Today it is a gourmet destination for fish lovers known around the world, the base of TV chief Rick Stein’s seafood restaurants. Its often referred to as ‘Pad-Stein’ due to the many businesses in the town that make up his business empire.
The little town is seen at its most lively and traditional on May Day, when the Obby Oss festivities take place. This ceremony, like the flora dance in Helston, is believed to have origin in a pagan fertility festival celebrating the coming of summer. The Oss is represented by a map wearing a black cape which hangs down from a wide circular frame. He wears a fierce mask, suggesting a heathen god, and a plume and tail of horsehair. As the townspeople sing a My Day song, the Oss prances through the streets, preceded by the ’Teaser’ and followed by dancers dressed in white and wearing spring flowers. At the end of the day the Oss is ritually ‘done to death’, symbolising the passing of the old year – to be resurrected the following May Day.
A pleasant walk with fine views of the estuary runs from the harbour to the sandy beaches of Harbour Cove and Hawker’s Cove.
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The roots of the is little fishing port go back to the 6th century, when St Petroc sailed down from Wales and founded a monastery. It was sacked by Viking raiders in AD 981. The role of the saint in founding the town later recognised when the Guild of St Petroc was founded by local merchants and ship owners.
A 15th century church dedicated to St Petroc stand on high ground, framed by trees, and looks down on the town’s network of narrow streets and old, colourful washed buildings which lead to the harbour. Fishing boats and pleasure craft are watched over by the Court House, used by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th century when he was Warden of the Stannaries of Cornwall.
Despite the dreaded Doom Bar sandbank at the mouth of the estuary, Padstow was the most thriving port on Cornwall’s northern coast in the days when virtually all trade went by sea. The harbour handled cargoes ranging from fish and wine to slate and ores from local mines. Some ships unloaded timber from North America and sailed back with Cornish emigrants seeing a new life in the New World.
Trade declined as ships became bigger and shifting sands made the Camel River increasingly difficult to navigate. The long-awaited arrival of the railway in 1899 was an even greater blow to the port’s trade, although on the brighter side it did enable fish to be sped to London and other important markets