Walks On The Wild Side
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Tregaminion, Menabilly, The Gribben
Tregemmynyon , Menabili, an Gribyn
Our first walk begins at Tregaminion Chapel near Polkerris on the South Coast. This beautiful little chapel nestles amongst the trees and invokes many childhood memories of Great Aunt Mabel who played the organ for the services. Every Sunday our Mum walked my sister and I to Tregaminion from our home at Penhale cottages, just under 2 miles away on the main road between Polkerris and Fowey.
As we go through the wrought iron gate into the chapel grounds, the sunshine dapples through the trees casting light and dark shadows on the grass and shrubs. Spring came early this year and we’ve missed the swathe of bluebells that usually carpet the churchyard, there are just a few sturdy dark blue flowers remaining. Like all puppies, Button loves visiting new places and already has his head down snuffling in the grass frantically wagging his tail in anticipation of new adventures.
Polkerris and Menabilly are part of the large Rashleigh Estate which has been in the Rashleigh family since the 1560’s. The chapel’s foundation stone was laid in 1813 by William Rashleigh’s wife Rachel who died not long afterwards; the chapel wasn’t completed at the time of her death and Rachel was interred at Tywardreath. When the chapel foundations were dug, a carved stone bearing the Rashleigh arms was discovered and is built into the wall over the front porch. Despite the age and being subject to the elements, a Cornish Chough stands proudly in the top left hand corner of the recovered stone. Tregaminion Chapel was eventually finished and consecrated in 1816 and received Grade 2 Listed Building status in 1986.
Button is having a wonderful time exploring the shrubs and trees and, as we make our way round to the back of the chapel, his ears prick up when he hears sheep for the first time. Leaping and running round in ever decreasing circles, he ties his lead round Sandie’s legs as he tries to investigate the mysterious noise coming from over the wall. Untangled and firmly tucked under Sandie’s arm, he has his introduction to the woolly farm animals. Trembling with excitement he lets rip with a cacophony of high pitched yelps; luckily the sheep aren’t bothered about having their quiet afternoon nap disturbed and the lambs trot over to say hello. Button is too boisterous and struggling to jump into the field, so we say goodbye to the sheep and their humans, and walk back to the gate managing to catch a glimpse of Menabilly House through the ancient trees.
In 1596 John Rashleigh set about building Menabilly House, it was completed in 1624 by his son Jonathan. The house was ransacked during the Civil War and restoration was completed in 1715; but following a devastating fire in 1822 Menabilly was rebuilt and extended. Various members of the Rashleigh family lived in the house until the 1930’s when it was left empty and fell into disrepair, but a new tenant, author Daphne DuMaurier arrived in 1943 and set about restoring it. The house and surrounding area inspired the author to write some of her most popular titles including Rebecca in which Menabilly House became Manderley. Unfortunately the house and gardens are not open to the public, so we continue our journey towards the Gribben.
On leaving Tregaminion we drive along the narrow road for half a mile to the Menabilly Barton field which serves as a car park. The field gate is locked at dusk, but there is space for parking on the road if you are concerned about getting back in time. Today the car park is almost empty as lock down restrictions are slowly lifting; once parked we walk to the farm house where we drop the parking fee of a princely 50p each in the designated milk churn.
This is where our proper walk begins as we head down towards Polridmouth Beach (pronounced Pridmouth). Button is in his element leading from the front, enjoying new smells and trying, unsuccessfully, to catch butterflies and dragonflies. The lane is alive with insects feasting on the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows; wild garlic is prolific while campions, celandines, cow parsley, dog violet, foxgloves and stitchwort provide a canvas of colour and enough pollen to feed all comers. The droning of fat bees accompanies us and reminds me of lazy childhood days in the fields with jam sandwiches and homemade lemonade. In the field to our left cows and their new born calves enjoy another long lazy day in the sun; to our right we catch our first sight of the Gribben standing tall across the fields. Although the Daymark is visible for many miles across the bay and we see it from a distance most days, there is something powerful and special about being up close and personal to this incredibly imposing tower. We still have a bit of a trek before we reach the iconic red and white striped building on the headland and Pridmouth Beach is our next stop.
We reach the bottom of the lane where Pridmouth opens out before us, with half a dozen people taking advantage of the early summer temperatures. A brilliant blue sea meets an azure sky without a cloud or a chemtrail in sight and no speedboats or jet skis to shatter the tranquil afternoon. The tide is out today and the wreck of the Dutch ship Romanie is visible across the rocks; she was built in 1918 but just 12 years later on the short hop from Fowey to Par she ran aground. Fortunately, the crew managed to scramble ashore and no lives were lost. Button is keen to join other dogs enjoying a swim, but we have a hill to climb first and, a bit optimistically, promise him a dip on the way back.
