St Gennys Church to Dizzard

Starting near the church at St Gennys, the walk crosses the fields and a wooded valley to reach the coast where a Celtic fortress once stood on Castle Point. The route then follows the coast past Cleave Strand and down the steep-sided valley at Slade where it's possible to get down onto the beaches which have amazing rock formations. The walk continues up Chipman Point and then turns inland where the return route is on country lanes, farm tracks and footpaths across the fields and wooded valleys.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7.0 km
  • Grade: Strenuous
  • Start from: the lay-by at St Gennys Church
  • Parking: Lay-by at St Gennys Church. Follow the A39 to Wainhouse Corner then follow signs to St Gennys Church Satnav: EX230NW
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • St Gennys church, which has origins in the 7th century, located on the clifftop
  • Rugged coastline and isolated rocky coves
  • Wildlife including birds, bees and butterflies on the coastal wildflowers
  • Ancient woodland around Dizzard with bluebells in Spring

Directions

  1. From the lay-by, with the church on your right, bear left a short distance to a junction. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane downhill until you reach a gate with a sign for St Gennys House with a footpath sign to the right.

    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".

  2. Go through the metal kissing gate below the footpath sign and follow the left hedge of the field to reach a gap roughly half-way along the hedge at the bottom of the field.

    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.

  3. Follow the path through the gap, beneath the trees and down a couple of steps into a field. Follow the left hedge to the corner then continue straight ahead across the field, following the path downhill to where it enters the woods.

    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.

  4. Follow the path down through the woods, across a footbridge and up the other side of the valley to where it joins the coast path at a waymark.

    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).

  5. Turn right and follow the coast path through a gate and onwards until you reach a stile.

    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.

  6. 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, also known as furze, is present as two species (Common Gorse and Western Gorse) along the Atlantic coast. Between the species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century). Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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"!

  12. 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.
  13. Go through the gate and follow the path through a kissing gate and into some woods at the bottom of the valley.
  14. 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.

  15. When you reach the waymark, turn right up the steps and follow the path waymarked to Dizzard Road until you reach a stile into a field.
  16. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a stile onto a track.
  17. Cross the stile onto the track, then cross a waymarked stile next to the leftmost of the two gates on your right side. Once in the field, follow the left hedge until you reach a path that descends through a gap in the trees, with a waymark attached to one of the trees.

    The combination of the Great British Weather and a tonne of cow balanced on stilt-like legs can result in some muddy tracks and gateways to navigate, ideally without sinking below the level of your walking boots (or wellies in extreme cases!). Some suggestions for avoiding liquid-filled socks are:

    • Know your enemy: use a stick as a dipstick to assess how deep the mud is. A lake of extremely unpromising liquid mud may only turn out be a couple of inches deep.
    • If there are any rocks nestling in the mud, these are usually a good bet to stand on. Generally they would have already sunk if they weren't on fairly solid ground.
    • Clumps of grass have a root system that means you’re less likely to sink than in areas with no vegetation.
    • Where there are wheel ruts, the bottom of the ruts are often the firmest ground, having been compressed under several tonnes of tractor. However, ruts filled with deep water are best avoided as mud will have washed in with the water so the overall depth will be hard to estimate.
  18. Follow the path down through the trees to descend a bank. At the bottom of the bank, bear right onto the path and follow this to a waymark beside a footbridge.
  19. Cross the footbridge and stile into a field. Follow the left hedge uphill until you reach an old stile beside an open gateway in a fence.
  20. Go through the gateway and continue to follow the left hedge until you reach a gate onto a track.
  21. Go through the gate and follow the track to a gate into a farmyard.
  22. Go through the gate into the farmyard and continue straight ahead through any closed gates and along a short track to reach a lane.

    The farm here specialises in breeding Zwartbles sheep, a black breed which you may see in the fields.

    The Zwartbles breed of sheep is originally from the Netherlands, originally primarily used for their milk. In the 20th Century, they declined significantly until by the mid-1970s they were listed as critically rare by the Dutch Rare Breed Survival Trust. Recently, the sheep has made a comeback in Britain as they produce excellent meat and wool; also being from a cold, wet, windy area of the Netherlands, the UK climate is not a problem. In Cornwall, they develop golden surfer highlights in the sunshine, and are known for being a "chilled-out" breed of sheep.

  23. Turn right and follow the lane until you reach a junction on the right signposted to Tresmorn.

    On the lane, you pass a house on the right named "Nance Vean", followed by another name "Valley View" which gives a hint about the former. nans is the Cornish word for "valley" and vean means "little", referring to the hanging valley above Chipman Strand.

  24. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until it forks into two tracks at a Tresmorn signpost.

    On the lane, you pass a house on the left called "Garth Vean".

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a 'hill' in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means 'breast' as well as hill.
  25. Take the left track signposted to Lower Tresmorn and follow it to a gateway into a parking area in front of a barn.

    Tresmorne is a pair of hamlets situated on the opposite side of the valley from St Genny's Church, near Crackington Haven. Between the hamlets of Lower and Higher Tresmorn, is a complex of earthworks which are the remains of a mediaeval village dating back to the 10th Century. This consisted of fifteen or more crofts, arranged on either side of a sunken trackway.

    The surviving buildings at Higher and Lower Tresmorn are also thought to incorporate substantial remains of mediaeval buildings. If their dating is correct, it is likely these were more important buildings than the crofts: one was a hall-house, the other a three room longhouse.

  26. Go through the gateway and follow the track to the left side of the barn. Continue straight ahead along the track to reach a wooden gate with a Permissive Access map.
  27. Go through the gate and continue straight ahead through another gate. Follow the track until it ends at a wooden gate and a path leads off to the left.
  28. Bear left onto the path and follow it until a path departs to the left just before it ends in a gate.
  29. Turn left and follow the path downhill through the gate. Continue to reach a paved driveway with a footpath sign pointing to the right.
  30. Turn right and follow the driveway past a cottage. Keep right across the parking area to join a track and follow it until it ends in front of a cottage called "Able's".
  31. Follow a path around the right side of the cottage. Continue to follow the right hedge through the garden to reach a gate into a field.
  32. Go through the gate and turn left (signposted "Church"), following the left hedge downhill until you reach a stile in the bottom corner.

    The trees along the edge of the field are covered in an impressive amount of lichen.

    Lichens are a partnership of two different organisms: a fungus providing the "accommodation" and an alga or cyanobacterium providing the "food" through photosynthesis. The fungal partner provides a cosy, sheltered environment for the alga and tends it with mineral nutrients. However, the alga partner is more than simply an imprisoned food-slave: it is such a closely-evolved alliance that the fungus is dependant on the alga for its shape and structure. If the fungal partner is isolated and grown on an agar plate, it forms a shapeless, infertile blob.

  33. Cross the stile and follow the path down into the woods to reach a footbridge. Cross the bridge and turn right, continuing to follow the path until it emerges into a field.

    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)'.

  34. When you reach the edge of the field, head straight uphill until you can see the church, then head for the church until you reach the right hedge. Continue along the hedge to the corner of the field.

    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.

  35. Retrace your steps to the start of the walk by going up the steps marked with the footpath sign, following the right hedge of the next field to the kissing gate and following the lane back to the junction near 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.

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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