy bit. Coming back up is the killer.

The problems I have are that: (a) the path is relatively un-trodden and difficult to find; (b) loose shale underfoot makes me slip and slide; (c) any soil that may have held the stones more securely has been washed away; (d) the slope is incredibly steep and (e) thick gorse on either side means I have no choice but to follow the ‘path’.

07 steep path, Barrett's Zawn, Ruth in Cornwall

Although the view looking down from the top at this angle doesn’t look too daunting –

loose stones, Ruth Livingstone– this photo gives you a sense of what the path consists of.

The skittering stones mean each foothold had to be tested before I dare to transfer my weight. Even so, I often slip and dislodge mini-avalanches beneath my boots. It is too steep to rest. Each step requires effort and concentration. At one point I am not sure if I am going to make it to the top.

But there is no way round. And below – the unfriendly vision of a cliff tumble with hard rocks waiting to break my bones.

This is the most challenging and difficult section of walk I have ever done. By the time I make it to the top, I am sweating and shaking with fear and fatigue.

After the terror of the climb, the bull at the top no longer looks scary.

09 Bull on coastal path, Ruth in Cornwall

I have only just recovered, when I see another steep dip ahead.

10 men and dogs ahead, Ruth on SWCP, Cornwall

Just over the brow of the hill I stumble through a field of cows, some sitting around the stile as if to deliberately block my way. They have calves with them and stand with heads lowered staring at me. They look more fearsome than the bull. I don’t stop to take photographs.

10b men and dogs, Ruth walking in CornwallI see the first walkers of the day. Two men with dogs are picking their way down the slope ahead. They cross the stream at the bottom and come trudging up towards me, looking hot and tired. I wonder if I should warn them about the cows, but feel too exhausted to speak.

A few minutes later I hear a man shouting, calling a dog’s name, his voice shrill with urgency. They are out of sight, over the brow of the hill.

Although I can’t see what is happening, I now regret not saying anything. I wish I’d warned them.

Dannonchapel, Ruth walking the north Cornish coastAt the bottom of my narrow valley a National Trust sign says this is Dannonchapel. I check my map and can hardly believe it.

I have come less than 3 miles and it has taken me 2.5 hours.

Forget Tintagel, I will be grateful to make it as far as Trebarwith Strand in one piece.

stream at Dannonchapel, Ruth's coastal walk, CornwallI pause for a breather and enjoy the sight of the stream rushing along, putting off the climb up to the top. I know that there is another steep drop the other side.

I wish I could say this was the last major up-and-down. But I can see I have three more before Trebarwith.

At the top of Dannonchapel, I stop for a drink of water and nearly empty my bottle, saving a mouthful for emergencies and wishing I had brought more fluid with me.

I look ahead and Gull Rock – marking Trebarwith Strand – is, finally, drawing nearer.

13 Tregardock Beach, Ruth walking the coast in Cornwall

Then I press onwards.

cliff fall sign, Ruth Livingstone, SWCPThe climb down from Dannonchapel is complicated by a landslip. When I see the warning sign at the top, I have a moment of panic. Will I have to make a long detour?

more ups and downs, towards Trebarwith Strand, Ruth's coast walkingWhat a relief to see I can continue along the path, with only a minor diversion away from the newly fallen area, which is marked off by tumbled orange netting.

Down Crookmoyle Rock, across another pretty stream, to Jacket’s Point and a steep climb up. I finish the last of my water.

But the next section of coast path is comparatively easy. I walk along the top of Tregardock Cliff and eat handfuls of ripe blackberries, sucking out the juice and spitting out the pips. I begin to feel better.

Approaching Tregardock, a path comes from inland and crosses over the South West Coast Path, leading down to the sea and the grey beach. I meet people. Strollers. Not walkers. A couple are going down to the beach for a picnic. The girl is leaping ahead, the man following slowly and carrying bags.

The slope up from Tregardock Beach is ominously named “The Mountain”. But it is a gentle slope compared to those I have just climbed. Walking along the top, I am startled by a man scrambling up the slope  to join the path. He is carrying a fishing rod, but has no fish.

Gull rock is drawing nearer. The walk is easy now.

16 Tregardock Cliffs, near Tintagel, Ruths coast walk

But, uh-oh, here is the final river valley before I reach Trebarwith. This is called Backway’s Cove and the slopes are horribly steep and covered in cows and calves. I follow a zig-zag route, whether a cow-track or the official path isn’t clear, but I get down easily.

17 Backways Cove, Ruth on her coastal walk, North Cornwall

At the bottom I have a face-off with a cow who is guarding the bridge – my only crossing point over the stream. I avoid eye contact and walk forwards in a determined manner, swinging my poles. She puts her head down and glowers at me. Who will give way first?

At the last moment, she turns and runs.

I may have won the right to cross the bridge, but I still hate cows.

