Sandymouth to Coombe Valley

Starting at Sandymouth, the route follows the coast to Duckpool where a quiet, sandy beach is exposed at low tide. The walk then heads inland via the hamlet of Coombe where the buildings are owned by the Landmark Trust. The walk continues through the woods of the Coombe Valley, before returning through the site of the manor at Stowe Barton and then following bridleways back to Sandymouth.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 126 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Sandymouth National Trust car park
  • Parking: National Trust car park. Follow the A39 about 3 miles north of Bude, then turn left towards Stibb and Sandymouth. Drive through Stibb, then turn left towards Sandymouth rather than following the road to Coombe. The National Trust car park is at the end of the road. Satnav: EX239HW
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in the summer; boots in winter

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Huge sandy beach at Sandymouth
  • Panoramic coastal views between Sandymouth and Duckpool
  • Pebbles, sand and rockpools at Duckpool beach
  • Quaint hamlet of Coombe
  • Pretty woodland nature reserve in Coombe Valley
  • Historical site of Stowe Barton manor

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, follow the track towards the beach, past Sandymouth Café, to a signpost.

    Sandymouth lies between two headlands - Steeple Point and Menachurch Point - and is the longest beach in the Bude area, measuring over a mile long at low tide. At low Spring Tides, it joins with Northcott Mouth and Crooklets Beach to the south, creating an expanse of sand all the way to Bude. The seabed slopes sharply away from the beach, producing strong surf which makes it dangerous for swimming but a popular surfing spot.

  2. At the signpost, take the track on the right, through the kissing gate signposted to Duckpool. Follow the path ahead, across the grass to a footbridge.

    Before doing so, you may want to make a short diversion to visit Sandymouth beach: follow the track straight ahead down to the sea, then return to this point to resume the walk.

  3. Cross the footbridge and go straight ahead, leaving the main coast path and passing a bench on your right. Continue straight ahead up the hill until you cross a path just short of the cliff edge.

    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.

  4. At the top of the cliff, bear right and follow the path, keeping left along the coast until you reach the edge of a valley.

    The Herring Gull is the gull most commonly encountered in Cornwall and is an example of a "Ring Species": in Europe, the Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull are distinct species, yet as you circumnavigate the globe, the populations become more similar until they merge in the middle as a single species.

    Despite a growth of urban populations inland, particularly around rubbish tips, the Herring Gull population has dropped to half its size in 25 years. It has been driven inland in search of food and roosting sites due to declining fish populations and lack of undisturbed coastal nesting sites. In urban areas, streetlights allow gulls to forage by night and there is no longer competition from Red Kites, which scavanged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

  5. Turn right and follow the path along the ridge; then bear left downhill to a kissing gate.

    The fulmar is a grey and white bird related to an Albatross although it can be mistaken at a distance for a gull. Close up, the beak is the giveaway: the fulmar has a tube on its beak which is visible as a black bar across the beak at a distance. The tube is a gland for excreting salt from the seawater that they drink. As a defense mechanism, the fulmar regurgitates foul smelling oil from its stomach - the name comes from the Old Norse for "foul" (full) and "gull" (mar). The oil, potentially fatally disrupts the waterproofing of predatory birds' feathers in a similar way to a crude-oil spill, so they avoid preying on fulmars.

  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the coast path, signposted to Duckpool, to a gate at the top of Warren Gutter.

    This is a nice example of a hanging valley, which are common along the North Cornish coast.

    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!

  7. Go through the gate and descend into the valley to reach a tiny footbridge, crossing the stream.

    The satellite dishes that you can see ahead, are part of the array at 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.

  8. Cross the stream and keep left, following the path up the other side of Warren Gutter and across some footbridges. Continue along the coast until you eventually reach a gate above the valley at Duckpool.
  9. Go through the gate and follow the path into the valley, to a footbridge over a stream.

    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.

  10. Cross the bridge and turn left; follow the waymarked path to a gate.
  11. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow the lane until it ends in a T-junction.

    Duckpool is the next bay north from Sandymouth near Bude. Duckpool is a pebble beach at high tide but as the tide goes out, sand and rock pools are revealed. Strong currents make swimming here unsafe but it's another popular spot for surfers. The beach gets its name from the pool of fresh water, contained behind a natural dam of pebbles and fed by the stream from the Coombe Valley.

    The waters around the bay contain submerged rocks and are treacherous for shipping. Numerous ships have been wrecked along this part of the coast, such as the Juantio, a Spanish brig that lost her way and hit the rocks at Duckpool on 15th January 1865, with the loss of one crew member.

  12. At the junction, turn left and follow the lane approximately 50m to a junction on the right.
  13. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane to a ford in the hamlet of Coombe.

    Most houses in the hamlet of Coombe are owned by the Landmark Trust, a charity which rescues buildings of historic or architectural importance, and makes them available to the public as holiday accommodation.

  14. Cross the footbridge on the left side of the ford. Then as the lane bends sharply left, take the footpath to the right signposted to Coombe Valley. Follow this until you eventually reach a pedestrian gate.

    At the start of the footpath, the derelict buildings you can see through the trees to your right, are part of Coombe Mill.

