Westerly storms and pounding surf have sculpted the famously dramatic scenery of Cornwall’s north coast. Walking the South West Coast Path along its steep cliffs and sandy coves and bays is a well worth the effort. Home to fishing villages such as Boscastle and Padstwo as well as bustling coastal holiday resorts like Newquay it’s a coastline of contrasts.
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Bude – Rocky ramparts between the beaches facing Bude Bay. Narrow, high banked lanes some with gradients of 1 in 3, wriggle down from the main coast road to a series of sandy beaches backed by the lofty, crumbling cliffs. At low tide many of the beaches merge into one another to create continuous stretches of sand, providing enjoyable beach walking; Bude, popular with surfers, has a 19th century canal linked to the Atlantic by a sea lock.
Crackington Haven – Graves in St Genny’s churchyard, on a hill above Crackington Haven, are reminders that this spectacular part of the Cornish coast has claimed many ships and seafarers. They commemorate seven men who were lost when the Swedish brigantine William was wrecked off Crackington Haven in 1894, and seven others were drowned six years later when storms claimed the steamer City of Vienna and the barque Capricorna.
The cliffs of Pencannow Point rise more than 400 ft (120m) above Crackington Haven’s beach, where stream wasjed shingle gives way to low-tide sand flanked by rocks.
Walkers who follow the clifftop path from Crackington Haven to Cambeak and on southwards to Rusey Cliff are rewarded by views of some of the most majestic coastal scenery in Britain.
Millook Haven – Cliffs with stata forced into astonishingly acute angles tower above the small cove. The atmosphere is peaceful, but the shingle beach shelves steeply and not safe for swimmers. A stream flows down a steep secluded valley whose sides are climbed by narrow lanes with very steep sides.
The cliffs between Millook Haven and Chipman Strand are clad with England’s westernmost wood of dwarf oaks. Some 140 acres of clifftop land between Dizzard Point and Chipman Strand were given to the National Trust by the Duchy of Cornwall in 1965.
Widemouth Bay – A popular surfing beach whose sands are overlooked from the south by Penhalt Cliffs, from which there are memorable views up the rugged coast towards Hartland Point.
Bude – Extensive sands and white topped waves surge majestically in from the Atlantic make Bude a surfers’ paradise. Summerleaze Beach, nearest the town, has a wide expanse of firm sand, backed by grassy downs. At the north end of the beach is a large seawater pool, an acre in extent, which is refilled by the tides every day. Crooklets Beach, further north, offers particularly fine surfing. Lifeguards patrol both beaches during the summer because of heavy surf and strong undertow.
Bude’s most interesting links with the past are Ebbingford Manor, which dates from the 12th century, and the broad canal whose waters mingle with the sea on Summerleaze Beach. The canal opposite is overlooked by a former blacksmith’s shop where barge hauling horses were shod.
Bude Castle, which overlooks Summerleaze Beach, was built by Sir Goldsworth Gurney in 1830 and is now used as offices by the local council. A notable scientist and inventor, Sir Goldsworthy proved that it was possible to build on shifting sands. His castle stands on a raft of concrete and has remained perfectly stable. In 1831, steam carriages designed by Gurney operated the world’s first town to town service by self propelled road vehicles. They had a cruising speed of about 12 mph.
Bude Canal – At a seawards end of Breakwater Road in Bude a sea lock marks the entrance to Bude Canal.It is a lock on this remarkable waterway which ran 35 miles from Bude to Launceston and rose to a height of 350 ft (110m) in 6 miles. The change in levels was achieved by inclined planes, or ramps, between each different level and wheeled tub boats which were pulled up the ramps on metal rails.
Two methods were used to haul the tubs, both employing water power. On all but one gradient the tubs were hooked on to an endless chain which was driven by a waterwheel, but at Hobbacott they were hauled by a waterfilled bucket descending into a pit. The bucket held 15 tons of water and was attached to a chain would round a drum; as a bucket was lowered in to a 225 ft deep pit the drum operated a chain wheel which pulled the tubs up a steep incline.
Opened in 1823, Bude Canal was the longest tub boat canal ever built. It carried sea sand for the fertilisation of inland farms, and on the return trips brought oats and slate to the trading vessels in Bude harbour. The coming of the railway ended the canal’s days, and by the end of the 19th century it had fallen into disuse. Today the waterway runs only as far as Helebridge, but traces of the old inclines can be seen at Marmchurch and Hobbacott.
Stratton – Little more than 1 mile from Bude, Stratton was the scene of a Civil War battle in 1643. A plaque and obelisk on Stamford Hill mark the ground where the Parliamentarians were defeated by Royalist troops commanded by Sir Bevil Grenville, a descendant of the Elizabeth sea captain Sir Richard Grenville.
Northcott Mouth – There is a car park at Northcott Mouth, but the beach is also within easy walking distance of Bude. The path along the clifftop, which belongs to the National Trust, provides fine views, but tide times should be checked before setting out along the shore. The sandy beach is punctuated by rocks.
Sandy Mouth – A 2 minute walk, ending in a short flight of steps, leads from the National Trust’s car park to a sandy beach backed by high and remarkably folded cliffs. At low water the sands run southwards all the way to Bude.
Duckpool – An inscribed stone records that William IV contributed £20 towards the bridge under a stream flows from the beautiful Coombe Valley to Duckpool. A National Trust car park at the foot of Steeple Point overlooks a sandy, shingle backed beach flanked by impressive but unstable cliffs.
The tranquil woodlands of Coombe Valley support a rich variety of plants, birds and small mammals, and are explored by nature trails. At the tiny hamlet of Combe there is a disused watermill dating from 1842. The wheel is in working order and the machinery inside the building is intact.
The land which climbs the valley’s southern slope passes Stowe Barton, a house built by the Grenvilles in the 17th century. Their most famous ancestor, whose home was near by, was Sir Richard Geville. His last battle with the Spaniards, in 1591, was later immortalised by Tennyson in the Revenge. Separated from the main British fleet near the Azores, the Revenge took on 15 Spanish warships in a battle that raged for hours. Only 20 of the Revenge’s crew survived, and Greville was mortally wounded.
Stanbury Mouth – A grassy parking area is a starting point for the 15 minute walk which leads to this secluded beach where a stream filters through shingle to a stretch of low tide sand. The last few yards of the walk involve a scramble over rocks.