Tregardock is the nearest beach to St Teath and the only one in the parish. Being within reasonable walking/cycling distance for locals from St Teath and Delabole it was a favourite during the early part of the 1900s and relatively unknown to outsiders.
Tregardock from the air 2007 Photo: Chris Hore
A sunny Tregardock, 30 March 2013. Move pointer to scroll across picture. Sorry, above image not visible on Apple ipad, iphone, or ipod touch which don't support Adobe Flash
With a few exceptions, you are just as likely to meet someone from other parts of England or beyond than from Delabole or St Teath. To a certain extent this wider interest may be down to the internet, for the beach has something of a reputation as a good place for surfing and a song based on John Betjeman's poem about the beach (see below) has been recorded by Justin Hayward. However, the ½ mile walk from the nearest access point at Treligga or Tregardock Farm involves a climb of nearly 400 feet each way and is best suited to those who are relatively fit!
The hamlet of Treligga nearby has a high proportion of houses for holiday accommodation. It was the site of a Naval firing range and included an emergency grass runway now given over to grazing as part of Royston Farm. The range was used for some years after World War 2, see here, here and photographed here
John Betjeman's poem (1) 'Tregardock' might attract curiosity rather than suggest an attractive beach to visit. The first two verses reflect his general feeling about the place:
In sea fog wraps Port Isaac Bay
The moan of warning from Trevose
Makes grimmer this October day
Only the shore and cliffs are clear
Gigantic slithering shelves of slate
In waiting awfulness appear
Like journalism full of hate...
True, the place is surrounded by slate bearing cliffs and even the sand is largely composed of it, imparting a general greyish colour rather than the more golden sands further along the coast, for example around the Camel estuary. The colours can be compared below.
If you paddle or swim at the beach you'll know about slate in the sand, flecks of which tend to adhere to the skin.
The beach is only accessible for about 3 hours either side of low tide. During low spring tides it extends for an impressive mile or so and completely washes the beach at high tide. During neap tides the beach at Minehousedoor Cove is still exposed at high tide. There have been quite surprising movements of sand on the beach, with many rocks exposed over a large part of the beach and a build up of sand at Minehousedoor Cove.
An good description of the archaeology of the area is given in a report for the National Trust by Peter Dudley (5). The author had access to old documents, especially those relating to mining in the area.
The nearest points are Treligga and Tregardock Farm, both of which have very limited parking. The map shows the beach and the approach to it down a set of steps which are hewn out of the rock. You can pay a virtual visit to the beach by visiting the commented photo sequence here.
Until relatively recent times the steps were not the only way on to the beach. The map below shows three other paths which are now only passable by scrambling through brambles and gorse, although you can still see evidence of their presence.
Arrow shows location of old mine building.
Climber detail inset. Photos: Brenda Burnard
The path to Minehousedoor beach (broken black line) was used by miners in the 19th Century and passed very close to steep drops. Access to the beach was by hanging on to a chain, but following a rock fall, it now ends at a set of rocks which only an experienced rock climber would attempt.
Ruby path, leading to the southern end of the beach was not difficult, but again passed quite close to some sheer drops. There used to be a lifebelt at this end of the beach, now disappeared. It's a pity this path has fallen out of use for it, like Donkey Path above it, gave spectacular views.
Donkey Path, is the highest path and was little used. It is possibly so called because of donkeys used to carry mining materials and gave access to Trerubies Beach down a quite a steep rocky slope - definitely not recommended.
Geology and Mining
According to the British Geological Survey (2), the Jacket's Point (near Dannon Chapel, about 1 mile south of the beach) slate formation consists of grey slatey mudstones with sandstones, conglomerates and associated volcanic rocks and extends to Harbour Cove, Trebarwith. A NW spur of Bodmin Moor Granite is mineralised at Tregardock Mine and Roughtor Mine. This spur is what provided the impetus for mining at Tregardock. The best account of mining here is by A K Hamilton-Jenkin's (3), see this extract. As with so many mines in the area, the mineral sought was the silvery grey rock, galena, which is lead sulphide. During the 1860s the recorded output of the mine was 60 tons of 50% lead ore and 690 ounces of silver, the ore of which often occurs with galena.
Geological maps suggest Shaft A was one entrance, which is now concealed by scrub. This is consistent with the deposit of mine waste by the stream just down the hill. Some locals gave this mound the name 'diamond mine' on account of the quartz crystals to be found there. The stream that runs nearby was once directed along a leat(5) to drive a waterwheel, perhaps to drive some stamps to crush the ore from the mine. From records in the Mining Journal, Hamilton-Jenkin described activities at Minehousedoor Cove (Shaft B) in the 1850s and 60s in some detail and how it appeared in 1957. There appears to have been an eastward driving adit (horizontal shaft) of 200 fathoms (1200 feet) between the foot of the cliff Shaft B and Shaft A completed by 1860 with a total length of 270 fathoms. It was possible to hear the sea echoing through the shafts at the entrance to shaft A. As late as 1957 the entrance at Minehousedoor Cove still had a wooden door that was used to keep water out of the mine at high spring tides. This is presumably how the cove got its name.
