Millook Haven

About 20 minutes drive north of Guinevere is the remarkable little spot of Millook Haven. It has, perhaps, four claims to fame: the steepest through road in Britain; lovely woodlands; the remarkable ‘Chevron Cliff’; and one of Britain’s best point breaks for surfers.

From the cottage you need to travel north via Boscastle and then follow the minor road to Crackington Haven that is signposted to ‘High Cliff’ not far after the road emerges from the high hedges and tops a hill. Turn left on arriving in the village, pass the pub and carry on up the hill for a mile or so until you reach a white church at a crossroads. Turn left here (it is signposted for Millook and Widemouth Bay). Alternatively, if approaching from the north, take the road signposted for Millook on the corner by the Widemouth Manor Hotel at the southern end of Widemouth Bay.

From either direction you will eventually find yourself heading very steeply downhill around some sharp bends to reach the haven itself. There are two steeper roads in Britain but this is the steepest through road with gradients in excess of 35%. Exercise caution on these bends, not least because cyclists like to test themselves against these hills, and because some people are under the mistaken impression that their camper vans are able to easily negotiate these roads (we have encountered this!). At the bottom there is limited space for about 20 cars by parking close to the side of the road. From here you can access the beach from the bridge across the stream.

It should be quickly apparent that Millook is not a bathing beach. It is rocky to the south and composed of very large pebbles to the north. It is not lifeguarded and I would not recommend entering the water unless you really know what you are about (and have a surfboard to cling to). It is, however, full of interest. You can work your way a fair distance along it to the south and this is an area covered by the attractive quartz lined culm pebbles that many find so attractive.

To the north the pebbles approach the size of small boulders and are pounded by westerly swells. Above you here is a high vertical cliff which, like all the cliffs of the Culm Coast, is composed mostly of a mixture of shale and carboniferous sandstone, is not 100% stable, and so you may wish to avoid approaching the base of the cliffs too closely. This is the world famous ‘Chevron Cliff’. You will appreciate its folding better from a distance and perhaps the best place to photograph it is half way up the southern side of the valley on a corner of the road (the location of this spot is easily appreciated coming from Crackington Haven, but not going in the other direction).

The area around Bude is famous for the folding in the cliffs created during the Variscan Orogeny in the late Paleozoic era when the continent of Euramerica collided with the continent of Gondwana to form the supercontinent of Panagea. Layers of sediment poured into the Culm Basin (wider than, but later becoming, the Bristol Channel) from rivers formed by the collision, and the ongoing force of the impact compressed these layers and eventually lifted them above sea level. The massive pressures involved sliced and folded these layers to form the cliffs that can be seen today in this area.

The southern end of the beach is the best place to view and photograph surfers on Millook’s famous point break. If there is a big swell (8-10′+) and an offshore wind you will likely find that the surf is closed out on the beaches and that there are no surfers in the water. This is the clue that tells you to head to Millook to witness something special. A combination of the point break caused by the headland to the south and reefs under the water produces a fast wave that has a face that reaches 20 feet high or more. It is a wave for experienced surfers only. It breaks just offshore which allows you to get very close to the action. At a lowish tide there is a very obvious rocky platform that makes a great vantage point (though watch the tide carefully!).

Inland lie the Millook Valley Woods accessible by walking up the road a few yards to the south. This is an ancient oak forest which reaches inland almost as far as the A39 at Wainhouse Corner. It is famed for a massive variety of lichens, otters and bats. Not far into the woods there is a lovely meadow that is carpeted in flowers in the spring and early summer. Beyond the meadow there are side valleys to explore as well as the main valley with its pretty stream.

The coastpath on either side of Millook exits very steeply. It is a stiff walk to the south to Crackington Haven but you pass across the top of the extensive Dizzard Woods, the last remaining major sessile oak forest in Cornwall. These impenetrable woods carpet the cliffs down to the sea and seem incongruous on such an exposed coast. Before reaching Pencarrow Cliff above Crackington you will have to cross a deep valley at Scrade with possibly the steepest path on the whole South West Coast Path. To the north of Millook the coastpath climbs to the top of Penhalt Cliff from where there are stunning views of Widemouth Bay and the coast all the way up to Higher Sharpnose Point.

Posted on November 26th, 2010 in Guinevere