Coombe Valley Nature Trail

Cornwall Naturalists’ Trust, Malcolm S Henchley, Ferrers, Stamford Hill, Bude, Cornwall Off A39 unclassified road near to the hamlet of Coombe about 5 miles north of Bude Map reference SS210

li-mile trail through wooded valley close to sea – easy to negotiate for young families Illustrated trail brochure from Trust and local tourism offices; small car parks nearby; cottages at trail start can be leased from the Landmark Trust

For centuries the land belonged to a notable Cornish family, the Grenvilles. The valley was their playground. As boys, Richard and Bevill would have ridden their horses through the woods and hawked and hunted with friends. Adult life was less idyllic. Sir Richard was killed defending his ship, the against the Spanish in 1591; and fifty-two years later, Sir Bevill, a staunch Royalist, died at the Battle of Lansdown in 1643. During the 19th century, Robert S Hawker, vicar of Morwens-tow and poet, took a wife twenty-two years his senior and honeymooned at Coombe Cottage. While there, he wrote which includes the much-quoted line ‘And shall Trelawney die.7’.

The Normans built a castle in the valley -probably without permission, as no official records list it – and it was later destroyed. Halfway along the trail is a pre-Roman earthwork.

On geological maps, this area is shaded sage green – the colour used for Culm Measures which belong to the relatively young (for rocks) Carboniferous period. At that time, most of the British Isles was below sea level, but after aeons of faulting and folding, the land was raised and a mixture of shales and sandstones became dry land. The soil is mainly clay with a top dressing of organic-rich humus which supports teeming plant-life. A stream flows through the valley and out to the grey, shale-strewn beach at Duckpool; the soil it collects along the way is deposited over the valley floor and kept there by lush grassland. Evidence of past structural activity can be seen at two places along the walk where anticlines expose layers of shale.

From the car park, the trail crosses a bridge over the stream and passes a mill and a cluster of cottages. Built in 1842, the three-storey mill was in use until fairly recently when the mighty-water wheel turned two pairs of millstones, each four-feet thick. The miller and his

Inland from the bracing, salty winds of Corn-wall’s Atlantic Coast, the fields are grazed by dairy herds and cut by steep-sided lanes. It is country that is often discovered by car during the search for a quiet picnic spot or a country pub, so only the rampant dogrose and pink-freckled pyramids of foxglove are visible in the hedgerow. The rich treasure trove of Cornwall’s natural history, cossetted by a warm and temperate climate, is unlocked only by those who park the car and take to the woods on foot.

Five miles to the north of the surf-bathing resort of Bude, is one such unbeaten track. The Coombe Valley Nature Trail, opened in 1970 by the North Tamar Region of the Cornwall Naturalists’ Trust, is particularly suitable for families with young children. There are stiles, rather than main roads to negotiate.

Although only one-and-a-half miles long, the trail embraces an outstanding variety of plants and wildlife, and to see it all, and to absorb the attractive features of this sheltered valley, takes about two hours.

It is historically varied, too. For a number of workers occupied the cottages – these days they can be hired through the Landmark Trust.

At first, the trees overhead are coppiced oaks, their true shapes contorted by the need for ships’ timbers and fuel. The moist earth beneath encourages hart’s tongue and shield fern, with its curious brown measle-like spores on the underside of each frond. Mossy banks are encroached upon by the ambitious thrust of brambles, while shiny ivy and fragrant honey-suckle grow upward, curling their supple shoots around tree trunks.

On the other side of a stile, the path enters Lee Wood – Stowe Wood is on the opposite side of the valley. These coniferous plantations work for their living and are part of the Hart-land Forest – 2 700 acres planted by the Forestry Commission for timber production. Here the forest floor is carpeted with cones and pine needles, it is quieter than the oak wood, except for the odd rustle of a tiny shrew or a squirrel, or alarm from above as a magpie takes flight.

Of all the many birds that inhabit Coombe Valley, the most dominant is the buzzard and the smallest of them all is the goldcrest.

Skirted by the golden-crowned spikes of gorse and through another oak coppice, the trail passes a spring, often dry in summer, and a hole high up in the bank, made by paper wasps. Heading south, the walker re-crosses the stream only two-and-a-half miles from its source. Damp spots foster the creamy clusters of meadowsweet and tall, pink Indian balsam, and the water itself has a dependent colony of creatures. The marsh fritillary butterfly might flirt with the sun-dappled water, but a more common sight is an electric-blue dragonfly or a busy black and white water shrew. Sadly, the otter, which used to gamble and dive in the fast-flowing stream, has not been seen for several years. Many of the rivers and streams of the Devon and Cornwall coast have lost this animal through the continued practice of over-enthusiastic and cruel hunting.

Even the dead and dying trees support life. Holes drilled by woodpeckers are eagerly in-vaded by nesting birds and dead bark is home to a multitude of insects. However stunted, the trees themselves can offer protection to newly-planted firs and saplings; and when their useful life is over, fungi will consume the discarded decaying wood.

Late on a summer evening, the trail is alive with a different set of noises as nocturnal animals begin to stir. Dogfoxes jog through the woods, bats circle in the shell-pink sky and a tawny owl sets forth for a night’s hunting.

Coombe Valley trail is close to both Bude and Kilkhampton, where there are sea and country campsites, and a variety of pursuits to enjoy. Apart from enjoying the sea from an exhilarating surfboard, there is sunbathing and walking along the miles of sand that skirt the waves – and the possibility of seeing a whiskery seal. Fishermen cast into the surf for bass from Summerleaze Beach, Crooklets Beach and Widemouth Bay; or take a boat into Bude Bay for cod, flounder or mackerel.

The sea washes over a swimming pool on the beach, tiny caves under the cliffs and the strands of rock-pools. Beachcombing is one of the most absorbing pastimes around Bude. More active exercise can be taken high above the sands on the breezy links of the Bude and North Cornwall golf course. Bude can also cater for the squash, tennis and bowls player, and there is a cinema and a museum for those inevitable wet days.

Gourmets have the best of both worlds, for the Devon border is just a stone’s throw away. Your cream teas can either be served with thick-crusted and deep yellow Cornish cream, or the fluffy and white Devon variety.

Apart from nature trails such as Coombe Valley, there are outcrops of National Trust headland along the north coast.