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Padstow 1.jpg
Padstow harbour and quayside
Grid reference: SW918751
Location: 50°32’17"N, 4°56’17"W
Population: 3,162  (2001)
Post town: Padstow
Postcode: PL28
Dialling code: 01841
Local Government
Council: Cornwall
North Cornwall

Padstow is a tiny town and fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall, standing on the west bank of the River Camel estuary approximately five miles northwest of Wadebridge, ten miles northwest of Bodmin and ten miles northeast of Newquay.

The name of Padstow is not Cornish by English; it is found in Old English as Petroces stow, which means "Petroc's place", after St Petroc, a Welsh missionary saint who is said to have landed hereabouts in the year 500 or thereabouts. From Petroces stow we get today's "Padstow".


The Welsh missionary saint Petroc is said to have landed at Trebetherick around 500 and after his death a monastery was founded named Lanwethinoc ("Wethinoc's church" after an earlier saint). The monastery was of great importance until destroyed by a Vikings raid in 981, when, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us, the heathen laid waste "Petroces stow".[1] Either as a result of this attack or later the monks moved inland to Bodmin taking with them the relics of St Petroc.[2]

In the Middle Ages Padstow was commonly called Aldestowe ("old place" in contrast to Bodmin the "new place").[3] The "modern" Cornish form for the town is Lannwedhenek, taken from Lanwethinoc.

The seal of the borough of Padstow was a ship with three masts the sails furled and an anchor hanging from the bow, with the legend "Padstow".[4]


The church of St Petroc is one of three said to have been founded by the saint, the others being Little Petherick and Bodmin. It is quite large and mostly of 13th and 14th century date. There is a fine font of Catacleuse stone which is 15th century: the pulpit of ca. 1530 is also of interest. There are two fine monuments to members of the Prideaux family (Sir Nicholas, 1627 and Edmund, 1693): there is also a monumental brass of 1421.[5]


During the mid-nineteenth century, ships carrying timber from Canada (particularly Quebec City) would arrive at Padstow and offer cheap travel to passengers wishing to emigrate. Shipbuilders in the area would also benefit from the quality of their cargoes. Among the ships that sailed were the barques Clio, Belle[6] and Voluna; and the brig Dalusia.[7]

The Padstow-Rock ferry

The approach from the sea into the River Camel is partially blocked by the Doom Bar, a sand bank extending across the estuary which is a significant hazard to shipping and the cause of many shipwrecks.

For ships entering the estuary, the immediate loss of wind due to the cliffs was a particular hazard, often resulting in ships being swept onto the Doom Bar. A manual capstan was installed on the west bank of the river (its remains can still be seen) and rockets were fired to carry a line to ships so that they could be winched to safety.

There have been ferries across the Camel estuary for centuries and the current service, the Black Tor Ferry, carries pedestrians between Padstow and Rock daily throughout the year.


Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant

Traditionally a fishing port, Padstow is now a popular tourist destination. Although some of its former fishing fleet remains, it is mainly a yachting haven on a dramatic coastline with few easily navigable harbours. The influence of restaurateur Rick Stein can be seen in the port, and tourists travel from long distances to eat at his restaurant or cafés.

However, the boom in the popularity of the port has caused house price inflation both in the port and surrounding areas, as people buy homes to live in, or as second or holiday homes. This has meant significant numbers of locals cannot afford to buy property of their own now, with prices often well over 10 times the average salary of around £15,000.[8]

Plans to build a skatepark in Padstow have been put forward and funds are currently being raised to create this at the Recreation Ground (Wheal Jubilee Parc).[9]


From 1899 until 1967 Padstow railway station was the westernmost point of the former Southern Railway. The station was the terminus of an extension from Wadebridge of the former Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway and North Cornwall Railway. These lines were part of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), then incorporated into the Southern Railway in 1923 and British Railways in 1948, but were proposed for closure during the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

The LSWR (and Southern Railway) promoted Padstow as a holiday resort; these companies were rivals to the Great Western Railway (which was the larger railway in the West Country). Until 1964, Padstow was served by the Atlantic Coast Express – a direct train service to/from [London (Waterloo) – but the station was closed in 1967. The old railway line is now the Camel Trail,[10] a footpath and cycle path which is popular owing to its picturesque route beside the River Camel. One of the railway mileposts is now embedded outside the Shipwright's Arms public house on the Harbour Front.


  • The South West Coast Path runs on both sides of the River Camel estuary and crosses from Padstow to Rock via the Black Tor ferry. The path gives walking access to the coast with Stepper Point and Trevose Head within an easy day's walk of Padstow.
  • The Saints' Way long-distance footpath runs from Padstow to Fowey on the south coast of Cornwall.
  • The Camel Trail cycleway follows the course of the former railway (see above) from Padstow.

