Backways Cove, Denis Point and Trebarwith Strand Circular Walk
- Distance:3.75 miles/6 km
- Walk grade:Strenuous
- Start from:Trewarmett
- Recommended footwear:walking boots
- Views over Trebarwith Valley from Trewarmett Hill
- Views back across Trebarwith Valley from Fentafriddle
- Backways Cove
- Views over Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac Bay from Dennis Point
- Explore the beach at Trebarwith Strand
- From Park Farm turn left on the road and walk up to the crossroads. Take the lane going left to Treknow.
- Not more than a few metres down, take the public footpath over a stile next to the gateway on the left. As you walk down the field, head towards the right hedge.
It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:
- Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
- Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
- Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
- Ryn refers to a 'hill' in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
- Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
- Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
- Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
- Godolgh is a very small hill.
- Bron means 'breast' as well as hill.
- Follow the footpath down along the right-hand hedge of the field and through a gate into the lower field.
- Half-way down the lower field, there is a stile on the right. Cross over this and follow the left hedge to a path to the valley floor.
- Cross over the stream then climb the steps on the other side up to the road.
The acidic soil in the Tintagel area was fertilised with lime-rich beach sand from nearby Trebarwith Strand, where the golden sand is largely composed of sea shells which are mostly calcium carbonate (chemically identical to chalk and limestone).
The sand at Trebarwith Strand was also put to another use: to avoid several tonnes of slate in a wagon going down the steep road through Trebarwith Valley resulting in horse paté, the slate wagons would be loaded with sand from Trebarwith Strand and this would be scattered on the road on the way back up, to act as a braking system.
The trade in sand and slate quarrying led to road improvements in the early 19th century and for one reason, or the other, or possibly both, the Trebarwith Strand to Condolden road is known as "Sanding Road".
- Turn left up the track to Fentafriddle until you reach a waymark in a tunnel through the bushes on the right, just after the bend in the track.
Fentafriddle is a group of farm buildings half-way up southern side of Trebarwith Valley. Fentafriddle was once a mill, fed by the spring and, later, powered by a donkey. In Cornish, Fenter means "spring" and friddle is thought to be a corruption of frosyel meaning "gushing". The settlement dates back to mediaeval times, mentioned in records of 1437. Until the early 20th Century, it was part of the estate of the Earl of Wharncliffe. Many of the farm buildings have been converted into luxury holiday accommodation, though the land around them is still farmed.
- From the waymark, follow the footpath over a stile into a field, then turn right and follow along he right hedge until you eventually reach a stone stile over a wall near the top of the field.
- Cross the stile and bear left to a gate on the other side of the field, beneath a telegraph pole.
- Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to a gateway.
The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:
- Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
- If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
- Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
- Go through the gateway and walk along the left hedge until you reach a double metal gate adjacent to the first of the buildings.
- Go through the smaller gate beside the building and follow the path through a sequence of metal gates to a wooden gate ahead.
- Go through the gate and follow the path until it emerges onto a lane.
- Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane a short distance to a track on the left with a public footpath sign.
The settlement of Trebarwith was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Treberbet. The name is from the Cornish word perveth and means "middle farm". The name of the nearby beach - Trebarwith Strand - was taken from this small farmstead, but the large, sandy beach has become far more well-known than the place from which its name originates. In fact just about everyone uses "Trebarwith" to refer to the beach and distinguishes the settlement as "Trebarwith Village".
- Turn left down the track marked with a public footpath sign and go through the kissing gate on the left of the gate. Follow the track across the field to a waymark at a fork in the track..
Just to the left of the track, an overgrown building can be seen which was a watermill powering a large threshing machine.
A watermill powering a large threshing machine was once located near the start of the track from Trebarwith Village to Backways Cove. The 20ft diameter water wheel, which can still be seen in the undergrowth, was connected to a drive shaft which ran (and still remains) under the road, and powered a threshing machine in a stone barn at Trebarwith Farm, which prior to this, had been powered by horses. The threshing machine allowed the previously time-consuming manual task of separating wheat and barley grains from the stalks and husks to be automated, saving large amounts in labour costs.
