Sandymouth to Coombe Valley

A circular walk from Sandymouth beach, via the Landmark Trust's historic buildings of Coombe and a derelict mill which is one of the largest bat colonies in England, to the remains of the once great manor of Stowe Barton, the interior furnishings of which can be seen in Prideaux Place at Padstow.

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Starting at Sandymouth, the route follows the coast to Duckpool where a quiet, sandy beach is exposed at low tide. The walk then heads inland via the hamlet of Coombe where the buildings are owned by the Landmark Trust. The walk continues through the woods of the Coombe Valley, before returning through the site of the manor at Stowe Barton and then following bridleways back to Sandymouth.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

Did another of the walks from your absolutely superb app today: Sandymouth to Coombe Valley. Blue skies and autumn colours and lunch afterwards at The Old Smithy Inn. A perfect day! Thanks for your great app.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 126
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Sandymouth National Trust car park
  • Parking: National Trust car park EX239HW. Follow the A39 about 3 miles north of Bude, then turn left towards Stibb and Sandymouth. Drive through Stibb, then turn left towards Sandymouth rather than following the road to Coombe. The National Trust car park is at the end of the road.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Huge sandy beach at Sandymouth
  • Panoramic coastal views between Sandymouth and Duckpool
  • Pebbles, sand and rockpools at Duckpool beach
  • Pretty hamlet of Coombe
  • Woodland nature reserve in Coombe Valley
  • Historic site of Stowe Barton manor

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, follow the track towards the beach, past Sandymouth Café to a signpost.

    Sandymouth lies between two headlands - Steeple Point and Menachurch Point - and is the longest beach in the Bude area, measuring over a mile long at low tide. At low spring tides, it joins with Northcott Mouth and Crooklets Beach to the south, creating an expanse of sand all the way to Bude. The seabed slopes sharply away from the beach, producing strong surf which makes it dangerous for swimming but a popular surfing spot.

  2. At the signpost, take the track on the right through the kissing gate signposted to Duckpool. Continue parallel to the coast to reach a footbridge and cross this to a bench.

    Before doing so, you may want to make a short diversion to visit Sandymouth beach: follow the track straight ahead down to the sea, then return to this point to resume the walk.

  3. From the bench, follow the waymarked coast path to reach a waymark near the brow of the hill.

    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.

  4. Bear left over the brow of the hill until a kissing gate with a signpost comes into view and then head for this.
  5. Go through the kissing gate and follow the coast path, signposted to Duckpool, to a gate at the top of Warren Gutter.

    This is a nice example of a hanging valley. These are common along the North Cornish coast where there are many small streams meeting the sea.

    Hanging valleys are common on the North Cornish coast and are created due to erosion of the relatively hard cliffs by the Atlantic waves being faster than erosion of the valley by a small river. In many cases, this results in a waterfall where the small river meets the sea cliff, though many of these are little more than a trickle in dry weather. When there is a strong onshore gale, the waterfalls sometimes run backwards!

  6. Go through the gate and descend into the valley to reach a tiny footbridge crossing the stream.

    The satellite dishes that you can see ahead are part of the array at GCHQ Bude.

    GCHQ Bude is a satellite ground station, just south of Morwenstow, comprised of 21 satellite antennas which are through 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 at GCHQ remain classified but it's thought that the station specialises in the interception and decryption of electronic communications, both domestic and foreign. Prior to the GCHQ station, the site was the location of RAF Cleave, a World War 2 airfield used by Fighter Command.

  7. Cross the stream and keep left, following the path up the other side of Warren Gutter and across some footbridges. Continue along the coast until you eventually reach a gate above the valley at Duckpool.

    The yellow water iris (also known as yellow flag) is a native plant but can become invasive and have a negative effect on biodiversity due to its ability to out-compete many other water plants. It is thought by some to be the original plant on which the "fleur-de-lis" heraldic symbol is based.

