Morwenstow to Stanbury Mouth

The walk starts at Morwenstow Church and reaches the coast on the cliffs above St Morwenna's Well. The walk then joins the coast path past Hawker's Hut and across the Tidna Valley to the old coastguard lookout on Higher Sharpnose Point. The route continues along the coast to Stanbury Mouth where a path leads onto the beach. The return route is via the manors of Stanbury and Tonnacombe and ending at the Bush Inn and Rectory Tea Rooms beside the church.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 126 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.8 miles/6.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Rectory Tea Rooms car park
  • Parking: Church car park in front of the Rectory Tea Rooms. Follow signs from the A39 to the Bush Inn and then to the Rectory Tea Rooms Satnav: EX239SR
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Ornate Morwenstow church and rectory
  • Coastal views from Hawker's Hut - the National Trust's smallest building
  • Beach at Stanbury Mouth (sandy at low tide)
  • Pretty wildflowers on the coast path in spring and summer
  • Panoramic views from Higher Sharpnose Point
  • Local food and drink at the historic Bush Inn and Rectory Farm Tea Rooms

Directions

  1. Facing the church, turn left onto the track signposted to the Coast Path and follow it until you reach a gate.

    The church is dedicated to St Morwenna.

    St Morwenna was an early 6th century saint from Ireland, and is said to have been one of the many children of the Celtic King Brychan. She settled in Morwenstow and her brother, St Nectan, lived nearby at Hartland. Ethelwolf, the Saxon King, appointed Morwenna to be the tutor for his daughters, for which service, Morwenna requested land to build a church. It is recorded that as she lay dying, St. Nectan came to see her, and she asked him to raise her up so that she might look once more on her native shore. She was buried at the church in Morwenstow.

    Images of her, in stained glass, may be seen in the Morwenstow parish church and a painting on the North Wall shows a gaunt female clasping a scroll to her breast with her left hand; the right arm is raised in blessing over a kneeling monk.

  2. Go through the kissing gate on the left of the gate and follow the track along the left hedge past a wooden gate to reach a gateway in the far hedge of the field.

    Brychan was a legendary Celtic king (originally born in Ireland) who ruled over Breconshire in South Wales. He had a large number of children, and most of these were reported to have evangelised Cornwall and North Devon, with many of the churches dedicated to them. Consequently, many of the place names in North Cornwall (St Teath, St Mabyn, St Endellion, St Minver, St Clether, Egloshale, Egloskerry, Advent, Morwenstow, Lelant etc) are from the names of his children. Brychan is buried on Lundy Island, known in the Celtic language as Ynys Brychan.

  3. Go through the gateway and follow the left hedge to reach another gate.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which were created in 1949 at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks. There is a single Cornwall AONB which is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are sections of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

    This walk lies within the northernmost of the coastal areas that make up the Cornwall AONB.

  4. Go through the kissing gate on the left of the gate and follow the left hedge until you reach a kissing gate beside a gateway on the cliff edge.

    St Morwenna's Well is located part-way down the cliff a short distance to the right of the waymark.

    Morwenna's Holy Well, restored by Rev Hawker, survives in a virtually inaccessible position part-way down the cliff at Morwenstow. It was lost for many years and rediscovered after much searching towards the end of the 20th Century. Following this, the National Trust cleared a rough path and provided ropes to assist descent half way down the 450 foot cliff to reach the well. In the early 1980s, before Health and Safety had been invented, the local primary school children were taken on a school trip here and fortunately survived to tell the tale. Subsequently the ropes were removed and the path became overgrown with brambles, nettles and blackthorn. During this period, the path was used by at least one local family as a test of dedication for potential suitors. Recently the path has been cleared again but is definitely not recommended without safety equipment as it is dangerously steep and precarious.

  5. Go through the kissing gate (or the field gate if open) and follow the right-hand edge of the field along the coast to reach a slate with a sign for Hawker's Hut.
  6. After having a look at the hut, continue along the coast to a kissing gate.