- At the waymark, go through the left-hand gateway and follow the track until it bends to the right and you reach a waymark on top of the hedge.
During the warmer months, you may well see red-brown cattle grazing the fields here.
The cattle breeds known as Devon were also the traditional breeds used in Cornwall until recent years. The South Devon breed, affectionately known as "Orange Elephant" or "Gentle Giant", is the largest of the British native breeds: the largest recorded bull weighed 2 tonnes. They are thought to have descended from the large red cattle of Normandy, which were imported during the Norman invasion of England. The other breed, known as "Devon Ruby" or "Red Ruby" (due to their less orange colouration), is one of the oldest breeds in existence, with origins thought to be from pre-Roman Celtic Britain.
- At the waymark, go through the opening on the left and follow along the hedge to pass an opening and reach a waymarked gate.
Although Devon cattle are now classified as beef cattle, they were originally also used for dairy and would have been the original producers of milk for Clotted Cream.
Cornish clotted cream is described as having a "nutty, cooked milk" flavour and now has a Protected Designation of Origin (it must be made with milk from Cornwall). The unique, slightly yellow colour is due to the high carotene levels in the grass in Cornwall.
Traditionally, clotted cream was created by straining fresh cow's milk and letting it stand in a shallow pan in a cool place for several hours to allow the cream to rise to the surface. It was then heated, either over hot cinders or in a water bath, before a slow cooling. The clots that had formed on the top were then skimmed off with a long-handled cream-skimmer.
Clotted cream is similar to Kaymak (or Kajmak), a delicacy that is made throughout the Middle East, Southeast Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Turkey. It is possible that it was introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders who ventured to the area in search of tin.
- Go through the waymarked gate ahead and continue ahead across the field to reach a gateway in the middle of the far hedge.
Between Tregardock and Backways Cove lie the remains of Treligga Aerodrome (HMS Vulture II). Both the observation/control tower and the reinforced hut near the sea (towards Backways Cove) are still standing, as are the accommodation and service huts near Treligga village. The control tower has quite recently been repaired and converted into accomodation.
Before the Second World War, HMS Vulture II was used as a glider site. However the Admiralty requisitioned 260 acres of land in late 1939 for the purposes of constructing an aerial bombing and gunnery range. Unusually, the entire operation at HMS Vulture II was staffed by the Women's Royal Naval Service.
On 16 September 1943, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was forced to make an emergency landing at HMS Vulture II. The pilot, Capt Jack Omohundro, had ignored a red flare warning him to keep clear. The plane was chronically short of fuel and running on three engines after a raid on U-boat pens at Nantes in France. The bomber had left its formation to try and preserve what little fuel it had left. Spotting the tiny Treligga airstrip, he skillfully landed 'wheels-down' just 50 yards short of the Wrens quarters.
- Go through the gateway and follow the path across the field to a gate opposite.
The bottom field is hedged with blackthorn, so if you want to make sloe gin, this is a good place for picking in autumn. Afterwards you can use the gin-infused sloes to make sloe sherry and sloe cider.
- Go through the kissing gate next to the gate and follow the path to a waymark beside the stream.
The river valley to the left is a hanging valley, cut short of sloping into the sea due to erosion of the cliffs by the powerful Atlantic waves.
The valley above Backways Cove is located just below Trebarwith Village, to the south of Trebarwith Strand. It is rich in wildflowers and heathland butterflies. Notably a species of wild Camomile grows here which is rare in the rest of the country. There is a story that a cow once went missing for 3 days at Backways Cove and reappeared staggering drunkenly after gorging on Camomile; a chemical within Camomile is known to be an intoxicant in animals if ingested in large quantities, so there may be some truth in this!
The path, leading uphill to the right, goes to the slate quarries.
