First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
An afternoon of milky blue sky and sunshine over the North Cornwall coast. A couple of contented drinkers sipped their pints on the terrace of the Coombe Barton Inn, down in the heart of Crackington Haven. At the foot of the hamlet a stony shore ran down to a fingernail of sand between cliffs of sandstones and shales, contorted in folded layers as though a giant had squeezed them in his fist.
Up on the cliffs the coast path ran between thickets of alexanders with globular green heads, a tasty treat for knowledgeable consumers since the Romans introduced them to these islands. Gorse wafted coconut scents from its heavy gold flowers, and down at ground level the banks were spattered white with stitchwort and fleshy-leaved scurvy grass – all bearing witness of spring’s leap forward into summer.
A farmhouse lay slate-hung and snugged down against any weather the coast could hurl at it. We crossed footbridges over miniature ravines trickling with water, the coastline sagging seaward in the loose folds of landslips. A zigzag path brought us up under skylark song to the summit of Cambeak, a promontory with fantastic views along the coast – north to the harsh sheer cliffs around Morwenstow, south to the misty hump of Trevose Head near Padstow.
The wind-bitten turf of Cambeak was netted with the strap-like leaves and tiny blue flower stars of spring squill, a delicate and beautiful plant that has retreated to western coastal fastnesses. What a pleasure to find it here, thickly carpeting the headland.
Down through a sandy yellow undercliff, an old landslip exposing steeply canted rock strata, with the sea washing and sighing on the lonely beaches of Little Strand and The Strangles. Looking back, we saw a shore wrinkled with rock strata washed down to ridges by countess tides. A wave-cut arch of dark rock, the Northern Door, stood out from the cliffs among sea-smoothed purple boulders.
Above a tumble of cliffs and gullies we turned off the coast path and made inland for Pengold Farm, where lambs on springs leaped around their anxiously bleating mothers. Beyond lay a landscape of steep slopes curving down into hidden valleys, their flanks squared by thick hedgebanks into pastures too small and awkward for modern cultivation.
The field path dropped down into the tree-lined Ludon Valley, hidden until we were almost upon it. We turned for home along a green path under trees full of evening birdsong. Through the cleft rush a stream tangled with fallen trees, bubbling over a grey stony bed and curving through quiet dingles bright with the intense gold yolks of kingcups.
How hard is it? 4½ miles, strenuous, many cliff steps and slopes
Start: Crackington Haven car park, near Bude EX23 0JG (£3 for 4 hours, £5 all day – coins only) – OS ref SX 143968)
Getting there: Bus 95 (Bude)
Road – Crackington Haven is signed off A39 (Bude-Camelford) at Wainhouse Corner.
The Walk (OS Explorer 111): South along Coast Path for 2 miles. At ‘Trevigue’ post (133952), keep ahead; in 200m fork left (yellow arrow/YA) on Coast Path. In 300m at ‘Boscastle’ post (132949), fork let (YA, ‘To Road’). Cross road (134947); across field into dip (YA); up to top gate (136945, YA). Left to barn corner; diagonally across field, down to left of 2 gates (138947, YA). On with hedge bank on right, down into Ludon Valley. Cross stream and stile (140951); follow YAs and ‘Haven’ back to Crackington Haven.
Lunch/Accommodation: Coombe Barton Inn (01840-230345, coombebarton.co.uk). Open 7 days; book ahead for meals
Info: Bude TIC (01288-354240)