- OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
- Distance: 3.2 miles/5.2 km
- Grade: Moderate-strenuous
- Start from: Crackington Haven car park
- Parking: Crackington Haven car park. Satnav: EX230JG
- Recommended footwear: walking boots
- Spectacular panoramic views of the coastline from Pencannow Point
- Sandy beach and rockpools at low tide on Crackington Haven
- Pretty woodland along the valley floor leading to Crackington Haven, with bluebells in spring
- Local food and drink at the Coombe Barton Inn
- St Gennys church, which has origins in the 7th century, located on the clifftop
- Pounding surf during winter storms at Crackington Haven and Castle Point
Alternative walks in same location
- From the back left corner of the car park, turn left onto a path and follow it to a waymark on the road.
Crackington Haven was originally known as Porthkragen meaning "cove of the small crag". In fact the word "crag" in the English language is an import of the Celtic word into Middle English.
The settlement of Crackington Haven was first recorded in 1196 and spelt "Cracumtona". The name is based on the original Cornish name, with mediaeval English additions of tun (meaning "homestead") and haven (meaning "harbour").
- At the road, turn right and follow it up the hill about 50m to the coast path signpost opposite.
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.
- Turn left onto the coast path and follow it up to Pencannow (also known as Penkenna) Point until you reach a waymark opposite a bench.
The imposing headland along the right-hand side of Crackington Haven is recorded on Ordnance Survey maps as Pencannow Point. The name Pencannow is a corruption of Penkenna which has persisted in some of the house names in Crackington Haven and has been revived on many of the coastpath signs. Penkenna is likely to be a variation of the Cornish Pengenna, with pen mean meaning top or head, and genna meaning wedge-shaped.
From the end of the point, there are nice views over Crackington Haven and across Tremoutha Haven to the Cambeak headland. In the other direction, you get a good view of Great Barton Strand and Little Barton Strand.
- At the waymark, the route continues through the kissing gate. Beforehand, you may want to take the path to the left to a small bench at the end of the point to admire the view. Once through the gate, keep left along the fence, following it downhill past one waymark until you reach another waymark against the bottom fence.
- At the waymark bear right, following the bottom fence inland until you reach a gate.
The names of many coastal features are derived from words in the Cornish language:
- Pen - Headland (Cornish for "top" or "head")
- Pol - often used to mean Harbour (literally "Pool")
- Porth - Port but often used to mean Cove
- Zawn - sea inlet (from the Cornish "sawan" meaning chasm)
Note that Haven has Saxon origins (hæfen in Old English) which is why it tends to occur more in North East Cornwall (Millook, Crackington, Bude etc).
- Go through the gate and down the steps until the path emerges on a track.
- Turn left on the track and follow it a short distance until another path departs to the right down the valley.
In the 1780s, Britain was in financial crisis after losing the American War of Independence. High levels of duty were imposed on luxury goods in order to recoup the national debt and this included the curing salt vital to the pilchard industry which was taxed at around 4000%! Consequently many Cornish fishermen that were previously legally employed by the trade were driven into illegal smuggling. Towards the end of the 18th Century, nearly half a million gallons of brandy and more than a quarter of a million pounds of tea were being smuggled into Cornwall each year. This continued until the 1840s, when Britain adopted a free-trade policy that slashed import duties. Within ten years, large-scale smuggling was just a memory.
- Turn right down the path and follow it down the valley to a footbridge.
The inlet on your left, at the bottom of the valley, is Aller Shute.
Aller Shute is a small inlet just north of Pencannow Point, close the village of Crackington Haven. Contraband was brought into the inlet by boat, along the edge of Little Barton Strand where the waterfall descends. It was carried by donkey up the riverside path and hidden in a cave in the riverbank at Little Warrinstow.
- From the footbridge, cross the stile and follow the path up the other side of the valley and along the ridge of Castle Point until eventually you reach a waymark.
At St Gennys, Castle Point is the headland immediately north of Pencannow Point. Castle Point gets its name from the Celtic cliff fortress which was built on it. The remains can still be seen, though large sections of it have now fallen into the sea. The three concentric ramparts would have been over 12ft high, with a single (wooden) gateway controlling access to the castle. It is thought to have been constructed over 2000 years ago, somewhere between 350-150 BC. The headland has a substantial covering of heather, resulting in a vibrant purple colouration in late Summer.
- Turn right at the waymark down some steps into the valley and through some woods to a footbridge.
On a sunny summer day you may encounter lizards basking on the path.
Lizards are cold-blooded so they need to bask in the sun to warm up to their "operating temperature" which is around 30 Celcius. They usually do so with an area of cover nearby which forms an escape route from predators. You're therefore likely to encounter them in sunny spots on footpaths and footbridges. Once they spot you, they will usually make a hasty escape - they can move pretty quickly once they are warmed-up. During winter they hibernate as in cold temperatures they are too slow to catch any food (insects, spiders etc. which are also less numerous over the winter).
