Poundstock to Millook circular walk

Poundstock to Millook

A circular walk from Poundstock through bluebell woods along the river to the pretty pebbles and chevron-folded cliffs of Millook Haven and along the coast path with panoramic views from Bridwill Point.

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The walk starts at Poundstock, where the gildhouse has a good selection of mediaeval outfits to try on when it is open to the public. The route follows a country line out of the Wanson valley then decends through field into Millook valley where it enters the woods. The path winds through the bluebells woods to meet a track through the meadows to Millook Haven. The walk follows the coast path from Millook Haven, along Penhalt Cliff towards Widemouth Bay, then returns via the Wanson valley to Poundstock.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

By pure good luck, the Gildhouse near the start of the walk was open for visitors and we were given a really interesting potted history of the beautiful building and a chance for my children to try on some tudor costumes (well, and the grown-ups too – we couldn’t resist!). The app worked really well throughout and my son enjoyed being the "chief navigator".
Did my first @iwalkc walk this week, from Poundstock to millook. Well recommended.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 3.4 miles/5.4 km
  • Steepness grade: 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)

Highlights

  • Spectacular coastal views over Widemouth Bay
  • Rich heritage of Poundstock Church and Gildhouse - a late mediaeval church house
  • Ancient woodland around Millook Valley, with bluebells in spring
  • Delicate honeycomb reefs and geological origami at Millook Haven
  • Winding country lanes and tracks lined with pretty flowers in spring and summer

Directions

  1. From the church car park, turn left onto the lane and follow it past the churchyard to a sharp bend with junction to the right marked with a no-through road sign.

    Poundstock is a small village just off the A39, near the rocky cove of Millook Haven. Poundstock is a Saxon name meaning "cattle enclosure". Poundstock was a centre for smuggling and piracy from 1300 until the Black Death wiped the village out in 1348. However, smuggling and wrecking continued after the village was refounded.

  2. At the junction turn right onto the small no-through road then follow this to the bottom of the valley to a bridge. Continue as it becomes a track leading up the other side of the valley to reach a junction to the right beside a wooden gate on the left.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the Latin name Digitalis (finger-like) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is possible that it is a corruption of another word. One suggestion is "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    Poundstock Gildhouse, located next to the church, is a well-preserved late mediaeval church house, the only surviving one of its kind in Cornwall. It has been used continuously since it was built, and is a Grade I listed building. Church houses were built with the aim of using them as extensions of the church, and the one in Poundstock is contemporary with the later phases of the mediaeval church building.

    The unique structure was built between the 15th and 16th centuries by skilled craftsmen using traditional techniques and materials such as cob, local stone and slate. In the beginning, the ground floor probably comprised a kitchen, bakehouse and brewhouse, a meeting place and a store room. The first floor was an open feasting hall where the Church Ales would have been held.

  3. Keep left to stay on the main track and follow it until it ends in a T-junction with a wooden gate ahead and kissing gate alongside.

    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.

    Church Ales were celebrations held within the church calendar, particularly at Whitsuntide and May Day, when ales were brewed and sold in order to raise funds for the Church or for good causes in the parish. With the growth of Puritanism in the late 17th century, drinking was seen as sinful. Church Ales were considered to be nothing but drunken disorders and were suppressed. Church houses were gradually abandoned, demolished or put to other uses.

  4. Go through the kissing gate next to the field gate. Bear right slightly across the field towards a grassy hillock in the distance and then towards the right corner of the field. Just before the far side of the field, when you cross the brow of the hill, you'll see a waymark on a post. Make for this.

    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.

  5. Take the track into the woodland and follow it until you reach a footbridge.

    The Millook Valley, above Millook Haven, contains an area of ancient woodland. The broad-leaved woodland is now owned by the Woodland Trust and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an Ancient Woodland Site and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are primroses in spring, wildflowers including orchids in summer and blackberries and sloes in autumn. Fauna includes dormice, otters and smooth snakes.

  6. Cross the bridge and follow the path alongside the stream, passing a kissing gate, until you reach a waymark in front of another gate.

    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.

    According to folklore, it's unlucky to bring bluebells into a house and also unlucky to walk through bluebells as it was thought that the little bells would ring and summon fairies and goblins.

    Ferns produce 2 different types of leaf (although they often look quite similar). The normal leaves are used for photosynthesis of sugars just like in other plants. They also produce a special kind of spore-bearing leaf.

    Bracket fungi can be recognised by tough, woody shelf-like growths known as conks. Bracket fungi can live for a very long time and are often coloured with annual growth rings. Many begin on living trees and can eventually kill a branch or whole tree by damaging the heartwood and allowing rot to set in. They can continue to live on the dead wood afterwards.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the meadow to another gate.

