The best winter walks in Cornwall
As the days get shorter and greyer, we tend to retreat to the indoor comforts of central heating and hot chocolate, however this is one of the most atmospheric times of the year to be out walking the well-worn trails of the Cornish coast.
To truly appreciate the wildness of the landscape, it has to be seen through layers of scarves and salt sprayed hair. Here are a few favourite walks in the area for a wild winter wander.
Boscastle and the valency Valley walk
Though Cornwall is famed for its spectacular coastline, this walk takes a more inland approach allowing you to explore the wooded valley surrounding Valency River.
The little village of Boscastle is where the walk starts and you can easily spend a morning here amongst picturesque cottages and quaint restaurants. The Harbour Light Tea Garden is renowned for its homemade scones and friendly service and is perfect for a pre walk cake to give you the sugar boost to get up those cliffs.
The walk quickly leaves the village and takes you up on to the cliffs overlooking the ravine that shelters Boscastle Harbour before following the coastline past several caves (that may not be visible dependent on the tide) and a blowhole that goes every other hour. The full route is available here.
At Forrabury Stitches the path takes you inland and through medieval farmland, this was nurtured in such a specific way that the evidence is still visible today. You will pass both key churches that serve Boscastle, though the Minster is more inviting set in the secluded wooded valley that is named after it.
While walking the edge of river, it is possible to see why Thomas Hardy was so inspired by the area, it is well known that here is where he wrote his early novel ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ and met his first wife Emma Gilford. The Old Rectory which features in the novel, is now a B&B that maintains a sustainable lifestyle despite its historical roots.
Carn Gowla (Look out St.Agnes) walk
A short and easy 1 mile walk but steeped in incredible Cornish history, Carn Gowla means lookout in Cornish and this walk promises stunning views.
At low tides the enormous swathes of sandy beach are visible and most probably prompted military attention as during 1939 and 1940 the area was used by the military as they prepared for the D-Day landings and the slit trenches built by the infantry in preparation for the assault can still be seen today. The heath along the top of the cliff is equally important as it is one of largest remaining tracks of heathland in Cornwall.
As nothing but the resilient heather can grow in this exposed area, well adapted invertebrates are losing habitat as the Cornish heaths reduce which has created a remarkable diversity of spiders along this stretch. This in turn has prompted an enormous community of seabirds that can be seen wheeling in the grey winter skies as well as breeding and nesting through the winter months. Though grey seals are mostly seen during the summer, this stretch of coastline hosts two seal colonies so there are still fairly regular sightings as the females travel hundreds of miles to return to where they were born in order to pup themselves.
The walk is just off from the village of St Agnes which is famous for its traditional Cornish atmosphere and picturesque buildings. Wandering around local craft shops can while away an afternoon while dinner at The Driftwood Spars is unmissable.
This unique Brew pub is named after the beams (spars) that the structure of the building is comprised of. These were scavenged from this stretch of coast and put in place in the 1650’s. Beyond its unique architecture, The Driftwood Spars has an award winning selection of real ale, brewed by themselves just over the road and a menu of traditional Pub food that is locally sourced and makes the most of their close proximity to the sea. For the full route check The National Trust Website.
Hells mouth to godrevy
Despite the threatening name, this 5 mile moderate walk takes you through some of the best views and scenery to be had on the Northern coast of Cornwall. The walk starts at the Godrevy Café and carpark which almost instantly takes you through Towans (Cornish for sand dunes) to view the sweep of St Ives Bay. Historically this bay was a busy port and trade centre and therefore the site of many wrecks, most notably SS Alba that went aground on the Three Brothers Rocks. Godrevy lighthouse marks the offshore reefs and guides you up to Godrevy Head.
The walk has a gentle amble through farmland and onto the Knavocks before it takes you off to the dramatic inlet of Hells Mouth. The cliffs above Hells Mouth are some of the highest in the area at just under 300 feet and the entire walk is a bird watching paradise as guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes and razorbills are known to breed in the area. In high tide, there is also a blow hole that can be clearly seen from Navax Head as it produces a horizontal jet.
The path is close to the town of St Ives which is one of Cornwall’s key centres. Historically a fishing village, St Ives thrives from an influx of artists who take inspiration from the rugged landscape and tourists revelling in the coastal bliss. St Ives Cornwall Blog has up to date information about events in the area and you can easily spend an evening in the town after you have finished your walk. The Tearoom St Ives is a local gem that despite the name, has a modern attitude to food and flavour as well as an extensive range of gluten free dishes. The full walk can be found on The National Trust website.
Mousehole to lamorna cove
This walk starts in the harbour that inspired the famous illustrated children’s book ‘The Mousehole Cat’ and that sets the tone for the entire area. Breath-taking views and fantastic light quality have bred an art community that has since thrived, this combined with a tenacious fishing heritage and an unparalleled love of traditional food make this area unique.
The walk combines the coastal path with the other historic features of the area such as the quarries and rich pasture. As you wander the cliffs you can see Merlyn rock, just beyond this is the cave that lends the village its name that is nestled among the treacherous rocks that would have been the end of many notorious ships such as The Union Star, The Conqueror and Baltic if not for the vigilance of the Mousehole Fisherman.
The granite quarry on the inland part of the walk has national significance as it was from here that the Victorians sourced the raw materials for iconic London buildings like The Embankment and New Scotland Yard. The lush farmland that stretches for miles is the part of the humble beginnings for the famous Cornish clotted cream as the Kemyel Crease Farm are suppliers to the Rodda Family who have been making Clotted Cream since 1890 and distributing since 1920.
