Crackington Haven to Widemouth

A (bus-assisted) one-way walk along the Shipwreck Coast from Crackington Haven to Widemouth Bay passing the bluebell woodland of ancient twisted oaks at The Dizzard, chevron folded rocks and honeycomb reefs of Millook Haven and fossil beds of Wanson Mouth.

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The route follows the coast path from Crackington Haven to Pencannow Point where there are panoramic views. The path zig-zags behind Great and Little Barton Strand to Castle Point where it passes the remnants of an Iron Age fort. The route continues past Cleave Strand, down the steep-sided valley at Scrade and up to Chipman Point. The path skirts across the top of the ancient coastal woodland at Dizzard, passing Cancleave Strand and crossing Millook Common, before descending to Millook Haven. There is then one last steep climb up Bridwill Point before the route levels out along Penhalt Cliff and reaches Widemouth Bay via Wanson Mouth.

Reviews

A quite strenuous but varied walk with breathtaking views. Some of the climbs up look quite daunting but it gives a good excuse to stop and admire the view as you climb. Some of the paths down were equally interesting! At one point near Dizzard the path down looked like it was dropping off the edge of the cliff until starting to descend it. Millook Haven was amazing with the zig-zag folding patterns on the cliff, crashing waves on the beach and a lovely whitewashed watermill. A super walk on a sunny late July day with shady ancient woodlands and high paths around hanging valleys to complement the more stunning coastal route. Thank you for researching and listing this walk.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.4 miles/10.3 km
  • Grade: Strenuous
  • Bus: 95 from Widemouth Bay to Crackington Haven
  • Start from: Crackington Haven car park
  • Parking: Widemouth Bay car park EX230AH
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy beach and rockpools at low tide on Crackington Haven and Widemouth Bay
  • Spectacular panoramic views of the coastline from Pencannow Point and Millook Common
  • Ancient woodland around Dizzard with bluebells in Spring
  • Geological origami at Cancleave Strand and Millook Haven

Directions

  1. 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").

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 to reach a waymark and bear left from this to a kissing gate.

    To the left you can see the headlands of Cambeak (nearest), Tintagel Castle (with the island), Stepper Point and Trevose Head (with several small islands). To the right you can see the satellite dishes of GCHQ Bude adn Higher Sharpnose Point at Morwenstow. Behind this is Hartland Point in Devon. Offshore from this is Lundy Island.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the left fence downhill to reach a waymark against the bottom fence.
  6. 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).

  7. Go through the gate and down the steps until the path emerges on a track at a waymark.
  8. Turn left on the track and follow it a short distance until a waymarked 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.

  9. Turn right down the waymarked path and follow it 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.

  10. 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 with a small path descending to the right.

    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.

  11. From the waymark, continue on the coast path until you reach a stile.
  12. Cross the stile then follow the path around a bend to the left to a fork in the path. Follow the leftmost path along the coast until you reach a gap next to a hedge, with a sign for Lower Tresmorn on the other side.

    Gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent and rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  13. Go through the gap and continue to follow the path along the coast to a footbridge at the bottom of a valley.

    Gorse flower wine can be made using 5 litres of gorse flowers stripped from the stems and simmering these in 5 litres of boiling water. Once the flowers are removed, 1.3kg of sugar should be dissolved in the hot water and allowed to cool to room temperature. Then add 500g of chopped raisins and juice and zest of 2 lemons and ferment with white wine yeast and yeast nutrient. Although flowers are present year-round, they are best picked in spring (April and May) when they are most profuse and fragrant.

  14. Cross the footbridge and follow the path through a gate and up the side of the valley to a short waymark just past the last of the gorse bushes.

    Hanging valleys are common on the North Cornish coast and are created due to erosion of the relatively hard cliffs by the Atlantic waves being faster than erosion of the valley by a small river. In many cases, this results in a waterfall where the small river meets the sea cliff, though many of these are little more than a trickle in dry weather. When there is a strong onshore gale, the waterfalls sometimes run backwards!

  15. Follow the path straight ahead, uphill in the waymarked direction, and continue to follow it along the coast until you reach a stile in the fence at the top of a steep valley.