    Coombe Mill is situated next to the hamlet of Coombe beside the footpath leading up the valley. The disused four-level complex is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the five species of bat that now inhabit the mill's buildings. It is one of the largest breeding sites for lesser horseshoe bats in England.

  15. Go through the gate and continue to follow the path until another path leaves from the left.
  16. At the fork, continue to follow the path straight ahead, along the valley floor, until you reach another fork in the path.

    The woodland to the north (your left) of the river is known as Lee Wood after Lee Barton at the top of the hill. To the south of the river, the woodland is known as Stowe Wood and was once part of the estate of Stowe Manor.

    The paths through Lee Wood and Stowe Woods, adjacent to the hamlet of Coombe, were laid in 1970 by the Forestry Commission as part of the Coombe Valley Nature Trail, when many of the conifer plantations were created. Coombe is a Cornish word for "valley", so "Coombe Valley" is another of the tautologies which have arisen from appending an English word to an already fully descriptive Cornish name.

  17. Turn right at the fork and follow the path, over the stream and up the other side of the valley, until you reach a junction with a number of other paths.

    Due to the cartographers of the Victorian gentry not understanding the meaning of the Cornish place names, a number of place names we have today in Cornwall have become tautological, translating to things like "cove beach" or "valley valley".

    • Glynn Valley (Glynn means valley)
    • Porth Beach (Porth means cove)
    • Pentire Point (Pentire means headland)
  18. Turn right at the junction and cross a small stream to reach another fork in the path.
  19. At the fork, bear left and follow the path slightly uphill to a kissing gate signposted to Stowe Barton.

    In Spring and early Summer, woodland here is carpeted in Wild Garlic.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  20. Go through the gate and follow the path, straight ahead, across a field, until you reach a large tree on the right.

    The brick wall, on your right, is a surviving part of the original 17th century Stowe Barton mansion.

    Stowe Barton manor, situated on the edge of the Coombe Valley, was a country house, built in 1679 for the first Earl of Bath, John Grenville. It was demolished, a mere 60 years later, by the Earl's daughter. When John Grenville died in 1701, the house passed to one of his daughters who had married and moved away. Faced with the expense of maintaining a house which was no longer the main residence, the daughter had the house demolished in 1739, with many of its internal fittings ending up in other country houses in Cornwall and Devon.

    An earlier Tudor mansion on the site was itself demolished to make way for the 17th century house. The current farmhouse is largely 19th century but its position and T-shape plan suggest it may originally have been built from part of the stable block belonging to the 17th century house.

  21. As you reach the trees, keep left and follow the fence past a house and along to a kissing gate in the corner of the field.
  22. Go through the kissing gate, then turn left along the track and follow it until you reach a waymarked rock on the left of the track.
  23. At the waymarked rock, turn left and cross the field to the gate in the corner.
  24. Go through the gate and cross the lane to the bridleway opposite. Follow the bridleway until you reach a signpost at a junction.
  25. At the signpost, go straight ahead in the direction of Sandymouth and follow the track until it ends at a number of gates.
  26. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left and follow the left hedge until you reach the corner. Turn left at the corner and follow the fence on the right until you reach a corner in the fence.

    A few different factors all combine to vary the colour of the sea:

    A glass in your hand might lure you into thinking otherwise, but pure water is faintly blue. The main wavelengths that the chemical bonds in water absorb are either in the infra-red or ultra-violet, and not in the visible spectrum, which is why a glass of pure water does not look coloured. However one fairly obscure harmonic of the vibrations in the water molecule corresponds to the wavelength of red light and so water very weakly absorbs the red from white light, giving it a very slightly blue tinge. If there is enough water, both the blue tinge and reflection of blue light by any suspended particles make it look blue.

    Another factor is that the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror and reflects the colour of the sky and this is why it may appear grey under a cloudy sky. Under a blue sky, this intensifies the blueness.

    In shallow water, the sand which is golden in Cornwall due to fragments of seashell, reflects yellow light and this combines with the blue from seawater to generate colours from green to turquoise. The ocean also sometimes appears green due to the presence of planktonic plant life.

    The Cornish language has a word glas (often appearing in place names as "glaze") which is the Swiss Army Knife of sea colour descriptions. It means blue, or green, or grey.

  27. At the corner, turn right and follow the fence on your right until you reach the corner of the fence.
  28. Bear left to a gap in the middle of the hedge ahead.
  29. Go through the gap in the hedge and bear right to meet the fence. Follow this to reach a signpost.
  30. At the signpost, turn left away from the gate and follow the path downhill until you reach a pedestrian gate leading to a wooden walkway.
  31. Go through the gate, along the wooden walkway and up the steps to reach a fence. Follow the path along the fence until you finally descend next to the gate where you started the walk.
  32. Turn left at the bottom of the path and go through the gate to return to the café and car park at Sandymouth.

    There are remains of a shipwreck on the left side of Sandymouth.

    The shipwreck that can be seen at low tide at Northcott Mouth at the northern end near Menachurch Point is of the SS Belém. The ship ran aground on the 20th November 1917 and 33 men were rescued. The Belém was a steam-powered cargo ship, originally built in Germany in 1890, and had recently been bought by a Portugese freight company. The visible remains include the propeller shaft and the boilers. Another section of the propeller shaft was used as the support for the barrel on Barrel Rock, on the end of Bude Breakwater.

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.

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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