First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Big waves, driven in by a strong west wind, were smashing on the rocks all along the North Cornwall coast. From Steeple Point high over Duckpool’s sandy scrap of beach we watched thirty jackdaws wheeling in a tight bunch on the buffeting wind, chakking excitedly to one another. White teeth of surf glinted far below in the mouth of the Duckpool valley.
The waves made wrinkled lines in the grey-brown Atlantic as far out as the eye could see. They moved ponderously inshore, topped with quiffs of spray, to crash among the black stumps of rocks and reefs with a dull thunder that made the air quiver. Under a mackerel sky the deep Duckpool valley ran back inland, its massed oaks murmurous with the half-gale. It was all we’d hoped for on a Cornish coast walk in midwinter – sound, fury, drama, and the elation of a stiff wind to beat our cheeks red and shove us along the cliff path.
Down on Wren Beach the sea surged across the shallows in delicate pulses, like a fine lace shawl swept rhythmically to and fro. The stark white dishes and domes of a GCHQ tracking station came peeking up over a rise of ground like an exhibition of Bauhaus architecture. Then they fell away behind as we dipped down into the cleft of Stanbury Mouth. A seat on a tuffet of sea pink leaves gave us a grandstand view of the waves running in, bursting on the rocks of Rane Point and flinging up lazy tails of spray with a hiss you could feel, rather than hear.
A boggy green lane led inland from Stanbury Mouth. If the flowers along here could be believed, spring was already nudging winter out of bed – primroses, campion, tender young nettles, alexanders and a brace of half-emerged dandelions.
Out across sedgy upland fields where starlings flocked fifty strong in a skeleton oak tree. By a lovely old wall of cob and slate at Eastaway Manor a bunch of sheep trotted away like affronted dowagers bundled into fur coats. We followed an old green lane down the slope of the fields and onto the homeward path through Hollygrove Wood. The sense of peace was profound down here – just the low roar of wind in the oak tops, and the throaty chuckle of the stream meandering down to Duckpool.
Start: Duckpool car park, Coombe, near Kilkhampton EX23 9JN approx. (OS ref SS 202117)
Getting there: A39 to Kilkhampton; minor road to Stibb; follow ‘Coombe’; at Coombe, follow ‘Duckpool’ to car park.
Walk (5¼ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 126): Follow South West Coast Path north for 1¾ miles. At Stanbury Mouth (200135) follow path, then green lane, inland (yellow arrows/YA). In 500m lane bends left (206135); ahead through kissing gate/KG (YA). Path across slopes (KG, YA); in 200m, right across footbridge (208136) and stile. Cross 2 fields (stiles, YAs) to cross road (212138). Green lane (YA) past Eastaway Manor; on across field to double stile (215136, YA).
Half left across field; over stile (YA); follow right-hand hedge. In 200m, right through hedge (218136, YA). Don’t go through metal gate ahead, but turn left along path to road in Woodford (219135). Right; in 100m, right down lane. Pass Shears Farm; in 100m, right at top of rise (218133, YA, green dot) down stony lane. In 500m go through gate across track (217129); bear left down grassy track (YA) into wood. In 200m, hairpin right (YA) to bottom of wood (216128); left across footbridge and following stile. Right along track for ¾ mile to road (210118). Ahead downhill across ford; in 200m left, then right (208117, ‘Duckpool’) to car park.
Conditions: Windy on cliffs (unguarded edges); muddy in lanes and fields
Accommodation: Several Landmark Trust properties at Coombe (01628-825925; landmarktrust.org.uk) – unfussy, beautifully maintained cottages in a quiet dell