    Kestrels are the most common bird of prey in Europe, although in Britain, numbers have declined in recent years. They are easily spotted when hovering, watching their prey. Whilst hovering, they have the extraordinary ability to keep their head totally still, even in strong winds. They feed mostly on mice, voles and shrews, but will also take birds as large as starlings, and will feed on insects if larger prey are not available.

  16. Cross the stile and carefully descend the steep steps and cross a stile to reach a footbridge at the floor of the valley.

    A steep path leads from the footbridge down to Scrade Beach. The beach is pebbles and high tide, with ribbons of rock exposed at low water. It's possible to climb over the pile of boulders behind StonyIvy rock to reach Chipman Strand. At low tide it's also possible to clamber along the rocks of Chipman Strand all the way to Dizzard Point and even to Cancleave Strand, but great care must be taken not to get cut off by the tide. The rock formations on the beaches here are truly impressive, possibly even more than at the more well-known and accessible Millook Haven.

  17. Cross the footbridge and carefully follow the path to ascend the steep side of the valley. Just past the bridge there's an alternate route to the right which avoids the initial section and rejoins the main path a little further up. Follow the steps to the top of the cliff and continue to reach a stile in the fence at the top of the headland.

    The name "Dizzard" is from the Cornish word deseth. In case you hadn't already guessed, it means "very steep"!

  18. Cross the stile and follow the path to a bench on the corner of the fence. Bear right to follow the fence and continue to a gate.
  19. Go through the gate and follow the path through a kissing gate and into some woods at the bottom of the valley.
  20. Follow the path through the woods, over some wooden footbridges and up the other side of the valley until you reach a waymark next to some wooden steps on the right.

    The woods on the cliffs of Dizzard are more than 6,000 years old. The trees include sessile oak and wild service trees, stunted by the salty winds. Wild service berries were used to make a strong alcoholic liqueur. The berries and associated spirit are known in some areas as "chequers" and this is thought to be the origin of a number of pubs with this name.

  21. At the waymark, continue ahead on the coast path, passing through a gate, until it ends in a kissing gate into a field.
  22. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the left edge of five fields (crossing stiles as needed), until you eventually reach a waymark, where a path descends into some woods on the left.
  23. Follow the path through the woods, over a stream, back up the other side of the valley and into a field to reach a waymark.

    The ancient broadleaf woodland along the coast and along the valley here supports a population of bluebells.

    In Old Cornish, both bluebells and marigolds where known as lesengoc which translates to "flower of the cuckoo". In Modern Cornish, the marigold has remained more-or-less the same but the bluebell has been changed to bleujenn an gog ("plant of the cuckoo"). The association between bluebells and cuckoos exists in Welsh ("bells of the cuckoo") and Gaelic ("cuckoo's shoe"), and in some English folk names such as Cuckoo's Boots and Cuckoo Stockings. It is thought that the association is due to the time that bluebells flower coinciding with the time that the call of the cuckoo is first heard.

  24. From the waymark, follow the left hedge to a little waymark. From here, keep left along the edge of the field to reach a fence in front of a garden.

    In autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. The sloe gin produced from sloes in September and October seems just as good but possibly requires a little more sugar to compensate.

  25. Follow the path along the fence, past a footpath to the beach, to reach a stile. Cross the stile and follow the coast path for about half a mile through gates and over stiles until it eventually ends at a stile onto a lane, opposite a signpost to Millook Haven.

    The rocky beach at the bottom of the cliff on your left is Cancleave Strand.

    Cancleave Strand is a rocky beach to the west of Millook Haven. The foreshore of Cancleave Strand consists of impressively folded rock strata which have been upended and eroded by the sea creating a maze of rocky ridges. The offshore island on the right side of the beach is, like many other offshore rocks in Cornwall, known as Gull Rock. There are quite good views of the beach from the coast path at low tide, but if you're feeling brave and the tide is out, it is possible to reach the beach. However note the warning on the sign beside the path which offers the words of encouragement: "informal access to beach via roped descent on eroding cliff face".

  26. Turn left and follow the lane downhill to Millook Haven.

    At low tide, a series of delicate reefs is revealed.

