Cornwall has so many wrecks that you can literally trip over them, and that’s just what I did with the wreck of the Romanie whilst I was on a walk out to the Daymark on Gribben head. I had often seen the Daymark from the sea as I pottered around Fowey in my boat, and so decided to struggle up to the top of Gribben Head to see it properly.
The walk of about two miles, started in the car park near Menabilly farm. This is provided by the farmer, and as you make your way along the footpath down to Polridmouth Bay, you come across his farm with a milk churn on the path for you to pay the 50p parking fee. The path is well signed and easy walking down to the bay, with lots of sheep and cows in the adjacent fields, and masses of primroses in the grassy walls lining the path. (I was there in the early spring) When I got to Polridmouth bay, locally pronounced Pridmouth, I saw that the path led off to the right for Gribben Head, so I wandered down to the beach to have a look around. Over to the right of the bay I saw some strangely shaped rocks, and when I looked at them through the tele-photo lens of my camera, I saw that they were not rocks at all, but the twisted metal of a shipwreck. I was delighted. A walk is all very well, but a shipwreck is far more interesting, especially one with an unusual connection.
This part of Cornwall is Du Maurier country, because Daphne du Maurier, the world famous author, lived here for many years, and used the county as a backdrop for most of her books. One of her most famous books is ‘Rebecca’ written in 1938. Years ago when Du Maurier had first visited Fowey, she had walked across to Pridmouth bay and seen a wrecked boat on the beach. Years later she made that beach the setting for Rebecca’s murder and the wreck of her boat.
So what was the boat, and how did it come to be wrecked on the beach?
The wreck was called the Romanie and she was a steel three masted sailing vessel with an auxillary engine. Built in 1918 in Holland, she was originally called the Ymuiden. She was just over a hundred feet long, and around 260 tons. On January 16th 1930 she was on a voyage from Fowey to Par in ballast. Caught out by a sudden storm, she lost power and was flung up on the rocks a Polridmouth bay. Her Captain, H.Tielemans and all of his crew managed to get off the boat and safely to shore. There was no point in trying to salvage her, so she was left to go to pieces.
After the excitement of finding the wreck, it was time to wend my way up the path towards the Daymark on Gribben Head. It’s a bit of a climb, but the views out across the sea, especially towards the Dodman are spectacular and well worth the effort. The daymark is a sort of castelated Greco Gothic square tower which was erected in 1832, enabling seafarers to easily find the entrance to Fowey harbour.However it is not the first beacon to be on the site. Iron Age people and medieval farmers used it as a lookout point and in Elizabethan times Gribben Head was one of the chain of beacon sites, which in 1588, helped carry the news to London of the approaching Spanish Armarda.
Just north west of the daymark are the remains of an old signal station, one of many established along the south coast to bring warning of a possible French invasion. During daytime, signals were relayed with flags and balls, and at night they used lights and fires.
During the Second World War, Polridmouth bay was used as a decoy site with lights placed around a large ornamental lake to the left of the bay. The object of this was to lure ennemy bombers away from Falmouth Harbour, particularly during the build up to the D.Day landings, when over 2000 American troops were stationed in and around the town. The tower is painted every seven years, and on selected sundays you can climb to the top. Good luck to you. (see National Trust)
Once you are back at the car park you will be in need of a drink and something to eat, and you can get all that at nearby Polkerris. The Pub is called the Rashleigh Arms and serves excellent food andale, and some rather nice wine as well. You can have everything from pasty and chips to sea bass with blushed tomatoes, or a selection of sanwiches, so you are in for a treat.