About Padstow Harbour

  • The Port Today
  • Key Objectives
  • Padstow History
  • Trust Port
  • Harbour Commissioners
  • Wadebridge History
  • Rock History

Padstow, Latitude 50 33' N Longitude 4 56' W (Admiralty Charts 1168/SC 5603.5) is a small commercial port which is situated 1.5 miles from the sea within the estuary of the River Camel. The seaward limits of the port are bounded by a line joining Stepper Point, Gulland Rock, Newland, and Pentire Point.
The harbour is capable of handling cargo vessels up to 2000 gross tons but only accommodates bulk cargoes such as sand, roadstone etc. Pilotage is compulsory for all cargo vessels over 30 metres and those vessels over 20 metres with a draft in excess of 3.5 metres. The pilot boards three cables east of Stepper Point, or in adverse weather as near to the fairway buoy off Trebetherick Point as possible.
During 2009, the harbour handled around 120,000 tonnes of sand dredged from the estuary and used mainly for agricultural purposes.
Padstow has a thriving fleet of fishing vessels, with regular landings of fish, crab and lobsters. There is also a growing shellfish farming industry within the estuary producing mussels, cockles, oysters and scallops.
The fishing vessels and leisure craft (we had approximately 3500 visiting yacht nights last year) are now the main users of the harbour. The inner harbour is serviced by a tidal gate, which is open approximately two hours either side of high water. A minimum of three metres of water is maintained in the inner harbour at all times.
The town of Padstow with its population of approximately 3800 has built up around the harbour.

Our Key Objectives:

  • Maintain existing facilities in good order
  • Identify opportunities / needs for new facilities.
  • Manage the estuary for the benefit of its many users, whilst taking care to conserve its natural beauty.
  • To maintain a high level of service to all the port’s users whilst still balancing the many and varied demands for the benefit of the majority.
  • To respond adequately and on a timely basis to changes in operational requirements.
  • To respond adequately and on a timely basis to changes in  legislation.

Padstow Harbour Commissioners were founded by an Act of Parliament under Queen Victoria in 1844.   They replaced the earlier Padstow Harbour Association, a board of men who ran the port.
The port far predates the Commissioners.   Padstow grew up within a creek on the Western bank of the River Camel, the head of the creek being near to where the Parish church now stands.   As the port grew, the town was built on raised reclaimed land often without footings until the present day.   The Inner Quays and Strand were built in 1538, at which time the port was the Inner Basin, now defined by the gate with a Quay where the Red Brick Building now stands, a pier on the southern side, and peripheral shipyards.

The railway arrived in 1899, and reclaimed a stretch of land at the southern end of the harbour, built using one of Padstow’s shipbuilding yard walls as a retaining wall. With the ability to transport fish quickly to London’s Billingsgate Fish Market via the railway, more trawlers started using the port and the demand for shelter was such that  the present-day dock was built in 1910.  In 1932 the New Pier was built to protect vessels within the Inner Basin, as trawlers moored the wires that the trawlers were mooring with were parting due to the "run" generated by the ground sea, normally when the wind was from the south west.

Padstow has always had one major problem - on the equinoctial spring tides, it floods.   In 1988 this problem was addressed and over the period of two years, the present day flood-defence scheme was built - sheet piling and extending the pier in the Inner Basin, building a tidal gate and raising the walls on Langford’s Quay. The result is that since the gate was put in the town has not flooded.   The by-product of this scheme is that the Inner Harbour is now kept wet, providing Marina conditions for visiting craft, whereas prior to this the harbour would dry on every ebb tide.

Padstow has long been a busy port and part of the port of Padstow was the port of Wadebridge.   Wadebridge was a thriving port for many years, the railway being there 50 years before it came along the present Camel Trail to Padstow.   Padstow and the estuary, like everything else, is continually evolving and emerging, and with the help of the Harbour Commissioners and the hard work of the staff, we hope it will improve year on year.

