Duckpool to Woodford circular walk

Duckpool to Woodford

A circular walk in Morwenstow parish along towering cliffs and through broadleaf woods where a hamlet has been preserved in a joint project between the Landmark Trust and National Trust

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The walk starts by heading inland via the hamlet of Coombe where the buildings are owned by the Landmark Trust. The route is then through broadleaf woodland and a short stretch of lane to the village of Woodford. The walk then follows footpaths across the fields to reach the coast at Stanbury Mouth. The final stretch is along the coast path via Lower Sharpnose Point to Duckpool beach.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 126
  • Distance: 5.4 miles/8.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof walking boots, or wellies after prolonged rain

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 126 OS Explorer 126 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Broadleaf woodland with wild garlic and bluebells in spring
  • Quiet beaches at Stanbury Mouth (sandy at low tide) and Duckpool
  • Rugged coastline with views to Tintagel
  • Spectacular coastal wildflowers on Steeple Point in May

Directions

  1. Follow the lane away from the sea until it ends in a T-junction.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    The name of the plant is Greek for "sun direction" because the flowers turn to follow the winter sun.

  2. At the junction, turn left and follow the lane approximately 50m to a junction on the right.

    The ferns with solid leaves are appropriately called hart's tongue as the leaf resembles the tongue of a deer. It's an evergreen so leaves can be seen all year round but there's usually a flurry of new growth in mid March when new leaves can be seen gradually unfurling over a number of days. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as the underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places and are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  3. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane to a ford in the hamlet of Coombe.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

    Daffodils contain chemical compounds which are toxic to dogs, cats and humans and ingestion of any part of a daffodil is likely to cause a stomach upset e.g. when unsupervised children have eaten leaves. The bulbs have both higher concentrations and a broader range of toxins than the rest of the plant and can be mistaken for onions (although don't smell of onion).

    In most of the UK, thatch was the only roofing material available to the bulk of the population until Victorian times when slate became more widely available. At this point, thatch became regarded as a mark of poverty and therefore socially undesirable. In Cornwall, the transition from thatch to slate began earlier due to the local availability of roofing slate, particularly from Delabole.

    During the 20th Century, availability of good quality thatching straw declined after the introduction of the combine harvester and the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. In 1964, heavy fines were introduced for growing an unregulated variety of wheat and all the traditional, tall-stemmed varieties that were used for thatching became illegal.

  4. Cross the footbridge on the left side of the ford and follow the lane around the bend to the left. Continue uphill past the "Try your brakes" sign to reach a waymarked path on the left.

    The settlement of Coombe was recorded in 1439 as Combe and as Coombe in 1520. The name is from the Old English word for valley: cumb.

    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.

  5. Bear left onto the path and follow this through a gate. Continue through the woods, crossing any small streams across the path, until you reach a stile on the left with a green sign and waymark.

    All plants in the onion family are poisonous to dogs including wild garlic. This is one of the reasons that feeding dogs human foods (many of which contain onion such as gravy powder) is not good for them. Garlic is extremely toxic to dogs and cats and the consumption of even a small amount can lead to severe poisoning. Keep dogs away from wild garlic and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    Holly has separate male and female plants, so not all holly bushes produce berries - only female plants. In less biologically-enlightened Pagan times, holly was though to be a male plant (the spikes symbolising aggression) whereas ivy was regarded as a female plant (symbolising attachment). The Christmas Carol "The Holly and the Ivy" is thought originally to derive from Pagan fertility myths onto which Christian symbolism has subsequently been added.

  6. Keep right to stay on the woodland path and follow this until it ends at another stile with a green sign.

    During periods of cold weather, spring flowers, such as bluebells, have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs during summer and autumn. They are then able to grow in the cold of winter, or early spring, by using these resources stored in their bulb. Once they have flowered, the leaves die off and the cycle begins again.

    Other species (such as cow parsley or dandelions) require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow. With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells lose their "early start" advantage, and can be out-competed.

    The high levels of tannins in oak make large amounts of oak leaves or acorns poisonous to cattle, horses, sheep, and even goats, but not to pigs as they were domesticated from wild boar which were adapted to foraging in the oak forests, like deer. Acorns were also eaten by people in times of famine. The acorns were soaked in water first to leech out the bitter tannins and could then be made into flour.

