For centuries the Camel Estuary has provided a means of trade and prosperity for the local area due to its position and geography along the coast for trading and refuge. Despite this, at its mouth lies historically one of the most unforgiving maritime areas in the South West, if not the country. In this blog, we explore the unique geography and local folklore that give the Doom Bar its name.
The Mermaids Curse
According to local folklore, the Doom Bar was created by the Mermaid of Padstow as a dying curse after being shot. There are a number of variants in the story of how and why the mermaid was killed which have been lost in time.
A widely told tale tells of a Padstow local, who’d bought a new gun and wanted to shoot something worthy of it. He went hunting seals at Hawker’s Cove but found a young woman sitting on a rock. Enticed by her beauty, he offered to marry her and when she refused he shot her in retaliation, only realising afterwards that she was a mermaid. As she died she cursed the harbour with a “bar of doom”, from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay. It is told that a terrible gale blew up that night and when it finally subsided there was the sandbar covered with wrecks of ships and their victims.
The Impact of the Doom Bar
The mouth of the River Camel is one of the few places on Cornwall’s north coast that provides significant inland shelter for boats. Its location and the shortage of other harbours nearby meant the area prospered with seafaring trade and traffic, from fishing boats to merchants’ ships as they had little option to go elsewhere.
Legend has it that the ‘mermaids curse’ caused a shift in the sands of the Camel Estuary which dramatically reduced maritime trade and ‘cursed’ Padstow’s port and its men. The Doom Bar has accounted for more than 600 wrecks and maritime incidents since records began early in the nineteenth century.
For long periods each day, the Doom Bar lies hidden under shallow water, and at night it’s virtually invisible. Coupled with large tidal ranges and often large Atlantic swells that sweep into the estuary mouth it’s not hard to see why navigating the channel was a challenge even for the most experienced sailors.
Before engines were widely developed, boats were sail-powered and relied upon the wind. In the Camel Estuary, the natural sea breeze dies out past Stepper Point as it acts as a windbreak – particularly in North Westerly gales typical of large Atlantic storms. Sailboats were helplessly pushed towards the Doom Bar and the waves that break on it. As their anchors couldn’t grasp the sand, many were beached and wrecked along with their crew.
From Padstow Point to Lundy Light, is a sailor’s grave by day and night.” – Traditional Sailors Rhyme
In modern times the Doom Bar and the constant influx of sand are managed by dredging the channel on a regular basis, which has helped form a much more favourable (albeit narrow) channel as pictured below. FUN FACT – The sand harvested from dredging is used in our very own bunkers here at The Point!
For those looking for a scenic walk to view the Doom Bar and its surrounding landscape, this handy guide details an easy to moderate 3-mile walk from Padstow which can be accessed by our guests from the Padstow to Rock Ferry.
HMS Whiting – 1816 – A 12 gun Royal Navy warship and the only warship reported wrecked on the Doom Bar. The Whiting was originally a cargo ship named Arrow, which travelled from the United States to France and captured by the Royal Navy in 1812 and renamed. The officer in charge, Lieutenant John Jackson, lost one year’s seniority for negligence, and three crewmen were given “50 lashes with nine tails” for desertion as the ship floundered on the bar. To this day many seafarers consider it bad luck to rename a ship and from this, we can see why!
The Antoinette – 1895 – A three-masted sailing vessel of 1,118 tons, making it the largest vessel to be wrecked on the Doom Bar. On New Year’s Day 1895, the Antoinette set sail from Newport in South Wales with a cargo of coal for bound for Brazil, but foundered near Lundy Island of the coast of Devon, losing parts of her mast. She was towed by a steam tug towards Padstow but struck the Doom Bar and had to be released. The crew of fourteen and several men who had attempted to salvage her were rescued by lifeboats from Port Isaac and Padstow. The Antoinette rapidly sank.
Attempts by three tugs from Cardiff to remove the wreck were unsuccessful, but the next spring tide carried the midsection up the estuary onto Town Bar, opposite Padstow, where it was a hazard to shipping. To make it safe for navigation the vessel was blown up with explosives resulting in a cloud of sand and smoke that could be seen for miles. However, in 2010 the ever-shifting sands revealed the remains of a large wooden vessel believed to be the Antoinette.
From Beach to Beer – More recently the Doom Bar now lends its name to the UK’s number 1 cask ale produced by Sharps Brewery just down the road from us in Pityme, St Minver. Available on Draught in both our Restaurant and Bar it is a firm favourite with visitors and locals alike.
Join us for a last-minute break in our 2 and 3 bedroom contemporary apartments boasting amazing views. We also offer a selection of 2 – 5 bedroom self-catering holiday cottages. Remember all breaks at The Point include complimentary membership of the health club on site. To read more see last-minute holiday offers here.