Rock has a somewhat ambivalent character – either somewhere you’ve never heard of, a well kept secret one might say , or else famous for all the wrong reasons. The area has something of a reputation as the playground of princes and rock stars, and Rock is sometimes even referred to as Chelsea/Kensington-on-Sea!
True, it’s popular with some very rich people, many of whom have multi-million pound holiday homes there, but you won’t see Bentleys and Lamborghinis – more likely battered Land Rovers and estate cars. You won’t feel out of place anywhere in jeans/casuals (many of the locals rarely wear shoes!) and the prices of drinks and food are actually not particularly inflated compared with other popular parts of Cornwall. On the other hand, the activities, attractions and facilities of this largish village, while numerous, are somewhat “under the radar” – you won’t find things to do “in your face” but might have to research a little to uncover the reasons why this area is so highly regarded by the great and the good.
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A Bit Of History (and Geography!)
The original settlement here was called Penmayne, in the early 1300’s, and references to that name are still found scattered about the locality. Opinions are divided about where Rock itself begins and ends, but it feels as if there is an area of the east side of the Camel from about Daymer Bay in Trebetherick to Porthilly Beach, and inland up the Rock Road to Pityme, that is in a very real sense part of Rock, whether or not the postman entirely agrees.
The town of Rock itself is located directly across the Camel estuary from the fishing port of Padstow. The name belies the fact that it’s exceptionally sandy – in fact you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else with the miles of unspoilt golden sand that the Rock side of the estuary enjoys.
The sand stretches seemingly forever. It is unbroken from Porthilly Beach just south of Rock moorings all the way to Daymer Bay. The water is sheltered, calm and exceptionally clear – there is no surf in the estuary, but the next beach north, at Polzeath, is famous for its surf and very popular with local surfers and visitors alike. Rock is a haven for various water activities including angling, fishing trips, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing and water skiing, although the town is best known for its sailing. The Sailing Club is located on the waterfront and the area in front is full of watercraft ranging from dinghies through powerboats to luxury yachts.
Transport Links and Getting Around
To arrive in Rock, you must first arrive in Wadebridge, unless you come by boat. Wadebridge is on the A39 Atlantic Highway trunk road. The nearest railway station is Bodmin Parkway, which is a longish (15 mile/24km) taxi ride from Rock. It’s possible to get there by bus, first to Wadebridge and then to the village, but the vast majority of visitors arrive in their own vehicle. In any case, Rock’s the kind of place where you probably want to have access to a car. Unlike many Cornish villages where the shops are a short stroll from the beach where you want to surf or sunbathe, Rock’s shops, pubs, restaurants and other facilities are strung out in a ribbon along several miles of one main road. There is a regular foot ferry across to Padstow during daylight hours, a major source of tourist traffic to Rock. There’s also a water taxi available for those staying out late.
As an aside, Rock is one of the few Cornish villages that boasts a heliport (rockpad.co.uk) – in fact, several private houses also have helipads, and it is not at all uncommon for visitors to arrive by private helicopter.
Wadebridge has many more shops and facilities than Rock but it is still quite a small town. The next town inland from Wadebridge is Bodmin, which is bigger but doesn’t have a great deal more in the way of variety. The nearest actual cities are Truro (west) and Plymouth (east), both about 45 miles away. There is a doctor’s surgery in Rock, the nearest Minor Injuries Unit is Bodmin, and the nearest proper A&E Hospitals are Truro and Plymouth.
The weather in Cornwall is generally better than anywhere else in the British Isles, but particularly so on the coasts. Moorland areas can tend to be cloud magnets. Rock benefits from a coastal location and is at the top of the list for good luck with the weather. It may be something to do with the position and attendant microclimate of the large estuary. Much of the time it’s hard to believe you are in the UK. The beaches are characterised by hot, white sand that is the envy of resorts around the world and has in the past actually been exported!
The benefits of holidaying by the sea are well documented – the ozone, the clean sea air, the escape from the hustle and bustle – but Rock really is more than just a seaside town. Whether your idea of seaside is promenading along the seafront while keeping your shoes entirely dry and sand free, lying on the beach with a wind-break, or pushing the limits of extreme watersports, this one destination has everything you could wish for.
Eating and drinking
In the centre of Rock is a range of food shops (butchers, bakers, fish and chips, small Spar supermarket) as well as some other useful things like a hardware store and so on.
There are a range of pubs with fairly different vibes. The Pityme Inn is a large public house with a big car park, a children’s play area and quality food at reasonable prices. The drinks selection is from Cornwall’s own St. Austell Brewery.
At the other end of the long Rock Road (and the scale) is the Rock Inn – it’s easily overlooked, but you shouldn’t. A quick stroll from the high capacity cliff car park brings you to this upstairs, wine-bar-esque, balconied bar which serves excellent food and feels pretty special.
In between the two, both geographically and perhaps in terms of vibe, The Mariners is an exceptional pub and restaurant overlooking Rock beach, with ales from local Sharp’s brewery and food by Nathan Outlaw. Its views are surpassed only by those from nearby Rock Sailing Club. The latter is technically open only to members, but if you get on well with nautical types and you have a friend to sign you in, it’s a fantastic bar with a good value kitchen. Plus a balcony over the estuary to observe at your leisure the vista some people pay a million pounds for.