We leave the beach by crossing a stream to continue on up the coastal path; as usual Button takes the front, but struggles a bit with the boardwalk bridge as his tiny front paws slip through the gaps. We are about to leave the path and make our way through a gate, when a couple coming towards us warn that the field on the other side is full of cows. We agree to stick to the path and continue on up the hill on the side of the cliff – I have never walked to the Gribben via this path and am unprepared for the steep climb. Out of breath and trying not to trip over buried tree roots and stones, we soon realise the climb is worth the suffering we will undoubtedly endure tomorrow. Tucked away among the weeds and trees are patches of bluebells, wild rhodendrons and even some very late primroses, as we break clear of vegetation towards the top of the cliff the view across the bay is simply breathtaking. Laid out before us in the sparkling Atlantic Ocean are Fowey and Polruan on our left while the brooding promontory of Black Head looms off to our right. There is a bench at the very top of the climb, but we resist temptation to collapse on it as we have finally reached our destination and we pass through a gate that brings us out a hundred yards from the Gribben Daymark.
Trinity House built the tower in 1832 as a vital warning to shipping of treacherous rocks as they headed into the busy port of Fowey. Standing at over 80 feet high, the Gothic tower is now owned by the National Trust who refresh the bold red and white painted stripes every 7 years. In 1558 the Gribben headland was part of the chain of beacon sights sending the warning to London of the imminent arrival of the Spanish Armada. The National Trust open the tower to public on Sundays from July to September, but we live in strange times and have no idea if the doors will open this summer.
The last time I made the climb to the top of the tower I took my 2 young granddaughters along, aged just 7 and 4 years, they were thrilled to be going on one of ‘Nanny’s Adventures’. We chose a day of superb weather, just like today, and my goodness those little girls were brave because, as we reached the top, the slate steps disappeared and we were forced to finish the climb up a wooden ladder! The slightly scary ascent was soon forgotten as we took in the unbelievable view – the day was so clear that we could look out and spot Brown Willy and Eddytsone Lighthouse. Sandie and I plan to return as soon as the National Trust are permitted to open to visitors, it really is a hugely rewarding climb.
There are just a handful of others walkers scattered around the base of the tower, all observing social distancing. Is it just us or do people seem much friendlier since being locked away? Everyone we meet is observant of safety and all stop for a distanced chat – maybe it’s because we have a little bundle of cuteness with us? Sandie and I sit yards away from each other as we have drinks and snacks before making our way back down the cliff path. Button is engrossed in his bowl of water and a biscuit when we realise a couple of cows are headed in our direction. We ignore them, finish our drinks and start to pack things away when Button finally catches sight of the impending visitors. Although they are still some way off, they must seem like giants to Button as he quietly slinks up to hide behind Sandie and watch the new visitors safe in the knowledge that they will get her first! The original 2 cows have now become half a dozen and stand between us and the gate; so we head around the tower planning to walk down across the field to the gate at the bottom. We are about half way down when cows start appearing from all directions, neither of us are afraid of the gentle creatures and carry on at a gentle pace, but Sandie realises they are interested in Button so scoops him up and carries him. This has the opposite effect on the cows and they keep coming but have picked up the pace; although we know not to run away we are suddenly walking very fast, glancing round we find we now have a whole herd after us. Cows are gentle, inquisitive animals and not prone to harming people, but the thundering hooves and sheer size of each one has petrified Button who is rigid with fear and stunned into silence! With sighs of relief we reach the gate with a few feet separating us from our pursuers, only to find it takes both of us to open it. As we faff about with the gate latch with Sandie hanging on to a terrified pooch, the cows bunch up behind us and we feel their collective breath on the back of our necks; they are so close that we only just have enough room to squeeze out through the gap between the gate and the granite post. Securing the latch we are relieved to be safely on the other side, Button jumps down shakes himself and pulls on the lead to get away from here; he hops and skips back over the boardwalk bridge and has completely lost interest in the beach as he pulls us back up to the car park. He got more excitement than he bargained for this afternoon.
Normally the end of a long, hot walk would be rounded off perfectly with a large glass of wine in the nearest pub, but that particular avenue of pleasure has been temporarily closed off, with no pubs currently open we head to our separate cars.
If you take a Menabilly/Gribben walk when the pubs reopen, the Rashleigh on Polkerris beach will give a warm welcome, a wide choice of local ales and good pub grub. Across the road from the pub, Sam’s On The Beach is renowned for wood fired pizza and mouth watering fish dishes.
Accessibilty - I can recommend this walk for the physically able, but it isn’t suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs. The walk up to the Gribben Daymark from the beach is very steep on the cliff path and through the field and the boardwalk crossing from the beach is narrow. The country lane down to the beach is a gentle slope and rocky underfoot.
We bimbled about on our walk and managed to spend a whole afternoon soaking up the views, but serious walkers would probably only take around 30 minutes to reach the Daymark from the farm car park.
Getting there –
The main road to Polkerris and Menabilly is the A3082.
There are regular buses from Fowey and St. Austell which stop at Polkerris Turning; Tregaminion Chapel is about half a mile from the stop. Menabilly Barton car park is half a mile on from the chapel