Coastal slate quarries are confined to a small area of about five miles either side of Tintagel and relatively little is known about their history. In order to work the vertical cliff face, strong points were built from stone above the working areas. From these, ropes were dropped down the quarry face. Men were lowered down the faces on these ropes to split blocks of slate from the face. The slate was hauled up the cliff face on these cables which were wound using "horse whims" - capstans powered by horses or donkeys walking around a circular platform. The stone was split and shaped on "dressing floors" on the cliff top, originally covered with sheds. The remains can be seen as level terraces and are marked by screes of waste rock on the cliff below. Splitting was (and still is) done with a bettle (hammer) and chisel, hence the name of the pub in Delabole.
- Follow the path along the stream to a waymark beside a footbridge.
To get down to the beach, cross over the stream and make your way carefully over the rocks. They can be slippery when it's wet so it's only advisable in dry weather. The rocky beach of Backways Cove is the result of slate quarrying combined with natural erosion.
Backways Cove is a small rocky inlet and beach at the bottom the the valley below Trebarwith Village, just south of Trebarwith Strand. The location features in "The International Directory of Haunted Places":
"Backways Cove, a North Cornwall inlet just up the coast from Trebarwith Strand, is still haunted by many unidentified presences who are thought to be the spirits of shipwrecked sailors whose bodies washed up there after they drowned. Numerous ships were torn apart on the jagged rocks offshore, and the shadowy spirits of their crew are still trying to make it to shore."
- After exploring Backways Cove (via the path leading towards the sea) return to the waymark beside the footbridge and follow the path up the steps to reach a waymark.
- Turn right in the direction indicated by the waymark, to stay on the coast path and follow it to the next waymark.
A tale of Backways Cove was recounted by a folklore enthusiast called Kath:
Many years ago a man with two sons farmed in the vicinity, and on his death left his entire estate to his eldest son, cutting out the younger one without a penny. The younger son went away wracked with jealousy that fomented over time to be an obsession until, convinced that he had been cheated of his birthright he set out to wreak revenge on his elder brother. One night he crept onto the farm and set fire to the buildings. The blaze took hold and the entire property was razed to the ground. The ruins of this once prosperous farm may still be seen near Backways - a few stones from the farmhouse and outbuildings were all that remained. Only in the morning did he discover that his brother had died the day before - and left the entire estate to him.
- Turn left at the waymark and follow the coast path to a waymark beside the fence near the top of the headland.
During stormy weather, sea foam is driven into Backways Cove by the wind and vortices form against the sheer cliffs resulting in small tornadoes of sea foam.
Sea foam (also known as "spume") is formed due to organic compounds known as surfactants present in seawater. Under turbulent conditions, the surfactants form persistent bubbles which float to the surface, stick to each other through surface tension and are driven onshore by the wind. The surfactant compounds themselves arise from processes such as the offshore breakdown of algal blooms.
On beaches, sea foam can conceal deep pools and gullies with an apparently flat, uniform surface. Tread carefully, especially on beaches you don't know well, to avoid walking off the edge of a precipice or vanishing into icy cold water.
- At the waymark, stop to admire the view and get your breath back, then follow the coast path to a gate.
Gull Rock lies approximately 500 metres offshore from Trebarwith Strand and has given its name to RR Gordon's crime thriller set in the area. It is made of a very hard volcanic material that has withstood the sea whilst the slate around it has been worn away. On the seaward side, where a chunk of the rock has cracked off, you can see the tightly folded volcanic rocks within.
Recently the rock has turned green during the spring and summer, and brown in autumn, due to Rock Samphire colonising the side facing the beach, which is sheltered from the westerly winds, helped by fertiliser provided by the seabirds also colonising the sheltered side of the rock.
In the 1800s, the rock at Trebarwith (or Trebarrow as it was known then), was known as Otterham Rock, or Rocks, acknowledging the rocks to the side of the main rock which protrude a small amount from the water. Below the surface of the water, these are part of an extensive reef.
- Go through the kissing gate next to the gate, and bear left on the path towards the rock outcrop. Follow it around the headland until it meets a corner in the fence.
The headland on the far side of the bay is Penhallic Point and the one you are now standing on is known as Dennis Point.
