A guided stroll in and around Boscastle
With the South West Coast Path on our doorstep and the spectacular Bodmin Moor a short car ride away, Polrunny Farm is a great base for a walking holiday. Other blog posts in this series give you an overview of the types of walks you can tick off whilst staying at Polrunny and a suggested week-long walking itinerary.
This article focusses on walking in and around Boscastle itself.
Although we love the coastal paths, the inland walks in North Cornwall do have a lot to offer. You see more Cornish life. The villages you pass through, those cottages with their crooked rooves and moss-covered stone, are absolutely worth a look. As are the old churches, inconceivably large for the rural hamlets they sit within. The wildlife in the valleys and the woodlands is different from that on the coast path too, as is the vegetation.
This walk in and around Boscastle showcases all of the above. It also has the advantage of being a fairly sheltered walk that you might want to do when it’s a bit too windy to be navigating clifftops and headlands.
Depending upon how energetic you are feeling, this excursion can be any length that you want it to be. If you cut out any extras, it’s probably about 4 miles. If you make it to Minster Church, it’s probably 6 miles. And if you detour around the headlands at Boscastle, the world’s your oyster…
There are some hills on route, but this walk isn’t as strenuous as most of the rollercoaster ups and downs that the SW Coast Path offers. It is a mixed terrain walk that includes some walking through fields, some well-trodden tracks and some walking down (and up) quiet lanes, including our own.
The walk starts from our doorstep. Make your way down the hill towards Boscastle. Pass the Napoleon Inn. Just past the Nap, cross the road, continuing straight down Fore Street for a further 50 yards.
Opposite the village hall, take the footpath to your right. This footpath wends its way down past a lovely old cottage by the side of the river. At this point, walkers are told to beware of hidden danger – “waterfowl, testy gander and honey bees” are known to frequent this idyllic spot. We didn’t see any of these triple threats, which left us feeling slightly short-changed!
Past the cottage, the path continues on to an attractive wooden bridge over the river Jordan. Do not cross the bridge. Instead, turn immediately left through the kissing gate, following the footpath signs towards Home Farm and Minster Wood. Cross a stile into the next small meadow and then a bridge into a larger field.
Keep following the well-trod path, through gaps in the hedge. The path soon turns left and you will be walking through a copse and a small arboretum of rare and ancient breed fruit trees known as Cold Frame Orchard. We did this walk in May but will definitely be back when the fruit is ripe for picking.
Continue on the track, over a stile, across another meadow and stile, and into a field which opens out down the valley to reveal great views of Boscastle and the harbour.
Bear slightly right, looking for the stile in the gap in the hedge on the left. Do not head for the gate at the top of the hill. Cross the stile into Minster Wood. The sign posts show that you are now entering the Valency Valley.
Minster Wood is now owned by the National Trust. In Norman times it was managed by the local monks.
The trail eventually descends the valley towards the River Valency. You arrive at a set of fairly flat stepping stones.
When we undertook this walk, the Valency river, and the Jordan, were both not much more than a mere trickle. It is hard to imagine how fast flowing these rivers would have been in 2004, as they carried rain water running off the fields into Boscastle and contributed to the dramatic flood of the village.
At the stepping stones, you have a choice to make. Those up for a bit of a challenge can ignore the stepping stones for now and continue on through the woods and up hill towards Minster Church. If you don’t fancy this 1km uphill section, you can cross the stepping stones, turn left and head towards Boscastle.
I’m assuming though that you are hardy souls. You have come to Cornwall to explore and you don’t mind a hill or two. So we aren’t crossing those stepping stones yet. We’re off up hill!
Simply follow the track up hill, through the woods, following the signs for Minster Church. There is a bench half way up the hill, should you need to rest your weary legs, or simply want to enjoy the bird song in the otherwise peaceful wood.
This section of woodland was aglow with a blue haze when we walked through it, with the bluebells in full dominance. The only plant seemingly prolific enough to compete with the bluebells was the Allium Ursinum. That’s wild garlic to you and me.
At the top of the track, you will emerge onto a country lane. (Would you have driven there if I had told you about the road from the start?). Turn left and walk a few yards, and you’ll see the gate that leads to this secluded church.
There has been a church on this site since 500AD. The current iteration was constructed in the 19th century. The church is almost overgrown with vegetation but it is standing firm and refusing to be swamped. In fact, it is aiding nature, as it plays host to the largest roost of endangered horseshoe bats in Cornwall.
See if you can find the gravestone of Joan Wytte while you are there. Known as the “Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town”, Wytte was condemned as a witch in the 18th century and died in Bodmin jail. For many years, her skeleton hung on display in front of a coffin at Boscastle’s Witchcraft Museum. In 1998, the new owner of the museum decided that she should have a proper burial. As an alleged witch, she couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground, so her grave is located just outside the perimeter of the graveyard.
If you’re partial to such emotions, Minster Church and the surrounding graveyard is quite an eerie place. It’s definitely worth the uphill trudge.
Right, it’s now time to head back towards Boscastle. We’ll take a different track back from the one that took us up the hill. Walk round to the back of the church and go through the gate near to the aforementioned grave stone.
The path then runs downhill, through the bluebells and wild garlic, and eventually reaches the Valency River. Cross the footbridge and follow the path as it turns left along the river. You will walk through quiet meadows, keeping the river to your left.
Soon you will pass those stepping stones again, meaning that we are now back with the slackers who didn’t fancy the Minster Church climb. They really missed out on that fantastic cake and ice cream you got at that stunning tea shop by the church, didn’t they? If only…
Don’t cross the stepping stones, as you are already on the right side of the river. Just continue down the valley and you will reach a gate that opens into Boscastle’s least scenic spot, the car park.
Now that you are in Boscastle, there are a wide variety of variations that you might choose that extend your walk still further. You might head up the cliff path with the river to your right, wending your way around the headland and towards The Lookout. From here, if the weather isn’t misbehaving, you will enjoy spectacular views towards Tintagel. The walk along the cliffs to Tintagel is utterly breath-taking. If you haven’t done it already, make sure you factor it in to your itinerary whilst you are at Polrunny Farm.
Or you could keep the river to your left and ascend the headland and follow the cliff path towards the award-winning Boscastle Farm Shop and café. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than a Ploughman’s at the farm shop café, with the sea views and the owners’ cattle to keep you company.
Alternatively, you could mooch around in the village itself. The National Trust Visitor Centre is a good place to start. Here you can learn more about the 2004 flood and the damage it did. There are galleries, cafes and the world-renowned (honestly!) Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to explore too. Here you can learn more about the fighting fairy woman of Bodmin town, and many other characters besides.
Once you have had your fill of tea and scones at the Bridge House Tea Rooms or the Riverside Café, you’ll want to complete your walk back to Polrunny Farm.
Find the Wellington Hotel (Boscastle really isn’t that big a place for this to prove difficult!) and follow the Old Road uphill as it passes to the right of ‘The Welly’. Plod uphill, past Marine Terrace, a row of what were originally fishermen’s houses with half-width doors, uphill some more, following the road as it wends its way left past the pretty cottages that make up the old village.
Shortly after you pass ‘Tanglewood Cottage, you will recognise the turning on your right that will take you back up hill some more, past the Nap (or into the Nap), before carrying on up hill that little bit more towards home and a much-needed rest!
I hope you enjoy this walk as much as we did. If you did, then you might also want to try the walk from our doorstep across the valley to St Nectan’s Glen and back through the Rocky Valley into Boscastle. You can find the details in our 7-day walking itinerary post.
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