Prepare to enter another world…
- Who was St Nectan?According to one account, he was the eldest of 24 children of King Brychan of Brycheiniog (now Brecknock in Wales). Inspired by the life of St Anthony, the great hermit of the Egyptian desert, St Nectan and his companions left Wales to seek a life of solitude, intending to settle wherever their boat happened to land. They washed up at Hartland on the north coast of Devon, where they lived in a forest for several years before relocating to a remote valley with a spring. Saint Nectan is believed to have sited his hermitage above the waterfall near Tintagel on Cornwall’s north coast. According to legend, he rang a silver bell in times of stormy weather to warn ships of the perils of the rocks at the mouth of the Rocky Valley.
Tucked away off the coast road between Boscastle and Tintagel, St Nectan’s Glen Waterfall is only a short walk from the rugged Atlantic Cornish coast, but this peaceful magical glen is a world away from Cornwall’s wild cliffs and windswept moors.
Park in the car park at Trevethy – it’s on the right as you’re driving from Boscastle to Tintagel. With the sea behind you, walk left out of the car park and cross over the road, where the path is signposted. Walking up the track will bring you first to St Piran’s church. This small, unassuming church has a simple earthy charm and a particularly peaceful, tranquil air about it. It’s worth stopping off to take a look inside at the stained glass window of St Piran and soak up the atmosphere.
Leaving the church, follow the signpost for the waterfall with views on your right across the fields to the craggy outcrop of rocks on the cliffs at Tintagel. Keep following the road as it descends downhill and turns into a track leading into the woods.
Entering the woods, you’ll hear the river Trevillet rushing through the trees to your right. There are small paths that spur off from the main track to the river. Strike off down one of these for a couple of (muddy) steps and you’ll discover the moss-covered arms of branches leaning out over the water and little teetering piles of stones – also known as ‘fairy stacks’ – that previous visitors to the woods have built.
As the path leads you further into the woods you’ll notice more rock towers, which become ever more elaborate in their designs. Some resemble miniature Stone Henges, with water rushing around and through them.
You’ll pass a wooden bridge that crosses the stream, but keep straight on, following the signs for the waterfall until you reach a bridge with a metal handrail on your left. After crossing this, the going gets a bit steeper. After a short ascent, the climb is rewarded with your arrival at the Hermitage Tea Room. Here you have the option of a side trip to St Nectan’s Hermitage, or to continue on to the waterfall. Entrance to the waterfall is £4.50 – pay in the gift shop (you can also hire wellies here). The final short steepish climb down to the waterfall over wet rocks can be slippery. As you arrive at the stream you can hear the roar and splash of the waterfall, which is tucked away from view just around the corner from the end of the path. To see the waterfall you need to either pick your way across the stepping stones, wear wellies to wade around, or simply take off your shoes and socks and paddle.
It’s a world away from the rugged, Atlantic-pounded cliffs that are just a 20 minute walk away.
The 60ft fall is white against the dark rock face. It is quite mesmerising to watch as the water gushes down into a basin – known as a St Nectan’s Kieve – and shoots out through a rock arch. Apart from the waterfall itself, what makes the site interesting are the little shrines dotted about in the rocks, and the trees with hundreds of ribbons tied to their branches. The small shrines are decorated with miniature Buddhas, photos of loved ones and pets, and messages written on pieces of card.
Hundreds of brightly coloured ribbons and pieces of material hang from the trees giving the place the appearance of an Indian prayer grove, but this is actually an old Celtic tradition. Pieces of cloth known as ‘clouties’ were tied to certain special trees, located at sacred wells or springs, for good luck and health. Traditionally, if you had an ailment, you tore a piece of cloth from your clothing corresponding to the affected area. So, if you had a bad back, you might rip a piece of cloth from the back of your shirt and tie it to the tree. The belief was that as the cloth disintegrated, your ailment would be cured.
As well as the shrines and the cloutie trees, there are pieces of slate with names and messages written on them. At the foot of one of the trees is a log with unusual fungi growing out of it. On closer inspection it turns out to be hundreds of 2 pence coins stuck into the bark. Everywhere you look, you begin to notice small offerings – posies of wild flowers, the stubs of candles. More rock towers sit in the shallows as the stream gurgles around them. The scent of incense hangs in the air and you half expect a Buddhist sage draped in orange robes to appear, wandering out of the trees.
It’s a world away from the rugged, Atlantic-pounded cliffs that are just a 20 minute walk away. And yet somehow it feels in keeping with this little pocket of Cornwall around Boscastle and Tintagel, infused as it is with a magical air of myth and legend. Prepare to enter another world…
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