Crackington to Boscastle

After a bus from Boscastle to Crackington Haven, the walk follows the Coast Path around Cambeak and along The Strangles beach to reach High Cliff. The route then passes the Buckator seal colony and enters Thomas Hardy country, passing the waterfall at Pentargon before descending with spectacular views over Boscastle harbour.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 7 miles/11.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Bus: 95 from Boscastle to Crackington Haven
  • Start from: Crackington Haven council car park
  • 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

  • Spectacular views all along the coast path
  • Sandy beach and rockpools at low tide on Crackington Haven
  • WW2 Shipwreck at Tremoutha Haven
  • Long sandy beach at The Strangles
  • Panoramic views from High Cliff - the highest cliff in Cornwall at 223m
  • Pretty wildflowers on the cliffs in spring and summer
  • Bizarre folded rock formations at Cambeak, Voter Run and Alder Run
  • Large grey seal colony at Buckator
  • Clifftop waterfall at Pentargon
  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Boscastle

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, cross the road and bear left to reach the track leading onto the beach from beside the phone box. Follow this over the bridge and then bear left to pass to right of the bench and join the Coast Path. Follow this to reach a gate.

    Until the nineteenth century, Crackington Haven was a small port, importing limestone and coal and exporting local produce such as slate. When the railways reached the district in 1893, the beach could be reached more easily (from Otterham Station) and became popular with holidaymakers.

    As the tide falls, the pebble beach gives way to a large sandy beach. It is west-facing and consequently quite popular for surfing when the tide is out, but care must be taken of the rocks on either side. The rocky ridges along the left side of the beach trap seawater, forming rockpools which support a range of shorelife.

  2. Go through the gate and follow the path to a kissing gate.

    The winkles in the rockpools exposed at low tide leave quite artistic trails in sand wasted into the pools as they meander around grazing for algae.

    Winkles and Whelks are marine snails which can often be found on rocks exposed at low tide. Some species were widely eaten in England, rivalling France's snail-eating reputation. If you're considering foraging for these, you'll need to know your whelks from your winkles.

    Winkles (also known as periwinkles) are vegans which graze on algae on the rocks. They are fairly small and have a rounded shell, similar to a land snail but much thicker. They were a staple part of the diet of coastal communities in the past and were popular takeaway food at many English coastal resorts until recent years.

    The term "whelks" is applied to a range of shellfish species that are predatory, eating other shellfish by producing chemicals which dissolve the shells of their prey. The Common Whelk is another edible species. It is larger than a winkle and with a more elongated, wavy shell resembling a small, fluted ice-cream cone.

    The Dog Whelk, as you might guess from the name, is not regarded as edible by humans. It is more similar in size and shape to a winkle but with a notably more pointy shell (resembles a winkle with a church spire). It was collected to make purple dyes used for cloth and even to decorate the manuscript of St John's Gospel.

  3. Go through the gate and keep right on the path, following it to a sharp left bend at Bray's Point overlooking Tremoutha Haven.

    On a very low tide, you can walk to the left along the rocks from Crackington Haven to Tremoutha Haven. Amongst the rocks are the remains of the shipwreck of a German "E-boat" S-89 which, having survived several sea battles during the war, broke free from a tow in 1946 and ran aground. This was a high-speed torpedo boat with three V20 Daimler-Benz engines, the remains of which can be seen on the beach. Together the engines produced a hefty 2000bhp and consequently these were referred to as "Schnell boats". During service this one was moved between the Baltic and Black Sea by dismantling it and floating the parts down the Danube.

  4. Follow the path around the bend to the left, and onwards past a house. Continue through 2 kissing gates and down a flight of steps into a small valley to reach a footbridge.

    From geography lessons at secondary school, you'll probably know that wave-cut platforms form where waves hit the cliff face and create a wave-cut notch into which the cliffs above eventually collapse. The reason the cliffs are eroded faster than the platform below them is more in the realms of physics:

    • The energy from a wave is concentrated when it breaks against the cliffs; when waves are breaking onto the gently-sloping platform, their energy is more diffuse.
    • On the platform, the force from the waves is spread along the breadth of platform as the tide recedes. However, the cliff face usually takes a beating not just at the very highest point of the tide, but also for some of the time either side.
    • The tide rises and falls sinusoidally with time, in other words, it changes at its most slowly at high tide where it can spend a bit more time bashing the bejesus out of the cliff face.

    Nevertheless, the platform does slowly erode. At Porthleven it is estimated that the platform is eroding at a rate of 1mm every 5 years.

