South Bodmin Moor
On the southern extremity of Bodmin Moor lies the village of Cardinham. Nestling next to the wooded Glynn Valley, Cardinham is home to an eighth century Cornish cross as well as the meagre remains of Cardinham Castle, built by the Sheriff of Cornwall soon after the Norman invasion of 1066. The nearby Cardinham Woods, six hundred and fifty acres of Forestry Commission woodland, are criss-crossed with walking routes and cycle tracks some of which are fairly challenging due to the steep valley sides. At the other end of the parish stands St Bellarmin's Tor, upon which rest the remains of a small chapel dedicated to St Bartholomew, thought to have lived and preached here.
St Bellarmin's Tor is within easy walking distance of Temple, a tiny hamlet that takes its name from a former Templar chapel that used to stand on the site of the present day church of St Catherine's. It is thought that the chapel was a key training centre for Cornish Knights until the dissolution of the Templar chapels, whereupon the church of St Catherine's rose to infamy as a place where marriages could be carried out without banns or license. When an act was passed in 1753 making such marriages illegal, the church fell into disrepair and no services took place for more than a century, during which time the roof caved in, killing a tramp living inside. Located close by is the attractive and ancient Temple Bridge, once part of the main highway through Cornwall that was used by pilgrims who did not want to navigate the treacherous waters around Land's End.
Temple Bridge is a good place to park and explore Hardhead Downs and the neighbouring Blacktor Downs, home to the remains of more than eighty roundhouses belonging to a Bronze Age village. Look out for lots of upright stones that were probably former hut doorways and are now mostly buried in the bracken.
A short drive up the A30 from Temple will bring you to Jamaica Inn. From here there is a good circular walk that climbs up Carneglos Tor, which offers great views across to Brown Willy and a good example of a stone row, before heading south over Smith's Moor, past Tresibbett medieval village and over Dozmary Hill to Dozmary Pool.
Dozmary Pool, which can also be accessed via a minor road from Bolventor, is steeped in mystery. Many believe that it was here that King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was thrown upon his death, only to be caught by the deathly hand of the 'Lady of the Lake'. According to local folklore Dozmary Pool was also the setting for one of Jan Tregeagle's impossible tasks, designed to protect his soul from the devil. Tregeagle was ordered to empty the pool, which was thought for centuries to be bottomless, with a holed limpet shell. The pool is no longer thought to be bottomless as it dried out in 1869, revealing Neolithic arrowheads. It nevertheless remains satisfyingly creepy, with an intriguing lack of visible water supply.
Towering over Dozmary Pool is the summit of Brown Gelly, the highest peak this side of the A30 and the third highest in Cornwall. The views from the top of Brown Gelly can be spectacular and the ridge is home to five impressive Bronze Age cairns.
Across the minor road and to the east of Dozmary Pool lies the Goodaver Stone Circle, a ring of twenty four stones spaced around twelve feet apart, like many of the other large stone circles on Bodmin Moor. It is thought that the circle was reconstructed around the turn of the twentieth century because some of the stones are upside down and facing backwards. The stone circle stands on the top of Smith's Moor, which is accessed via a steep hill from Trezibbet Farm. Watch out for boggy ground, conifer plantations and barbed wire belonging to Goodaver Farm, which features in many reports of the Beast of Bodmin.
A short walk east from Smith's Moor will bring you to the Trewortha Valley, which is littered with cairns, chambered cairns, barrows and recently discovered Neolithic propped stones.
The walls of several long houses five feet high as well as several enclosures belonging to an abandoned medieval village are visible on the southern slopes of Trewortha Tor, as are three very realistic recreations of Bronze Age round houses which are primarily used for educational purposes. On the summit of Trewortha Tor, at the western edge of the ridge, is a clump of rocks that includes the landmark known as King Arthur's Bed, an almost man-shaped depression worn into the rock by years of erosion. It is possible to approach this area from the other side by parking at North Hill village from where a six mile circular walk takes in both Trewortha Tor and the neighbouring Hawk's Tor, whose summit is strewn with brilliantly precarious Logan (rocking) rocks.
