Boscastle Headlands

From the harbour, the route follows the Panoramic Path, with excellent views over the village, then crosses fields to reach the Coast Path overlooking Pentargon waterfall and follows this towards Boscastle, with spectacular views of the harbour on the descent. The route crosses the harbour to the coastguard lookout at Willapark and returns via Forrabury common and church and along Boscastle's Old Road.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: the public car park in Boscastle
  • Parking: Council car park. From Tintagel, drive down the B3263, around the bend and cross the bridge. The car park is on your right, opposite the Cobweb Inn. Satnav: PL350HE
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Boscastle
  • Birds-eye view of Boscastle from the Panoramic Path
  • Clifftop waterfall at Pentargon
  • Panoramic views over Boscastle from Penally Hill
  • Mediaeval field system on Forrabury Common
  • Panoramic views from the Willapark coastguard lookout
  • Forrabury church and ancient wayside cross

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, turn left and follow the road to a wooden signpost just before the bridge.

    Boscastle is a small fishing village located on the North Cornish coast, just north of Tintagel. Boscastle is one of the few sheltered inlets on the North Cornish coast and therefore a likely landing point for tin traders of ancient times, possibly as far back as Phoenician traders in 2000 BC. The river also provided power for a number of mills which date back at least as far as the 12th Century. In more recent times, as well as being a fishing harbour, Boscastle was a small port (similar to the others on the north coast of Cornwall) importing raw materials such as limestone and coal, and exporting slate and other local produce. In Victorian times, as many as 200 vessels came each year, mostly from Bristol and South Wales.

    In 1302 the name was recorded as Boterelescastel which meant "castle of the Botterels". It's possible this became shortened to bos because this was the Cornish word for dwelling ("bos-castel" would have been understood by Cornish speakers as "village with the castle" as the word kastell also existed in Cornish).

  2. Turn right at the signpost and follow the path along the right-hand side of the river, past the Visitor Centre to another bridge.

    The building just before the Visitor Centre is the old lime kiln.

    The lime kiln in Boscastle is located next to the Visitor's Centre, beside the harbour. It was built in late 18th century and was used to convert imported limestone into quicklime, using either culm (soft sooty coal found in North Devon and Northeast Cornwall) or "proper" coal shipped in from South Wales to fire the kiln. The lime was used to reduce the acidity of the soil in the fields (improving the absorption of nitrates from animal dung) and also to make mortar, plaster and whitewash for the cottages.

  3. Turn right up the track between the Witchcraft Museum and the Harbour Light café, signposted to Pentargon, and follow it to fork.

    The Museum of Witchcraft is located in Boscastle, on the north bank of the river, close to the harbour. It's just past the Visitor's Centre and before the Harbour Light café. The 50 year old museum is the largest of its kind in the world. It was badly damaged by the flood in 2004 but has been fully restored.

  4. Bear right to the Panoramic Path signpost and turn right to follow the Panoramic Path until it eventually ends at a gate.

    The building below on your left is the Harbour Light café.

    The Harbour Light café is located in Boscastle, close to the harbour on the north bank of the River Jordan, near the witchcraft museum and youth hostel. The Harbour Light was originally built in the 16th Century. After many years of being used to house pigs, it was bought in the 1950s and carefully renovated using local materials for use a gift shop. During a subsequent round of renovations in the 1990s, a "time capsule" (a glass coffee jar) was embedded in the wall of the shop. The beautiful old building was one of the most photographed in Boscastle. Then sadly in 2004, the Harbour Light was almost entirely swept away by the flood. After the flood, the time capsule was found, still intact, washed up 60 miles away on Woolacombe Beach near Ilfracombe. The building has been rebuilt as a fairly faithful copy of the original, and is now a café.

  5. Go through the gate and head uphill to cross two driveways and reach a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the fence on the right to another kissing gate.