  7. Cross the stile and follow the path downhill to reach some stepping stones leading to a footbridge.

    Mosses don't have roots but instead have little rootlets known as rhizoids. Since there is no need to root into soil, mosses can grow on stones, tree trunks, buildings etc. This together with their wind-carried spores makes them excellent colonisers of barren land. The buildup of organic material from dead moss then provides an environment that other small plants can start to colonise.

  8. follow the stepping stones to the footbridge, cross this to reach a junction with a waymark, and turn right to reach another junction of paths with a waymark with multiple arrows uphill to the left. Continue along the stream over the stepping stones and a little further alongside the stream until you can see a stile in the fence on the left. Then make your way to this via some more stepping stones.

    The early purple orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

    Wagtails are easily recognised from the tail pumping behaviour that their name suggests. Despite being very conspicuous, the function of this curious behaviour is not well understood. It is possibly a signal to predators that the wagtail has seen them, so there's no point trying anything.

    Two of the wagtail species are easy to confuse as they are both grey and yellow.

    Grey wagtails nest close to fast-running streams as they feed on aquatic invertebrates. They have pink (skin-coloured) legs.

    Yellow wagtails are more often found in open fields and have black legs.

    The third kind of wagtail more often seen in urban environments - the pied wagtail - is easy to distinguish due to the lack of yellow: it's entirely black-and-white.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path through the woods until it eventually emerges into a meadow.

    Fungus is the Latin word for mushroom but is derived from the ancient Greek word for sponge since this is what they were thought to resemble. Biologically, this isn't so far off either as fungi are more closely-related to animals than plants.

    Hemlock is a member of the carrot family (related to cow parsley and alexanders) and is common in damp, shady places, particularly near streams. The stems are tubular and quite thick like alexanders and the leaves look quite like flat-leaf parsley (more toothed on the edges than alexanders) and a bright green colour similar to coriander leaves. New leaves begin to shoot in early winter and by February these are starting to grow into quite noticeable small plants. It flowers in April and May with white flowers similar to cow parsley. It has a deceptively pleasant sweet smell but don't be tempted to try eating it: this is the most poisonous plant in UK. Just a handful of leaves can kill a human and a root contains enough poison to kill a cow.

    Ivy is rarely a threat to healthy trees. Ivy is not a parasite. Since it has its own root system, it absorbs its own nutrients. It simply uses a tree for support. The main risk to trees is during strong winds when the surface of the ivy can act as a sail which, together with the extra weight from the ivy, can cause a tree to fall.

  10. Follow along the left hedge of the meadow to reach a gate and stile onto a lane.

    Green dock beetles can sometimes be seen on dock plants. They have a metallic shimmer which can produce colours of gold, blue, purple, violet or red in sunlight. The sheen is produced by a stack of microscopic reflective layers which create interference patterns in light causing different colours to appear at different angles. As the beetles mature, melanin (the "sun tan" chemical produced in humans to protect skin from the sun) pigments the layers and causes them to become reflective.

  11. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow this to the top of the hill then continue a little further to a junction with a postbox and bus stop.

    Ham Mill is named after Ham Farm, recorded as Hamme in 1356. It's from the Old English word for a dwelling which gave rise to the word "home". The mill was used to grind corn and was disused by the 1880s.

    The settlement of Woodford also dates from mediaeval times. The first record of it is spelt Wodeford but the meaning was still "ford in a wood" - quite possibly where the road crosses the stream now.

  12. Continue on the lane around the bend to the right and then downhill to reach a public footpath signpost on the left.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  13. Turn left onto the tarmac path and follow this between the fence and the row of cottages. Continue on the unsurfaced path between the hedge and fence to reach a kissing gate.

    Celandine roots have numerous knobbly tubers and when these break off, a new plant can regrow from the tuber. Digging animals such as rabbits and squirrels can therefore help to spread celandines. In some parts of the world they have become an invasive problem where their dense mat of leaves chokes out native species which have not evolved to compete with them.

    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". The term "flutterby" is thought to have been coined by Shakespeare.

    Navelwort is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. In dry conditions, the plant takes emergency measures to conserve water, producing fewer green chloroplasts (so it goes red) and loses it succulent fleshiness. Leaves with red tinges are therefore not the ones to forage.

