A 'must-see' of this savage part of Cornish coast
Once upon a time I clambered down the long descent to a beach that is a feature of this week's walk and saw a fat naked man wobbling along in nothing but a sandal and a boot, neither of which seemed to fit him. If that sorry image puts you off reading any further, then I only mention it because it gives a clue as to the whereabouts of one of the finest coastal hikes in the region.
I'll admit that you'd need to be an ardent Westcountry-lover with the kind of brain that allows you to do difficult crossword puzzles. But let's take the clue apart…
For a start, you are only likely to see naked people on nudist beaches, of which there are several dozen dotted around the region – and part of this coast is known to be, unofficially, one of those places where folk strut about in their birthday suits.
But why the odd footwear? Well, real Westcountry aficionados will recall that one curious feature of the infamous Boscastle flood of 2004 was the liquid release of hundreds of shoes which bobbed out to sea, having been washed out of some of the submerged tourist shops in the village.
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A large flotilla of the floating footwear was carried north and deposited on the next sizeable, or at least reachable, beach up the coast – and all summer long healthy, hardy visitors to that bit of littoral would, for some reason, carry shoes, boots and sandals up to the top of the cliff and hang them on a wire fence.
I well remember a friend of mine walking up and down the wires having found a fine boot that matched his size exactly – alas, he searched in vain to find its partner.
The National Trust, which owns a great tract of the coast between Boscastle and Crackington Haven, will probably not thank me for mentioning either the nudists or the habit of hanging washed-up shoes on its fences – but I would argue that every good bit of coast needs a good story.
Strangles probably has more than most. Including its odd name, which many people believe has something to do with the tortuous and dangerous rocks that lie ready and waiting to throttle you should you be washed away from its mile-and-a-half length of sand and shingle.
You have to hike to Strangles – there's no easy way in or out – which makes it an ideal venue for a WMN Classic Walk. On the way you might see wild goats, there's an outside chance of spotting Cornwall's feathered emblem, a rare Mediterranean ant, an even rarer butterfly, stooping peregrines and a host of lost memories.
The littoral between Crackington Haven and lonely Strangles, which lies to the south, really is in the 'must-see' section of Cornwall's unique and impressive inventory of coastal glory.
Let me put hike-hungry readers on the right track. Crackington Haven is a majestic indentation halfway along the savage and often perpendicular coast between Boscastle and Bude.
There's a pub and a shop or two, a car park down by the beach, and the place is worth going to even if you have no intention of taking a step along the cliffs.
We're heading west around tiny Bray's Point and on to the vast and vertical headland of Cambeak, before turning south along the coast to the bay called Strangles, and from there inland past Trevigue to return via the woody depths of the Ludon Valley.
Don't expect anything other than the South West Coast Path's usual tricks. In other words, it goes up and down like a roller-coaster and introduces you to a couple of precipices along the way.
It's a stiff climb to begin with, but you eventually reach the wilderness area around Cambeak. This is a particularly important area as far as environmentalists are concerned. The secret of successful coastal management along these lonesome marches seems to lie in grazing. Stop the chewing and the shady stuff grows up. And that is no good for – among other things – a rare Mediterranean ant that used to live here.
These little blighters were the key to the happiness and the contentment of the Large Blue butterfly, which became extinct in our islands in 1979 – partly, it is thought, because of the under-grazing-shadiness problem. The ants didn't like the gloom, and the butterflies – or at least their larvae – were reliant upon the ants.
Luckily, the Large Blue survived in a wild part of Finland and now there are programmes to reintroduce the species to properly grazed sections of the British coast. This area, I am told, offers an ideal location.
Between Cambeak and Strangles there is a tortured piece of ground. Like a very old person, it is profoundly wrinkled and about to fall off the twig. Literally, this is a part of Cornwall consigned to oblivion. It is actually hugely important for its geology, thanks to its many different beds and layers of this rock and that, which get lubricated by water and slip and slide.
It is a fascinating landscape to cross – especially when you learn that the deep fissures play home to all sorts of rare bats.
Just before Strangles there is a beach called Little Strand and I seem to remember that this is – or was – a nudist beach. When I was walking here in last month's warmth there were no nude bodies in evidence, but I did see a peregrine which stooped at what looked to be well over 100mph.
High above Strangles you may spot a fence – it is this I can recall seeing covered in shoes. These were victims of the infamous Boscastle flood disaster (the shoes I mean, not their owners), washed away by the small tidal wave that came down the valley that calamitous day. Boscastle is just down the coast and, for some unknown reason, walkers at one time took to finding the lost shoes and hanging them on the fence.
And at the said fence you have the choice of continuing with the walking route or taking the wearying but worthwhile opportunity to walk down to one of the peninsula's finest and least-spoilt beaches. A small path will take you all the way down – but it is a big climb back. And be warned, it does get a little vertiginous down at the bottom so anyone scared of heights would be advised not to go.
As for the inland route back to Crackington – a track heads inland and joins the lane near Trevigue Farm and from there a footpath descends steeply towards the wooded depths of the Ludon Valley.
Just above the trees it swings north and crosses two fields before plunging into the deep oak woods that run all the way to Cracking-ton.
This is as fine a circular hike as you'll find anywhere on the Cornish coast.