    From 1862, a stream-powered traction engine was used to bring manganese ore 3 times a week from the Trebursye mine near Launceston to the manganese mill in Boscastle, and return with coal from the harbour. The huge engine had back wheels 8 feet high and damaged the road surfaces, breaking the stone coverings of watercourses. Its chimney belched black smoke and sparks which set hedges and even one man's shirt on fire! The engine also frequently broke down, blocking the road for horses and carts. The unimpressed locals branded it "The Juggernaut".

  6. Go through the kissing gate and bear left slightly to follow the bottom of the hill across the field to a stone stile near the opposite corner, approx 20m to the left of a waymarked gateway.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you must: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  7. Cross the stile and turn left onto the coast path. Follow this along the wall on the left until you eventually pass through one gate and, a little further on, reach a kissing gate at the end of the wall.

    The small stream at Pentargon, just north of Boscastle, drops down a 120ft waterfall from a hanging valley to the sea. In contrast, the larger Valency River at Boscastle has cut a deep canyon, forming the harbour, and the valley floor slopes to meet the sea.

  8. Go through the kissing gate to a waymark and turn left. Follow the path down towards the harbour until you reach a waymark at the top of a flight of steps.

    Towards the end of Penally Point, the headland that forms the right side of the natural harbour, is a natural blowhole.

    Below Penally Point, the headland which forms the right wall of the natural harbour of Boscastle, is a natural blowhole. Around an hour each side of low tide, when a swell is running (which is most of the time in North Cornwall), the blow hole shoots a horizontal jet of water across Boscastle harbour and emits a thundering sound, hence it is also known as the Devil's Bellows. There is a cave all the way through Penally Point from the blowhole, following a fault in the rock. Inside is a large cavern and when the water rushes through from the outside, it compresses the air in the cavern which vents through the blowhole. Eventually the sea will erode away all the rock along this fault, forming a new island at the mouth of the harbour.

  9. Follow the steps down to emerge on the path below and turn left. Follow the path until it emerges by a terrace of cottages.

    Penally Terrace in Boscastle gets is name from Penally Hill on which it is situated, above the Harbour Light café. Penally Terrace was formerly a fish cellar, purpose-built in the late 18th century when the pilchard trade was at its heydey. The original arrangement would probably have been open sheds on the ground floor and net lofts above, arranged around the central courtyard. They were converted into domestic accommodation in the early to mid nineteenth century. It seems that Boscastle's pilchard industry may have peaked a little earlier than Port Isaac where the new cellars were not built until the 1820s.

  10. Walk along the front of the cottages and bear right down the drive to reach the bridge over the river, next to the Visitors' Centre.

    Boscastle's Visitors' Centre is located on the north bank of the river, just before it reaches the harbour. The building housing the Visitors' Centre is the former pilchard cellars of the fishing village, which were known as the "Bridge Cellars". By the mid-eighteenth century, the quay had been improved and repaired and was receiving salt from Bristol for the pilchard industry. Around this time, the cellars, that have since been converted to the Visitor's Centre and café, were constructed as purpose-built fish cellars arranged around a central courtyard.

  11. Cross the bridge onto the other side of the river and take the track signposted to the coast path. Follow it a short distance to a fork.

    As you cross the bridge, the terrace of cottages to your left on the opposite bank were once a manganese mill.

    The terrace of cottages opposite Boscastle's visitor's centre (on the other side of the river) was once a manganese mill. The mill was used to crush the ore to a powder which was then exported by ship for a variety of uses: glass manufacturers for colourising; cotton mills for bleach-making; and steelmakers for hardening iron. Whilst manganese is an essential trace element, prolonged high doses are toxic and the harm from the dust in the air, in mills such as this, was not known about until late Victorian times.

  12. At the fork, keep left to follow the stony track, passing one waymarked path to reach another waymarked path just before a gate.

    The small house at the end of the terrace on your left is known as The Old Store House.

    The house now known as The Old Store House is located on the harbour opposite to Boscastle Visitors' Centre. Although the name might suggest storage of cargo, in fact it was built to store horse-drawn rocket-firing equipment for marine rescue.

