Boscastle to Rocky Valley

The walk starts with a climb from Boscastle Harbour onto Forrabury Common and joins the coast path, passing the mediaeval field system of "stitches" and the coastguard lookout. The route continues past "The Ladies Window" archway near Trevalga, before descending into the salte canyons of Rocky Valley. The walk follows the river to the top of Rocky Valley and then climbs up to Trethevy, where there is a mediaeval chapel and holy well. The route from here heads across farmland to Trevalga, passing the church and ancient wayside cross, before reaching the church at Forrabury and finally descending into Boscastle.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 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
  • Spectacular coastline around Trevalga
  • Neolithic stone carvings in the ancient woodland of Rocky Valley
  • St Piran's holy well and chapel at Trethevy
  • Picturesque hamlet of Trevalga
  • Mediaeval land tenure at Forrabury Common, surrounding its historic church

Directions

  1. From the car park in Boscastle, turn left and follow the road, past the shops and cafés, to the signpost on the bridge.

    As you pass the Cornish Pasties on offer, consider that the potato came from South America and wasn't widely available until the late 18th Century.

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onwards, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect) seasoned with salt and pepper, and probably dates from the late 1700s when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor. In fact, the really poor had "tiddy oggy" (with no meat at all). A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no potato or swede, just meat (venison), port wine and spices.

    The popular story of pasties eaten in mines being held by their crust which was then discarded is likely to be an urban myth. Miners were generally too poor to throw away food, and many old photos show pasties wrapped in a bag to keep them clean down a mine.

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

    The building just before the Visitor's 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 left, across the bridge, onto the other side of the river and take the track signposted for the coast path to Willapark. 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.

  4. At the fork, keep left along the path ahead, 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.

  5. At the waymark, turn 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.

  6. Bear right onto the path and follow it to a waymark 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.

  7. From the waymark, follow the coast path 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Go through the gate and turn right onto the coast path, keeping right along the coast, until you reach a kissing gate.

    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.

  11. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path, down into the valley and up the other side, to a stile.

    California Quarry is the northernmost of the coastal state quarries between Boscastle and Tintagel. You can still see the stone foundations of the wooden tower used to haul the slate up from the cliff face.

    Trilobite fossils can occasionally be found in slates in the slate tips here. They used to be common, but much of the slate tips have now fallen into the sea. If you're hunting for trilobites, look for slates with yellow or brown blotches as these are the slates from the Carboniferous period (about 340-350 million years ago) which are the ones containing fossils.

  12. Cross the stile and follow the path through a gate and down into the next valley, at Grower Gut, to a footbridge over the stream.

    The remains of Welltown quarry lies on the headland between California and Grower quarries, near Trevalga. These three quarries have been earmarked as "heritage quarries" which, in principle, could be reopened in the future for small scale extraction for repairs to heritage buildings. If so, dangling above the raging sea to extract slate from the cliff face may present some modern-day Health and Safety challenges.

  13. From the footbridge, cross a stile and a second footbridge and follow the coast path, up from the valley, to a waymark in a field beside a wooden walkway.

    Grower Quarry is situated on the coast between Boscastle and Trevalga. The slate quarried along this stretch of coast was deposited in the transition between the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, around 360 million years ago, when Cornwall was still at the bottom of the (Rheic) Ocean. The older Upper Devonian slates (which is the period in which Delabole slate was deposited) are harder and finer than those that came later. The later slates, deposited as the ocean became shallower, are more likely to contain fossils.

  14. Bear right to cross the walkway and then follow the path across the diagonal of the field to a slate stile in the opposite corner.
  15. Cross the wall via the stile and follow the path until it merges onto a track at a waymark.

    The offshore rocks are home to colonies of razorbills and guillemots.

    Razorbills and Guillemots are the surviving cousins of the extinct Greak Auk. After centuries of being hunted for feathers, meat and eggs, the last Great Auk in Britain was beaten to death in 1840 for being a witch.

    Razorbills are the now largest of the auk species and only come to land to breed. They have a characteristic thin white stripe across their eye in the breeding season. Guillemot is a fairly loose term used for any auk that isn't a Razorbill! There are two distinct families of species referred to as guillemots: the first are the smaller members of the Razorbill family which are also black with a white belly; the second family are all black with red legs.

  16. Follow the track ahead from the waymark for a short distance until you reach another waymark in front of a gate.

    The coastline around Trevalga is particularly spectacular, with a number of offshore rocks which provide homes for seabird colonies. Guillimots, razorbills, cormorants and shags, puffins and several types of gull are known to nest here.

  17. At the waymark, take the coast path, to the right, and follow it through two kissing gates, to a waymark on the skyline.

    From the waymark, a path leads to a bench and on to The Ladies Window overlooking Short Island.

    The rock arch on the cliffs at Trevalga, known as the Lady's Window, was formed around 370 million years ago. Sediments laid down at the bottom of the ocean, initially formed crumbly shales. Around 40 million years later, when Cornwall was pushed out of the sea, the intense pressure and heat from the colliding contents transformed some of the shale into hard rocks called phillites. The softer rocks above have been worn away, exposing these hard rocks. Gradual weathering has created the hole through the middle.

  18. From the waymark, follow the path along the coast past the offshore islands and eventually down into a deep gorge at Rocky Valley, to a footbridge.

    Along this path is a viewpoint over Long Island, which is also a nice spot for a picnic in the summer. To reach it: from the waymark, follow the coast path over the ridge and over one bed of slate to a second bed of slate. The footpath to the viewpoint departs to the right where the coastpath crosses the slate.