Dennis Point is thought to be a corruption of the Cornish word "Dinas" meaning "castle". Clifftop forts on top of headlands such as this were common in the Iron Age. An area on Penhallic Point opposite is also known as "Dennis Scale" which is thought to have similar origins. However no evidence has so far been found that there was a fort on either headland, so it remains an unsolved mystery. The name Dennis crops up elsewhere in Cornwall such as Dennis Hill at Padstow, which is thought to get its name from the rocky outcrop on the hill that looks a bit like a fort.
- Keep left along the fence behind Port William beach until you reach a flight of steps.
- Descend over 100 steps to a reach a waymark.
There are spectacular views of Trebarwith Strand and Penhallic Point on the way down. Make sure you stop walking to admire the view (or read this!) and look where your feet are going when descending the steep steps.
- Follow the path from the waymark and descend a last flight of steps, then follow the path to a waymark just before a stile.
- From the waymark, cross the stile and follow the track to the Port William pub, where a well-deserved refreshment may be in order.
The Port William Inn sits on the cliff top above Trebarwith Strand. The outdoor terrace and conservatories of the Port William offer spectacular views of the beach and coastline for weary walkers to enjoy some well-deserved refreshment. The interior is decorated with various trophies recovered from ship wrecks such as brass propellers, lanterns and even half of a rowing boat!
- After suitable fortification, follow the coast path down to the road at Trebarwith Strand.
Several small beaches make up Trebarwith which, at low tide, join to form a mile long ribbon of golden sand:
- Port William round to the left is strewn with rocks except at the lowest point of the tide. It's popular with local surfers but not recommended for novices due to the rocks and strong currents.
- Trebarwith Strand is in the centre and is the lifeguard-patrolled area. It's sandy on the left and, to the right side, there are more rocks including some good rock pools.
- Lill Cove around to the right. There is a gully between rocks that makes it possible to get through to Trebarwith when access is cut off by the sea (though this route isn't available at high tide). There is also a footpath up from Lill Cove joining the coast path which is accessible at all times of the tide.
- Vean Hole, further to the right, is a continuation of Lill Cove once the tide is a little way out, but is technically a separate beach.
- Hole Beach to the far right. There is some good snorkelling along the right-hand edge of Hole Beach and due to the large numbers of Sea Bass, it's a good spot for beachcasting. Apart from at the lowest couple of hours of the tide, Hole Beach is cut off by the sea.
- From Trebarwith Strand, walk up the lane from the beach until you reach the large Council car park on your left (after the smaller private car park opposite the road to the Port William).
- Turn left into the Council car park and head to a ramp in the far corner, leading into a meadow.
- Go down the ramp and cross the meadow to a path leading from opposite corner and follow this to a stile.
- Cross the stile and follow the path over a two more stiles until you reach a waymark above some steps where the path forks.
The deeply cut holloway from Treknow to Trebarwith Strand, provided access to the harbour and a route for the pack animals to bring lime-rich sand from the beach to neutralise the acidic soil.
Treknow (which in Cornish means 'the valley place') is perhaps one of the oldest 'industrial' settlements in the area dating back to Mediaeval times, based mainly on slate quarrying with some early metal mining. The physical structure of Treknow - its bowl-like formation, in parts literally carved out of the rock - could be the result of early slate excavations. It was in direct response to the needs of industrial workers, in the expanding quarrying industry of the early 19th century, that the rows of cottages were constructed. The use of slate for roofs, chimneys, walls and paving, which contributes so greatly to their character, is further testimony to the dominant role of the local industry.
- Climb the steps and follow the left-hand path towards the telegraph pole ahead to reach a gate next to a signpost.
- Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Walk up the lane until you reach a junction to the right.
- Turn right, and right again at the T-junction with the main road. Follow the main road a short distance until you reach a junction with Trelake Lane on the left.
- Take the left turn up Trelake Lane and follow the lane until it ends in a T-junction with the main road in Trewarmett.
The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage. It is known locally as "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways. Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut.