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The Dramatic Geology of Crackington Haven

A coastal and inland walk with views of the spectacular sea cliffs of the North Cornish coast.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 270ft (82m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good coastal footpath and woodland tracks. Can be very wet and muddy

Landscape Open coast and wooded valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 111, Bude, Boscastle & Tintagel

Start/finish SX 145969

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas

Parking Crackington Haven car park. From the A39 at Wainhouse Corner, or from Boscastle on the B3263. Can be busy in summer. Burden Trust car park, along B3263 road to Wainhouse

Public toilets Crackington Haven


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the Crackington Haven car park entrance go left across a bridge, then turn right at a telephone kiosk. Follow a broad track round to the left, between a signpost and an old wooden seat, then go through a kissing gate onto the coast path.

2 Keep left and follow a path up a sheltered valley on the inland side of the steep hill, then continue on the cliff path.

3 Where a stretch of low inland cliffs begins, just beyond a signpost and a few paces before a second signpost, go left along a path to reach a road by a National Trust sign for 'The Strangles'.

4 Go left, walking past the farm entrance to Trevigue, then, in just a few paces, turn right down a drive by the Trevigue sign. Then bear off to the left across the grass to go through a gate by a signpost.

5 Go directly down the field, keeping left of a telegraph pole, to reach a stile. Continue downhill to the edge of a wood. Go down a tree-shaded path to a junction of paths in a shady dell by the river.

6 Turn sharp left here, following the signpost towards Haven, and continue on the obvious path down the wooded river valley.

7 Cross a footbridge, then turn left at a junction with a track. Cross another footbridge and continue to a gate by some houses. Follow a track and then a surfaced lane to the main road, then turn left to the car park.

Crackington Haven has given its name to a geological phenomena, the Crackington Formation, a fractured shale that has been shaped into incredibly twisted and contorted forms. On the sheared-off cliff faces of the area, you can see the great swirls and folds of this sedimentary rock that was 'metamorphosised' by volcanic heat and contorted by the geological storms of millions of years ago. Even the name Crackington derives from the Cornish word for sandstone, crak. The very sound, in English, hints at friability and dramatic decay. Scripted across the face of the vast cliffs traversed by this walk are the anticlines, (upward folds) and synclines (downward folds) that are so characteristic of these great earth movements.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Crackington Haven was a small port, landing coal and limestone and shipping out local agricultural produce and slate. Small coastal ships would anchor off the beach, or settle on the sands at low tide, in order to exchange cargoes. Plans to expand Crackington into a major port were made in the early 19th century. The grandiose scheme aimed to build huge breakwaters to protect Crackington and the neighbouring Tremoutha Haven from the, often huge, Atlantic swells. Quays and docks were to be built inside the protected harbour. A rail link to Launceston was proposed and a small new town planned for the Haven, which was to be renamed Port Victoria.

As with many development plans of the time, the scheme did not materialise, otherwise the Crackington Haven of today might have been a dramatically different place. As you set out along the open cliff south from Crackington, the remarkable nature of the geology unfolds. Looking back from Bray's Point, you see clearly the massive contortions in the high cliff face of Pencannow Point on the north side of Crackington. Soon the path leads above Tremoutha Haven and up to the cliff edge beyond the domed headland of Cambeak. From here there is a breathtaking view of the folded strata and quartzite bands of Cambeak's cliffs. A path leads out to the tip of the headland, but it is precarious and is not recommended especially if it is wet or windy. The geology of the cliffs is still active, and, one day, erosion will destroy the neck of the headland, transforming Cambeak into an island, but preferably without you on it.

A short distance further on you arrive above Strangles Beach where again you look back to such fantastic features as Northern Door, a promontory of harder rock pierced by a natural arch where softer shales have been eroded by the sea. Where the route of the walk turns inland there is a line of low cliffs set back from the main cliff edge. These represent the old wounds of a land slip where the cliff has slumped towards the sea. From here the second part of the walk turns inland and descends into East Wood and the peaceful Trevigue Valley, itself part of a great geological extravaganza having once been a 'fiord' filled by the sea. Today much of the valley is a nature reserve and wandering down its leafy length is a splendid antidote to the coastal drama of the Crackington cliffs.

While you're there

At Point c, where the route turns inland, you can continue along the coast path for a few paces to where a path leads down right to a stile, from where another path leads down to The Strangles beach. Until well into the 20th century such beaches were a source of seaweed and sand for use as fertiliser on local fields. The track down to the beach gave access for donkeys. A visit to the beach is worthwhile, in spite of the steep return. You can view the remarkable coastal features from sea level.

What to look for

The field and woodland section of this walk supports a very different flora to that found on the heathery, windswept cliffland. Some of the most profuse field edge and woodland plants belong to the carrot family, the Umbelliferae. They may seem hard to distinguish, but the commonest is cow parsley, identifiable by its reddish stalk, feathery leaves and clustered white flower heads. Hogweed is a much larger umbellifer often standing head and shoulders above surrounding plants; it has hairy stalks and broad toothed leaves and can cause an unpleasant rash if it comes in contact with your skin. A third common umbellifer is the alexander, prolific in spring and early summer. It has broad, lime green leaves and clustered yellow florets.


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