  5. Cross the footbridge and follow the path to reach a gate and flight of steps leading to another footbridge.
  6. Cross the footbridge and go through the gate on the far side. Then follow the path up the steps, along the edge of a field and over a stile into a deep ravine to reach a series of footbridges at the bottom.
  7. Cross the footbridges and follow the zig-zag path ahead to reach a waymark near the top of the hill. The views from the top are spectacular but if you'd prefer to avoid the climb you can follow the path to the left instead indicated by the white waymark and skip the next two directions.
  8. At the waymark, turn right and follow the path to a waymark at a junction of paths, then follow the path uphill indicated by the yellow arrow to reach the top.

    The wheatear can often be seen on the coast during the summer month as it nests in rock crevices or rabbit burrows but returns to Sub-Saharan Africa every winter. The name is a 16th-century linguistic corruption of "white arse", referring to the bird's prominent white rump.

  9. At the top, turn left, to keep the coast on your right, and follow the path down into the valley.

    Soay sheep are a rare breed, with large curled horns, that can be seen grazing the cliff top heath and grassland near Crackington Haven in winter. This helps to limit the growth of scrub so that rare wildflowers can flourish. This primitive breed is descended from a population of feral sheep, on the Isle of Soay in the Western Isles of Scotland, which is believed to be a survivor of the earliest domesticated sheep kept in northern Europe.

  10. From the bottom of the valley, keep right along the coast until you reach a kissing gate at the bottom of a small valley.

    The path passes above The Strangles beach, first passing the rock arch known as the Northern Door and then approaches the islet known as Samphire Rock.

    Rock Samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking Golden Samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as Rock Samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden Samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to Rock Samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

  11. Go through the gate, up the steps, and through a gate into the field. Follow the path along the edge of the field until you pass through a pedestrian gate and reach a waymark for Trevigue.
  12. When you reach the waymark to Trevigue, keep right on the coast path and follow it until it joins the path to The Strangles beach.

    Trevigue is a farm just south of Crackington Haven, near The Strangles beach. The current farmhouse at Trevigue dates back to the 16th century, but a farmstead has existed on the site since the Norman Conquest. Today, the farm is partly tenanted from the National Trust as its 800 acres includes three miles of coastline, including The Strangles beach.

  13. Keep right on the path and follow it to a fork in the path at a waymark.

    From here, if the tide is out, you may want to stroll down to the beach, returning back to this point.

    The Strangles is a beach between Boscastle and Crackington Haven that is reached via a public footpath crossing the Coast Path. The Strangles gets its name due to the treacherous currents and jagged rocks that have wrecked many ships trying to navigate the rocky coastline of North Cornwall. This is not a safe beach for swimming unless the sea is completely calm without much surf. There is spectacular scenery both on the walk down and from the beach itself including a rock arch and the cliffs are covered with gorse and heather flowers in early autumn.

  14. At the fork, take the path on the left follow it until you reach a waymark, marked "To Road", at the top of some steps.

    There are more than 20 breeding pairs of Peregrine falcons along the coast from Bude to Padstow.

    The peregrine falcon can reach over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its hunting stoop (high speed dive) making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. In 2005, a peregrine was measured at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph). The air pressure at this speed could damage a bird's lungs. However small bony tubercles on a falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving. In Cornish dialect, these falcons are known as "winnards" and local expressions include "shrammed as a winnard" (meaning chilled) and "rumped up like a winnard" (meaning huddled).

  15. At the "To Road" waymark, keep right towards Boscastle and follow the coast path through a kissing gate, down to the bottom of the valley and over a footbridge to a waymark at the top of the steps on the other side.
  16. At the waymark, keep left to stay on the coast path and follow it to the top of the bank where there is another waymark.

    Looking back towards The Strangles, there are nice views of Samphire Rock and the Northern Door.

    Rock Samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking Golden Samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as Rock Samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden Samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to Rock Samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

  17. At the waymark, bear left along the top of the bank to reach a pedestrian gate. Go through this follow the coast path uphill along the edge of a field until you eventually reach the top.

    The corner of the field is above High Cliff. If you make your way across the grass towards the cliff edge, there is a bench on the clifftop just below the coast path.

    High Cliff, near Boscastle, is the highest sheer-drop cliff in Cornwall at 223 metres (732ft). To the north, there are views along the coast across The Strangles to Cambeak. To the south, you can see the rocky islets of Boscastle, Trevalga and Tintagel. Almost directly below is the rocky promontory of Voter Run which has some impressively folded rocks that have been compared to molten toffee.

  18. Continue ahead to follow the coast path towards the next valley, keeping right along the coast where the path forks, to reach a kissing gate.
  19. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path down into the valley until you reach a footbridge.

