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.
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.
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.