    If heavy metals are present in the soil, the plant is quite effective at absorbing these. This together with its aptitude for growing in pools of shallow water makes it potentially useful for detoxifying mine drainage.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round. Their name comes from the sound of the call which sounds like stones being knocked together.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path into the valley to a footbridge over a stream.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. 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.
  9. Cross the bridge and turn left. Follow the waymarked path to a gate.

    The wheatear can often be seen on the coast during the summer month as it nests in rock crevices or rabbit burrows but returns to Sub-Saharan Africa every winter. The name is a 16th-century linguistic corruption of "white arse", referring to the bird's prominent white rump.

  10. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow the lane until it ends in a T-junction.

    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.

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

    The holly tree on the left just before the junction has a nice example of some non-spiky holly leaves as well as the usual spiky ones.

    Anyone who has sat on a holly leaf will know how prickly they can be but the leaves particularly on larger holly bushes often vary considerably with less spiky leaves nearer the top.

    Holly is able to vary its leaf shape in response to its environment through a chemical process known as DNA methylation which can be used to switch genes on and off. If its leaves are eaten by grazing animals or trampled by walkers, the holly will crank up the methylation level to produce really spiky leaves on these stems. Conversely on the stems where the leaves are able to grow old in peace, the holly will produce versions that are flatter and therefore more efficient at catching the light. An individual leaf can last up to five years.

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

    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.

  13. Cross the footbridge on the left side of the ford and walk in front of the cottage to where the lane bends sharply left. Then take the small path on the right signposted to Coombe Valley. At the top of the slope, keep left to stay on the main path and follow this until you eventually reach a pedestrian gate.

    At the start of the footpath, the derelict buildings you can see through the trees to your right, are part of Coombe Mill.

    Coombe Mill is situated next to the hamlet of Coombe beside the footpath leading up the valley. The disused four-level complex is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the five species of bat that now inhabit the mill's buildings. It is one of the largest breeding sites for lesser horseshoe bats in England.

  14. Go through the gate and continue to follow the path until you reach a fork.

    The woodland to the north (your left) of the river is known as Lee Wood after Lee Barton at the top of the hill. To the south of the river, the woodland is known as Stowe Wood and was once part of the estate of Stowe Manor.

    The paths through Lee Wood and Stowe Woods, adjacent to the hamlet of Coombe, were laid in 1970 by the Forestry Commission as part of the Coombe Valley Nature Trail, when many of the conifer plantations were created. Coombe is a Cornish word for "valley", so "Coombe Valley" is another of the tautologies which have arisen from appending an English word to an already fully descriptive Cornish name.

  15. Turn right at the fork and follow the path over the stream and up the other side of the valley until you reach a junction with a number of other paths.

    About half-way to the bridge, a small path leads off the the left to an area overlooking the stream with some rope swings.

  16. Turn right at the junction and cross a small stream to reach another fork in the path.

    On top of the elevated area to the left, beneath the trees, is a circular earth embankment which is thought to be the remains of an Iron Age settlement. The elevated position and nearby stream were probably factors in selecting the location.

  17. At the fork, bear left and follow the path slightly uphill to a kissing gate signposted to Stowe Barton.

    In spring and early summer, woodland here is carpeted in Wild Garlic.

    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.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path into a field. Follow the grassy track across the field until you reach a large tree on the right.

    The brick wall, on your right, is a surviving part of the original 17th century Stowe Barton mansion.

    Stowe Barton manor, situated on the edge of the Coombe Valley, was a country house, built in 1679 for the first Earl of Bath, John Grenville. It was demolished, a mere 60 years later, by the Earl's daughter. When John Grenville died in 1701, the house passed to one of his daughters who had married and moved away. Faced with the expense of maintaining a house which was no longer the main residence, the daughter had the house demolished in 1739, with many of its internal fittings ending up in other country houses in Cornwall and Devon.

    An earlier Tudor mansion on the site was itself demolished to make way for the 17th century house. The current farmhouse is largely 19th century but its position and T-shape plan suggest it may originally have been built from part of the stable block belonging to the 17th century house.