On the other side of the valley the path is signposted and easy to follow. I climb the last hill and am relieved to see Trebarwith Strand below with people on the beach. Tintagel is not far away, just over the top of the cliffs on the other side of this bay. But I have had enough walking for today.

18 Trebarwith Strand, Hole Beach, Ruth's coastal walk, SWCP

The way down is extremely steep and, although there are steps cut into the hill, it is like descending an endless step-ladder, but while facing outwards. Half way down I meet a couple who have stopped and are sitting on the steps eating ice-creams. I tread around them carefully.

In the pub garden below I can see my husband and his mother. I send a text “I can see you”, hoping they will look up and see me coming down the precipice and be suitably impressed. But there is no mobile signal and they don’t notice my arrival until I am safely down on flat ground

19 precipitous climb down into Trebarwith Strand, Ruth Livingstone

Later we go to a pub for an evening meal. Two men are sitting at a nearby table with two dogs and I realise they are the same men I saw on my walk earlier. They tell me how one of the dogs ran away, terrified, from the cows and nearly fell off the cliff and they mention how unusual it is to see a woman walking on her own. Then they tell me how the  path becomes even more difficult beyond Bude and mention something about it being the equivalent of climbing 1/2 way up Mount Everest.  Oh dear!

Miles walked today = 7 miles
Total miles since start = 1,294
Vertical distance climbed = 2,700 feet


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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12 Responses to 131 Port Isaac to Trebarwith Strand

  1. A great read as usual. You get the sense of adventure across real well, I almost feel like I was there walking with you.
    I enjoy these challenging sections the most and can’t wait to make it to this area myself in 2015.

    • Thank you Gary. It was the most challenging walk I’ve ever done. The slippery shale path was awful. But this section of the coast is truly beautiful and I’m sure you will love it when you get there 🙂

  2. mariekeates says:

    That sounds like a difficult walk. I’m glad you made it in one piece.

  3. john says:

    Oh, someone told you about the section north of Bude, i was avoiding doing so, after that you will laugh at what will always be smaller slopes, enjoy.
    Cheers J.P.

  4. babsandnancy says:

    We just did this section at Easter with 4 kids (12 to 14 yr olds) and made it to Tintagel. The kids were complete and utter superstars (we had chosen it as a stretch to bring them on because it was shorter than most and ended at the iconic Tintagel) and only realised on the day, like yourself, how bloody hard it was! Although there was only a smattering of rain the path was so muddy that even the flat stretches were exceedingly challenging. On the final stretch beyond Trebarwith Sands the kids did start to rebel by throwing themselves on the grass in protest. We had been offered a dog for the day and thank goodness I’d said no. The responsibility was too much. On the upside it is utterly beautiful.

  5. Jane says:

    I did this walk on Saturday. The weather forecast was dire but as it turned out it was ok. Unlike the walk. I have a bad knee and nothing in the “blurb” warned us of the eight steep descents and ascents, it took us four hours, rather than the two predicted by the handbooks. I was pretty chuffed to have completed it and my knee held out, BUT I will never, ever do it again. If the weather had been as predicted I think we would have been in serious trouble. The views are stunning (when you can take your eyes off the narrow path). I honestly think there should be more warnings about the difficulty of this walk. My friends, one of which is barely 5ft tall, found the height of the steps really hard. I am nearly 6ft tall and found them hard. There were lots of cows and sheep en route and I would never, ever, have taken my dog with me because of the massive cliff drops. Did I enjoy it? No. Am I glad I did it ? No. The sense of achievement aged 60++ … massive.

  6. Karen White says:

    It all sounds terrifying and not a pleasure. I would never have my dogs off lead on cliff top walks; aside from the cows, dogs have very little sense of danger and don’t know there is an ‘edge’ with a steep drop. As one of your other commenters says, there should be warnings when the walks are have lots of steep inlines and aren’t suitable for inexperienced or unfit walkers – or even the vertically challenged ones (like me).

  7. Karen White says:

    However your descriptions bring it vividly to life and it’s exciting reading. I’m relieved that you made it all in one piece. I think your blog should be required reading for anyone attempting the SWCP! Great photos of the gorgeous scenery.

  8. Jax MacLachlan says:

    What a memory! 2017 Nov
    8 of us climbed the huge steep steps from Trebarwith & what with inappropriate footwear and the realisation of the difficulty of the walk and fitness issues for some we were immediately down to 4!!
    3.5 hours later we met them at the planned restaurant Pilchards Port Isaac.
    We were fit 60 year olds but never expected our planned 1.5+ hr walk to be so challenging and in places dangerous. We nearly headed inland to a distant farm at one point as it seemed endless.
    Thank goodness the others didn’t even start. No pleasure doing it as too steep and hard to enjoy the views. Could barely eat when we finally made it as so exhausted but still talk about it😂

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