  14. Go through the gate and bear right to reach the field, then bear left in the field to follow along the left hedge to reach a gate and stile where the left hedge protrudes into the field.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  15. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) then head downhill to a protruding corner of the hedge with a wooden fence. Head to the stile in the middle of wooden fencing (the area in front of the stile is often marshy so tread carefully as you approach).

    Sheep were one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans thought to be roughly around 12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The first sheep weren't woolly and were used for meat, milk and their (woolless) hides which were sometimes tanned to make leather. Woolly sheep were bred about 4,000 years later in Iran.

  16. Cross the stile and the one after it then continue roughly in the same direction to meet the left hedge as you climb the field. Follow along the hedge to reach a waymarked stile.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    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.

    Do

    • 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).

    Don't

    • 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.
  17. Cross the stile and follow the path between the hedges to reach a wooden gate. Go through this and continue a few paces on the track to reach a lane.

    Primroses prefer moist soils so they tend to grow either in semi-shady places which don't get dried out too much by the sun such as woodland clearings and the base of hedgerows, or in wet open ground such as near streams.

    Red campion is also known as "red catchfly". The flowers are an important nectar source for larger pollinating insects including butterflies, bees and hoverflies. Much smaller flies drawn to the nectar can become stuck in the froth on the stigmas of the female flowers but this is not intentional by the plant (it doesn't eat them).

  18. Cross the lane to the gates opposite. Go through these and head towards the waymark, keeping left to stay in the field. Follow along the right hedge to reach a stile in the corner.

    C.S.O.S. Morwenstow is a satellite ground station, comprised of 21 satellite antennas which are thought 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 remain classified but it's thought that these relate to the interception and decryption of electronic communications. Prior to the satellite station, the site was the location of RAF Cleave, a World War 2 airfield used by Fighter Command. Some of the concrete foundations of the airfield buildings are visible near the coast path.

  19. Cross the sequence of stiles and continue downhill to reach another stile.

    The thing that resembles a giant golf ball is known as a "radome" - a weatherproof enclosure that protects a microwave RADAR antenna from the elements. In particular, if ice forms on the antenna, this can detune it. Often the antenna inside rotates, hence the need for the round shape.

  20. Cross the stile and go down the steps to a footbridge. Cross this, go through the gate and turn left. Follow the path to reach a kissing gate in a meadow.

    Catkins begin to form on hazel trees from November onwards and in February these reach full size and flower before the leaves appear. The word is from the Dutch katteken (meaning "kitten") as the catkins resemble small cats' tails.

  21. Go through the kissing gate and follow along the left hedge to reach a kissing gate in the corner of the field.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomfortable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  22. Go through the kissing gate and follow the track ahead, leading downhill. Continue to reach a gate across the track.

    Most primroses tend to be pale yellow but in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However, there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.

    Despite how tough mature dock plants are, at the seedling stage docks are very poor competitors with other plants such as grass. On grazing land, farmers can use docks as a warning sign that there have been bare patches of earth. This could have been caused by livestock damage or uneven spreading of manure which has killed patches of grass by blocking sunlight.

    The plant with sticky green seeds is known as cleavers due to the ability to attach to clothing or animals. The use of "to cleave" meaning "to adhere" has Saxon origins but has become less common in recent years perhaps due to the confusion of having a more well-known meaning which is virtually the opposite. A Cornish dialect name recorded as cliders in Victorian times is likely to be a corruption of this.

    Goosegrass is another common name of the plant due to its attractiveness to poultry as a nutritious food. It contains tannins which make it too bitter for humans. Other common names include sticky willy.

  23. Go through the right-hand pedestrian gate and follow the path to reach a waymark at a junction of paths.

    As well as through pollen being transferred by insects from other plants, if there are not many insects around (e.g. in cold or wet weather), bramble flowers are able to produce seeds without being fertilised (the flower is able to use its own pollen).

  24. Continue ahead from the junction on the path leading downhill to reach a footbridge.

    Large daisy-like flowers on the coast are likely to be oxeye daisies, also known as the dog daisy or moon daisy - the latter is said to be because they are so bright that they appear to glow in the evening. The flowers of oxeye daisies are edible and can be used in salads or deserts. The flower buds can also be picked in vinegar and spices and used like capers.