- Cross the footbridge and bear right to a waymark. At the waymark, bear left on the path uphill until it emerges in a field.
The woods often have a nice display of bluebells in late April and early May.
In folklore, the bluebell is a symbol of constancy, presumably based on the fact that they flower in the same place every year. It was said that anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. This is probably the origin of the '…something blue…' that a bride should wear on her wedding day.
- Cross the middle of the field to a corner in the hedge, just to the left of the facing house (St Genny's House).
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.
- Follow the right hedge towards the corner of the field then bear left to the steps marked with a footpath sign.
St Gennys House is described in the Historic Environment Record as "exceptionally interesting" with a "good survival of C18 and early C19 features". It was the home of The Reverend George Thomson who is sometimes called "first Cornish Methodist". In 1732 he became convinced that his faith alone could save him: the same view held by the Wesley brothers. This became the core message of Methodism and he and the Wesley brothers became good friends.
- Go up the steps and follow the path beneath the trees to emerge into a field. Follow the right hedge to reach a metal kissing gate in the corner of the far hedge.
In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).
- Go through the gate onto the lane and follow the lane until it ends at a junction.
The mediaeval manor of St Gennys is thought originally to have been an ecclesiastical estate, dependent on St Kew. The Domesday survey of 1086 notes that it was held by Iovin and had been taken from the manor of St Kew and states 'Gytha held it before 1066, and paid tax for 1v of land; ½ h there however. Land for 10 ploughs; 3 ploughs there; 3 slaves, 2 Villagers and 8 small holders. Pasture, 40 acres. Value formerly and now 20s. (7 Cattle, 40 sheep and 6 goats)'.
- At the junction, turn right and follow the lane to the church.
- Turn right, down the path into the church yard, to reach the church.
St Gennys church has origins which go back to the years of the Celtic Church. Sometime in the mid 7th Century, a Celtic Monk (hermit) arrived here, on foot or by boat, and chose the site for its solitude and its ready supply of water. After King Athelstan's final conquest of Cornwall in 926, it is almost certain a small Saxon church was built on this site and it is likely that the dedication to St Genesius originates from this point rather than the former Celtic church. Genesius was thought to be a war-weary Roman soldier who remained in Cornwall acquiring low-level saint status.
Much of the existing church comes from the 12th Century, built to replace the earlier Saxon structure. The two lower stages of the tower, and the south, east and north walls of the Chancel contain surviving work of the Norman builders. The bowl of the font and Holy water stoup are carved from Tintagel Greenstone (Blue Elvan) and date from this period.
In the 15th Century, the North Aisle was the first addition with the construction of a beautiful arcade in Polyphant Stone with rich carving which separates the Nave from the North Aisle. The South Aisle and South porch were later added together with the Western most Arch of the Northern Aisle. The pillars used for this work are of Cornish granite.
- After exploring the church, follow the path out of the churchyard to the lane. Turn left on the lane and follow it back to the junction.
St Genny's holy well is in front of the churchyard entrance; very little is known about it.
"Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was most unhappy with the Celtic people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian façade.
- From the junction, follow the road for about 300m to a junction, just before a steep downward hill.
Piracy and wrecking were notorious along the coast north of Tintagel in the Middle Ages. In 1342, a complaint was made to the King that "William de Sancta Genesio (William of St Genny's) and others boarded a ship called La Trinite of Fowey, laden with their goods and anchored in the port of Widemouth. They cut the cables and cords with which the ship was anchored, whereby it was driven ashore by the flow of water and broken up, and lost goods to the value of £300." The inhabitants of St Gennys were consequently known as "wreckers and wrestlers".
- At the junction, take the smaller lane to the right and follow this down into the valley where it meets a road.
Just before you reach the road you pass a driveway to Nancemellan on the right. The name is from the Cornish words nans and melyn for "valley" and "mill", respectively.
- Cross over the road and take the lane on the other side, descending further into the wooded valley until you pass a gate on the right. Continue about 10m further along the lane to a stile with a public footpath sign, signposted to Crackington Haven.
Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.
- Take the footpath to the right, crossing the stile, and follow the path until you reach a kissing gate.
- Go through the gate and bear right on the track, following it until it meets the road.
Crackington Haven was badly affected in 2004 by the flood that famously swamped Boscastle. At Crackington Haven, the bridge, the pub and many of the houses were damaged and cars were washed out to sea.
- Turn left on the road and walk the short distance back down to Crackington Haven.
If the tide is out, there are some rockpools on the left-hand side of the beach.
Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:
- Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
- Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
- Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
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