Boscastle to Minster Church circular walk

Boscastle to Minster Church

A short circular walk from Boscastle through bluebell woodland alongside the River Valency to the ancient Celtic churchyard and sacred spring at Minster, returning along the River Jordan, beside which Bottreaux Castle was once situated, and Boscastle's Old Road.

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The walk starts at Boscastle Harbour and follows the River Valency, inland, up the Valency Valley. It then turns into Minster Valley, at the top of which sits the ancient Minster Church. From here, the walk crosses into the Jordan Valley and after passing Boscastle's oldest pub, descends the valley along the now tucked-away Fore Street and Old Street which were once Boscastle's main road.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 2.6 miles/4.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Boscastle
  • Pretty riverside and woodland scenery in the Valency valley
  • Bluebells and wild garlic in the woodland in spring
  • Ancient Minster church
  • Daffodils in the churchyard in March
  • Passes all 3 of Boscastle's pubs and some of Boscastle's oldest houses

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Cobweb Inn
  • The Napoleon Inn
  • The Wellington Hotel


  1. Make your way towards the exit of the car park near the Cobweb Inn but walk away from the road to reach the wall at the back of the car park by the river. Turn left so the wall is on your right and follow along this, down a slope to the river. Then follow the path alongside the river to reach a waymark beside some granite stepping stones.

    Boscastle is a small fishing village located on the North Cornish coast, just north of Tintagel. Boscastle is one of the few sheltered inlets on the North Cornish coast and therefore a likely landing point for tin traders of ancient times, possibly as far back as Phoenician traders in 2000 BC. The river also provided power for a number of mills which date back at least as far as the 12th Century. In more recent times, as well as being a fishing harbour, Boscastle was a small port (similar to the others on the north coast of Cornwall) importing raw materials such as limestone and coal, and exporting slate and other local produce. In Victorian times, as many as 200 vessels came each year, mostly from Bristol and South Wales.

    In 1302 the name was recorded as Boterelescastel which meant "castle of the Botterels". It's possible this became shortened to bos because this was the Cornish word for dwelling ("bos-castel" would have been understood by Cornish speakers as "village with the castle" as the word kastell also existed in Cornish).

  2. Continue ahead on the path (waymarked to New Mills) to reach a gate.

    Streams from the marshes of the Otterham Downs give rise to the River Valency which is then fed by five more rivers on its way to Boscastle. The name "Valency" has been explained as a corruption of the Cornish Melinjy (i.e. "Melin chy" = Mill-house) from the mill which existed in Boscastle in mediaeval times.

    The steep Valency Valley acted as a funnel for the dramatic flash flood in 2004 that put Boscastle on (and nearly wiped it off) the map. Over 1.4 billion litres of rain fell in the course of 2 hours which is thought to have been caused by the Brown Willy effect, where the high tors on Bodmin Moor cause the repeated formation of rain clouds which blow along the prevailing wind and then dump their rain. Around 50 cars were swept into the harbour, the bridge was washed away and roads were submerged under 9ft of water. A total of 91 people were rescued in the largest peacetime rescue operation ever carried out in the UK.

  3. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a footbridge.

    In spring, wild garlic grows beneath the trees.

    Unlike their more versatile narrow-leaved cousins the three-cornered leeks, ramsons grow mainly in shady places such as woodland. Their broad leaves are solar panels that have evolved to capture the weak winter light early in the year before the trees are in leaf. They are an indicator that woodland is ancient and has provided a shady environment over a long period to colonise.

    The broadleaf trees in the valley include sycamore.

    Since its reintroduction, sycamore has spread widely as the seeds are extremely fertile and able to grow just about anywhere where the ground is sufficiently wet. In particular they can grow within the shade of the parent tree, creating dense cover that crowds-out other species. In some areas it is regarded as an invasive weed.

  4. Cross the bridge and bear right to follow the path uphill through the woods. Continue until eventually you reach a waymark where the path forks.

