- OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
- Distance: 5.4 miles/8.7 km
- Grade: Strenuous
- 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
- Historic fishing village and harbour at Boscastle
- Spectacular views over Boscastle from Penally Hill
- 120ft clifftop waterfall at Pentargon
- Panoramic coastal views from Fire Beacon Point
- Large grey seal colony at Buckator
- Ancient woodland in the Valency valley
Alternative walks in same location
- From the car park in Boscastle make your way to the road and turn left. Walk along the road to reach a signpost by 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).
- Cross the to the driveway before bridge and follow this along the river past the Visitors' Centre until you reach another bridge.
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.
- Turn right in front of the Harbour Light café and witchcraft museum. Follow the track signposted to Pentargon uphill towards a row of cottages to a waymark.
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.
- At the waymark, bear left in front of the terrace of cottages, on a tarmacked road to a path on the far side.
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.
- Once past the cottages, follow the footpath until you reach a waymark at the bottom of a flight of steps.
Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".
- Climb the steps up to the right to a waymark. Continue on the coast path up the side of the headland to reach a waymark on the top beside a kissing gate.
Before you climb the steps, you may want to continue ahead to Penally Point first to admire the views, before returning to the waymark to climb the steps. Towards the end of the headland is Boscastle 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.
- At the waymark, bear right through a kissing gate and follow the coast path through a gate until you reach a waymark between a pair of stiles.
At the top, you can take a short diversion to the left to get an excellent view over the harbour, then return to the waymark to continue the walk.
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.
- When you reach the waymark, cross the stile on the right and follow the left hedge to a waymark.
The stile on the left leads to a viewpoint over Pentargon waterfall. NB. The viewpoint is close to the edge of an unfenced cliff so exercise extreme care if you decide to have a look.
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.
- At the waymark, bear left through a kissing gate then follow the left hedge to a gate.
- Go through the gate and follow the coast path along a wall, past the stile to the farm shop and café, until the path ends at a fence with a stile on the right.
The cliff on the opposite side of the bay is known as Beeny Cliff.
Thomas Hardy wrote the following poem, entitled Beeny Cliff, in remembrance of his wife:
O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free— The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me. The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say, As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day. A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain, And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain, And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main. —Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky, And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh, And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by? Nay. Though still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore, The woman now is—elsewhere—whom the ambling pony bore, And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will see it nevermore.
- Cross the stile and turn left. Follow the left hedge to reach a kissing gate.
- Go through the gate and follow the steps to the bottom of the valley to reach a footbridge
- From the bottom of the valley at Pentargon, follow the path ahead, up some steps and over the headland, to where an optional path departs over a stile to the right.
- Continue ahead to follow the coast path to the top of Firebeacon Point, past a bench and stile on the right, to reach a kissing gate ahead.
The optional path to the right rejoins at the top of Firebeacon Point. It's no less steep than the coast path and generally more overgrown but is less close to the cliff edge so advisable when the coast path is slippery or if the wind is getting up.
There is evidence that at the time of the Danish invasions, the Saxons used beacon fires to warn their people to retreat to strongholds (in fact "beacon" is an Anglo-Saxon word). However most of the "Fire beacon" coastal place names are likely to stem from the early warning system put in place during Tudor times by Mary I. Initially this was to defend against a possible French invasion, but it was invaluable when the Spanish Armada approached Cornwall in 1588 and continued to be used throughout the Napoleonic wars.
- Go through the kissing gate into a field, following the left hedge to another kissing gate.
Seals are not closely related to other marine mammals. In mediaeval times seals were classified as fish and could therefore be eaten during lent and on fridays and saturdays. However, as you might be able to guess from their features, seals are closely related to dogs, bears and otters. In fact, a dog is very much more closely related to a seal than a cat. The seal species most frequently seen along the Cornish coast are grey seals and common seals.
- Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge of the field to an opening in the far hedge.
Grey Seals are one of the rarest seal species in the world and the biggest land breeding mammal in the UK. Roughly half of the world population of grey seals is found in Britain, a large proportion of which are found in Cornwall. They are big animals with the larger males often over 10ft long; the females are somewhat smaller at around 6ft and usually lighter colours than the males. The latin name for the grey seal translates to the somewhat unflattering "hooked-nosed sea pig" and the alternative common name of horsehead seal isn't much better.
- Go through the opening and follow the fence on the left until you reach a waymark in front of a kissing gate.
At the gate on the coast path, ahead of you is Buckator cliff with the imposing Gull Rock in front of it. On the beach below, there are often grey seals.
Buckator is a remote beach at the base of sheer cliffs, just north of the hamlet of Beeny and about 2 miles north-west along the coast from Boscastle. Buckator is the largest seal colony on the North Cornish coast and one of the four key seal "haul out" sites in Southwest England (the others being Lundy, Godrevy near St Ives, and the Scilly Isles). Seal numbers in the Buckator colony peak in the winter and early spring.
