Morwenstow

A short circular walk at Morwenstow to the cliff edge hut built from driftwood in which Reverend Hawker smoked opium and composed poetry, returning along the river valley to the ancient Bush Inn where medieval monks would rest the night before continuing their pilgrimage.

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The walk begins at Morwenstow church, passes the old rectory and enters the woods, then follows the stream to Henna Cliff. The route then follows the coast path to Vicarage Cliff and passes Hawker's Hut before descending into the Tidna Valley. An optional diversion can be made from here to Higher Sharpnose Point where there are spectacular panoramic views of the coastline. The walk continues up the valley through woodland alongside a stream before climbing back up to the gardens of the Bush Inn. The walk is completed along the lane to the Rectory Farm Tea Rooms.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 126 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.3 miles/3.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Rectory Tea Rooms car park
  • Parking: Church car park in front of the Rectory Tea Rooms EX239SR. Follow signs from the A39 to the Bush Inn and then to the Rectory Tea Rooms
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

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Highlights

  • Ornate Morwenstow church and rectory
  • Coastal views from Hawker's Hut - the National Trust's smallest building
  • Pretty wildflowers on the coast path in spring and summer
  • Panoramic views from Higher Sharpnose Point
  • Local food and drink at the historic Bush Inn and Rectory Farm Tea Rooms

Directions

  1. From the car park, cross over the road and make your way into the churchyard. Follow the path to the church.

    The church at Morwenstow today is of the Norman period, but before this, it is believed that a Saxon church stood on the site. In a document dated 1296, the church was referred to as an 'old and well-known structure'. The church is dedicated to St Morwenna and St John the Baptist. Originally, it was just St Morwenna, but St John was added as a dedication around 1285 when the church was gifted to the hospital of St John the Baptist, in Bridgewater. Amongst the tombs and gravestones in the churchyard is the preserved figurehead from a ship - The Caledonia - which was wrecked nearby. More than 40 seamen are buried in the churchyard.

  2. Facing the church door, turn right and follow the path along the front of the church to a waymark.

    Robert Stephen Hawker was the vicar at Morwenstow from 1834-1875. Before this, there hadn't been a vicar here for over a century. Hawker was regarded as a deeply compassionate person, giving Christian burials to shipwrecked seamen washed up on the shores of the parish, and was often the first to reach the cliffs when there was a shipwreck. He was an accomplished poet, publishing a number of works. Hawker was also something of an eccentric: he wore brightly-coloured clothes including a pink hat, talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and took his pet pig for walks. Other eccentricities attributed to him include: dressing as a mermaid ( with seaweed for hair) and excommunicating his cat for mousing on Sundays. His funeral was noteworthy because the mourners wore purple, instead of the traditional black.

  3. Just past the waymark, turn left along the wall to a stone stile. Cross the stile and follow the path past the rectory and down into a wood to reach a path departing to the left beside a waymark post.

    Morwenstow Rectory is situated next to the churchyard, facing the fields of the appropriately named Vicarage Cliff. The rectory was built by Rev. Hawker and is, as you might expect, remarkable. The chimneys are modelled on the towers of the churches in his life: Morwenstow, Welcombe, Tamerton (where he had been curate) and Magdalen College, Oxford. The old kitchen chimney is a replica of Hawker's mother's tomb.

  4. Turn left and follow the path along the valley to reach the coast path.

    The Harvest Festival was invented in Morwenstow in 1843 by Rev. Hawker. He invited his parishioners to a Harvest service, as he wanted to give thanks to God for providing such plenty. The service took place on the 1 October, and bread made from the first cut of corn was taken at communion. It quickly caught on and spread throughout Cornwall and beyond. In the Port Isaac Harvest Festival celebration, fish, nets, oars and lobster pots took the place of the more conventional flowers and fruit.

  5. Turn left onto the coast path and climb the steps to Vicarage Cliff to reach a kissing gate.

    St Morwenna was an early 6th century saint from Ireland, and is said to have been one of the many children of the Celtic King Brychan. She settled in Morwenstow and her brother, St Nectan, lived nearby at Hartland. Ethelwolf, the Saxon King, appointed Morwenna to be the tutor for his daughters, for which service, Morwenna requested land to build a church. It is recorded that as she lay dying, St. Nectan came to see her, and she asked him to raise her up so that she might look once more on her native shore. She was buried at the church in Morwenstow.

    Images of her, in stained glass, may be seen in the Morwenstow parish church and a painting on the North Wall shows a gaunt female clasping a scroll to her breast with her left hand; the right arm is raised in blessing over a kneeling monk.

  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the right-hand edge of the fields along the coast to a kissing gate beside a gateway.

    Morwenna's Holy Well, restored by Rev Hawker, survives in a virtually inaccessible position part-way down the cliff at Morwenstow. It was lost for many years and rediscovered after much searching towards the end of the 20th Century. Following this, the National Trust cleared a rough path and provided ropes to assist descent half way down the 450 foot cliff to reach the well. In the early 1980s, before Health and Safety had been invented, the local primary school children were taken on a school trip here and fortunately survived to tell the tale. Subsequently the ropes were removed and the path became overgrown with brambles, nettles and blackthorn. During this period, the path was used by at least one local family as a test of dedication for potential suitors. Recently the path has been cleared again but is definitely not recommended without safety equipment as it is dangerously steep and precarious.

  7. Go through the kissing gate (or the field gate if open) and follow the right-hand edge of the field along the coast to reach a slate with a sign for Hawker's Hut.
  8. After having a look at the hut, continue along the coast to a kissing gate.