    Hawker built a small hut from driftwood, on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Morwenstow. He spent many hours there "communing with St Morwenna" (i.e. smoking opium) and writing his poems and letters. One of these was Cornwall's anthem - Trelawney - which he published anonymously but was later credited with, by Charles Dickens. Hawker's Hut is now the smallest building owned by the National Trust.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and follow the right-hand edge of the field until you reach a waymark.

    The name Morwenstow has been Saxonified at some point in history and had "stow" added to indicate the presence of the church, perhaps replacing a "lan-" at the start. According to legend, the "morwen" part comes from St Morwenna. However, it's also worth noting that mor is the Cornish word for "sea" and gwenn means "white", so it's also possible that the name may have its origins in the rough seas around the rocky shores here.

  8. Bear left from the waymark in the direction indicated to reach a kissing gate in the the fence roughly 20 metres inland from the corner of the field.
  9. Go through the gate and follow the zig-zag path downhill. Where the path emerges onto a wider path, head for the kissing gate that you can see in the fence to the right.
  10. Go through the gate and follow the footpath down to the bottom of the valley to reach a waymark.

    Several varieties of heather grow in Cornwall and are most easily recognised when they flower from July to September. The one with the most brightly coloured (purple) flowers is known as bell heather due to the bell-shaped flowers. This is usually interspersed with ling or common heather which has much smaller flowers which are usually paler and pinker. A third kind known as cross-leafed heath is less abundant but can be recognised by the pale pink bell-shaped flowers that grow only near the tips of the stems, resembling pink lollipops. A fourth species known as Cornish heath grows only on the Lizard and has elaborate flowers.

  11. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path over the bridge to a kissing gate. Go through this and follow the waymarked path to the top of Higher Sharpnose Point.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round. Their name comes from the sound of the call which sounds like stones being knocked together.

  12. At the point, the route continues to the left. The path to the right leads out to the end of the point where there are panoramic views. Continue following the coast path until you reach a wooden walkway over a small stream.

    The headland is known as Higher Sharpnose Point as there is another headland further along the coast to the south near the satellite dishes known simply as Sharpnose Point. The lookout building beside the coast path was built by the Coastguard. The Caledonia was wrecked on the headland here; the figurehead was salvaged and placed as a memorial in the churchyard.

  13. Continue on the path up the steps and over a walkway to reach a waymark. At the waymark, turn left to follow along the fence. Continue to reach a kissing gate.

    The satellite dishes ahead are part of GCHQ Bude.

    GCHQ Bude is a satellite ground station, just south of Morwenstow, comprised of 21 satellite antennas which are through to span the full range of communication frequencies. It is staffed by GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), the British signals intelligence service, and the United States NSA (National Security Agency). The activities at GCHQ remain classified but it's thought that the station specialises in the interception and decryption of electronic communications, both domestic and foreign. Prior to the GCHQ station, the site was the location of RAF Cleave, a World War 2 airfield used by Fighter Command.

  14. Go through (or around) the kissing gate. Follow the path to reach a waymark with a waymarked kissing gate on the left.

    On a sunny day you might see lizards disappearing into the undergrowth as they spot you walking along 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).

  15. Continue ahead to follow the coast path to a bench. Continue on the path to descend into the valley at Stanbury Mouth and reach a junction of paths beside a waymark.

    By-the-wind sailors can often be found stranded on the beaches along the coast here.

    By-the-wind sailors consist of a ring of blue jellyfish-like material around a central plastic-like sail and can sometimes be found blown onto beaches. Like jellyfish, they catch prey using stinging cells (not perceptible by humans although some people can get a rash).

    The direction of the sail along the float determines which way they travel. Those with a sail running top-left to bottom-right drift left of the wind, whereas those with top-right to bottom-left drift to the right of the prevailing wind direction.

