Walk - Maer Cliff
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 walk down the road towards the coast and pick up the South West Coast Path on your left-hand side just before the beach. The path makes its way through the grassland above Maer Cliff and heads for the track by The Bungalow. Turn right on the track, following the Coast Path back towards the cliffs a moment later to carry on above the shoreline, along the edge of Maer Down. Stay on the Coast Path all the way down to Crooklets Beach.
At Menachurch Point, just beyond Northcott Mouth, are the remains of the SS Belem, a Portuguese steamship which ran aground in thick fog in November 1917. Although all 33 aboard were saved, the Belem was wrecked, and pieces of the vessel can still be seen on the beach at certain states of the tide. The propeller shaft sits on the end of Bude's breakwater, supporting the barrel on Barrel Rock.
The stretch of coast between here and Duckpool has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rock formations. On the cliffs and foreshore there is a visible sequence of alternating shales, mudstones and siltstone, with beds of sandstone between them. If you look closely at the sandstones you can see the traces of ancient sand, volcanoes and other features generated by storm-driven waves in shallow water.
This is part of the Bude Formation, formed on what were then ocean beds in the Carboniferous period, a little over 300 million years ago. These layers, or strata, were later compressed by Earth movements during a mountain-building period known as the Variscan orogeny. The huge pressures involved deformed them into the dramatic patterns visible on the cliffs on this part of the coast today.
There are important fossils in the shales, including fragments of fish, as well as ammonites and other crustaceans. These are further evidence that these layers of sediment were laid down in shallow water, and geologists have been able to use them to date the rocks.
- From Crooklets beach make your way up to the main car park above it, carrying on ahead at the crossroads beyond it to walk to Maer Down Road, on the left.
- Turn left on Maer Down Road, bearing left in front of Hawker's Court, and follow the road to the Downs. Continue ahead along the bridleway, staying on it back to The Bungalow. From here retrace your steps to Northcott Mouth car park.
The round mounds on the downs are Bronze Age tumuli, or burial mounds, from between 3000 and 5000 years ago. There are other traces of human history here, including the last remnants of a medieval settlement, with associated field systems and a wide trackway from a slightly later period. At Crooklets there are the remains of rifle butts from a few centuries ago, and twentieth-century gun emplacements, used in the Second World War for firing practice. There were also 'dragons teeth' anti-tank obstacles at Northcott, and a pillbox, to defend the cove from any enemy landing, although these have now gone. Craters from enemy bombing are still visible on the Downs.
In spring and summer the cliffs and Downs are carpeted with wildflowers here: daffodils and primroses are followed by the pale blue stars of spring squill and the softlilac of early scurvy grass. In summer clumps of pink-headed thrift and freckled white sea campion flowers are a splash of colour against the sea. Yellow bird's-foot trefoil flowers contrast vividly with the purple vetch twining around the tall stands of hawkweed and foxgloves and the white umbrella heads of wild carrot.
Inland, on the far side of Maer Lane, is the Maer Lake Nature Reserve. This 25-acre wetland meadow was first mentioned in 1284, when it was referred to as 'La Mere' ('The Sea'). Later local farmers used it as an area of wet grazing. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust acquired it in 1983 and now manage it as an ornithological site. The Trust introduced an artificial sluice to cause permanent flooding, instead of just winter pools, creating islands. An attractive roosting area on the islands drew in lapwings and golden plovers, and waders such as dunlin and snipe feast on grubs and other crustaceans in the thick silt created by the standing water. In the winter ducks such as widgeons and teals fly in to join them.
Recently the reserve has been recognised as an important resting and feeding site for migratory birds blown in by Atlantic winds. Frequent visitors include swans such as Bewick and whooper swans, and a wide range of other species including sandpipers and spoonbills, and even the marsh harrier, which can be recognised by its long tail and V-shaped wings as it hunts over the grassland in search of small mammals. The reserve is not open to the public, but it is visible from the road.
At Crooklets, Northcott Mouth and elsewhere in Bude