The coast of north Cornwall is wild, windy and rugged. Experience its beauty at its brutal best at Crackington Haven.
When I make my quarterly trips down to see the wife’s family in Cornwall, I’m usually given one day to spend at my leisure, while Kat has a day of shopping and gossip with her mum.
On my most recent visit, I left the in-laws’ house near Padstow and drove up the romantically named Atlantic Highway (also known less romantically as the A39) to Crackington Haven. It was once a small harbour exporting locally quarried slate and importing limestone and coal, but is now a sleepy coastal resort popular in season with surfers, walkers and wildlife spotters.
This part of the north Cornish coast is sometimes referred to as the Wreckers’ Coast, and was notorious for shipwrecks and smuggling back in the day. It’s also a good place from which to spot seals and sharks, so I’d heard – however my visit came in the aftermath of Storm Doris, so with 100mph winds, I didn’t dare get too close to the cliff edge for a look.
The huge pay and display carpark was empty when I arrived. Just my luck, I didn’t have enough coins on me and you can’t pay by phone, so I nipped into the Cabin Café to get some change.
Monday mornings in off-season Cornwall can be spookily quiet – I had the whole village to myself, apart from a pair of elderly beach-cleaners on Crackington Haven’s pretty sand and shingle beach, nestled between steep cliffs. Huge waves were crashing onto the shore, and I was getting drenched in sea-spray and white foam. It was time for me to crack on and get walking.
The real reason I’d come here was to climb the highest cliff in Cornwall, “High Cliff” – they call a spade a spade, these Cornish folk. At a height of 735 feet (224 metres), it looks a bit like the cliff in ITV’s Broadchurch (which is filmed at West Bay in Dorset). There may not have been any murders here, but it is murder to climb.
High Cliff is only around three miles from Crackington Haven’s beach, but after almost two hours of huffing and puffing up some of the steepest ascents I’ve experienced on the South West Coast Path, I admitted defeat and headed back to the village pub without reaching the summit.
A major rain-shower, and those storm force winds in my face, didn’t help. And when I thought I was getting close to the top of the cliff, the path followed a zig-zag route to ease erosion on the usual route which took me dangerously close to the edge.
Before arriving back at the village, I passed Crackington Haven Tennis Club, only a few metres from the sea – surely the windiest tennis court in the country. Anyone for links tennis?
I was glad to take shelter from an incoming hailstorm in Crackington Haven’s only pub, the Coombe Barton Inn, where I had to have a pint of Tribute to calm my nerves after surviving the best that the great British outdoors could throw at me.
Poor old unstable Cliff Richard! What are all of those hurdles along the path?
They’re ‘no entry’ barriers to protect the existing path from erosion. Instead you have to walk zig zag style!
Thanks for the praise of Crackington. As a resident, I love to share the beauty of our village.
I bet it’s a quiet place to live in for most of the year!
Isn’t it just?
Such beauty in that wildness and roughness. I laughed at the idea of a tennis court there! What were they thinking? 🙂
Yep, I could imagine a few balls going in the sea (well they would if I was playing!)
I was cheering you on for having a crack at it anyway, Richard! The pub sounds good to me. There were two in our village on Anglesey but we never made it over the doorstep 😦 😦
Cheers Jo, I’ve never been so scared on a cliff walk – I genuinely think I’d have been blown out to sea if I’d have gone any further!
I’ve put it in next Monday’s walks. That ok? 🙂
Magic, thanks Jo 😃
Wow! Looks stunning. Lovely photos. Will you go back and try to reach the top another time?
Probably not to be honest – I was going to say I’d try again on a calmer day, but it’s always windy down there.
Crackington seems like a picturesque and calm place! Thanks for introducing it to us!