    From geography lessons at secondary school, you'll probably know that wave-cut platforms form where waves hit the cliff face and create a wave-cut notch into which the cliffs above eventually collapse. The reason the cliffs are eroded faster than the platform below them is more in the realms of physics:

    • The energy from a wave is concentrated when it breaks against the cliffs; when waves are breaking onto the gently-sloping platform, their energy is more diffuse.
    • On the platform, the force from the waves is spread along the breadth of platform as the tide recedes. However, the cliff face usually takes a beating not just at the very highest point of the tide, but also for some of the time either side.
    • The tide rises and falls sinusoidally with time, in other words, it changes at its most slowly at high tide where it can spend a bit more time bashing the living daylights out of the cliff face.

    Nevertheless, the platform does slowly erode. At Porthleven it is estimated that the platform is eroding at a rate of 1mm every 5 years.

  25. Cross the footbridge and keep left at the waymark to climb the steps. Continue from the waymark at the top of the steps to reach the remains of a kissing gate.

    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.

  26. Go through the gate and follow the path up the hill. Continue across the top of the hill to reach a kissing gate where the path emerges from some scrub.

    The carpets of tiny blue flowers on the coast during April and May are the appropriately-named spring squill, which up close is a star-shaped pale blue flower with a dark blue stamen. They achieve their early flowering by storing energy over the winter in a bulb so they can be the first flowers out on the cliffs before they become overshadowed by larger plants. They thrive in locations which are beaten with wind and salt-laden spray which they are able to tolerate but other plants, which might otherwise out-compete them, cannot.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    A similar-looking bird called the whinchat is also present in the summer but this can be identified by a white stripe across its eye. Both stonechats and whinchats can often be spotted perching on dead sticks or brambles protruding above gorse and heather, and consequently the term "gorse chat" or "furze chat" has been used locally to mean either species. For a long time, stonechats and whinchats were thought to be members of the thrush family but genetic studies have revealed they are actually members of the (Old World) flycatcher family.

  27. Go through the kissing gate and bear right slightly to join the gravel track to the right of the concrete foundations. Walk a few paces on this until, just before you reach a tall waymark post, a path departs to the right to a gate.

    Satellite dishes (parabolic antennae) are used to detect radio signals at the higher frequency end of the spectrum in the UHF and microwave bands (used for mobile phones and satellite communication). The reason they are so large is that achieve good amplification of weak signals, the detector needs to be much bigger than the wavelengths of the signals it is receiving, and UHF wavelengths can be up to a metre.

    Often a small secondary dish is suspended above the centre of the main dish at its focal point. This then further focuses the signal down into an even tighter beam onto a detector in the middle of the main dish.

    Unlike a home radio aerial, the dish is highly directional. Rather like a reverse version of a searchlight, it can be pointed at a particular satellite or radio tower to listen just to that.

  28. Turn right before the waymark post and follow the path along the low bank to a kissing gate.

    On a clear day, Lundy Island can be seen above the headland to the right.

    Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel, situated about one-third of the way to Wales. It is an outcrop of granite, which rises 400ft out of the sea. The name of the island is thought to come from an old Norse word for puffin.

    From late mediaeval times through to the early 1700s, the island was occupied by pirates a number of times and used as a base to plunder cargo ships which needed to navigate along the centre of the Bristol Channel at low tide to avoid grounding on the shingle banks.

  29. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path out onto the coast. Continue along the coast to reach a stile next to a NT Steeple Point sign.

    Gorse is a legume, related to peas and like other members of the pea family it's able to get its nitrogen from the air. It's also tolerant to heavy metals in the soil and to salt. This makes it able to grow in Cornwall's harshest environments: moorland, coast and mine waste tips.

  30. Cross the stile and follow the cliff-edge path to reach a bench. Continue from the bench to reach some steps in the path where a narrow path departs to the right.

    The most distant headland is Tintagel with the castle island on the end. The nearer one in front of this with the beak-like end is Cambeak at Crackington Haven.

  31. Keep left to continue down the steps and follow the waymarked coast path down to the car park to complete the circular route.

    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.

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