Boscastle to Minster Church

The walk starts at Boscastle Harbour and follows the River Valency, inland, up the Valency Valley. It then turns into Minster Valley, at the top of which sits the ancient Minster Church. From here, the walk crosses into the Jordan Valley and after passing Boscastle's oldest pub, descends the valley along the now tucked-away Fore Street and Old Street which were once Boscastle's main road.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.6 miles/4.2 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

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Boscastle
  • Pretty riverside and woodland scenery in the Valency valley
  • Bluebells and wild garlic in the woodland in spring
  • Ancient Minster church
  • Daffodils in the churchyard in March
  • Passes all 3 of Boscastle's pubs and some of Boscastle's oldest houses

Directions

  1. Go down the steps from the top-right of the main car park in Boscastle, next to the gates, and follow the path alongside the river, up the valley, until you reach a waymark.

    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. At the waymark, keep left and follow the path in the direction waymarked to New Mills. Continue to follow the path to a gate.

    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.

    The steep Valency Valley acted as a funnel for the dramatic flash flood in 2004 that put Boscastle on (and nearly wiped it off) the map. Over 1.4 billion litres of rain fell in the course of 2 hours which is thought to have been caused by the Brown Willy effect, where the high tors on Bodmin Moor cause the repeated formation of rainclouds which blow along the prevailing wind and then dump their rain. Around 50 cars were swept into the harbour, the bridge was washed away and roads were submerged under 9ft of water. A total of 91 people were rescued in the largest peacetime rescue operation ever carried out in the UK.

  3. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a footbridge.

    In early spring, large areas beneath the trees are carpeted in Wild Garlic.

    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.

  4. Turn right over the bridge and follow the path uphill through Peter's Wood until eventually you reach a waymark where the path forks.

    Minster Wood, in the Valency valley, is an ancient broadleaf woodland which has had continuous tree cover for at least 400 years, providing a habitat for many fern species. The woods consist of native trees but are not entirely wild, having been managed since Norman times by the monks of the priory of Minster. Up to the 19th Century, bark was collected for tanning, and charcoal was generated by burning coppiced trees.

  5. At the waymark, take the right (lower) path and follow it to a gate into the churchyard.

    On your left, just before you enter the churchyard is the grave of a "witch".

    Joan Wytte, known as the "Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town", was unjustly condemned as a witch in the 18th century and died in Bodmin Jail. For many years, her skeleton hung unceremoniously in the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle. When the museum was taken over, the new owner wanted to give her a proper burial. However, as an alleged witch, the Church would not allow her to be buried on consecrated ground. Therefore her grave is just outside the perimeter of the churchyard.

  6. Go through the gate into the churchyard and follow the path ahead to the church.

    Minster Holy Well is on the left side of the path, at the bottom of the bank.

    Minster Holy Well is situated alongside the path through the churchyard from Peter's Wood to the church. Due to the tree cover and its position below a steep bank, the Holy Well tends to collect leaf litter and mud washed out by the rain, and is therefore somewhat unglamourous in appearance. However it is probably closer to the original Celtic form than many other sacred springs which have been "improved" by the Christian church either in Mediaeval or Victorian times.

  7. Follow the path past the church then follow the main path alongside the wall to reach a gate onto the lane.

    Minster (St Merthiana's) Church, in a valley on the outskirts of Boscastle, is on a site which dates back 1500 years to Celtic times. It was originally known as "Tolcarne" which means literally "rocky hole" and has been interpreted as meaning a chapel made from rocks. Parts of the church there today dates back to 1150, built by William de Bottreaux. The church was restored twice after falling into disrepair, so there are some features that date back to the Tudor period and others to Victorian times. Look out for the mysterious carved scissors on the tower wall. No one knows why they're there! Suggestions include a trademark of the stonemason, or an homage to the wool trade which funded the church restoration. In early spring, the church is surrounded by a carpet of daffodils and wild garlic.

  8. Go through the gate onto the lane, turn right and follow it up the hill to a junction.

    The church building at Minster and surrounding countryside in the Valency Valley provide ideal habitat for the endangered species, the Greater Horseshoe bat which forages for moths and beetles in the nearby woods and pastures. The colony at Minster is the largest known in Cornwall, containing around 5% of the entire UK population. The bats can be seen in summer emerging from their roosts about half an hour after sunset.

  9. At the junction, bear right to stay on the lane and follow the lane until you reach a public footpath sign on the right.

    The valley that the lane descends into is known as the Jordan Valley.

    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.

  10. As the road bends left, cross the stone stile on the right signposted to Boscastle. Head across the field, towards the church in the distance, to a stile in the left corner of the far hedge.
  11. Cross the stile and then another stile into a field, then follow the left hedge to a kissing gate on the left before the Home Farm sign.
  12. Go through the kissing gate waymarked to "Old Village", keep right past a footbridge and follow the path on the right-hand side of the stream until it joins a track next to a house.
  13. Bear left along the track and follow it uphill to a waymark.
  14. At the waymark, keep left and follow the track until it ends at a road.

    Where the path meets the road, a short diversion up the hill to the left, just on the other side of the crossroads, is the Napoleon Inn.

    The Napoleon Inn is a public house located in Boscastle, just uphill from the junction between the old main road and the road to Camelford. The inn is Boscastle's oldest pub, built in the 16th Century. 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.

  15. Turn right downhill on Fore Street, which becomes Dunn Street and then Old Road as it descends the Jordan Valley, finally emerging next to the Wellington Hotel.

    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.

  16. Turn right on the road at the junction just past the Wellington Hotel and follow it across the bridge to 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.

  17. Turn right into the car park to complete the walk.

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. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is also useful.

Take a photo and 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.

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