Aside from the normal pub culture, none. There are no clubs or late night revelry in Rock itself. The young and young at heart tend to head to the Oystercatcher pub in nearby Polzeath for a slightly wilder, definitely louder and busier drinking experience (in the summer at least).
There are many pleasant dog walks in the vicinity of Rock, though one should be careful of livestock when using inland footpaths. At least one site alleges that Rock beach is subject to a “seasonal dog ban”, but it is misleading – there are many beaches in Rock, and the one they name is definitely open to woofers all the year round. Daymer Bay allows dogs all the year round, and one may walk with canine accompaniment along the waterline or through the dunes until the cliff carp park at the end of Rock Road, without coming across any restricted area. Equally, you can cross from Padstow of the ferry with your furry friend (charges may apply at the discretion of the ferryman) and, on disembarkation, walk from there to Daymer or south along to Porthilly and towards Wadebridge.
On the other (Padstow) side of the river there are also many dog-friendly beaches and walks.
If you’re thinking of bringing your dog to Cornwall on holiday, check out our dog friendly beach guide.
The Rock area is particularly child-friendly, with easy access to bucket and spade type activities side by side with everything grown-ups need to retain their sanity. There are not the cliffs or rough seas that can be a challenge in many coastal areas. Children find it easy to navigate the beaches, dunes and footpaths and can within reason be allowed to explore in safety.
Regular events attract many people to the Rock area. Here are some of our favourites:
Rock Oyster Festival. Not to be confused with Falmouth Oyster Festival which really is a celebration of oysters and other seafood, Rock Oyster Festival is a (music) festival in the modern sense of the word festival. Though it may still involve some oysters.
Royal Cornwall Show – just a short trip by car to the show ground at Wadebridge where it has been held every year since 1960. Originally an agricultural show, and still featuring heavily the sheepdog trials and tractors one might expect, but it’s become a major tourist attraction. With food, drink and live music, it is much loved by visitors young and old, and draws 120,000 visitors each year over the three days of the show!
The ‘Obby ‘Oss (May Day) and Mummer’s Day (Boxing Day and/or New Years) – though they take place across the river in Padstow, these traditional customs and the celebrations that go with them should not be missed by any visitor to the area.
Special Things to do and visit
St Enodoc Church is where the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman is buried, but its historical and cultural interest reaches back to the 11th century. Said (perhaps apocryphally) to have been built near the site of a cave where the saint had lived as a hermit, the church was for many years intermittently buried by blowing sand dunes and was only finally restored to regular use in the mid 1800’s!
Next to the church is Brea Hill (pronounced Bray), a large, round, unnatural-looking hill that is often mistaken for a man-made burial mound such as those found in other parts of the UK. It isn’t but it does have numerous much smaller tumuli (Roman word for mounds or barrows) on the top of it, which date from the Bronze Age! This merits a walk up the hill. The South West Coast Path goes around the hill to the west, with an alternative route quite easily found through the dunes and golf course to the east, but there is a path going straight over the top of the hill, from which the views of the estuary, Padstow and Rock are spectacular. The walk up Brea Hill is only suited to those who are moderately fit. Even then, the south side is considerably easier to ascend than the north. On the sands of Daymer Bay lies a sunken forest that is at least 4000 years old.
Other Good Places Near Rock
Port Isaac is a decent sized village, with a plethora of shops and eating/drinking places, and famous for the filming of the hit TV show Doc Martin. Filming does sometimes take place in the streets so you have to be a little patient with the crews. Parking is on the beach at low tide – make sure you understand the times of the tides! There are narrow access roads to drive in and out, but it’s worth it.
Port Quin. This stunning and usually deserted natural harbour, which was once a thriving fishing village (in the 1800s), was abandoned until the second half of the 20th century. There’s a small National Trust car park that usually has space (and an honesty box to make a donation). A truly astonishing place.
Polzeath is a popular surf destination for visitors to the county, and only a ten minute drive from Rock. Park on the beach or up on the cliff to the left.
The Camel Estuary is one of the most popular dinghy sailing destinations on the UK coast, and most of this centres around Rock and the Sailing Club. Many championship events are held there. The moorings at Rock, while busy in the summer, are a haven for visiting yachts.
Waterskiing and Wakeboarding
Camel Ski School was one of the first coastal locations to offer waterskiing tuition in the UK, by virtue of the relative shelter of the estuary. The facilities are still highly regarded to this day. Whether you hire a boat or bring your own, Rock is a mecca for waterskiers and wakeboarders.
Windsurfing and Kiteboarding
Although some restrictions do apply, Daymer Bay is extremely popular with the sail/kiteboard fraternity.
The prestigious St. Enodoc Golf Course lies between Rock and Daymer Bay. Commanding spectacular views over the Camel estuary and the Doom Bar, the course itself is highly regarded by golfers.
From traditional fisherman’s cottages to barn conversions and contemporary luxury homes, there is a wide range of hand-picked holiday homes in the Rock area for your perfect holiday escape. All are well-equipped and with beautiful décor.