    Honeycomb Worm reefs are fascinating structures, built out of sand on the lower shore. The large golden hummocks have an intricate honeycomb structure up to several metres across and a metre deep. Filter-feeding worms, about 3-4cm long, live in tubes, fanning out plankton from the passing water and capturing particles of shell and rock to build their tubes. Each worm can live for 3-5 years, although the overall reefs last much longer. Although quite brittle, the reefs provide a habitat for a number of other species including anemones, barnacles, limpets, winkles, whelks, mussels and crabs.

    The worms need hard rock to build on, and sand to build with, so their requirements are very specific: there must be enough wave action to bring a supply of sand to the rocky areas, but not so much that the worms are blasted off the rocks. The formation of reefs is assisted by a clever biological mechanism. Honeycomb worm larvae drift around in seawater and could settle anywhere to grow into adults. However, the presence of existing worm colonies, or their dead remains, strongly stimulates any passing larvae to settle out at that location, helping to ensure that the reef continues to grow.

  27. From Millook Haven, continue along the lane and follow it over the river. Walk a short distance uphill to the coast path sign.

    Millook Haven is a pebble beach at mid-high tide, though there is some sand at the very lowest part of the tide. The cliffs behind the beach have impressive zig-zag folding patterns, formed 320 million years ago. The rocks are part of the "Crackington Formation": thin layers of sandstones and shales, deformed by the tectonic plate collision at the end of the Carboniferous period, that crumpled the earth's crust, giving rise to the tors of Bodmin Moor.

  28. Turn left onto the coast path and climb up to Bridwill Point, to a gate next to a bench. Go through the gate and follow the coast path along Penhalt Cliff to Foxhole Point where the path goes through another gate, down some steps, and you reach a lane next to a signpost.

    The fossilised remains of plant stems and ammonite-like creatures from about 320 million years ago can be found in lilac and grey shales at the far north end of Millook Haven, at Foxhole Point. However, these are quite poorly preserved, which perhaps isn't that surprising when you see what has happened to the rock beds in the middle of Millook Haven.

  29. Turn left onto the lane and follow it, for a quarter of a mile, past the Adventure holiday centre and a house called "Barford" to reach a wooden Coast Path signpost.

    Whilst much of the rock along the Tintagel and Boscastle coast is slate, the rocks around Bude are sandstones and shales. Where the softer upended rock layers have been eroded by the sea, a series of ridges has been formed such as at the sides of the beaches at Widemouth, Northcott Mouth and Sandymouth, creating many rockpools.

  30. Turn left down the path and go through the kissing gate next to the gate. Follow the path over the stream and continue to a fork in the path.

    The path to the left leads to the beach.

    At Wanson Mouth, just south of Widemouth Bay, goniatites (extinct ammonite-like creatures related to cuttlefish) can be found in the black mudstone layers between the layers of sandstone at the foot of the cliff, at the north of the beach.

  31. Keep right at the fork and follow the path to a footpath sign at the bottom of a flight of steps. Climb the steps and follow the path to reach a kissing gate.
  32. Go through the kissing gate to a waymark and bear left onto the track. Follow it to another waymark.
  33. At the waymark, bear right onto the gravel. Follow the path along the fence to a path along the cliffs. Follow this until you reach another kissing gate.
  34. Go through the gate and make your way to the first of the beach car parks. Follow the beach to reach the other car parks which are located at the opposite end.

    Widemouth Bay is the southernmost of the sandy beaches around Bude. As the name implies, this is a substantial stretch of sand and faces west into the Atlantic. Consequently, when there is a big surf running, there can be some absolutely monster waves at Widemouth which can make you wonder why going surfing seemed like a good idea at the time. In the autumn and winter, it's a good place to see expert surfers.

    In the past, sloops from Wales would use Widemouth as a port (in the most basic sense), unloading goods such as coal and limestone; and taking Cornish wares back to Wales such as granite, slate, tin, copper and even Cornish pasties! The beaches in the bay are now the landing points for many Transatlantic cables linking the USA and UK, supporting an altogether different kind of surfing.

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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