    Willow trees are usually found in wet places including riverbanks and waterlogged ground. Common species include grey willow and goat willow but these often hybridise so they are more often known by the more broad-brush collective term "pussy willows" (due their catkins). In January the fluffy, grey male catkins appear and and turn bright yellow in March when they release their pollen. Then in April, the fertilised female catkins develop into woolly seeds. In early May, air can be filled with the downy seeds that look a bit like dandelion seeds.

  8. Go through the gate and bear left onto the path to the footbridge. Cross the bridge and climb the steps to reach a track.

    Millook water is fed by a network of small streams running down the valleys covered by Millook woods, finally reaching the sea through the pebbles on Millook Haven. The longest of the tributary streams has its source at Wainhouse Corner. Part-way along its course within the woodland are the ruins of a mediaeval corn mill, first documented in 1516 as Bastard Mill and still appears with this name on modern OS maps.

  9. At the top of the steps, turn right onto the track and follow it to where it ends in a gate onto the road.

    Millook was a notorious spot for smuggling.

    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. Go through the gateway to reach the road and turn right to follow the road downhill. Walk to the bottom of the hill to reach the path onto the beach.

    Millook Haven is a pebble beach at mid-high tide, though there is some sand at the very lowest part of the tide. The cliffs behind the beach have impressive zig-zag folding patterns, formed 320 million years ago. The rocks are part of the "Crackington Formation": thin layers of sandstones and shales, deformed by the tectonic plate collision at the end of the Carboniferous period, that crumpled the earth's crust, giving rise to the tors of Bodmin Moor.

    More about Millook Haven

  11. At the beach, continue on the lane and follow it over the river. Walk a short distance uphill to a path on the left with a coast path sign.

    Tree mallow is a coastal plant noticeable both by its large purple flowers from early summer and because it can grow to around 6ft tall. It has adapted to be able to grow on the coast by excreting salt from its leaves. This even allows it to grow where its only supply of water is pure seawater. The seeds also have a waterproof casing and remain viable even after an extended period in saltwater, allowing it to colonise via the sea rather like coconuts.

    At low tide, a series of delicate reefs is revealed.

    Honeycomb Worm reefs are fascinating structures, built out of sand on the lower shore. The large golden hummocks have an intricate honeycomb structure up to several metres across and a metre deep. Filter-feeding worms, about 3-4cm long, live in tubes, fanning out plankton from the passing water and capturing particles of shell and rock to build their tubes. Each worm can live for 3-5 years, although the overall reefs last much longer. Although quite brittle, the reefs provide a habitat for a number of other species including anemones, barnacles, limpets, winkles, whelks, mussels and crabs.

    The worms need hard rock to build on, and sand to build with, so their requirements are very specific: there must be enough wave action to bring a supply of sand to the rocky areas, but not so much that the worms are blasted off the rocks. The formation of reefs is assisted by a clever biological mechanism. Honeycomb worm larvae drift around in seawater and could settle anywhere to grow into adults. However, the presence of existing worm colonies, or their dead remains, strongly stimulates any passing larvae to settle out at that location, helping to ensure that the reef continues to grow.

  12. Turn left onto the coast path and climb up to Bridwill Point, to a gate next to a bench. Go through the gate and follow the coast path along Penhalt Cliff to Foxhole Point where the path goes through another gate, down some steps, and you reach a lane next to a signpost.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

    Common honeysuckle is a native plant also known as woodbine because it wraps itself around other plants and can cause distortions in their growth also called woodbines. Honeysuckle might be regarded as having plant OCD in that it only ever entwines in a clockwise direction. Flowers appear from June to August and their fragrance is due to a class of chemical compounds known as jasminoids that occur in, as you might have guessed, jasmine but also Ceylon tea. Honeysuckle is the food plant of the White Admiral caterpillar so keep a look for the butterflies in summer.

    The fossilised remains of plant stems and ammonite-like creatures from about 320 million years ago can be found in lilac and grey shales at the far north end of Millook Haven, at Foxhole Point. However, these are quite poorly preserved, which perhaps isn't that surprising when you see what has happened to the rock beds in the middle of Millook Haven.

  13. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach a gateway on the left just after the Penhalt Farm sign.

    Whilst much of the rock along the Tintagel and Boscastle coast is slate, the rocks around Bude are sandstones and shales. Where the softer upended rock layers have been eroded by the sea, a series of ridges has been formed such as at the sides of the beaches at Widemouth, Northcott Mouth and Sandymouth, creating many rockpools.

  14. Pass to the left of the gate and follow parallel to the right hedge of the small field to reach a path leaving from the other side. Continue following the path until it re-emerges on the road.

    Meadow buttercups spread across a field relatively slowly as most seeds fall quite close to the parent and although it has a creeping root system capable of propagating new plants, this only extends a fairly short distance from each plant (unlike creeping buttercup which has a much more extensive root system). Because grazing animals avoid buttercups due to their acrid taste, this allows them to accumulate over time. The combination of these factors allows the number of meadow buttercups in a field to be used an indicator of how long it's been used for grazing.

  15. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach the "OA Surf Club", at a sharp right bend.

