The Marvellous Millook Haven

The precipitous descends and ascents of the north coast near Millook Haven can be a challenge to even the most experienced walker! John Lloyd Warden Page wrote in the 19th century that these coves are “desperately hard to get out of!” and I think it is fair to say that he was right. But it is these same dramatic folds and twists in the earth’s crust that have created some truly spectacular geology and remarkably rewarding views.

Millook Haven is at the end of one of the many thickly wooded valleys in the area. It is reached by a narrow single track road of hairpin bends and from this beach it is possible to see some of the finest geological formations in the country.

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Strange Geology

Millook Haven is a beautiful place to visit, if for no other reason than to relax and listen to the rounded pebbles being pulled up and down the beach by the waves. A peaceful spot to gather your strength for the steep walk out of the valley. But those in the know find their way here in order to wonder at some truly impressive geology.

This cove is in an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and also a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’, and for very good reason. The bizarre accordion-like folds in the rocks are a sobering lesson in the staggering power and dynamic nature of the earth’s strata.

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” . . . dropping down into Millook, a lovely wooded glen with a tiny, stony beach, where the cliffs are twisted into strange contortions, another of the ironical ‘havens’ in which this iron-bound coast specialises.”

S. H. Burton, 1955.

In 2014 the Royal Geological Society of London voted the cliffs at Millook Haven one of the top 10 geological sites in Britain. And it is not hard to see why. Unimaginable geological stress and pressure have bent the layers of sandstone and shale into chevron-like folds. Not only that but these layers were also deposited in deep water, meaning they were once part of the sea bed, before being forced up and puckered into these pleats around 300 million years ago.

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There is nothing like mother nature and some staggering geology to make you feel small!

The Honeyed Valley

Like so many places in Cornwall Millook Haven has changed its name a number of times over the centuries. Originally, that is from at least the 14th century, the valley and stream leading to the cove were called ‘Mellek‘, which according to Craig Weatherhill means ‘honeyed‘ in Cornish. A name perhaps denoting the fertile beauty of the vale. The cove itself however had another name altogether, from around 1481 it was known as Porthoy, which translates as ‘cove with an egg‘, presumably referring to all the rounded sea-worn stones on the beach.

A feoffment document from 1548 describes William Down of Melhoc renting land to John Arminger, Walter Bryant and John Helyer “in the west side of the water of Porthoy”. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was known as Milhook or Meluach, before the fully Anglicised Millook Haven was finally settled upon.

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Though now the perfect place for hunting for interesting pebbles, this cove was once a hive of small industry on this part of the coast. Famous Cornish philanthropist Thomasine Bonaventura, from the nearby village of Week St Mary, is said to have paid for a new road to be built to service the hamlet here in the 16th century. There was a working mill at Millook up until the end of the 19th century, as well as a little fishing fleet. The writer A. G Folliott- Stokes describes the scene in the 1920s.

We commence an abrupt descent into a deep valley. Inland its sides are beautifully clothed with woods. On reaching the bottom we find by the side of a stream, a farmhouse and a few one-storeyed wooden bungalows. Crossing the stream by a plank bridge we go out on the shore of the cove, where there are a few boats and lobster pots. This little place is called Millook.”

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There are rumours that Millook Haven was also once home to a thriving smuggling industry. Its isolation probably made it ideal for bringing goods ashore undetected. The little cove is also less than 2 miles from Poundstock, a well-known smugglers haunt, and close by, nestled in the valley, is Trebarfoote Manor, which was said to have connections with ‘freetrading’, amongst other scandals, in the 17th century.

Final Thoughts

Geology gave us the immensity of time and taught us how little of it our own species has occupied.” 

Stephen Jay Gould

Viewed close up from the beach or at a distance from along the coastal path, these zig-zagging rocks really bring the power and magic of geology to life. And after you have wondered at the cliff face, and filled your pockets with pebbles, there are some lovely walks up though the valley here too (see below) where the maiden oak woods are looked after by The Woodland Trust.

Final Thoughts

Millook Haven is a real off the beaten track treasure that you will be glad you hunted down by car – or puffed your way to on foot – it is well worth the journey, however you choose to get there!

Further Reading

Cornwall’s Highest Cliff

Murder in Poundstock Church

Penfound Manor – the oldest manor house in Britain

Walking Opportunities

Circular walk – Millook Haven to Trebarfoote

Circular walk – Millook Haven to Dizzard


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