Walk - Sandymouth & Coombe Valley
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park at Northcott Mouth drop down the road to the beach to pick up the South West Coast Path on your right-hand side as it climbs the steps, heading towards Duckpool. Follow the Coast Path along above the rocks to the road at Sandymouth.
Sandymouth, like many of the other beaches along the north coast, is very popular with surfers. Even when the surf is small elsewhere there is usually a good wave to be caught here.
At the lowest of tides at Menachurch Point the last remnants of the Portuguese steamship the SS Belem are exposed in the sand. The 1925-ton vessel ran aground in thick fog one night in November 1917, on her way to South Wales. Although the whole crew was saved, the ship was dashed to pieces. The pole on Barrel Rock on Bude's breakwater is the Belem's propeller shaft.
This stretch of coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rock formations (see the Maer Cliff Walk). The rocks were formed on what were then ocean beds in the Carboniferous period, a little over 300 million years ago, and were later compressed by Earth movements during a mountain-building period. After being crumpled and folded as Devon and Cornwall were shunted into France, the rocks were then subjected to the pounding of the waves in millions of years of winter storms, resulting in the chaos below the cliffs today.
In summer the maritime grasslands at the top of the cliff are bright with the wildflowers that are able to survive the conditions, and the path is fringed with yellow bird's-foot trefoil and pink thrift, with white-headed wild carrot flowers nodding above their feathery leaves.
- Crossing the road, carry on along the Coast Path above the cliffs, descending into Warren Gutter and then climbing out the other side past the high peak of Warren Point. Once more you descend abruptly, crossing the stream to reach the road, either via the stepping stones or at King William's Bridge, a little further upstream.
In many valleys along the coast between Bude and Hartland the pounding waves eat into the cliffs faster than the streams are able to carve a bed through the hard rock, and so water running off the hills falls to the shoreline over the high cliff-edge. These are known as hanging valleys.
The thatched cottages and the 1842 water mill in the hamlet at Coombe belong to the Landmark Trust, but in earlier times they were part of the Stowe Estate, now owned by the National Trust. The original manor at Stowe Barton, later the historic home of Tudor adventurer Sir Richard Grenville, was listed in the 1086 Domesday book. Around the valley there are various traces of a medieval settlement that once thrived in the area.
In the pebble ridge at the mouth of the stream at Duckpool, winter storms in the 1980s exposed a patch of rock burnt red, with ashes and charcoal preserved in the silt and mud around it, and layers of limpet and whelk shells. Archaeologists identified this as a hearth, and found a second one nearby. Nearby buildings were thought to be associated with Kilkhampton's medieval port, used for the tin trade, and the hearth is thought to have been a Romano British forge, from the first few centuries AD.
- On the road from Duckpool turn right to walk to the junction a short distance along the valley.
- Fork left here, turning right a couple of hundred yards later. Bear right past the houses to walk between the buildings beyond and pick up the footpath straight ahead, into Coombe Valley. Follow the path through Lee Wood.
- Stay on the path as it curves to the right and starts heading southwards, about three quarters of a mile later. Bear right and then right twice more as paths join from the left, until you come to a T-junction. Turn left here, to head westwards through Stowe Wood and on to the road beside the National Trust property at Stowe Barton.
The present house at Stowe is the most recent of several to have stood here. The original Stowe House, Richard Grenville's home in Tudor times, was described by one commentator as 'a huge rambling building, half castle, half dwelling house with quaint terraces, statues, knots of flowers, clipped yews and hollies'. In the English Civil War, almost a century after Sir Richard died in the 1591 Battle of Flores, Sir Bevill Grenville famously defeated Cromwell's Parliamentarians in a battle at nearby Stamford Hill (see the Bude Canal Walk). The grateful king offered to pay for a new house to be built at Stowe; and so the old house was demolished in 1679 and a new one built beside it.
This new house was described as 'a huge Palladiam pile bedizened with every monstrosity of bad taste ... Like most other things that owed their existence to the Stuarts it arose only to fall again'. This one, too, was demolished in 1739, although parts of it survive elsewhere: the staircase is at Prideaux Place in Padstow, and the cedar wood used to build the chapel was bought by Lord Cobham for his Buckinghamshire mansion, also called Stowe. Earthworks scattered around the Cornish Stowe estate today show where some of the buildings and gardens were, with the chapel's foundations just visible opposite the gates of the present-day farmhouse.
- Turn left on the road and then take the bridleway along the track to the right shortly afterwards, bearing right with it to walk between fields to the track crossroads. Turn left here to head due south between fields to the road.
- Cross the road to carry on along the track almost immediately opposite, bearing right a little further on to continue through the fields and on along the lane.
- Carry on past the track to Dunsmouth Farm, continuing straight on ahead when the farm drive joins from the left. Stay on the track downhill all the way to Northcott Mouth, turning left at the bottom to return to the car park.
At Northcott Mouth, Sandymouth and Duckpool (seasonal)