    Widemouth Bay is the southernmost of the sandy beaches around Bude. As the name implies, this is a substantial stretch of sand and faces west into the Atlantic. Consequently, when there is a big surf running, there can be some absolutely monster waves at Widemouth which can make you wonder why going surfing seemed like a good idea at the time. In the autumn and winter, it's a good place to see expert surfers.

    In the past, sloops from Wales would use Widemouth as a port (in the most basic sense), unloading goods such as coal and limestone; and taking Cornish wares back to Wales such as granite, slate, tin, copper and even Cornish pasties! The beaches in the bay are now the landing points for many transatlantic cables linking the USA and UK, supporting an altogether different kind of surfing.

  16. From the Surf Club, follow the lane for about a quarter of a mile further until you reach a sharp bend to the left, with two eagles on the gateposts facing you.

    At Wanson Mouth, just south of Widemouth Bay, goniatites (extinct ammonite-like creatures related to cuttlefish) can be found in the black mudstone layers between the layers of sandstone at the foot of the cliff, at the north of the beach.

  17. Turn right onto the entrance road of Widemouth Bay Caravan Park (indicated by the public footpath sign) and follow this to a junction.
  18. At the junction, bear right onto the tarmacked track towards the entrance to the car park (not sharp right into the unsurfaced car park exit). When you reach the entrance to the car park, keep left to follow the unsurfaced track down the hill and continue until you reach a gate.

    The name "daisy" is thought to be a corruption of "day's eye" (or "eye of the day", as Chaucer called it). The name comes about because the flower head closes at night and opens each morning. In mediaeval times, it was known as "Mary's Rose".

  19. Go through the gate and head straight ahead through the metal gates onto the grassy track marked with a Footpath sign. Follow the grassy track uphill until you eventually reach another gate.

    Common gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent but rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. One complicating factor is that Western Gorse flowers don't have any scent, so you need to be sniffing a tall gorse plant to test yourself.

    Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days.

    Green woodpeckers are the largest and most colourful of the woodpeckers native to Britain and have a distinctive laughing "yaffle" call. The two species of spotted woodpecker are smaller and usually noticed from the drumming sound they make on trees although they can sometimes be heard making a short "cheep" sound.

    All of the woodpeckers bore holes in trees in which they nest, but only the spotted woodpeckers drill into trees in search of food, spending most of their time perched on a tree.

    Conversely, green woodpeckers spend most of their time on the ground, hunting for ants. The ants nests are excavated using their strong beak and ants caught on the barbed end of their long tongue. In fact, their tongue is so long it needs to be curled around their skull to fit inside their head.

  20. Go through the wooden gate ahead and walk along the left-hand hedge of the field, passing two gates, until you reach a third gate, ahead, leading onto a path between two hedges.

    Poundstock Holy Well lies in the valley to the left (the second gate leads into a field where there is a wooden pedestrian gate to the well approximately opposite in the bottom fence of the field).

    The holy well at Poundstock includes an elaborate stone well house and enclosure built in 1914. Since this was at the time when the church had been mistakenly re-dedicated to St Neot, the holy well is recorded as being associated with St Neot. Now that the church dedication has moved back to St Winwalloe then the well is sometimes associated with that saint instead. There are questions as to whether the well counts as a "true" holy well at all due to a lack of records of use before the 20th Century. What motivated the building of a well house in the woods remains a mystery.

  21. Go through the gate ahead and follow the path between the hedges until you eventually reach a farmyard gate.

    Cow parsnip (also known as hogweed) is a member of the carrot family has more solid leaves than cow parsley or alexanders which it often grows alongside. It also flowers later.

    It can be mistaken for giant hogweed as the leaves are similar in shape and flowers look similar. The most obvious way to tell them apart is size. Cow parsnip reaches a maximum of 6-7 feet tall whereas even by the end of May, giant hogweed is massive and can reach 15ft tall by July. Another distinguishing feature is that cow parsnip (normal hogweed) has a groove in the top of the stem holding each leaf but you should not touch the leaves to examine them as all members of the carrot family can cause a blistering rash caused by the plant's sap coming into contact with skin when in sunlight. Cow parsnip is worse for this than cultivated carrots or parsnips but nowhere near as bad as giant hogweed which can cause third degree burns.

    "Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was unhappy with the people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian façade.

  22. Go through the gate, and the one directly ahead of it, to reach the lane in Poundstock; turn left to reach the junction and keep left at the junction to reach the church car park.

    Parts of the building are thought to date from the 13th and 14th Centuries with the majority including the tower dating from the 15th Century. A five year restoration project completed in 1896 after the church was recorded as being recorded as being in a "very feeble state" during the 19th Century. During the restoration, two large early 16th Century painting were discovered beneath the limewash.

    The church was thought to be dedicated to St Neot until some 14th Century records were found showing it had originally dedicated to St Winwalloe. The dedication was changed back to St Winwalloe in the 1970s.

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