The five huge stacks of rock on Cornwall’s north coast known as the Bedruthan Steps make a dramatic destination whatever the season. The views along the coast here are breath-taking and the beach, which can only be reached by a set of steep stone steps, is also a favourite with visitors.
Legend has it that these pillars of stone called Samaritan Island, Redcove Island, Pendarves Island, Carnewas Island and Queen Bess were placed here many moons ago by a local giant. The little island of Queen Bess got her name it is thought many hundreds of years ago during the reign of Elizabeth I. Then the stone stack was less eroded and was said to resemble the monarch with her tiny crowned head and a wide billow of skirts standing in the waves. These days unfortunately Queen Bess has lost her head!
The legend of Bedruthan Steps
Samaritan Island was likely named for a shipwreck that occurred here in October 1846. The ship was an East India Company vessel called The Samaritan and she struck the rocks here during a storm resulting in death of her captain and eight crew. However, this was not the reason that this particular wreck became so notorious. Apparently within hours of the disaster the beach was swarming with local people who, suffering from severe deprivation due to the potato famine, stripped the ship bare of its cargo and made off with it. As the area was once a favourite spot for smugglers there was some suggestion that the ship had been intentionally lured onto the rocks but there was no evidence to support this.
A long history
The zig-zagging staircase down to the sand, which are first recorded in the 1840s but probably dates back much further, has been replaced several times over the centuries due to the rough treatment it receives from the sea during winter storms. In 1879 a huge fete attended by more than 1000 people was held on the clifftop here to celebrate the reopening of the steps after they had completely collapsed a year earlier. They were also repeatedly out of action during the 1960s and 1970s and in 1995 20ft of the staircase was entirely washed away!
As the only way on or off the beach is important to keep an eye on the tides should you decide venture down to the sandy cove.
The National Trust has owned the Bedruthan Steps since 1930 and there is a car park and small café on the cliff top. There are also excellent walking opportunities in either direction along the coastal path if you don’t fancy the climb down to (and back up from) the beach.