Walk - The Willaparks
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the entrance to Boscastle car park turn left and walk down to the harbour on the left-hand bank of the river. Pick up the South West Coast Path by the bridge, climbing steeply above the harbour and bearing right on the path at the top.
Across the harbour at the start of the walk, Penally Point is 360 million years old. Slates, siltstones and sandstones laid down in the Carboniferous Period were subjected to tremendous heat and pressure as a result of Earth movements and the rocks were dramatically deformed into numerous complex structures such as faults, folds, fractures and cleavages. The headland is part of the Boscastle Formation and is seamed with veins of quartz, formed when mineral-rich water was intruded through cracks in the layered rock during the mountain-building processes.
If you are here within an hour or two of low tide, you will see the harbour blowhole spouting foam as the waves crash through an underground tunnel, carved out by the sea.
- Detour right on the headland for views from Willapark, by the lookout tower, but otherwise continue across the ancient strip fields on Forrabury Common, carrying on past California Quarry and dropping in the steep valley to the dramatic inlet (or 'geo') at Grower Gut.
The white tower on the first Willapark headland was built in 1827 by Boscastle businessman Thomas Avery, who used it as a summer holiday home. In bad weather Avery prowled along the cliffs, hoping for a shipwreck, so that he could be the first to loot the cargo when it was washed up on the beach. Later the tower was adopted by the Revenue Men as a lookout, who kept an equally close eye on the shoreline, watching for smugglers. Later their duties changed to keeping an eye out for sailors in difficulty below. Today it is manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institute.
- Cross the stream and follow the Coast Path out around the extensively quarried rocks below to where the path forks, shortly after a smaller path heading inland through a field (which you ignore).
This part of the coastline was quarried extensively from the fourteenth century until the Second World War. This hazardous enterprise went ahead regardless of the weather. Quarrymen worked attached to the cliffs by lengths of rope, and as blocks of slate were detached from the rock-face the workers had to swing out of the way. The slates were dressed on site, on narrow ledges or platforms, and then they were lowered onto boats waiting below. The disused slate workings can still be seen in the rock at Grower Gut. Almost three quarters of the slate quarried was not of good enough quality, and this was tipped into the sea from wheelbarrows. One or two of these 'finger dumps' are still visible on the shoreline.
- Fork right here, ignoring the path to the village of Trevalga with its square-towered church, and follow it out around the headland to where the sea has carved a channel between Short Island and the mainland.
By the path to Trevalga Church there is a horse whim in the old quarry workings. A horse would be led around this platform, turning a winch used to raise and lower men and machinery up and down the cliff-face, as well as the worked slate.
Note the herringbone design in which the slates are stacked in the stone walls on this part of the coast. Known as 'curzy way', or 'Jack and Jill' walling, these boundary walls sometimes have 'sheep creeps' built into them - an opening big enough for a sure-footed sheep to pass through to graze on the steep cliffs, but too small to allow the less nimble cattle through.
In spring and summer, seabirds nest on Short Island. Look out for razorbills and guillemots, and sometimes even puffins.
Tintagel has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rocks. Here the sea has carved cliffs and platforms into the lower Carboniferous and upper Devonian rocks, and erosion along fault lines and softer rocks has produced an intricate set of bays, headlands, stacks, blowholes, caves and arches, like the one at Ladies Window, where the softer rock has eroded to leave the 'window'.
- By Ladies Window the Coast Path turns abruptly left above to head southwards, past Long Island and then a chain of tiny islets. Rounding a major geo, it runs alongside a campsite for some distance, cutting across a headland and then dropping into Rocky Valley.
- In Rocky Valley, cross the bridge and climb the hill beyond. The path turns abruptly south again on this headland and travels over the clifftops above Benoath Cove and then Bossiney Haven.
- Again ignoring the path inland, heading towards the outskirts of Bossiney, bear right to follow the Coast Path around the back of Lye Rock and another Willapark. Turn left with the path behind Willapark and carry on to the next right-angled turn in the path, approaching Tintagel.
'Willapark' in Cornish means 'enclosure with a view', and in the Iron Age there was a cliff castle on both Willapark headlands on this walk, where ramparts and ditches were built across the neck of the headland to seal it from the mainland. On this Willapark, archaeologists have found faint traces of what they believe to be hut circles within the enclosure.
In the sea off the northern side of Willapark, The Sisters stand isolated from the mainland after the sea carved a channel between them and the headland, although they are joined underwater by a shallow reef. Lye Rock, to the east, is in the process of being detached in the same way. The rocks are a popular spot for nesting razorbills and guillemots, and Lye Rock was once the site of Cornwall's biggest puffin colony, although by the 1980s there were few left here.
- Again take the right-hand fork to stay on the Coast Path, ignoring the lane heading up to Bossiney, and follow it out around Smith's Cliff and on to Barras Nose. Detour right on the headland for spectacular views over Tintagel Haven to the island and its ruins.
At Bossiney there are more medieval strip fields, like the ones at Forrabury, based on ancient Celtic farming systems. The lane heading up to Bossiney is known as Sanding Lane, and in past centuries it was used by farmers to bring seaweed up from the beach to spread on their fields as a fertiliser.
- From Barras Nose carry on along the Coast Path, detouring right to visit Tintagel Castle but otherwise continuing along Castle Road and on to Fore Street in Tintagel and on to Bossiney Road, where you can catch a bus outside the Visitor Centre to return to Boscastle.
Across the neck of Barras Nose there is a rocky ridge, forming a natural defence like the ones constructed in the Iron Age across the Willapark headlands, and it is possible that there was an Iron Age settlement here too. Flint tools have been found here dating from the Bronze Age, before it, and in the 1890s Barras Nose was known as Barrows Cliff, suggesting that there were burial mounds here too.
The Castle Hotel, designed by the innovative Cornish architect and social reformer Silvanus Trevail, was once known as King Arthur's Hotel. The original plan was to build it on Barras Nose, but there was immediate outrage, and rapid fundraising enabled campaigners to buy the headland in 1897 in order to donate it to the National Trust. It was the Trust's first coastal property Trust. Today the organisation protects nearly 35 per cent of the Cornish coastline. Distinguished guests at the Castle Hotel have included Winston Churchill, Edward Elgar, Ava Gardner and Noel Coward. In 1978 it was used as the location for the lunatic asylum in the 'Dracula', starring Lawrence Olivier.
In Boscastle and Tintagel