    Long and Short Island are two rock stacks off Firebeacon hill at Trevalga. The names of Long and Short Island are known to date back at least as far as the 1750s, and are presumed to refer to the respective heights of the two rocky islets, with Long Island reported as being 300ft high. There are large seabird colonies on both islets and a few pairs of puffins are sometimes seen nesting here; before the mid-20th century, there were many more.

  19. Cross the footbridge at the bottom of the valley and head to the waymark. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path up the valley to another footbridge.

    Rocky Valley, on the way out of Tintagel towards Boscastle, has been formed by the Trevillet river carving its way through the slate bedrock, and was mentioned in travel books as a place of exceptional beauty as early as 1897. The river cascades through woodland, before opening out into a canyon which meets the coast.

  20. Cross the bridge and bear right to a waymark, then bear left between the buildings until you reach another waymark. Follow the path from here until eventually you reach a footbridge crossing the river.

    On the rockface beside the waymark, about half way down Rocky Valley near Trewethett Mill, are some labyrinthine stone carvings. The age of the carvings is unknown: some historians think they could be as early as bronze age, others think they are much more recent.

  21. Cross the footbridge and follow the path on the other side, keeping right along the fence to another footbridge (ignore the little bridge on the left).
  22. Cross the footbridge and turn left; climb the driveway of Trevillet Mill to the main road.
  23. Turn left on the main road and, being careful of traffic, follow it to Halgabron Mill and up the hill to Trethevy.
  24. From the Trethevy sign, follow the road to a car park on the left. Cut through this to rejoin the road and follow it to a slate bus shelter with a brown sign.

    Trethevy is at the top of the hill, about 10 mins walk along the main road towards Boscastle from Rocky Valley. The path signposted to the waterfall passes the mediaeval St Piran's Chapel and old well on its way to St Nectan's Glen.

  25. Where you see the brown St Nectan's Glen sign, take the second right off the main road onto a residential road passing Trethevy Barns. Follow the road round to the left past a row of houses to a junction onto the main road.
  26. At the junction, cross the main road and turn right. Then follow the road past the house on the right until you reach a public footpath sign on the left.

    King Arthur's Quoit is in the entrance to a caravan park to your left.

    The round stone beside the main road outside the holiday park in Trethevy is thought to be a Dolmen (burial chamber) roof slab. It is one of the two known as "King Arthur's Quoit". The other one is on Bodmin Moor near Minions. The one near Minions is sometimes known as Trethevy Quoit. It you're confused, you're not the only one!

  27. Follow the public footpath over a stile and cross the diagonal of the field to a gateway in the opposite corner.
  28. Go through the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow this towards the church until it ends at a waymark.
  29. At the end of the track, turn right at the waymark and follow the lane to another waymark next to the church.

    You may want to have a wander round Trevalga and have a look at the many old buildings then make your way back to the church to resume the route.

    The entire village of Trevalga is owned by Marlborough College - a public school in Wiltshire. It was left in trust so that the village and parish would remain unspoiled for future generations. Consequently there are a number of original old slate buildings that have remained unchanged for many decades. In 2010, the college was told that it was breaking charity law by owning a hamlet, and thereafter placed the entire estate on the market causing uproar amongst the tenants, and became know as "The Battle of Trevalga" featuring in the national news and a radio 4 documentary. The legality of the sale is being disputed by the Trustees and Tenants of the estate and the sale has been suspended until this is resolved.

  30. Turn left at the waymark and follow the track past the church gate to a junction.

    The Norman church at Trevalga, dedicated to St Petroc, is made of a stone known as Blue Elvan or Greenstone which occurs in small pockets in North Cornwall and was highly valued by local stonemasons as it can be finely carved. The church tower was built a little later in the 13th Century and reworked in the 15th Century. The wheel-headed wayside cross next to the south door could be as old as 8th Century (just before Celtic Cornwall was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons).

  31. Take the footpath on the opposite side of the road, either over the stile, or through the gate, if open. Cross the yard to the gate opposite.
  32. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to the gate in the far corner.
  33. Cross the stile next to the gate and cross the field to a stile next to the gate opposite.
  34. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the right hedge to a stile next to the gate.
  35. Cross the stile then head across the field to the stile opposite.
  36. Cross the stile and the footbridge, and head across the field to the stile opposite.
  37. Cross the stile then head to the left of the enclosure containing the buildings to reach a waymarked gate.
  38. Cross the stile next to the gate and go through the waymarked kissing gate directly in front of it. Follow the tarmac to join the drive leading away from the houses and pass the barns to reach a waymark where the lane bends.
  39. At the waymark, turn right passing Welltown Manor and follow the lane to a junction onto the main road.

    Welltown Manor is situated just off the main road between Trevalga and Forrabury. The manor was built towards the start of the 16th Century and has been described as having "remarkably well-preserved details". It was built for the Tinke family who were middle-class farm owners (which was termed yeoman at the time). Many of the surrounding fields between Forrabury and Trevalga would have been part of this estate.

  40. Turn left along the road and follow it a short distance until you reach a Y-shaped junction.
  41. Bear left down the small lane and follow it to a T-junction.
  42. At the T-junction, turn left and follow the lane to a corner with a Forrabury sign.
  43. At the corner, go straight ahead down the track signposted "To the coastpath", and keep right to follow the path through the gate and reach a kissing gate.
  44. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the right hedge to another kissing gate.
  45. Go through the kissing gate and follow the right hedge to a waymark. Then turn right along the track, following it until you reach the entrance to the churchyard on your right.

    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.

  46. 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.

  47. At the church door, turn right and follow the path out of the churchyard gate and 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

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