Saturday, 23 April 2016


The Church of St Gennys provides a clue to the treacherous nature of the water off the coast of the small coastal village of Crackington Haven.  The graveyard includes memorials to seamen who have lost their lives over the years in a series of shipwrecks.  One such was the Swedish brigantine William which lost 7 men in a storm in 1894.  Just six years later a further 7 men were lost when the steamer City of Vienna and the barque Capricornia were lost to storms.  The harbour here used to be used for importing coal and limestone from Wales, and for exporting the slate that was quarried here, but it has reverted to a sleepy cove with a pebble and sand beach, a pub and a bistro.  Pencarrow Point towers over the beach at a height of over 400 feet, and there is spectacular coastal walking to be had over a stretch of coast towards Boscastle given to the National Trust in 1959 by Wing Commander A. G. Parnall to commemorate the airmen who died during the Battle of Britain, including his brother.   Crackington Haven suffered extensive damage from flooding in the great flood of 2004, of which Boscastle was the more famous victim – more about this in the next post.  The area around the village has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The latter is partly due to the geology, with the carvoniferous rocks giving rise to the name 'The Crackington Formation'.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Rob Wilcox, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 5 April 2016


Cornish pirates once held sway with a reign of terror here in Widemouth Bay.  The 14th century was a particularly turbulent time, with groups of robbers and pirates at each others’ throats.  Even the local vicar in the nearby village of Poundstock was embroiled in one of the gangs, a fact which resulted in a grisly end when he was murdered by a band of intruders to his church just after Christmas 1357.  His ghost is rumoured to haunt the area still.  Smuggling was also rife, helped along by the numerous isolated inlets and coves in the area.

All these nefarious activities are forgotten today, as Widemouth Bay proves a magnet for beachgoers, surfers and walkers alike.  There is plenty of interest on the beach itself, with a mix of wide stretches of sand, interesting rock formations and rock pools.  On a sunny day it is worth lingering into the evening, as the sunsets here are legendary.  Bathers should take care as the tide comes in very quickly; in the summer there are lifeguards on duty.  For water sports enthusiasts, as well as the obligatory surfing, there is sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.  The beach is backed by a village of low-slung buildings with a small selection of shops, cafes and holiday accommodation.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Rob Noble, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 31 March 2016


Bude is the first major surfing resort on the Cornwall side of the border along this stretch of coast.  There are two sandy beaches, Summerleaze and Crooklets, with a natural seawater pool set between them fed by the water from the daily high tides – great for safe swimming at low tide.  Summerleaze is backed by a row of colourful beach huts; the existing ones are about to go up for auction, to be replaced by new ones.  The town itself, separated from the beaches by an expanse of grass, has the usual range of shops to be expected in a surfing resort as well as a good range of places to eat and drink.  But Bude is not all about beaches and surfing.  Bude Castle, with its free to enter Heritage Centre, was the home of the Victorian Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, a pioneer in steam-powered transport.  The Heritage Centre includes displays on the area’s geology, on the many shipwrecks which have occurred on this stretch of coast, on Gurney’s achievements, and there is an art gallery.  The castle’s lovely grounds are surrounded by the River Neet on one side and Bude Canal on the other.  The canal was once 35 miles long, but much of the upper part is now overgrown.  Like any popular seaside resort, Bude has a variety of events during the course of the year, from the Bude for Food cookery event to the annual jazz and folk festivals.

For a list of events in Bude, see here 

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Summerleaze Beach. Photo by Tom Jolliffe, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 18 March 2016


Most places around the British coast have had one or more eccentric characters enliving the life of the locality.  In the case of Morwenstow, it was the local vicar Robert Stephen Hawker, or Parson Hawker, whose antics during his time at Morwenstow during the mid-19th century could have filled a book. First up there was his chosen attire: he loved bright colours and often wore a long purple coat, or even more unconventional for a clergyman, a yellow horse blanket wrapped around him in the style of a poncho.  His leisure pursuits included a penchant for opium and installing himself in a hut on the cliff which he built himself from the timbers of shipwrecks, where he would indulge in his passion for writing poetry.  One of his most enduring creations was the famous Trelawny song beloved of Cornish patriots.  But he was also a compassionate man and he took a leading role in the rescue of sailors from stricken ships which had come aground on this wild stretch of coast, as well as trying to prevent the locals from looting the wrecks.  His compassion even stretched to mice, when he excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays.

The church of St Morwenna presided over by Hawker dates from Norman times and has fine examples of stone carvings and carved bench ends.  As a reminder of the danger of the seas around this coast, over 40 seamen are buried in the churchyard, and the figurehead of one of the wrecks, the Caledonia, is also to be found in the churchyard.  The Caledonia was on its way back to Gloucester from Odessa when it fell victim to a north-westerly gale.  There was only one survivor, who was taken to the Rectory where Hawker made sure he was nursed back to health.  

Map of the area. 

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Vicarage Cliff, site of Hawker's Hut. Photo by David Hawgood, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 12 March 2016


In ancient times Hartland Point’s wild majesty came to the attention of no less than Ptolemy of Ancient Greece, who christened it “The Promontory of Hercules”.  The headland, which marks the point where the western end of the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean, is reached by a narrow road leading to a car park above Barley Bay, or alternatively there is a 6-mile stretch of the coastal path from Clovelly.  Standing on a small ‘table’ of land at the base of the cliffs is the whitewash lighthouse with a  helipad, built in 1874 by Sir James Douglass.  Remedial work had to be done in order to mitigate against the erosion of the rock under the lighthouse by the sea.  There have been numerous shipwrecks off the Point over the years, including one dating from 1983 called the MS Johanna, carrying wheat from the Netherlands.  The rusted remains of the hull can still be seen lying forlornly at the base of the cliffs.

Hartland Quay was built under the sponsorship of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins during the reign of Elizabeth I.  It was used as a port for shipping produce such as coal until bad storms during the 19th century caused it to start breaking up.  Now Hartland Quay is no more than a place name since nothing remains of the quay itself.  There is, however, a ShipwreckMuseum.  Nearby Hartland Abbey was built on the site of a monastery founded in the 12th century.  The Abbey, which is a private home, is open to visitors in the summer and houses a large collection of Victorian and Edwardian photographs.  There is a woodland walk through the grounds to the coast.

Map of the area. 

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Hartland Point lighthouse.  Photo by Becks, via Wikimedia Commons