You can just about see the seals on the beach from the bench next to the coast path, overlooking the bay. However, the best view down onto the beach is actually from the top of the hedge behind the bench. In front of the bench, the unfenced cliff slopes steeply into the sea; walking forwards to try to get a view could be dangerous.
- At the waymark, turn right and follow the left hedge to another waymark in front of a kissing gate
Seal pups have been seen in every month of the year but the majority are born in the autumn and early winter. Female seals mate soon after weaning their pups whilst the males are still around defending and patrolling the beaches. For just over three months the fertilised embryo does not attach to the wall of the uterus and does not develop. There then follows a gestation period of just under 9 months. This evolutionary strategy - known as delayed implantation - results in the pups being born at the same time every year.
- Go through a gate and follow the path until it ends on a lane.
- Turn left on the lane, passing a house, until you reach a junction on the right.
- Turn right at the junction and follow the lane past Moomin cottage and further past Kelgernick on your right, to a waymarked stile on the left.
- Cross the stile on the left and head to a small gateway in the bottom-right corner of the field.
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.
- Go through the gateway and follow the path into the field below. Head towards the lane, to the stile at the bottom of the field.
From Tudor times onwards, the majority of farming in Cornwall was based around rearing livestock with dairy cattle being predominant. This is reflected in traditional Cornish dairy produce including clotted cream and, later, ice cream and in the North Cornwall dialect where the pejorative for "farmer" was a fairly graphical description of the act of milking before the introduction of milking machines which rhymed with "bit fuller".
Since 1984, the European Common Market agricultural policy - to restrict milk production - has reduced dairy herds and prompted shifts to beef and lamb production, and arable crops - particularly maize and oilseed rape. Two large buyers of Cornish milk - Rodda's for their clotted cream and Diary Crest for the production of Davidstow and Cathedral City cheeses - have helped to buffer the Cornish dairy industry from this to some degree. Post-Brexit, there is speculation that Britain may become more agriculturally self-sufficient and this could change the dynamics once again.
- Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow it up the hill to the junction with the main road.
- At the junction, turn right onto the road and follow it a short distance to a junction with a small lane on the left marked "Unsuitable for Motors".
- Turn left and follow the narrow lane to Trewannett farm.
- From Trewannett farm, follow the lane around a pair of bends, past some farm buildings. Follow the lane down into the valley until you reach Elm cottage.
- In front of Elm Cottage, follow the lane round the bend to the right (ignore the waymark to the left). Shortly after, where it forks, keep right on the upper track and follow it past a "No Vehicle Access" sign to a gate.
Elm Cottage and the neighbouring cottages make up the hamlet of Newmills.
Newmills is a small hamlet in the Valency valley above Boscastle. Newmills was first recorded as a settlement in 1628, which gives an indication of how old the "old" mills in Boscastle were: mentions of mills in Boscastle go back at least to the 12th Century. The public footpath leading up the Valency valley from Newmills towards Lesnewth was formerly a donkey track used to transport grain from the farms upriver.
- Go through the kissing gate next to the gate, and go straight ahead until you reach Rose Cottage.
- Follow the footpath in front of Rose Cottage down the river, ignoring any paths that lead up from the valley.
Streams from the marshes of the Otterham Downs give rise to the River Valency which is then fed by five more rivers on its way to Boscastle. The name "Valency" has been explained as a corruption of the Cornish Melinjy (i.e. Melin-Chy = Mill-house) from the mill which existed in Boscastle in mediaeval times.
- When you reach a footbridge, keep right and follow the path to a gate, and from the gate to a waymark beside a series of stepping stones.
Alongside the path, particularly on the right as you approach the car park, there are carpets of Wild Garlic in early spring.
Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.
- Keep right at the waymark and follow the path along the river back to Boscastle. As you approach the car park, the path forks; either of the paths will lead you back into the car park.
Boscastle has 3 pubs, each with lots of character:
- The Cobweb Inn, opposite the car park - previously a wine cellar and flour store dating from the late 1600s, it has traditionally always had cobwebs hung from the roof beams. Apparently this was thought to keep flies off stored wines and spirits.
- The Wellington Hotel (aka "the welly") is the old village coaching inn, across the road from the Harbour. Some parts of the building are 4 centuries old, but most dates from 1853 when 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 Napoleon Inn is Boscastle's oldest pub (built in the 16th Century) and is on the hill at the back of Boscastle. It was a recruiting office during the Napoleonic wars. The landlord joined up with Wellington to go to Waterloo and so was called 'Napoleon man' on his return - hence the name of his pub.
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