With all this beauty and history in one tiny village, it is hardly surprising that it had the last surviving members of the Cornish speaking community. The full 4.8 miles is clearly mapped on I walk Cornwall Website.
Perranuthnoe to Prussia cove
Another stunning piece of the South West Coastal path, this time winding its way through a collection of coves that take on the exotic name of Prussia Cove from their most famous inhabitant, the 18th Century smuggler John Carter who was also known as ‘The King of Prussia’.
Though this path can be steep there are ropes for wet weather and views to make all the sweat worthwhile. Fantastic panoramas from Cudden Point take in a sweep from St Michaels Mount and Penzance to the West as well as Loe Bar and the Lizard in the distant East, leaving the entirety of Mounts Bay on glorious display.
Four individual beaches make up Prussia Cove and each has its own unique story, Piskies Cove is the only sandy beach of the four, and as it catches the afternoon sun and is in a sheltered spot, it is the best one for picnics, though make sure you time it right as there is not beach at high tide. I walk Cornwall has the full details of the 3.9 mile walk.
King Cove was where John Carter landed much of his cargo, and hence takes his title. As a location for smuggled goods it was perfect, as the cove itself is tiny with only a slither of the beach on show and large swells from the South West constantly battering the Cliffs. Prepare for the lack of facilities on the walk and make a stop at The Cabin on the Beach Cafe, which is located in Perranuthnoe and provides necessary sustenance after a bracing walk. Homemade cakes and freshly ground coffee are specialities as well as hearty seasonal meals, make sure you ask about evening events as these crop up frequently and are not to be missed.
Porthleven to Rinsey Head
This moderately strenuous walk (6.8 miles) takes you through the gently undulating farmland and along the cliffs with views straight across Mounts Bay. Beginning in Porthleven, the treacherous nature of the coast is displayed with a grim monument of the canons salvaged from HMS Anson where over one hundred people died in the shipwreck. As you ascend the craggy cliffs it’s easy to see how these placid summertime waters claimed so many lives when held in the grip of the winter storms. The Giants Rock, or The Moonstone is a point of Geological interest as it is comprised of semi-precious mineral garnet not found anywhere else in the UK, the belief behind its arrival is a nautical journey through glaciers and then icebergs, though to carry a rock of this size the iceberg would have to be in excess of 1500 tonnes.
Choughs are a bird close to Cornwall’s heart as they are commonly called ‘The Cornish Crow’ and known to nest in the area. Despite a decline in their numbers in the 1970’s, conservation and habitat management have increased their numbers again.
Anna Clark is an enthusiastic Cornish Blogger whose post Wild Walks on Rinsey Head truly captures the feral and stark nature of the area, “Autumn in Cornwall is my favourite time of year, but winter can be equally as magical. It’s quiet, the beaches are empty, and it all feels a little more wild. Exploring the Southern coastline is the best way to spend a weekend; flask in hand and wrapped up in a hat and scarf, keeping an eye out for secret caves and ancient engine houses along the way. Truly atmospheric on moody winter days!”
Anna’s walk follows Porthleven to Rinsey Head, with full details on I Walk Cornwall.
Mawnan smith circular
For those looking for a little winter greenery, this lovely inland walk is a must, especially as many of the charming villages are difficult to reach by road. As with all Cornish walks, you cannot escape the water, and in this case the Helford River makes its easy progress alongside a good portion of the walk and there is also a coastal stretch. Mawnan Smith is a little village just outside Falmouth with a folklore all its own. This is where the Owlman is reported to have been sighted on multiple occasions since the 70’s and has sparked imagination and been used in popular culture since.
A slice of the subtropical nestles at the heart of this walk in the form of the Trebah Gardens. Open all year and famed for their variety of rare species, this mature garden has been delighting guests for over 200 years. Though there is an entrance fee, the facilities are free.
This walk goes through Helford Passage at about mid-way, allowing for a break after the trek through the rich pastureland. This once thriving port was a hub for trade and during the Napoleonic wars, free traders and pirates populated the river and one of these was mentioned in ‘The Frenchman’s Creek’, Daphne Du Maurier’s only romantic novel. Now the village is renowned for The Ferryboat Inn, an award winning fine dining pub that overlooks the beds of the Wright Brothers’ Duchy Oyster farm.
Talland Bay to Looe
The most Eastern walk of this collection is 6.8 miles and moderately strenuous. Starting in Talland Bay, it follows the coastal path over Portnader bay, overlooking Looe Island. This is a walk steeped in religious history, as there is a medieval legend that Jesus visited Looe Island with his uncle, there has even been a fragment of earthenware uncovered, dating from around the time of Christ and originating from the Eastern Mediterranean. This may explain the pilgrimages made by early Christians and the Romano- British chapels that have been excavated on the island.
As you walk to the town of Looe, you may notice an odd monument keeping vigil over the harbour, Nelson was a one eyed grey bull seal who was regularly sighted across harbours in South Cornwall for 25 years and made Looe Island his home for the remaining 20 years. After his death in 2003. This bronze monument was erected in his honour. As a working fishing port and boasting a music festival, holidays and breaks in Looe are always exciting.
The town is famed for its eateries, The Old Sail Loft has an extensive menu that is strongly influenced by the abundance of fantastic seafood that is readily available. Dominic and his wife Michelle have been there for almost 12 years and specialise in fresh Looe fish and seafood, also finding time to run their own fish company on the other side of the quay that distributes all over the UK. Dominic is particularly excited by their winter pork “We have a fantastic Pork belly dish on at the moment with crackling to die for along with a creamy buttery mash, winter greens & cider mustard gravy. The entire route and extensive details of the Talland Bay to Looe trail are on I walk Cornwall Website.