    Minster Wood, in the Valency valley, is an ancient broadleaf woodland which has had continuous tree cover for at least 400 years, providing a habitat for many fern species. The woods consist of native trees but are not entirely wild, having been managed since Norman times by the monks of the priory of Minster. Up to the 19th Century, bark was collected for tanning, and charcoal was generated by burning coppiced trees.

  5. At the waymark, take the right (lower) path and follow it to a gate into the churchyard.

    Just before you go through the gate into the churchyard, at the end of the fence to the left is the grave of a "witch".

    Joan Wytte, known as the "Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town", was unjustly condemned as a witch in the 18th century and died in Bodmin Jail. For many years, her skeleton hung unceremoniously in the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle. When the museum was taken over, the new owner wanted to give her a proper burial. However, as an alleged witch, the Church would not allow her to be buried on consecrated ground. Therefore her grave is just outside the perimeter of the churchyard.

  6. Go through the gate into the churchyard and follow the path ahead towards the church to climb some steps to the church building.

    The path leading off to the right passes Minster Holy Well.

    Minster Holy Well is situated alongside the path through the churchyard from Peter's Wood to the church. Due to the tree cover and its position below a steep bank, the Holy Well tends to collect leaf litter and mud washed out by the rain, and is therefore somewhat unglamorous in appearance. However it is probably closer to the original Celtic form than many other sacred springs which have been "improved" by the Christian church either in Mediaeval or Victorian times.

  7. Bear right at the top of the steps and keep the church on your left to reach a metal railing (the church entrance is around the far side if you want to have a look inside). Follow the path with the railing uphill out of the churchyard to reach a gate onto the lane.

    Minster (St Merthiana's) Church, in a valley on the outskirts of Boscastle, is on a site which dates back 1500 years to Celtic times. It was originally known as "Tolcarne" which means literally "rocky hole" and has been interpreted as meaning a chapel made from rocks. Parts of the church there today dates back to 1150, built by William de Bottreaux. The church was restored twice after falling into disrepair, so there are some features that date back to the Tudor period and others to Victorian times. Look out for the mysterious carved scissors on the tower wall. No one knows why they're there! Suggestions include a trademark of the stonemason, or an homage to the wool trade which funded the church restoration. In early spring, the church is surrounded by a carpet of daffodils and wild garlic.

  8. Go through the gate onto the lane, turn right and follow it up the hill to a junction.

    The church building at Minster and surrounding countryside in the Valency Valley provide ideal habitat for the endangered species, the Greater Horseshoe bat which forages for moths and beetles in the nearby woods and pastures. The colony at Minster is the largest known in Cornwall, containing around 5% of the entire UK population. The bats can be seen in summer emerging from their roosts about half an hour after sunset.

  9. At the junction, bear right to stay on the lane and follow the lane until you reach a stone stile leading over the wall on the right with a public footpath sign.

    The gnarled trees on the right are hawthorn.

    In Mediaeval times, bringing hawthorn blossom into the house was thought to bring death and it was described as smelling like the Great Plague. The explanation for this is thought to be that the hawthorn blossom contains trimethylamine which is one of the first chemicals formed when animal tissue decays. Young leaves of the plant can be used in salads as the chemical is not present in the leaves so these taste nutty rather than of death.

  10. Cross the stone stile on the right signposted to Boscastle and go through the kissing gate. Head across the field, towards the church in the distance, to a stile in the left corner of the far hedge.

    St. Symphorian's Church, on Forrabury Common above Boscastle, was originally built over 900 years ago and featured in the poetry of J.S. Hawker as "the silent tower of Bottreaux". According to legend, it has no bells because the ship carrying them was hit by a freak wave and went down just off the coast, with only one survivor. In Victorian times, the main part of the church was rebuilt and extended significantly, but the original Norman tower was left intact.

  11. Cross the stile and then another stile into a field, then follow the left hedge to a kissing gate on the left near the river.

    To make blackberry wine, combine 2kg blackberries + 4 litres of boiling water in a plastic container with a lid. Once the water has cooled to lukewarm, mash blackberries and add red wine yeast and pectic enzyme (blackberries contain pectin so this is needed to stop the wine being cloudy). Cover for 4-5 days then strain through muslin.