  19. As you reach the trees, keep left and follow the fence past a house and along to a kissing gate in the corner of 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.

  20. Go through the kissing gate, then turn left onto the track. Go through the field gate and follow the track until you reach a waymarked rock on the left of the track, just before the track passes the large house on the right.
  21. At the waymarked rock, turn left and cross the field to the gate in the corner.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

  22. Go through the gate and cross the lane to the bridleway opposite. Follow the bridleway until you reach a signpost at a junction.

    The land use here include arable crops such as barley.

    Barley was one of the first domesticated crops and has been dated back over 10,000 years. Consequently beer made from barley is likely to have been one of the first alcoholic drinks consumed by the Neolithic tribes.

  23. At the signpost, go straight ahead in the direction of Sandymouth and follow the track until it ends at a number of gates.

    Crows are quite common on the farmland here.

    Crows have a vocabulary of different calls with specific meanings and these can be varied to convey emotion like a human tone of voice.

    The sounds that crows make have also been found to vary with location rather like regional accents in humans. When a crow moves into a new area, it mimics the calls of the most dominant flock members to fit in with its peer group.

  24. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left marked with a white arrow and the one immediately after. Follow the left hedge until you reach the corner. Turn left at the corner and follow the fence on the right until you reach a corner in the fence.

    A few different factors all combine to vary the colour of the sea:

    A glass in your hand might lure you into thinking otherwise, but pure water is faintly blue. The main wavelengths that the chemical bonds in water absorb are either in the infra-red or ultra-violet, and not in the visible spectrum, which is why a glass of pure water does not look coloured. However one fairly obscure harmonic of the vibrations in the water molecule corresponds to the wavelength of red light and so water very weakly absorbs the red from white light, giving it a very slightly blue tinge. If there is enough water, both the blue tinge and reflection of blue light by any suspended particles make it look blue.

    Another factor is that the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror and reflects the colour of the sky and this is why it may appear grey under a cloudy sky. Under a blue sky, this intensifies the blueness.

    In shallow water, the sand which is golden in Cornwall due to fragments of seashell, reflects yellow light and this combines with the blue from seawater to generate colours from green to turquoise. The ocean also sometimes appears green due to the presence of planktonic plant life.

    The Cornish language has a word glas (often appearing in place names as "glaze") which is the Swiss Army Knife of sea colour descriptions. It means blue, or green, or grey.

  25. At the corner, turn right and follow the fence on your right until you reach the next corner of the fence.

    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 millimetres further downhill from where they started. Over a long period of time, the soil gradually creeps downhill.

  26. At the corner, bear left to a waymarked gap in the middle of the hedge ahead.
  27. Go through the gap in the hedge and bear right to meet the fence. Follow this to reach a signpost.

    At the end of most distant headland is the island of Tintagel Castle. The nearer headland, about half-way along the coastline, is Cambeak at Crackington Haven.

  28. At the signpost, turn left away from the gate and follow the path downhill until you reach a pedestrian gate leading to a wooden walkway.
  29. Go through the gate, along the wooden walkway and up the steps into a field. Continue uphill to reach a waymark post marked with a flower.
  30. Turn right at the post and follow the waymarked path along the fence. Continue following the waymarks with a flower until you finally descend next to the gate where you started the walk.

    Gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent and 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. 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. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  31. Turn left at the bottom of the path and go through the gate to return to the café and car park at Sandymouth.

    There are remains of a shipwreck on the left side of Sandymouth.

    The shipwreck that can be seen at low tide at Northcott Mouth at the northern end near Menachurch Point is of the SS Belém. The ship ran aground on the 20th November 1917 and 33 men were rescued. The Belém was a steam-powered cargo ship, originally built in Germany in 1890, and had recently been bought by a Portuguese freight company. The visible remains include the propeller shaft and the boilers. Another section of the propeller shaft was used as the support for the barrel on Barrel Rock, on the end of Bude Breakwater.

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

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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