Walk - Crackington Haven Circular
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 car park at Crackington, go down towards the beach, past the phone box, and pick up the South West Coast Path, on your left, heading southwards towards Cambeak.
The beach is shingly at high tide, but there is a good expanse of sand when the tide drops. The rocky ridges alongside the beach make it popular for rockpooling, and its westerly aspect makes it a good surfing beach.
In times past, Crackington Haven was a small port. There was no quay or jetty: boats were sailed straight onto the beach at high tide. They brought coal and limestone to burn in the limekiln that once stood here, to make lime for fertilising the acid soil. In exchange they would carry out slate from the local quarries. Donkeys and horses carried sand and seaweed up to the fields, also to be used as fertiliser, and stones from the beach for use in building. There was a water mill in the village, and the leat can still be seen nearby. In 1836 there were plans for an ambitious development, to be known as Port Victoria. It would have a 12-acre harbour, with two breakwaters enclosing a dock, and the new town would be linked by rail to Launceston. The scheme received royal assent but never happened.
The rock formations here are so distinctive that geologists have named the rock type after the cove. The Crackington Formation is a brittle, easily-fractured shale whose layers, or 'strata', were folded under enormous pressure during Earth movements some 300 million years ago. The cliffs in this district - especially at nearby Millook - are of international importance as examples of the way this rock was compressed into zigzags. Veins of white quartz intruded into the rock serve to highlight the dramatic folds in the cliffs.
The path climbs to the high cliffs above Tremoutha, where cattle, goats and curly-horned Soay sheep are used to graze the heath and grassland, to control the scrub. As a result, the area is a riot of colour in spring and summer, when the grass is thick with wildflowers such as the pink-globed thrift and the yellow creeping kidney vetch and bird's-foot trefoil. Beyond Tremoutha the path rises and falls through a series of hanging valleys, where the streams tumble to the beach in small waterfalls.
- A path to the left cuts across the bottom of Cambeak, rejoining the Coast Path on the far side if you wish to bypass the steep hill to the headland. From the tip there are terrific sea views, sometimes as far as Lundy Island on the one hand and Trevose Head, near Padstow, on the other. The rock ahead is unstable and prone to landslips, so take care.
The headland at Cambeak is formed of a harder rock than the cliffs on either side of it, which is why it is still so prominent. There are exposed slabs here showing ripples in the rock very similar to the ones to be seen in the wet sand at low tide
- Continue along the Coast Path following the cliff tops.
As a result of all the geological upheaval, the coastline along here consists of high slumped cliffs. The gentle gradient of the lower slopes - the 'undercliff' - allows for thick vegetation to grow in an area that is accessible to grazing animals. This has made a mosaic of valuable cliffland habitats, especially the nationally-scarce coastal heathland, which in the summer is vivid with gorse and heather. Linnets and stonechats call from the low bushes, while skylarks and meadow pipits trill high overhead. You may be treated to the high-speed dive of a peregrine after prey, or the rapid wing-beat of a hunting kestrel.
Below you as you head towards The Strangles beach, Northern Door is a natural archway. This was carved through the rock when the sea exploited a crack in the cliff and turned it into a cave, whose roof eventually fell in under the tremendous pressure caused by the waves washing around the cave.
- Reaching the the sandy beach at Little Strand, ignore the path heading inland to carry on along the Coast Path.
Beyond, the islet known as Samphire Rock is named after a rubbery-leaved plant, rock samphire, also known as Cornish asparagus. It is edible but is a protected species. On the Strangles beach, ahead, there are traces of a donkey path, where sand and slate were brought up from the beach.
- Above the southern end of Strangles Beach, the path to the right heading down to the beach is steep, with steps and rocks to be negotiated along the way, but there are interesting rock formations to be seen if you are feeling both adventurous and energetic, and the tide is right. Otherwise take the left-hand path, signed to the car park and Trevigue, and follow it to the road.
- On the road turn left and walk to the sign at Trevigue. Take the left-hand track leading into the farm and walk across the grass to a gate to the left of the farmhouse.
Like the other scattered settlements on this hostile coastline, Trevigue is dug well into the hillside to escape the westerlies roaring in from the sea. First mentioned in 1327, it is thought to have been built around an earlier Saxon settlement, and from the air there are traces of earthworks that were probably old hollow ways and building platforms. The current stone-and-slate farmhouse was built in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, and today features an award-winning restaurant specialising in local produce. (For details, see www.trevigue.com/restaurant).
- Going through the gate, follow the path down through fields and a steep slope, to cross the stile into the woods.
- Turn left in the woods, along the path signposted to ‘Haven’, following it the length of the valley.
Here you are walking through the Ludon Valley, another haven for wildlife with its sheltered woodland. Beneath the mature oak and ash trees, with its holly understorey, hazels and willows grow by the stream, and in the summer the air rings with birdsong.
- Towards the end of the valley, cross two streams and follow the track to the road. Turn left on the road to return to the car park.
Crackington Haven (pub and cafes).