Walk - Beeny Cliff & Pentargon Falls
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Walk through the back of the car park, heading away from the village, carrying on through the overflow car park to go through the gate and on into the Valency Valley. Follow the path alongside the river, across an area of grass and then through woodland.
The Valency is one of three rivers flowing to the sea through Boscastle, and it is fed by streams from the Otterham Downs above as well as five more rivers as it travels through the valley to the sea. The steep hillsides of these river valleys are thought to have acted as a funnel during the five hours of concentrated torrential rain that sent 440 million gallons (2 million tonnes) of water cascading into Boscastle on 16 August 2004. The devastating flooding washed away the bridge and four buildings, and 115 cars were swept into the harbour (see the Minster Wood & the Boscastle Floods Walk).
After the water had flowed away, extensive repair and regeneration work took place. Tree management and other work was carried out to restore the precious habitats in the Valency valley.
- A short distance up the valley the path passes a footbridge across the river, signed to Minster Church. Ignore this path and carry on along the river, taking the steps to the left where the path forks and continuing ahead to New Mills. Going through the gate, carry on along the track to pass behind the old mill buildings to the lane ahead.
Dedicated to the fifth-century Welsh princess, St Materiana, Minster Church is thought to have been built on the site of the hermitage she established here, with the nearby holy well being the source of her drinking water. There was a monastery in Minster a few centuries later. In the twelfth century the monks of SS Sergius and Bacchus, based in Angers, established a small priory around the early church after it was given to them by Boscastle overlord, William of Bottreaux.
The church and surrounding woodland provide an ideal habitat for the Greater Horseshoe bat, and the Minster colony is the largest known in Cornwall, containing about 5% of the UK's entire population.
The tall straggly oak woodland of Minster Wood, with its understorey of hazel and a few holly trees, suggests that it has been growing here for several centuries. It is possibly the remnant of the woodland that covered the land in prehistoric times, preserved by the coppicing carried out by the Minster monks for all their timber needs.
There was a settlement recorded at New Mills in the sixteenth century, but the corn mill that gave the hamlet its name is thought to be from the early eighteenth century. The miller's cottage that stood beside it has been dated to sometime between 1700 and 1734. By the beginning of the twentieth century the mill was no longer in use, but it probably gave the Valency valley its name: the Cornish 'melin chy' means 'millhouse'.
- At New Mills turn left to climb the lane as it zigzags steeply up the hill. Follow it as it curves right, carrying on past the farm to the main road ahead.
Upstream from New Mills is St Juliot, where in 1870 the young architect Thomas Hardy arrived to draw up plans for restoring the fifteenth century church there. The rector's sister, Emma Gifford, opened the door to Hardy and was instantly smitten. On this and subsequent visits they spent time together, Hardy on foot beside Emma on horseback as she showed him some of the stunning scenery.
'Often we walked to Boscastle Harbour down the beautiful Valency valley,' Emma wrote, 'where we had to jump over stones and climb over a low wall by rough steps, or get through a narrow pathway, to come out on great open spaces suddenly, with a sparkling little brook going the same way.'
They married in 1874 but later became estranged. Nonetheless, Emma's death in 1912 had a profound effect on Hardy and he returned to Boscastle to mourn her, producing some intensely personal poetry. Two years later he married his secretary, who was 39 years younger, but he continued to grieve for Emma. After his death his ashes went to Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was buried with Emma in Stinsford, near Dorchester.
- On the road turn right, watching out for traffic, turning left onto a narrow lane a short distance beyond. Follow the lane to the bottom of the valley, crossing the stile on the right and walking uphill through the field to the bushes at the top. Going through the gap in the bushes and the gate beyond, cross the next field, aiming slightly to the right of the house at the top to come out on the lane.
- On the lane turn right and walk past Manor Farm to the junction beyond. Turn left here to walk past North Lodge, turning right beyond it to take the public footpath between hedges and into a field. Cross the field ahead beside the hedge ahead to join the South West Coast Path.
- On the Coast Path turn left and follow it along the clifftop to Fire Beacon Point before descending steeply to the face of Beeny Cliff. Carry on around the cliff to turn briefly inland at Pentargon.
Below Fire Beacon Point the cliffs are pitted with caves, including one known as 'Seals Hole'. Look out for seals hauling out on the rocks below at low tide, and listen for their haunting calls.
The waterfall at Pentargon drops 120ft (37m) and after heavy rain it can be a spectacular torrent. This is known as a 'hanging valley', where the river fails to cut a significant pathway through the hard rock before it reaches the cliffs. The North Cornwall/North Devon coastline has many hanging valleys where the streams plunge from a great height to the shoreline below.
Emma Hardy wrote: 'Scarcely any author and his wife could have had a much more romantic meeting. A beautiful sea-coast, and the wild Atlantic ocean rolling in, with its magnificent waves and spray, its white gulls and black choughs and grey puffins, its cliffs and rocks and gorgeous sun settings.'
- From Pentargon follow the path up the long flight of steps to the cliff top on the far side of the valley, carrying along the clifftop to Penally Point.
Notice how the stone wall along the path incorporates blocks of pink-veined white quartz, intruded between the layers of slate after dramatic Earth movements had folded the rocks.
- At Penally detour left to visit Penally Hill, returning to continue along the Coast Path as it descends to Boscastle harbour. From here follow the river upstream and back to the car park at ther start of the walk.
For a couple of hours either side of low tide, a blowhole low on the north-side cliff sends a great jet of seawater spurting fitfully across the harbour mouth as the waves pour through a tunnel they have carved beneath Penally Point.
Boscastle: pubs; shops for refreshments; cafes (seasonal).