Circular walk from Crackington Haven to St Genny's Church

Crackington Haven to St Genny's Church

A circular walk from the surf beach at Crackington Haven to the mediaeval church at St Genny's via the imposing Penkenna Point, where there are spectacular views of the bay and the secluded landing points used by some of North Cornwall's most notorious smugglers and wreckers.

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The route follows the Coast Path from Crackington Haven to Pencannow Point with nice views over the beach. The path zig-zags behind Great and Little Barton Strand to Castle Point and then passes the remnants of an Iron Age fort. The route then cuts through a wooded valley, which was once the route of smugglers, to St Genny's House and on to St Genny's Church. The return route follows the stream through the woods to Crackington Haven.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 3.2 miles/5.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • 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)


  • Spectacular panoramic views of the coastline from Pencannow Point
  • Sandy beach and rockpools at low tide on Crackington Haven
  • Pretty woodland along the valley floor leading to Crackington Haven, with bluebells in spring
  • Local food and drink at the Coombe Barton Inn
  • St Gennys church, which has origins in the 7th century, located on the clifftop

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Coombe Barton Inn


  1. From the back left corner of the car park, turn left onto a path and follow it to the road (keep right at the fork just before 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 shore life.

  3. Turn left onto the coast path and follow it up to Pencannow (known locally 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 coast path signs. Penkenna is likely to be a variation of the Cornish Pengenna, with pen meaning "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, head uphill to meet the top fence and then follow along this, keeping it on your left to reach a waymark post. 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 and 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 a kissing gate.

    The Crackington Formation is a rock formation that was created during the Carboniferous period when Britain lay just north of the equator. A river delta deposited sand and mud into a lake or lagoon and these became compressed into light-coloured sandstone and darker shale rocks. These layers were then tilted on their edge when ancient continents collided. The shales are much softer than the sandstone so these are eroded more easily by the sea, leaving behind ridges of sandstone. The water in the prehistoric river delta is thought to have been quite shallow as ripples from the waves above have been preserved in the surface of the sandstone - there are some nice examples of this on Scrade beach.

  6. Go through the gate and continue downhill to reach a waymark at the bottom of the field.

    The small ridges in steeply-sloping fields are known as terracettes and are caused by soil creep and their formation is accelerated by animals using them as tracks.

    When the soil gets wet, it expands and particles are lifted up at right angles to the slope. When the soil dries out, it contracts, but the particles fall vertically under gravity, landing a millimetre further downhill from where they started. Over a long period of time, the soil gradually creeps downhill.

  7. At the waymark turn right, and follow along the bottom of the field until you reach a flight of steps departing between 2 wooden gateposts.

    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).

  8. Go down the steps and follow the path until it emerges on a track at a waymark.
  9. Turn left onto 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Cross the footbridge and go through the gate. Follow the path up the side of the valley and along the ridge of Castle Point until eventually you reach a waymark with a small path descending from a couple of steps on 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.

  12. Turn right down the steps and follow the path down into the valley to reach a footbridge.

    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).

    Long-lining is a traditional technique used by Cornish fishermen over rocky ground for dusk or nocturnal-feeding fish such as pollack and conger eels. As the phrase implies, a long line is run down from a buoy to a weight on the seabed, then along the seabed to another weight. Hooks were attached at fathom intervals so fish could not tangle around each other. During Victorian times, before stainless steel was in wide use, tinned hooks were used so these could be left in the saltwater overnight without corroding away. Due to the sharp teeth of conger eels, each hook was fastened to the main line using many separate cords so the fish could not easily bite through it. The overall apparatus was known as a boulter or bultys (recorded in 1880).

  13. Cross the footbridge and bear right to a waymark. Follow the path leading steeply uphill from this. Continue to reach a stile into a field.

    The woods often have a nice display of bluebells in late April and early May.

    In folklore, the bluebell is a symbol of constancy, presumably based on the fact that they flower in the same place every year. It was said that anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. This could be the origin of the "…something blue…" that a bride should wear on her wedding day.

    Ferns produce neither flowers nor seeds and rely on the tiny spores for their reproduction which are most commonly distributed by the wind. This allows them to colonise some quite random places such as rocky ledges that heavier seeds might not reach. Since the spores come from just one parent fern, the offspring is a genetic clone.

  14. Cross the stile and continue ahead to a corner in the hedge, just to the left of the house (St Gennys House).

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.


    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).


    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  15. Follow the right hedge towards the corner of the field to a waymarked stile beside a gate signposted "St Gennys House".

    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 the "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.

  16. Cross the stile and follow the grassy track a short distance to merge onto a gravel track. Follow this to where the track bends sharply left, another driveway joins from the right and a path continues straight ahead.

    During the 18th Century in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers due to their methodical practices. John Wesley began open-air preaching to recruit followers to his movement and formed small classes for each community where followers would receive ongoing religious guidance. Wesley always advocated the practise of Methodism as an extension of the Anglican faith and encouraged his followers to attend the parish church regularly. Nevertheless, senior figures within the Church of England feared the effects (or perhaps popularity) of Methodist practices, suggesting that an overdose of the Holy Spirit might be unhealthy for weak minds.

  17. Continue ahead on the footpath and follow it until it merges back onto the track.
  18. Continue ahead on the track to reach a lane.

    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)".

  19. At the junction, the walk continues to the left along the lane, but first you may want to visit the church to the right. Once you return here, follow the road away from the church for about 300m to a junction on the right with a telegraph pole and wooden waymark post.

    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 beautifully-carved arcade in Polyphant Stone which separates the Nave from the North Aisle. The South Aisle and South porch were later added together with the Westernmost Arch of the Northern Aisle. The pillars used for this work are of Cornish granite.

    St Gennys holy well is in front of the churchyard entrance; very little is known about it.

  20. At the junction, take the smaller lane to the right and follow this down into the valley where it meets a road.

    Just before you reach the road you pass a driveway to Nancemellan on the right. The name is from the Cornish words nans and melyn for "valley" and "mill", respectively.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  21. Cross the road to the small lane opposite and follow this downhill until, just after you pass a gate on the right, and before the cottage, you reach a stone stile with a wooden waymark post on the other side.

    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 Gennys) 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".

  22. Cross the stile on the right and follow the path until you reach a kissing gate.

    Handling primroses is best avoided as the hairs on the leaves and stems can cause contact dermatitis which is quite severe in some people. It is thought that some people may develop a tolerance with repeated exposure but nevertheless a study in a medical journal found that over a quarter of Primula growers experienced skin reactions.

    For such a widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly inefficient at reproducing naturally. It can take 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns and even then, the overwhelming majority of the acorns that it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot on the ground. Squirrels play an important part by burying acorns and occasionally forgetting a few which have a much better chance of growing than on the surface.

  23. Go through the gate and bear right onto the track. Following this until it meets the road.

    Crackington Haven was badly affected in 2004 by the flood that famously swamped Boscastle. At Crackington Haven, the bridge, the pub and many of the houses were damaged and cars were washed out to sea.

  24. Turn left onto the road and walk the short distance back down to Crackington Haven.

    If the tide is out, there are some rockpools on the left-hand side of the beach.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.

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