Bodmin Moor - the North of the Moor
Bodmin Moor's northern reaches begin with Manor Common, a broad ridge of more than three hundred acres of open access land located about five miles north of Bodmin and bounded on the south side by the A30. Medieval field systems on the eastern side slope down to a small stream that separates Manor Common from Menacrin Downs and acts as a boundary between the villages of Blisland and Temple. Although the ground is mostly rough grass and heather, increasing areas of Molinia turn the land a rich gold colour in autumn. Manor Common was first recorded in the Domesday Book as Glustone and ten original boundary stones dating from before 1840 have been found here.
Manor Common can be easily accessed from Blisland, where attractive granite houses cluster around a village green which, unusually for Cornwall, is ringed with mature trees. The nearby Hawk's Tor (not to be confused with Hawke's Tor) offers access to Stripple Stones Henge and Trippet Stones Circle, while just north of the village is Jubilee Rock, thought to be the oldest stone on Bodmin Moor. Jubilee Rock is a giant volcanic rock that stands ten feet high and twenty five feet across. It takes it's name from the carvings of coats of arms and insignia that were made by Lieutenant John Rogers and his men when they rested underneath it in 1810 on the fifth anniversary of King George.
Heading north along the A30 will shortly bring you to Bolventor, a tiny hamlet that was once an important coaching stop and smuggler's haunt. Bolventor is mostly known for it's pub, which was immortalised in Daphne DuMaurier's novel Jamaica Inn, published in 1936. Bolventor is a good place from which to explore Cornwall's highest peaks, Brown Willy and Rough Tor, both of which lie within the parish of St Breward. St Breward is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Cornwall as well as her highest church, standing at seven hundred feet above sea level. The popular Camel Trail, which runs all the way to the coast at Padstow, starts here, and the mysterious King Arthur's Hall is within easy walking distance. Also within easy walking distance is the picturesque Delford Bridge, a Medieval clapper bridge spanning the De Lank river that has been adapted for use by modern traffic.
The areas of moorland around Roughtor and Brown Willy is known as the 'high moor' and steeped in history. Heading out towards Brown Willy from St Breward will take you past Fernacre Farm, where another large clapper bridge and the continued use of medieval field systems, 'fossilizing' them into the landscape, gives a strong sense of Bodmin Moor's ancient heritage. The Fernacre stone circle, lying in the shadow of Roughtor, was once an impressive ring of seventy stones. Only forty now remain, flattened and embedded in peat. Look out for a hut circle and the ruins of a medieval farm sheltering below Butterstor.
Brown Willy, in Cornish 'Bron Wennyly', meaning Swallows' Hill, is Cornwall's amusingly-named highest point, reaching 1,375 feet above sea level. Only accessible by means of a decent walk across open access moorland, from either Bolventor to the south, or Camelford to the north, the summit offers great views of both coasts on a clear day. Roughtor is Brown Willy's slighter shorter and more accessible neighbour. Named after the huge pieces of loose granite that litter its slopes, Rough Tor conceals the remains of a Bronze Age settlement and the ghost of Charlotte Dymond, who was murdered whilst walking along the path to a bizarre rock formation to the north known as Lanlavery Rock. Managed by the National Trust, Roughtor, pronounced 'row tor', is easily accessible from a car park at it's foot.
Heading back to Bolventor from Brown Willy will bring you into the vicinity of Catshole Downs, a little-visited corner of Bodmin Moor that nevertheless has much to recommend it, including the remains of a rare Long Cairn, which dates back to the fourth millenia BC. The largish front stone can be clearly seen while nearby stand the remains of twelve hut circles belonging to the Catshole Downs Settlement. Catshole Downs take their name from Catshole Tor upon which sits one rock with an indentation the exact shape and size of a cat. The nearby Garrow Tor offers great views north to Rough Tor and Brown Willy.
The village of Altarnun nestles in the valley of Penpont Water. Named in the Domesday book as Penpont, Altarnun was once home to the sixth century church of St Nonny, although all that remains of that today is a Cornish cross at the entrance to the churchyard. Known as 'The Cathedral of the Moor', Altarnun's present church is distinguished by an unusually tall bell tower. Altarnun has strong associations with John Wesley, who used to stay at the nearby cottage of Trewint during his many visits to Cornwall. A narrow and ancient packhorse bridge straddles the fast-flowing River Inney and the Inney Valleys Walk starts here, with trail leaflets available to purchase, when in print, from the village shop.
The granite rubble that characterises Leskernick Hill, to the north, is largely the result of intensive prehistoric activity. In amongst the tors, which are concentrated on the western slopes, are the remains of a late Neolithic settlement complex consisting of fifty houses and other buildings, associated with ancient field systems on the lower slopes. On a stone-free plateau below the hill itself lie the remains of a ceremonial complex consisting of two stone circles, a stone row and a large cairn. Another large cairn can be found well away from the settlement on the top of the hill. Although many of these remains are not very obvious, it is possible to see the outlines of some of the houses and field systems from the top of the hill.
It is possible to walk to Leskernick Hill from the nearby village of Bowithick, a tiny hamlet three miles from the village of St Clether, on the northernmost extremity of Bodmin Moor. Close to the village a ford and two bridges cross Penpont Water, a tributary of the River Inney. One is a simple granite clapper bridge while the other is an interesting, if somewhat derelict, road bridge, also made of granite and featuring two small arches and one large one. It was probably built to transport building materials in order to construct the farm buildings which can still be seen further up the hill. Along the path that leads up the nearby Buttern Hill are signs of quarrying and mining. Nearby is the high peak of Bray Down, which rises to a height of around one thousand one hundred and forty feet. A ten mile circular walk takes in Bowithick, Buttern Hill and Leskernick Hill.
North of Bowithick is the village of St Clether, worth a visit for its holy well, probably the best-preserved and most beautifully situated in Cornwall, and accompanied by a chapel. The holy well dates back to Celtic times and is named after St Cleder, one of twenty-four children of the Welsh St Brychan, king of Brycheiniog in the fifth century. The holy well is fed by a natural spring whose water collects in the upper well house and runs through the chapel and underneath the granite altar, emerging once more in the lower well house before continuing to join the river Inney. The holy well and chapel are a short walk west of the church along the river.