    They are not a single organism, but a whole colony of coral-like polyps that are interconnected with a canal system to distribute the food caught in the tentacles. However each colony is all of a single gender. If that wasn't complicated enough, alternate generations are singular planktonic jellyfish-like creatures that don't even form a by-the-wind sailor, but their offspring do!

  16. The walk continues to the left but first you may want to visit the beach via the path to the right. To resume the walk, follow the footpath inland to reach a pair of gates.

    At high tide, Stanbury Mouth is a pebble beach but as the tide goes out, first a series of rocky ridges are revealed and then an expanse of sand. The beach is quite good for surfing when the tide is low although it's a long trek with a surfboard so it tends to only be the most dedicated locals. The relatively isolated location also means the beach is quite often visited by seals. The darkest grey pebbles occasionally contain fossils (visible on the surface where they have been polished by the sea) of ammonite-like creatures.

  17. Go through the left-hand pedestrian gate and follow the grassy track to a waymark at a bend.
  18. Go through the kissing gate ahead into the field. Follow along the right hedge of the field and bear left as you approach the far side to a stile roughly 20 metres from the corner of the field.

    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 can't avoid it: 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.
  19. Go through the gate and follow the winding path ahead to meet a fence. Follow along the fence until you reach a wooden gate in the fence.

    The wildflowers in the fields here are a good source of nectar for butterflies and bees.

    A popular misconception is that a butterfly was originally called flutterby. In fact, the name stems from the Old English word buttorfleoge which literally means "butterfly". Exactly why they were associated with butter is a bit of a mystery. One theory is that they were seen hovering over pails of milk and thought to be stealing or protecting the butter. Another is that the Yellow Brimstone was the species for which this name was first devised. The term "flutterby" is thought to have been coined by Shakespeare.

  20. Go through the gate and cross the footbridge. Follow the path up some steps and over a stile into a field. Once you emerge from the undergrowth, bear left to follow the path which runs roughly parallel to the left hedge then crosses the open field to reach a stile.

    Bumblebees were originally called "humble bees" and this name was still in use until early 20th century. There is an urban myth that according to aerodynamics, bumblebees should not be able to fly, leading to statements by US presidential candidates such as:

    It's scientifically impossible for the bumblebee to fly; but the bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, flies anyway.

    You may not be too surprised to discover this assertion was based on flawed calculations in the early 20th Century that neglected to include the bees flapping their wings. In fact, during flight, they beat their wings around 200 times every second. However, the buzzing sound they make is not from the beating wings but from the bee's vibrating flight muscles. On cold days, by using their flight muscles, the bees are able to warm up their bodies to temperatures as high as 30 Celcius. In spring, queen bumblebees need to visit up to 6,000 flowers per day to gather enough nectar and pollen to establish their colony.

  21. Cross the sequence of stiles then follow the left hedge to reach a gateway on the left with a metal gate ahead.
  22. Stop short of the gate onto the road and instead turn left to go through the opening into the field on the left, then cross the field to a stile just to the right of where the line of trees ends part-way along the hedge opposite.
  23. Cross the stile and continue ahead across the field until three gates in the hedge opposite come into view. Head to the middle gate of the three, almost directly ahead.
  24. Go through the gate and follow the grassy track to a yard.

    The settlement of Stanbury was recorded as Stanberi in 1201 and the name is Mediaeval English, meaning "stone fort". The buildings there now are much more recent.

  25. Turn right and follow the concrete track to a lane; turn left on the lane and walk a few paces to the Public Footpath sign on the opposite side for Crosstown.

    The top of the stile at the start of the Crosstown path is an architectural fragment from a mullioned window. It is likely that this may be a relic of the mediaeval manor house of either Stanbury or Tonacombe.

    The settlement of Tonacombe was first recorded in 1296 and the name is based on a personal name and the mediaeval English for "valley". In the mediaeval period there were at least three distinct tenements here with names such as Westovertunnecombe and by the Jacobean era there were at least six with names such as Nether West Tonacombe and Higher East Tonacombe. It is not known from which of these the mediaeval manor house that remains today survives.