  13. At the waymark, bear left up the steps and follow the path a short distance to where it joins another.

    The adjoining pair of cottages by the harbour wall in Boscastle, known as Highwater and Highwater Cottage, were built at different times. The cottage on the right with four-paned windows dates from the mid nineteenth century. The left-hand cottage with the protruding upper windows is older and is thought to date from around the mid-late eighteenth century. It's thought the latter could be the former Sun Dial Inn which was listed for sale in 1792 and has since vanished. The proximity of the inn to the harbour would certainly have been good for "passing trade" from thirsty sailors coming ashore.

  14. Continue ahead from the waymark and follow it to another waymark at a junction of paths on the headland.

    The steep-sided valley of the river Valency forms a sheltered natural harbour at Boscastle. The two stone harbour walls date back to Elizabethan times, built in 1584. The outer breakwater was built in 1820, but destroyed in 1941 by a drifting mine and then rebuilt by the National Trust.

    The harbour was very difficult to approach in a sailing ship and it was not safe for ships to enter under their own sail. On a ship's arrival, a boat with eight men, known as a "hobbler", would go out to tow them into the harbour, whilst men on the shore held the ship in the middle of the channel, using ropes.

  15. From the waymark, follow the steps of the coast path gradually up the headland until you reach a pair of gates.

    There are excellent views over Boscastle Harbour from this stretch of path. You can also take a short diversion to the right onto the quay, returning here to continue the walk. The rocky island in the mouth of the harbour is The Meachard.

    The Meachard is an island rock in the mouth of Boscastle Harbour. In the spring and summer, it is home to colonies of seabirds, in particular razorbills which can be seen tumbling off the edge of the rock and spreading their wings at the very last moment before hitting the sea. There is a small blowhole on the inside of the island which can be seen venting spray when the sea is rough.

  16. Go through the gate on the right, in the direction of Willapark shown on the waymark. Follow the path, bearing right when it merges with another, to reach the coastguard lookout.

    Boscastle Coastguard Lookout is located on Willapark headland, to the south of Boscastle's harbour. The coastguard lookout was built in the 1800s, originally as a summerhouse, by a successful merchant, similarly to Doyden Castle at Port Quin. After this, it was leased to the Board of Trade and used by the Revenue men to prevent smuggling. When duties were cut and smuggling collapsed, it was used as a coastguard lookout until the 1970s. After this, it was acquired by the National Trust and maintained as a folly. In 2002 it was leased to the National Coastwatch Institute and is now run as a voluntary lookout.

  17. From the coastguard lookout, head back initially in the direction you came but at the fork in the paths, keep right. Follow the path until it ends at a gate.

    On your right is Western Blackapit which is a notorious spot for shipwrecks.

    In January of 1843, the Jessie Logan was enroute from Calcutta to Liverpool, with a mixed cargo. On 16th January, a heavy gale drove it on the shore and it struck, between three and four in the afternoon, on the rocks near Blackapit, on the approach to Boscastle Harbour. All the crew perished. A great part of her cargo came ashore including bags containing rice, sugar, and some cotton. Customs officers and the coast guard attempted to protect the cargo from a crowd of locals armed with sticks, which involved punches being thrown and cutlasses wielded. Despite their efforts, a large amount was carried off by the locals. The two ringleaders were later prosecuted "for feloniously plundering and stealing from a ship" and received twelve months of Hard Labour.

  18. Go through the gate and turn right onto the coast path. Follow it a short distance to where a path splits off from the coastpath to go inland. Follow the inland path to reach a waymark beside the churchyard.

    At the bottom of the cliffs on your right, debris from the wrecked ship Alliance was washed up.

    The Alliance was a ship wrecked near Boscastle, with debris washing up just west of Boscastle near Willapark headland. In December 1884, the steam-powered cargo freighter disappeared while enroute from Cardiff to St Nazaire with a cargo of coal from the Welsh valleys. The type of coal she was carrying was liable to produce methane in wet conditions and was known to cause ships to spontaneously explode. However, an investigation found the ship to be well ventilated and in good seaworthy condition when she left port and they concluded that the ship probably foundered off the North Cornish coast in the North Westerly gale. All 16 members of the crew perished.