    Well-preserved fossilised remains of plants can be been found in the black shales in the landslide at Rusey Cliff near Boscastle. These date back to 320-350 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. The "main" landslide is half-way down the 680 foot high cliff in a location that isn't safely accessible, but many of the rocks dotted either side of the coast path have come from the landslide, so you may be able to find fossils if you can find a lump of shale to split.

  20. From the footbridge, follow the path to a waymark where a path descends to Rusey Beach (dangerous and not recommended).
  21. At the waymark, bear left to follow the waymarked coast path until you reach a kissing gate at the top of Rusey Cliff.

    There is a quite large feral population of goats roaming free on the cliffs near Crackington Haven which are used to graze down the vegetation in the difficult-to-access areas on the high cliffs along this part of the coast. The grazing encourages wildflowers and provides the coastal heath habitat that may allow the Large Blue butterfly to be reintroduced.

  22. From the kissing gate, follow the coast path until you eventually reach a footbridge crossing a marsh.

    In the past, when the cliffs were grazed regularly, this provided habitat for the Large Blue butterfly and the red ant on which it depends. The caterpillars secrete honeydew, which causes ants to carry the caterpillar down into their nests, to feed on this. The caterpillar then proceeds to eat some of the ant eggs and larvae without the ants appearing to care. In fact, the ants even escort the butterfly to the surface, and protect it from predators whilst its wings dry.

    What's even stranger is that if the ant colony produces more than one queen, at this point the ants seek out, kill and eat the caterpillars. It's possible this is an evolutionary response to raise the "birth rate" in the colony, by removing predation from the caterpillars, prior to a potential split-off of a satellite colony with the new queen.

    As farming became more intensified and clifftop grazing stopped, the cliffs became overgrown and there was too much shade for red ants. Consequently the Large Blue became extinct in the UK in 1979. Now the cliffs are once more being grazed and the conditions are suitable for red ants, it is hoped that one day soon it will be possible to reintroduce the Large Blue.

  23. From the footbridge, keep right along the coast path past a waymark and through a kissing gate until you reach a kissing gate that emerges in a field.

    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.

  24. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the field and go through another gate onto the cliffs. Follow the path to reach a kissing gate emerging into a large field beside a waymark.

    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.

  25. Go through the kissing gate and follow the fence on your right to an opening in the far hedge.
  26. Go through the opening and follow the fence on the right to a kissing gate.
  27. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a stile.
  28. Cross the stile and follow the path ahead marked with a yellow arrow to Pentargon. Follow the path down Firebeacon Point and along the edge of the coast until the path eventually goes through a gate.

    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.

  29. Go through the gate and follow the path over the headland until you reach the footbridge over the stream at the bottom of the valley at Pentargon.

    The 10ft long Porbeagle shark caught and released off Boscastle in May 2012 was estimated at 550lb which would make it the largest shark ever caught in British waters. The Porbeagle feeds on a variety of fish and is fast enough to chase mackerel, herring and pilchards which shoal around the Cornish coast hence is sometimes known as the "Mackerel Shark". Despite its size, there are very few reported attacks on humans (and these are questionable). The reverse however cannot be said: the Porbeagle has been overfished to the point of being endangered and continues to be caught both intentionally and as by-catch. Strict regulations and greatly reduced fishing quotas introduced in 2000 have begun to reverse the stock decline, though recovery is projected to take decades.

  30. From the bottom of the valley, follow the path ahead to Hillsborough, up some steps, until you reach a kissing gate at the top of the valley.
  31. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge a short distance to a waymarked stone stile.
  32. Cross the stile and turn left. Follow the path along the wall, keeping ahead past a stile on your left to the Farm Shop, until you reach a gate.

    Amongst the better known pasties and clotted cream that you're likely to find at a Farm Shop, more esoteric Cornish fayre includes Hog's Pudding.

    Hog's Pudding is a type of sausage produced in Devon and Cornwall which as akin to a haggis. However, more popular recipes do not include offal but typically consist of pork, suet, bread, and oatmeal or pearl barley formed into the shape of a large sausage. These ingredients are similar to a "white pudding" of Scotland and Ireland, but Hog's Pudding is a lot spicier than white pudding as it also contains black pepper, cumin, basil and garlic.

  33. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a kissing gate.
  34. Go through the gate and gap in the hedge. Bear right to a stile a short distance along the right hedge.
  35. 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.

  36. Go through the kissing gate to a waymark and turn left. Follow the path down to the harbour until you emerge onto another path at a waymark.

    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.

  37. Turn left and 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.

  38. 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.

  39. At the bridge, turn left and follow the path past the Visitors Centre to reach the main road; turn left to reach the car park.

    The building just past 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.

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 also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • 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 useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

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