“Nare Head is over three hundred feet high and it’s cliffs bristle with slaty fangs . . .” AG Folliott-Stokes, 1928
Nare Head, the northern headland which guards the entrance to Gerrans Bay, is pretty imposing and the panoramic view from it’s rocky battlements remains one of my absolute favourites. Owned by the National Trust since 1931 it used to be part of the estate of the Williams family of Caerhays.
Fittingly this jutting finger of rock was once known as Penare Point meaning prominent headland in Cornish (c1540) and this early name is still retained by a nearby farm. And from this dramatic rocky promontory the views stretch in all directions. From the distant Manacles and Lowland Point to Dodman Point to far off Rame Head on a clear day. And across the curve of Gerrans Bay from Carne Beach to Porthscathow. It is an epic view standing on the white quartzy rocks at the end of the point with blue sea all around and the gulls swirling below you.
“To lovely Nare Head is a strenuous but worthwhile walk, demanding some resolution and much energy but generous in its rewards.” SH Burton, 1955
And of course, like each and every twist and turn of Cornwall’s coastline Nare Head hums with stories. From lost souls to giant rats . . .
The walk along the coastal path from Carne Beach, a long, fine sweep of sand, takes you down into a deep rocky valley called Paradoe Cove. This rocky little beach is also known as Mallet’s Cove after the fisherman who built the ruined cottage there above the waves.
Mallet apparently lived in Veryan and the cottage here fell into ruin when he emigrated to Australia. Close to here there is a cave in the cliff known as Tregagle’s Hole.
This cave is named after Jan Tregagle, a haunted man who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil. As part of his punishment this well-known 17th century Cornish character had to empty the bottomless Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor with a tiny limpet shell. (I think of him as Cornwall’s Sisyphus.) Anyway, according to folklore on the Roseland when a storm kicks up in the bay and the waves crash into the coast you can hear Jan’s moans and wails coming from the depths of the cliff at Nare Head.
Cornwall is not well known for it’s fossil remains, so I like to make a note of it whenever these prehistoric remnants get a mention. In October 1870 the Royal Cornwall Gazette reported that Mr Tremenheere had presented information that he had gathered about Nare Head to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. The paper he read was concerning fossil remains which had been discovered in the rocks between Nare Head and Porthalla Cove.
The specimens from the headland had been originally collected by Mr C. W. Peach in the 1840s for the Royal Cornwall Museum. And what was called a ‘raised beach’ possibly similar to the one you can see today at Porth Nanven was also noted near Nare Head in 1873.
Reefs and Islands
Looking out to sea from anywhere on Nare Head your view to the ocean horizon is interrupted by a blackened chain of rocks. These are part of the infamous Whelps Reef, the scene of many wrecks including that of the SS Hera which struck the rocks in 1914. The longest grave in the UK can be found at Veryan, it contains the remains of this German barque’s crew.
The fury of the waves here was eloquently put into words in 1889 by Henry Crowther, the then curator of the Royal Cornwall Museum. He wrote after a winter visit to Nare Head:
“The wind blew a real south-easter, the cats paws were the only visible objects in possession of the wide expanse of ocean. The sea dashed up the rocks along the coast with thundering violence and round the Gull Rock and over the Whelps the spray was hurled with persistent fury.”
Henry Crowther fancied he spotted something else when he was looking out to sea that day in March more than 130 years ago, but more of that later.
The row of little sharp islands that you can see above the water each have a name. The largest called Gull Rock is also known as The Grey, next comes the Inner Stone, Middle and then Outer Stone. These rocky islands, especially Gull Rock, while also being a menace to shipping provide home and shelter to hundreds of birds.
In July 1909 Gull Rock was put up for sale along with a vast amount of property in the area. It was advertised in the newspaper as having ‘valuable deposits of guano’. At the auction in August of that year the bids reached £21, equivalent to about £1600 in today’s money, but the little island was withdrawn from sale.
Sea Birds and Giant Rats
“More shags nest on Gull Rock than cormorants nest in the whole of the county” R.D. Penhallurick, 1967
A comprehensive survey was carried out in 1967 by Penhallurick of the nesting habits of numerous species of birds throughout the whole of Cornwall. In the survey he determined that there were then 35 occupied cormorants nests on Gull Rock off Nare Head and 150 shags nests. He also noted Great Black-Backed Gulls, Razorbills, Guillemots and Herring Gulls as finding a home on the rocky island. No wonder there was so much guano! How accurate those figures are today is unclear, I am not aware of any more recent survey.
Henry Crowther, however, reported something quite different when he gazed out at the island from Nare Head in 1889. He wrote in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of observing:
“The Gull Rock, with its board tracks made by the monster rats which make a home there. They live low in winter and in summer feast on seabird’s eggs.”
Again any confirmed sightings would be appreciated, they must have been some huge rats if he could see the paths they had made in the grass from the mainland . . .
A Treasure Island
Nare Head and Gull Rock have one more claim to fame. When the Walt Disney movie version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was filmed in 1950 it featured some wonderful Cornish scenery. The locations used included Pill Creek on the Helford River, the Falmouth River, the Carrick Roads and Gull Rock.
The film which stared Robert Newton received rave reviews at the time and makes fun watching today. It was Disney first all live action movie and of course Cornwall made the perfect playground for pirates.
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