    Transfer the liquid to a demijohn and add 1kg of sugar. Top up with a little more water to make it up to a gallon. After fermentation, the wine should clear by itself; in the unlikely event that it doesn't, use some finings. Rack off from the sediment and bottle; it's worth allowing the wine a year or two to mature as it massively improves with age. As a variation, you can add 500g of elderberries and increase the sugar content for a more port-like wine which will need a couple of years longer for the elderberry tannins to mellow out.

    Bramble roots are perennial but its shoots last just two years. In the first year, the shoots grow vigorously (up to 8cm in one day!). In the second year, the shoots mature and send out side-shoots with flowers.

  12. Go through the kissing gate and keep right past a footbridge to follow the path on the right-hand side of the stream until it joins a track next to a house.

    The stream is known as Treforda Water and is a tributary of the River Jordan.

    Gunnera looks like giant rhubarb but the leaves stems are spiky. It tends to favour damp places as quite a lot of water is needed to supply its huge leaves.

    The plant has a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria which live between its cells. The cyanobacteria, also known as "blue-green algae", are photosynthetic and also supply the host plant with nitrogen which allows it to colonise poor soils.

  13. Bear left onto the track and follow it uphill to a fork in the track.

    Below the confluence of the Treforda Water and another stream, the river is known as the Jordan.

    The River Jordan joins the River Valency at the Bridge in Boscastle and collects water from another steep-sided valley, doubling the floodwaters that descend on Boscastle in heavy rain. The name is thought to be a corruption of the French - jardin - from Norman times, and may refer to the gardens surrounding Bottreaux Castle, which could conceivably have run down to the river. The River Jordan was originally the dividing line between the separate parishes of Forrabury and Minster until they were united in 1702.

  14. Keep left at the fork and follow the track until it ends at a road.

    Where the path meets the road, a short diversion up the hill to the left, just on the other side of the crossroads, is the Napoleon Inn.

    The Napoleon Inn is a public house located in Boscastle, just uphill from the junction between the old main road and the road to Camelford. The inn is Boscastle's oldest pub, built in the 16th Century. It was a recruiting office during the Napoleonic wars. The landlord joined up with Wellington to go to Waterloo and so was called "Napoleon man" on his return - hence the name of his pub.

  15. Turn right downhill on Fore Street, which becomes Dunn Street and then Old Road as it descends the Jordan Valley, finally emerging next to the Wellington Hotel.

    The Wellington Hotel is located at the bottom of the old main road in Boscastle, across the road from the harbour. "The Welly", as it's known locally, is the old village coaching inn. Some parts of the building are 4 centuries old, but most of it dates from 1853 when the number of travellers to the area increased. It was once called the Bos Castle Hotel, but was renamed on the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852. The lamps are originally from St Juliot Church and were quite possibly designed by Thomas Hardy.

  16. Turn right on the road at the junction just past the Wellington Hotel and follow it across the bridge to the Cobweb Inn.

    The steep-sided valley of the river Valency forms a sheltered natural harbour at Boscastle. The two stone harbour walls date back to Elizabethan times, built in 1584. The outer breakwater was built in 1820, but destroyed in 1941 by a drifting mine and then rebuilt by the National Trust.

    The harbour was very difficult to approach in a sailing ship and it was not safe for ships to enter under their own sail. On a ship's arrival, a boat with eight men, known as a "hobbler", would go out to tow them into the harbour, whilst men on the shore held the ship in the middle of the channel, using ropes.

  17. Turn right into the car park to complete the walk.

    The Cobweb Inn is a public house located in Boscastle at the south-east edge of the village, opposite the public car park. The inn was previously a wine cellar and flour store dating from the late 1700s. It has traditionally always had cobwebs hung from the roof beams as apparently this was thought to keep flies off stored wines and spirits. It was converted to a pub in 1947 when tourism to North Cornwall surged after the end of the war. The cobwebs remained on the beams until the 1990s, when Health and Safety inspectors required that they be removed.

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