    Hawker built a small hut from driftwood, on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Morwenstow. He spent many hours there "communing with St Morwenna" (i.e. smoking opium) and writing his poems and letters. One of these was Cornwall's anthem - Trelawney - which he published anonymously but was later credited with, by Charles Dickens. Hawker's Hut is now the smallest building owned by the National Trust.

  9. Go through the kissing gate and follow the right-hand edge of the field until you reach a waymark.

    The name Morwenstow has been Saxonified at some point in history and had "stow" added to indicate the presence of the church, perhaps replacing a "lan-" at the start. According to legend, the "morwen" part comes from St Morwenna. However, it's also worth noting that mor is the Cornish word for "sea" and gwenn means "white", so it's also possible that the name may have its origins in the rough seas around the rocky shores here.

  10. Bear left from the waymark in the direction indicated to reach a kissing gate in the the fence roughly 20 metres inland from the corner of the field.
  11. Go through the gate and follow the zig-zag path downhill. Where the path emerges onto a wider path, head for the kissing gate that you can see in the fence to the right.
  12. Go through the gate and follow the footpath down to the bottom of the valley to reach a waymark.

    Several varieties of heather grow in Cornwall and are most easily recognised when they flower from July to September. The one with the most brightly coloured (purple) flowers is known as bell heather due to the bell-shaped flowers. This is usually interspersed with ling or common heather which has much smaller flowers which are usually paler and pinker. A third kind known as cross-leafed heath is less abundant but can be recognised by the pale pink bell-shaped flowers that grow only near the tips of the stems, resembling pink lollipops. A fourth species known as Cornish heath grows only on the Lizard and has elaborate flowers.

  13. The walk continues up the valley to the left from the waymark but first you may want to admire the view from Higher Sharpnose Point by follow the path to the right before returning here. To continue the walk, follow the path up the valley to another waymark.

    To reach the point, turn right at the waymark and follow the path through the kissing gate to the top of the headland, then bear right to follow the path out onto the point.

    The headland is known as Higher Sharpnose Point as there is another headland further along the coast to the south near the satellite dishes known simply as Sharpnose Point. The lookout building beside the coast path was built by the Coastguard. The Caledonia was wrecked on the headland here; the figurehead was salvaged and placed as a memorial in the churchyard.

  14. Follow the path into the woods until you reach another waymark.
  15. At the waymark, bear left, uphill until you reach a flight of steps.
  16. Climb the steps and continue on the path alongside the river to reach a footbridge.
  17. Cross the bridge to a waymark, signposted to the left to Rectory Farm, and ahead to Crosstown. Follow the path straight ahead to Crosstown until you reach another waymark with a gate to the right and steps to the left.

    The Saxons had a stronghold in northeastern Cornwall, which is reflected in many of the place names (-stow, -bury, -ton, -worthy, -cott, -ham, -ford etc). As you move further west, the Celtic place names (Tre-, Pen-, Lan-) become more common.

  18. At the waymark, bear left to climb up the steps from the valley floor and reach a kissing gate.

    Rev Hawker of Morwenstow documented a Witan-Stone (rock of wisdom) at Tidnacombe Cross "...grown over with moss and lichen, with a moveable slice of rock to conceal its mouth...a dry and secret crevice, about an arm's length deep". Its use was described to Hawker by a local smuggler:

    "There, sir have I dropped a little bag of gold, many and many a time, when our people wanted to have the shore quiet and to keep the exciseman out of the way of trouble; and there he would go if so be he was a reasonable officer, and the byeword used to be, when t'was all right, one of us would go and meet him, and then say, 'Sir, your pocket is unbuttoned;' and he would smile and answer, 'Ay! ay! but never mind, my man, my money's safe enough;' and thereby we knew that he was a just man, and satisfied, and that the boats could take the roller in peace..."

    The location of the stone is now a mystery, but it's possible it may be rediscovered one day. The chances of it still containing a bag of gold are fairly slim, though.

  19. Go through the kissing gate into the field and head to another kissing gate in the middle of the opposite hedge.
  20. Go through the gate and turn left into the beer garden of the Bush Inn. Continue through the beer garden until you reach the car park.

    The Bush Inn at Morwenstow has a history dating back to 950AD, and is thought to have been a monk's rest on the pilgrimage from Wales to Spain, via the ports of North Devon and the Saints Way to Fowey. The current building dates from the 13th Century. A monastic cross is carved into the flagstone floor leading to the garden, and in the main bar is a Celtic piscina (shallow basin) made of serpentine.

  21. Bear left across the car park to the Rectory Tea Rooms sign.

    Rectory Farm is situated next to the church and Rectory at Morwenstow - thus the name. Rectory Farm dates back to 1296 when it belonged to an order of Monks. The house contains oak beams salvaged from shipwrecks, floors of local slate, and a number of antique furnishings. The house was opened as a Tea Room in 1950 and since then has won a number of awards. A number of the ingredients are grown on-site in the kitchen garden or are from the farm, and many others are locally sourced.

  22. Bear left onto the lane signposted to the Rectory Farm Tea Rooms to complete the circular route.

    The gateway into the churchyard, known as a lychgate (after the Saxon word lych meaning corpse), was constructed 1641. The small building - the lych house - which is now a store, was originally a mortuary where Hawker stored the bodies of drowned sailors prior to their burial.

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 very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • 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).

Take a photo and 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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