  19. From the waymark, follow the path ahead keeping the wall of the churchyard on your right until you reach a gate into the churchyard.

    The area of narrow fields on your left is known as Forrabury Stitches.

    Forrabury Common, overlooking Boscastle, can be reached via the coast path from Boscastle, or the path from Forrabury church. The Common is divided into 42 plots known as Stitches. This was a mediaeval form of land tenure called Stitch Meal, where long, curving plots of land with 1-2 feet of grass in between, are planted with different crops. The Stitches are most visible between late March and late September; over the winter, the Common is grazed.

  20. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path through the churchyard to the church.

    St. Symphorian's Church, on Forrabury Common above Boscastle, was originally built over 900 years ago and featured in the poetry of J.S. Hawker as "the silent tower of Bottreaux". According to legend, it has no bells because the ship carrying them was hit by a freak wave and went down just off the coast, with only one survivor. In Victorian times, the main part of the church was rebuilt and extended significantly, but the original Norman tower was left intact.

  21. At the church door, turn right and follow the path out of the churchyard gate. Once through the gate, bear left past the bench and cross over a track, heading downhill to reach the lane.

    Along the path to the right from the church gate is a 10th Century granite wayside cross. The back of it has drill holes from where it had been used as a gatepost by a local farmer until being rescued by the Victorian gentry and relocated near the church.

  22. Turn left onto the lane and follow it downhill to a junction with the main road.

    The site of Bottreaux Castle can be reached by a small diversion; on reaching the junction with the main road, cross onto the lane opposite and bear right, following the lane uphill and around a long left corner until you see a signposted path to Bottreaux Castle on your left.

    The site of Bottreaux Castle is located on the west side of the Jordan Valley in Boscastle, about half way down the old main road; there is a signposted path to the old castle site. Bottreaux Castle was the 12th century fortress of the de Botterells which included extensive dungeons. Very little apart from the mound now remains, as over the centuries the residents of Boscastle "reused" stones from the castle to build their houses, but it provides a good view point over the village and harbour.

    The stream at the floor of the valley is the River Jordan.

    The River Jordan joins the River Valency at the Bridge in Boscastle and collects water from another steep-sided valley, doubling the floodwaters that descend on Boscastle in heavy rain. The name is thought to be a corruption of the French - jardin - from Norman times, and may refer to the gardens surrounding Bottreaux Castle, which could conceivably have run down to the river. The River Jordan was originally the dividing line between the separate parishes of Forrabury and Minster until they were united in 1702.

  23. Cross the road onto the lane opposite, and follow this downhill to a junction onto Old Road. Turn left and walk down the hill back into Boscastle until the road ends in a T-junction next to The Wellington Inn.

    The Wellington Hotel is located at the bottom of the old main road in Boscastle, across the road from the harbour. "The Welly", as it's known locally, is the old village coaching inn. Some parts of the building are 4 centuries old, but most of it dates from 1853 when the number of travellers to the area increased. It was once called the Bos Castle Hotel, but was renamed on the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852. The lamps are originally from St Juliot Church and were quite possibly designed by Thomas Hardy.

  24. Turn right at the junction and follow the main road over the bridge back to the car park.

    Opposite the entrance to the car park is the Cobweb Inn.

    The Cobweb Inn is a public house located in Boscastle at the south-east edge of the village, opposite the public car park. The inn was previously a wine cellar and flour store dating from the late 1700s. It has traditionally always had cobwebs hung from the roof beams as apparently this was thought to keep flies off stored wines and spirits. It was converted to a pub in 1947 when tourism to North Cornwall surged after the end of the war. The cobwebs remained on the beams until the 1990's, when Health and Safety inspectors required that they be removed.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?