Padstow is a Trust Port

  • Padstow Harbour Commissioners were established by an act of Parliament in 1844.
  • Up until the 1987 Harbour Revision Act, there were 27 commissioners and various sub committees.
  • There are now 9 elected Commissioners - 3 each from the 3 parishes surrounding estuary.
  • Following ‘Modernising Trust Ports’ the Harbour Master must sit on the board.
  • Quote from the Trust Port Review:
    “A trust port can be compared to an heirloom. It is a valuable asset presently safeguarded by the existing board. They have a duty to hand it on in the same or better condition to succeeding generations. Boards have an obligation to transact port business in the interest of the whole community of stakeholders openly , accountably and with commercial prudence”
  • Monthly Commissioners meetings are open to the public and the press.
  • Although there is an opportunity to take items ‘in committee’ the commissioners generally try to be transparent and open in their deliberations.
  • Commissioners are elected from the parishes within the harbour limits – any eligible resident in these parishes can stand for election if they want to ‘have a say’.
  • Minutes of the commissioners meetings are widely circulated and available for all to see.
  • Stakeholders who feel that they have been unfairly treated still have recourse to the law and the commissioners have had to defend their decisions on several occasions.
  • An annual report including financial statements is published and circulated – anyone can obtain a copy on request.
  • Complaints can be made to the Secretary of State. Ultimately, DfT could repeal PHC’s revision order, pass a new order and appoint their own commissioners, effectively taking back control of the port.
Chairman Mr J Hewitt Rock
Commissioner Mr I Kitto Padstow
Commissioner Mr P O'Neill Padstow
Commissioner Mr M England Padstow
Commissioner Mr C Toogood Rock
Commissioner Mr P Blewett Rock
Commissioner Mr D R Martin Wadebridge
Commissioner Mr G Saunders Wadebridge
Commissioner Mr W Delacour Wadebridge
Commissioner Mr B Phillips Harbour Master

Key Personnel:  
Chairman of the Commissioners Mr J Hewitt
Harbour Master / Port Administrator Mr Bryn Phillips
Deputy Harbour Master Mr N Billing
Assistant Port Administrator Mrs N Dyer


A short history of Wadebridge is being prepared and will be added at a later date.

Rock used to be called Black Rock after a high volcanic outcrop of elvan which stood on the edge of the estuary where the main ferry landing place lies. It began to be quarried away in the second half of the nineteenth century and all that is now left is the car park. The ferry still runs as it would have done to carry pilgrims to visit the relics of St Petroc at the  monastery in Padstow, later to be sacked by the Vikings in AD 981. The first written mention of the ferry is in 1297 when it paid rent to the Earl of Cornwall of 12 shillings a year.

By 1584 there was a prosperous little hamlet and harbour in Porthilly, the sandy cove by the Norman church of St Michael. By the mid eighteenth century the Rock and Mariner’s Inn, as it still does, was serving the ferry trade as ‘a very commodious and ancient place for business’ but there were still only a few fishermen’s cottages around it. The quay at Rock was built in the 1830’s to serve the growing trade of exports of corn and slate and imports of coal and timber. Soon other quays were built, the remnants of some can still be seen, and a lime kiln to supply farmers and the building trade.

At the end of the nineteenth century the first ‘spec’ building of houses for rent began, a bathing machine was to be seen beside the quay, the St Enodoc Golf Club had been founded, the railway had arrived in Padstow and the Metropole Hotel had been built, with its own launch to transport  golfers. The transition of Rock into a holiday resort had started. The coming of mains water  in the thirties accelerated building as people began to retire to live here and the Rock Sailing Club was founded. Where their hut stood became a sailing school after the war and more recently turned into The Blue Tomato Café. The old warehouse on the quay is now the Rock Sailing and Waterski Club.

The ferry usually lands by the RNLI lifeboat station and shop. Nearbye is a pontoon with access at nearly all stages of tide. Behind it is the Rock Waterfront Activity Centre which houses the RYA sailing school, the ski school, and booking offices for sea tours and fishing trips. Further along the beach is a chandlers and sports clothing shop. The Rock Inn has been re-built and is now open again for business.

St Enodoc, a twelfth century Church, once partly buried in sand and home to the remains of John Betjeman, can be reached by the South-West Coastal Path or by a footpath through the golf course marked by white stones starting from near the clubhouse. The more active can continue on past sandy Daymer Bay to the well known surfing beach of Polzeath. There are public conveniences at the Rock car park, the car park at Daymer and at Polzeath.

With thanks to Mike Arnott




Padstow Harbour Commissioners, The Harbour Office, Padstow, Cornwall PL28 8AQ,
tel: +44 (0)1841 532239, fax: +44 (0)1841 533346, email: padstowharbour@btconnect.com
VHF Radio Channel 12

Page updated: 05.04.21 Copyright Padstow Harbour Commissioners 2009 - 2021

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