There is also a narrow horizontal shaft high on the cliff at the point marked on the map which could be reached using Donkey Path (above). It ends abruptly after about 20 yds - its purpose is not clear - perhaps an exploratory tunnel? Just to the seaward side of this is a vertical shaft surrounded by wire fencing.
vegetation where toxic mine spoil remains.
It is not known to the author how the ore was taken away from the mine for extraction of lead, but any attempt to bring a small cargo sailing ship into the cove would have been extremely hazardous. Indeed, the whole business of getting to the mine door entrance was difficult, for it meant scrambling down the lower part of the cliff hanging on to a chain. This was the method used by regulars to the beach even in the 1950s and 60s, when the beach was simply referred to as 'Chain'. Since then the seaward side of the shaft has collapsed leaving the upper part exposed as in the photograph above. The photo also shows a lot of orange coloured deposits on the rocks, indicating that there are quantities of iron as well as lead in the in the area. Water pouring out of this area is not coming off the cliff above, and is probably coming from the mine workings. There is still evidence of a building near the top of the cliff above the cove (see photo), possibly connected with the use of a 30 inch diameter water pumping engine. The engine was not in use for long, but it may have enabled the shaft nearby to be dug to a depth of 30 fathoms below sea level.
About 1 mile west of Tregardock part of the cliff in St Teath Parish fell away at Jacket's Point near Tregragon in early April 2013. The photo below shows the steps where the fall occured (arrowed) with lower left a closs-up and lower right some of those on the Parish Walk 2010 descending the same 120 odd steps.
Anyone who knows this beach will be surprised by the movement of sand which has occured over winter, presumably because of stormy seas.
Shipwrecks were commonplace on the North Coast of Cornwall and no doubt several small vessels have come to grief along the exposed stretch between Port Isaac and Trebarwith, a few miles either side of Tregardock. In August 1917, the cargo ship SS Woodleigh came ashore just off the rock steps as the photograph shows. Tregunnick Tail is in the background. Strangely, this event is not mentioned in a book on wrecks of the North Coast (4).
Photo: Chris Keat/Brenda Burnard
Exposed September 2008
See photo above
Wesley Mills has kindly supplied an account of the SS Woodleigh's demise. Considerable effort was made to salvage the ship and cargo, even extending to the construction a small temporary railway between the clifftop and Tregardock Farm for subsequent transport to the railway station at Delabole. No doubt this effort was given added importance by the need for iron and steel during the latter years of the First World War. The cargo included a substantial quantity of wood, much of which probably ended up in local builders yards.
The beach has claimed several lives by drowning over the years. Swimmers, surfers and fishermen need to be aware of cross currents along the coast, especially in view of the absence of a lifeguard. Very sadly, a man lost his life while trying to save his son who had been fishing from the rocks near high tide on 8 April 2012.
Geraldine Moyle (USA October 2012). Regarding the chain at Tregardock Beach: I remember very vividly it being there in 1971, attached to a steel ring embedded in the rock at the cliff top. The memory is vivid partly because it was very scary to use it for the first time! But such a wonderful reward. I'm glad to see that Tregardock is still difficult to access: a protection for its wildness. Not a surfer to be seen in 1971!
David King (New Zealand, 2008) writes - At about 1930 my older brother Arthur and sister Pat, now deceased, regularly took me on their cycle carriers to Tregardock. We used a rope ladder attached to two spikes driven into the cliff top. I used to play on the beach, shrimp in a pool by the rock which is on your photo,while they swam. I recall Pat always found a four leafed clover in the field on the way in from the farm where the rope ladder was stored. My complements to you all for this marvellous St Teath website. I left St Teath aged six & half, when dad, Rev F.W.King, was moved to Lezant
Graeme Webster, who has surfed at Tregardock for years, emailed to say that he found the historical information above really interesting. He has taken a number of photos, including that alongside, which are here, here, here and here.
I thank Brenda Burnard, Chris Hore, Chris Keat, Wesley Mills, John Prust and David Williams for providing photographs and information. If you have more details, I'd be pleased to hear from you.
© Rod Keat 2008
References(1) John Betjeman, Collected Poems, John Murray, 1990, p.239.
(2) British Geological Survey, Geology of the Country around Trevose Head and Camelford, 1998, p.73.
(3) A K Hamilton-Jenkin, Mines and Miners of Cornwall, Wadebridge, Camelford and Bude, Vol.16, pp.45-47. See here.
(4) C Carter, Cornish Shipwrecks, Volume 2, The North Coast, David and Charles, 1970, p.170.
(5) Peter Dudley,Tregardock, St Teath, Cornwall, Rapid archaeological assessment - a report for the National Trust, Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Truro 2003, Report No. 2003RO025. Available at Wadebridge Library.