  26. Climb the stile into the field and walk straight ahead across the field to a gate in the middle of the opposite hedge.

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairyness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration. Wheat is amazingly easy to turn into flour: once ripe, wheat grains easily pop out from the husk and a handful of these in a pestle and mortar results in lovely wholemeal flour. In contrast, the husk is very much more firmly stuck to barley grains and specialist mechanical processing is required to de-hull it, producing pearl barley.

  27. Go through the gate, cross the stile and go through the next gate. Walk straight ahead across the field towards the large house in the trees to reach a metal gate in the right-hand corner of the most set-back part of the far hedge.

    Barley is a fundamental part of the rural culture - the word "barn" literally means "barley house". During mediaeval times, only the ruling classes had bread made from wheat; the peasants' bread was made from barley and rye.

    Barley was one of the first domesticated crops and has been dated back over 10,000 years. Consequently beer made from barley is likely to have been one of the first alcoholic drinks consumed by the Neolithic tribes.

  28. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right of the gate and walk a few paces to a junction of tracks. Turn right and walk a few paces to a waymarked kissing gate. Go through this and follow the path to another kissing gate leading into a field.

    The house at Tonacombe dates from the Tudor period, thought to have been built in the reign of King Henry VII or VIII. It is described as "of exceptional architectural interest" and retains many 16th Century features including Elizabethan panelling and a spyhole from the master bedroom into the hall.

  29. Go through the kissing gate and cross the field to the gateway opposite.

    In 1918, a celtic stone cross was discovered buried upside-down in a field beside the church path where it had been used as a rubbing post for animals. The cross was moved to the (private) garden of the manor and is thought to have been constructed in the time of the Third Crusade around 1190. It is one of only four crosses in Cornwall made of grey elvan (the hard metamorphic rock forming many clifftop rock outcrops). It is also carved with an unusual design: it is based on the fairly common pattern of a cross on a wheel head, but each limb of the carved cross is itself crossed with a transverse bar close to the tip.

  30. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right of the farm gate and then follow the right hedge to reach a kissing gate leading onto a path ahead.
  31. Go through the gate and follow the path down into the woods to reach another gate.
  32. Go through the gate and keep right to follow the path around a bend and down the the stream. Cross a stone footbridge and continue through a gate to a waymark. Bear right in the direction indicated for Crosstown and follow the path up a flight of steps to a kissing gate.
  33. Go through the kissing gate into the field and head to another kissing gate in the middle of the opposite hedge.
  34. Go through the gate and turn left into the beer garden of the Bush Inn. Continue through the beer garden until you reach the car park.

    The Bush Inn at Morwenstow has a history dating back to 950AD, and is thought to have been a monk's rest on the pilgrimage from Wales to Spain, via the ports of North Devon and the Saints Way to Fowey. The current building dates from the 13th Century. A monastic cross is carved into the flagstone floor leading to the garden, and in the main bar is a Celtic piscina (shallow basin) made of serpentine.

  35. Bear left, across the car park, to the Rectory Tea Rooms sign.

    Rectory Farm is situated next to the church and Rectory at Morwenstow - thus the name. Rectory Farm dates back to 1296 when it belonged to an order of Monks. The house contains oak beams salvaged from shipwrecks, floors of local slate, and a number of antique furnishings. The house was opened as a Tea Room in 1950 and since then has won a number of awards. A number of the ingredients are grown on-site in the kitchen garden or are from the farm, and many others are locally sourced.

  36. Bear left onto the lane, signposted to the Rectory Farm Tea Rooms, to complete the circular route.

    St John's Well is located in the private gardens of the Old Vicarage but there is public access from the lane leading to the house. The first record of the well is from 1296 when it mentioned as ad quendam fontem Johannis. The building over the well is relatively recent but the stone cross embedded in its roof is thought to be mediaeval. The water from the well is still used for baptisms and also forms a gravity-fed water supply for the Old Vicarage; it is reported as making wonderful tea.

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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