Looking to escape the traditional Christmas celebrations and spend a few days hibernating on the North Cornish coast, I found my perfect winter hideaway on the edge of a tiny once abandoned village called Port Quin…
This year I opted out of Christmas to retreat to the peace and rugged beauty of the Cornish coast in south west England. After a busy year, I yearned for some quiet isolation. I wanted to be close to the elements with an impressive sea view. This is exactly what I discovered at Port Quin.
‘The Village that Died’
Port Quin was once a busy fishing and mining village. But twice this tiny hamlet has been abandoned as misfortune struck. Legend has it, after a failed pilchard season and the closure of the mine, the entire fishing fleet was wiped out in a storm. The women of the village were forced to abandon their homes some time during the mid-nineteenth century. This earned Port Quin the eerie name ‘the village that died‘.
Today all of the cottages, and a decent stretch of the coast, are owned by the National Trust. The rocky cove provides a pretty natural harbour surrounded by jagged cliffs, tucked away within a series of headlands that stretch along the coast. Approached via a tiny single track lane, Port Quin must become difficult to access in the busy summer months but is completely charming.
“Port Quin can be a frightening place in a North West gale, great rollers sweeping in and breaking over the road and battering the buildings at the head of the inlet. But most people see it in their summer dress, children playing in the rock pools, the little stone cottages smiling in the sun.”
As I arrived in the centre of the village it looked like a place that time had certainly forgotten. A gale was blowing in as Storm Conor (appropriately sharing a name with my holiday let) whipped itself up, ready to lash the coast. The only hints that anyone was around were two cars in a tiny National Trust car park and a little dog wandering the beach.
I headed out of the village towards Doyden Point, a rocky peninsula with views over the Bay of Lundy to the Rumps (a volcanic twin headland topped with prehistoric cliff castle).
It was Doyden Point that was to become my home for the next few days. Regular viewers of Poldark might recognise this as one of the locations used in filming the popular TV adaptation of Winston Graham’s novels.
There are three holiday homes on the headland to the southern side of Port Quin: Doyden House (converted into four apartments), The Old Stables, and a nineteenth century folly called Doyden Castle. Any of these National Trust Holiday Cottages would make the perfect winter hideaway, with idyllic panoramic and far-reaching coastal views.
Doyden Castle was built in 1830 by local businessman Samuel Symons who built the three storey castle as a retreat. It later gained quite a reputation as a party house.
In the most exposed position, there was at least one day when it felt too windy to walk around the narrow path on the southern side of the castle safely. But it is also accessible by a more sheltered track. The Castle provided a stunning view from Doyden House, where my apartment was situated.
Cliff walks, storm watching and sunsets
The first two days were windy, as two named storms blew in from the Atlantic. Perfect weather for curling up with a good book, watching the waves crashing on to the cliffs from the comfort of the cosy cottage, with it’s roaring open fire. Every night, treated to a sunset of different colours.
But windy weather soon cleared to deliver brilliant blue skies and time to explore this section of the coastal path. Heading south west along the cliffs towards Trevan Point, you find two deep, square, open mine shafts cordoned off with wire secured to irregular slate posts. This is all that remains of the former mixed lead/silver and antimony mine here. Pause beside the larger shaft and you can hear the ocean crashing into a sea cave below.
Further along the cliffs an eerie fresh water pond has collected, filling a large dip within the cliff face. Every time I passed this point I felt a strange sense of unease.
A gentle climb up Trevan Point rewards you with the most stunning of views across the twin coves of Lundy Bay far below, with it’s collapsed sea cave and a small handful of surfers.
In the opposite direction, a more challenging walk takes you via Kellan Head to Varley Head, past the rocky cove at Pine Haven, and on to Lobber Point where there are fantastic views of Port Isaac, before descending alongside Port Isaac harbour into the village.
This section of the South West coastal path includes some steep climbs and stunning views in to ragged looking bays. Lichen clings to stone walls along the route and a pair of Cornish Choughs were among the birds that swooped around in the sky above.
The Cottage – A Perfect Winter Hideaway
The holiday cottage really was the perfect winter hideaway. One of four apartments within Doyden House, Conor sleeps two. It is a comfortable, ground floor apartment with its own small, grassed garden just above the cottage. The view from the sitting room unfolds across the headland and down the coast, with Pentire Head in the distance.
Doyden House was built by Captain Herbert Latimer Conor, a former prison governor, at the beginning of the 20th century. He chose the location for his retirement home because of its panoramic ocean views across Lundy Bay towards the Rumps.
Polzeath, Rock and Port Isaac are all within 5 miles. But Doyden House enjoys a peaceful location away from any crowds, with uninterrupted views of the ocean and immediate access to the South West Coastal Path.
The cottage was perfectly clean and well equipped, as I have come to expect from any National Trust holiday cottage. The usual welcome tray had a Christmas twist with the addition of a traditional Christmas pudding and chocolate truffles.
A walkers backpack, complete with picnic rug, maps and binoculars was provided to tempt you out to explore. The open fire was a particular treat on those days when Atlantic storms lashed the coast.
Sea Food Heaven
The nearby village of Port Isaac is well known as the fictional village of Port Wen from British TV drama Doc Martin. It also featured in both Saving Grace and Poldark. This is a particularly picturesque place with narrow winding streets, lined with 18th century whitewashed fishing cottages. Port Isaac has a great collection of pubs, cafes, restaurants, galleries and local craft shops as well as the ubiquitous pasty bars and pretty harbour.
If you enjoy seafood, then this part of Cornwall might just be foodie heaven for you. Port Isaac itself is home to Outlaws, a quality fish restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere by Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw. Other great places to eat include The Golden Lion and The Mote.
Nearby Padstow, is a charming working fishing port surrounded by sandy beaches at the head of the Camel River. Here you can find Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and two restaurants by Paul Ainsworth.
Other things to do
The nearest decent sandy beach is at Polzeath. This award winning beach is popular with surfers due to its easily accessible location and long slow-breaking, consistent waves.
At low tide the soft sands extend for approximately ¼ mile in either direction. The beach is almost completely covered at high tide. It is a great (dog-friendly) place to walk and explore the rock-pools at the periphery.
I can’t recommend National Trust Holiday Cottages enough, and would certainly return to Conor & Doyden House next time I need a perfect winter hideaway in Cornwall.
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So by booking your holiday through them you’re also helping to preserve some of the most beautiful places in the UK.
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