The Camel Trail is open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders and suitable for disabled access. The 17.3-mile long route leads to Wadebridge and on to Wenford Bridge and Bodmin and used by an estimated 400,000 users each year[11] generating an income of approximately £3 million a year.[11]


'Obby 'Oss festival

The 'Old Oss' capturing a passing maiden during the Mayday festival

Padstow is best known for its "'Obby 'Oss" festival. Although its origins are unclear, folklorists insist it is of an ancient Celtic fertility rite. The festival starts at midnight on May Eve when townsfolk gather outside the Golden Lion Inn to sing the "Night Song". By morning, the town has been dressed with greenery and flowers placed around the maypole. The excitement begins with the appearance of one of the 'Obby 'Osses. Male dancers cavort through the town dressed as one of two 'Obby 'Osses, the "Old" and the "Blue Ribbon" 'Obby 'Osses; as the name suggests, they are stylised kinds of horses. Prodded on by acolytes known as "Teasers", each wears a mask and black frame-hung cape under which they try to catch young maidens as they pass through the town. Throughout the day, the two parades, led by the "Mayer" in his top hat and decorated stick, followed by a band of accordions and drums, then the 'Oss and the Teaser, with a host of people - all singing the "Morning Song".[1] - pass along the streets of the town, never meeting. Finally, late in the evening, the two 'osses do meet, at the maypole, before returning to their respective stables where the crowd sings of the 'Obby 'Oss death, until its resurrection the following May Eve.

The 'Old Oss' party attending the Oss with dozens of accordions and drums

Mummers' or Darkie Day

On Boxing Day and New Year's Day, it is a tradition for some residents to don blackface and parade through the town singing 'minstrel' songs. This is an ancient midwinter celebration that occurs every year in Padstow and was originally part of the pagan heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated all over Cornwall where people would guise dance and disguise themselves by blackening up their faces or wearing masks. (Recently the people of Penzance have revived its midwinter celebration with the Montol Festival which like Padstow at times would have had people darkening or painting their skin to disguise themselves as well as masking.)

Folklorists associate the practice with the widespread British custom of blacking up for mumming and morris dancing, and suggest there is no record of slave ships coming to Padstow.

Urban outsiders have made a fuss about Darkie Day, as is expected of them, since word of it reached Islington.[12] Also some now suggest it is racist for white people to "black up" for any reason.[13] Padstow folk are aghast at accusations of racism in a tradition long predating any ssubstantial black presence in Britain. Even the police have been called in and taken video evidence twice, and concluded of course that no wrong has been done.[14] Nonetheless protestors drive down to Cornwall year by year, and the day has been renamed Mummer's Day in an attempt to avoid the fuss.[15] The culture-clash that gave rise to this argument has now been subject to academic scrutiny.[16]


Time Team visited Padstow for the episode "From Constantinople to Cornwall", broadcast on 9 March 2008.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Padstow)


  1. Orme, Nicholas (2007) Cornwall and the Cross. Chichester: Phillimore; p. 10 "[either Padstow or Bodmin] ... presumably by a Viking attack"
  2. Orme (2007); p. 10
  3. Henderson, C. "Parochial history [of] Padstow", in: Cornish Church Guide (1925). Truro: Blackford, pp. 173-74)
  4. Pascoe, W. H. (1979). A Cornish Armory. Padstow, Cornwall: Lodenek Press. p. 134. ISBN 0-902899-76-7. 
  5. Pevsner, N. (1970) Cornwall, 2nd ed. Penguin Books; pp. 129-130
  6. Immigrants to Canada: Vessels Arriving at Quebec 1843
  7. John Eynon's Journal: Voyage to Quebec in 1833 from Padstow
  8. Cornish Housing
  9. Padstow Skate Park: Home Page
  10. Camel Trail website
  11. 11.0 11.1 North Cornwall District Council (June, 2003). "North Cornwall Matters - Partnership Improves The Trail" (PDF). North Cornwall Matters. North Cornwall District Council. p. 3. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  12. J. R. Daeschner, True Brits (Arrow, London, 2004)
  13. "Way out West", The Guardian 3 January 2007
  14. "No action on town's 'Darkie Day'". BBC News. 10 March 2005. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  15. "MP calls for 'Darkie Day' to stop". BBC News. 11 January 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  16. M. Davey, Guizing: Ancient Traditions and Modern Sensitivities, In: P. Payton (ed), Cornish Studies 14 (Exeter, 2006) p.229
  • Henderson, Charles (1938) "Padstow Church and Parish" in: Doble, G. H. Saint Petrock, a Cornish Saint; 3rd ed. [Wendron: the author]; pp. 51–59