An exhilarating hike between the North Cornish villages of Port Isaac and Port Quin.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Ascent/gradient 984ft (300m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Good coastal and field paths. Several sections of coast path run very close to unguarded cliff edges. May not be suitable for children and dogs. 14 stiles
Landscape Coastal scenery and inland fields, one wooded valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 106 Newquay and Padstow
Start/finish SW 999809
Dog friendliness On leads in grazed areas
Parking Port Isaac. Large car park on outskirts of village, can be busy in summer. Allowed on Port Isaac's stony beach, but this is tidal and you need to know tides or you may end up with an amphibious auto. Small car park at Port Quin
Public toilets Port Isaac car park and at start of Roscarrock Hill
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1 Leave the Port Isaac main car park by the lower terrace and turn left along a track, keeping right where it branches, signposted 'Coast Path'. At the road, keep ahead and down Fore Street to reach the open space known as the Platt at the entry to the harbour. Just past Port Isaac Fishermen Ltd, turn right up Roscarrock Hill Lane, signposted 'Coast Path'.
2 At the top of the lane, pass a public footpath sign on the left, then, in 30yds (27m), keep to the right of the gateway to a terrace of houses and bear right, signposted 'Coastal Footpath'. Follow the path round Lobber Point.
3 Descend to Pine Haven Cove and go over a wooden stile. (A wooden fence marches alongside the inside edge of the path from here on.) Climb steeply uphill and round the edge of an enormous gulf. Go over a stile at the end of the fenced section and cross Varley Head. (The path ahead again runs close to the cliff edge and is fenced on the inside.)
4 Just beyond a bench descend steep steps, (there is a hand rail) into Downgate Cove and Reedy Cliff. Follow the coast path up some very steep sections to reach the seaward edge of Kellan Head. Continue along the coast path to Port Quin.
5 Turn left at Port Quin and go up the road past the car park entrance. At a bend in the road bear off left, signposted 'Public Footpath to Port Isaac'. Go past cottages and keep up the slope to a gate with a stone stile. Dogs should be kept under strict control from here on. Follow the path alongside a hedge, then climb to a stile between two gates. Keep alongside the right-hand edge of the next fields.
6 Go over a stile beside a gate, then turn left and follow the left field edge to a wooden stile. Go left over the stile and descend into the wooded valley bottom. Cross a wooden footbridge over a stream, then go over a stone stile. Keep ahead and climb very steeply through gorse to reach an open field slope. Keep ahead across the field (no apparent path), aiming to the left of a tall wooden pole that soon comes into view.
7 Cross a stone stile and follow the hedged-in path downhill to a junction with the lane at Point 2. Turn right and retrace your steps to Port Isaac and then to the car park.
The North Cornish coast between the sea inlets of Port Isaac and Port Quin is a marvellous chaos of tumbled cliffs and convoluted hills. The price of all this, for the keen walker, is a strenuous passage along the coastal footpath between the two. You rise and fall like a dipping gull, but without the same ease and effortlessness. The inland return, across fields, to Port Isaac, is undramatic but is not strenuous. On the coastal section, be prepared for airy clifftop paths that in places are pinned narrowly between thin air on the unprotected seaward edge and a lengthy stretch of wooden fencing inland, said by ironic locals to be as visible from space as the Great Wall of China.
The North Cornish village of Port Isaac is one of the West Country's most popular visitor destinations. The appeal of Port Isaac, however, lies partly in its relative freedom from too many visitors' vehicles. The village is enclosed between the steep slopes of a narrow valley that reaches the sea at a protected inlet, a natural haven for vessels. It is this orientation to the sea that has produced the densely compact nature of the village. The sea was the common highway here, long before the modern road became so; until the early 20th century trading ships brought coal, limestone, timber and other commodities to Port Isaac and carried away, fish, farm produce, mineral ore and building stone.
It's worth taking a little time to explore the village of Port Isaac (PWhile You're There) before setting off uphill on the coastal footpath. The path leads round the smooth-browed Lobber Point, then traces a remarkable rollercoaster route along the folded coastline to Kellan Head and then to Port Quin. There is a slightly haunted air about Port Quin today. It is a remote, silent place, yet in 1841 nearly 100 people lived here in a village of over 20 households. Now only a few cottages remain, not all of them occupied permanently. Like most inlets on the North Cornish coast Port Quin survived until the 19th century on pilchard fishing and on coastal trade that involved the import of coal and lime in exchange for slate, and lead from small mining concerns. Legend claims that most of the men of Port Quin were lost at sea in some kind of fishing or smuggling disaster and that the womenfolk and children moved away. There was certainly rapid depopulation, but it may simply have been through emigration when mining failed and pilchard fishing declined in the late 19th century. The route you follow through the fields back to bustling Port Isaac must once have been a local highway between two thriving communities.
Take the opportunity to explore Port Isaac. The alleyways of the village reach their most eccentric form in the narrowest of passageways, known as 'drangs', with splendid names such as 'Shuggy's Ope' and 'Squeeze-ee-Belly Alley', the latter speaking for itself. Where Fore Street, at its bottom end, bends sharply round to the harbour, keep ahead along a narrow alley to find these.
The tangled vegetation of the Reedy Cliff area makes an ideal habitat for small birds such as the stonechat. This is a typical passerine, or percher. The male bird is easily distinguished by its russet breast, white collar and dark head while the female is a duller brown overall. The 'stonechat' name derives from the bird's distinctive chattering note that resembles a rapid tapping of stone on stone.
There are no refreshment stops on the route, but Port Isaac has a number of cafés and restaurants. The Slipway Restaurant, Harbour Cafe and the Wheelhouse Seafood Restaurant and Bistro are clustered round the entrance to the harbour beach and the nearby Golden Lion does sandwiches and bar meals. The Old Drug Store, on the way down Fore Street serves fish and chips.