- OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
- Distance: 4.3 miles/6.9 km
- Grade: Moderate
- Start from: Crackington Haven car park
- Parking: Crackington Haven car park. Satnav: EX230JG
- Recommended footwear: walking boots
- Sandy beach and rockpools at low tide at Crackington Haven
- WW2 Shipwreck at Tremoutha Haven
- Spectacular coastal views all along the coastpath
- Long sandy beach at The Strangles
- Bizarre folded rock formations at Cambeak
- Pretty riverside walk through bluebell woodland in East Wood
- Local food and drink at the Coombe Barton Inn at Crackington Haven
Alternative walks in same location
- From Crackington Haven, head down the ramp towards the beach and turn left onto the coast path, following it to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow the path around the bend to the left, and onwards past a house, until it dips into a small valley where there is 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.
- Cross the footbridge and follow the path to another footbridge.
- Cross the footbridge and stile. Then follow the path up out of the valley, along the edge of a field, and over a stile into a deep ravine, to a series of footbridges at the bottom.
- Cross the footbridges and keep right on the coast path; follow it up the ridge to a junction.
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.
- At the junction, keep right and continue to follow the path up the hill until you 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.
- At the top, turn left, to keep the coast on your right, and follow the path down into the valley.
- 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.
- Go through the gate, up the steps and continue to follow the coastpath until you reach a waymark signposted to Trevigue.
- 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.
- Keep right on the path and follow it to 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.
- At the waymark, turn left onto the coast path and 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 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).
- At the top of the steps, turn left onto a path signposted "To Road" to a stile into a field. Cross the stile and bear right slightly across the field, to a gate near the right corner of the far hedge.
- Go through the gate and turn right along the lane for a short distance, to reach a gate. Cross the stile next to the gate and bear right across the field towards the barns. As you approach the far side of the field, head to the gap in the fence, leading to a path into the woods.
- Go through the gap in the fence and follow the path, over a stream, to a stile into the field.
The small stream is fed from the marshy meadows along here and meets the river a little further along the walk.
- Cross the stile and head up the field, towards the barns, to a gateway in the top-right corner.
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 gate and bear left, following the waymark, to another waymark near the corner of the wall.
- At the corner of the wall, follow the waymark on your left, into the field towards the brow of the hill.
- Head over the brow of the hill, to the waymark, and down the field to the middle of the 3 gateways.
Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?
If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.
If the gate is ajar but not latched then it's possible that the gate was left open a by previous group of walkers. Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving a small child from being run over by a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.
- Go through the gate into the left of the two fields and follow the right hedge of the field downhill, to an opening into a field below.
- Cross the next field, aiming for a gap in the trees roughly 30 metres from the right-hand corner of the field.
- Follow the path into some woods, until you reach a stile. Cross the stile and follow the path across a stream then bear right to a signpost.
The stream is the same one that you crossed earlier and its confluence with the Ludon river is a few metres to your right.
- At the signpost, take the lower of the two paths ahead, signposted to "HAVEN" (ignore the path to the far right over a bridge). Follow the path along the bottom of a field and through East Wood until you reach another signpost.
In early spring, there are nice displays of primroses, and a little later, bluebells along the path through the woods.
During periods of cold weather, spring flowers, such as bluebells, have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs during summer and autumn. They are then able to grow in the cold of winter, or early spring, by using these resources stored in their bulb. Once they have flowered, the leaves die off and the cycle begins again.
Other species (such as cow parsley or dandelions) require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow. With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells lose their 'early start' advantage, and can be out-competed.
- At the signpost, again head for "HAVEN". Follow the path through the woods until you cross a footbridge and shortly afterwards reach a junction in the path.
Look out for the primrose rooted half-way up a tree.
Although most primroses tend to be pale yellow, in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.
During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.
- At the junction, turn left in the direction indicated by the sign to "Coast Path" and follow the path over a footbridge and down the valley, until it ends at a gate onto a lane.
- Go through the gate and follow the lane downhill to reach the road at Crackington Haven. Turn left on the road to reach the car park.
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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