Not far from North Hill village lies the Trebartha estate, which dates back at least as far as the sixteenth century. Trebartha Hall was originally built by the Spoures family in 1500 only to be destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1720. Used as a military hospital during the second world war, the hall fell into ruin and was demolished by the current inhabitants, the Hathams, in order to make way for a more modern house. The estate includes charming landscaped gardens which are open occasionally in summer and contain a series of Medieval fishponds as well as mature trees and waterfalls. Trebartha is located among beautiful woodlands on the slopes of the Lynher Valley, which climbs steeply to the edge of Bodmin Moor. A bridleway from Trebartha merges from Castick Wood onto Hawkstor Down, from where it is possible to continue past Hawk's Tor to Trewortha Tor.
Heading south will bring you to Sharp Tor, whose slopes are home to the village of Henwood, situated four miles north of Liskeard on the eastern edge of Bodmin Moor. The village grew out of all recognition in the second half of the nineteenth century in order to accommodate workers from the nearby Phoenix Mines and Cheesewring Quarries. There is a horse riding centre in Henwood which offers lessons, hacks out onto the moor and residential riding holidays.
A little further south and west lies Siblyback Reservoir which has excellent facilities for all manner of waterspouts including windsurfing, canoeing and sailing. Tuition in all of these sports is available and there is an informal campsite that slopes down to the water's edge. The fifty-seven hectare reservoir, situated between the A30 and the A38, can be accessed from Bolventor by following the brown signs. Siblyback Reservoir is managed as a country park and there are some excellent walks around the shoreline that take you through some attractive woodland and link up to some other public footpaths leading out onto the high moor. Permits and rowing boats are available for rainbow trout angling, and there is a small cafe by the main car park.
Siblyback Lake is a good place to park to explore the complete Bronze Age landscape of Craddock Moor. Craddock Moor is home to large areas of settlement with ceremonial monuments, an embarrassment of burial cairns, including the Rillaton barrow, an embanked avenue, a stone row of around fifty stones, and four stone circles, three of which make up the famous Hurlers, as well as Stowe's Hill on which sits Stowe's Pound, a hilltop enclosure built during the late Neolithic period. An excellent spot for walking, Craddock Moor is dominated by the flooded Goldiggins granite quarry which is accompanied by numerous other industrial remnants such as the Craddock Moor mine engine house, nowadays just a chimney and a doorway.
There are a number of interesting things to be found on the slopes of Stowe's Hill, perhaps the most well-known being The Cheesewring, a bizarre natural landmark consisting of large plates of granite balanced precariously on top of one another and apparently named after the pulped apples in cloth bags that were called 'cheeses' and used to make cider. Just underneath the Cheesewring itself sits the abandoned Cheesewring Quarry, once known for the high-quality granite it produced, some of which was used in the construction of The Embankment and Tower Bridge in London. Today's quarry is a favourite among climbers. On a good day it is possible to see all the way to Dartmoor from the summit of Stowe's Hill, where the remains of two Iron Age hill forts can be seen, along with Stowe's Pound. On the southern slopes, under the Cheesewring, sits Daniel Gumb's Cave, once the dwelling place of a local stone cutter, Daniel Gumb, who preferred not to pay rent in Minions but to construct his own house by tunnelling into Stowe's Hill. Gumb made three stone-lined rooms in which he brought up nine children by three wives and taught himself advanced mathematics. Although the cave was rebuilt when the quarry was worked, the stone bearing Gumb's name and the date, 1735, is original, as is the one on which he carved Pythagoras' theorem.
The nearest village to Craddock Moor and Stowe's Hill is Minions, at three hundred meters above sea level the loftiest village in Cornwall. Minions is extremely well placed to offer access to what is probably the highest concentration of ancient sites on the whole of Bodmin Moor.
For a period of fifty years from 1835, the South Caradon Mine was one of the most prosperous in the world. Financed by the miners themselves, an investment of sixty four thousand pounds would see a return of fifty million! Caradon Hill, dominated by a massive television mast that serves half of Cornwall, is littered with engine houses, chimney stacks and thousands of tonnes of waste rock tips. The old dismantled Liskeard and Caradon railway line, built to transport the copper to the nearby port of Looe, circles the base of the hill, while the Crow's Nest Inn, situated in the tiny village of the same name, dates back to the time when miners received some of their pay in beer.
To the east of Siblyback Reservoir lies Draynes Common. Two cairns and one boundary stone have been found here, although the cairns have both been dug into and now resemble little more than overgrown mounds. A pleasant circular walk takes in both Hilltor Downs, a little-visited corner of the moor with a rocky crest and great views, and Draynes Common. Park at Draynes Bridge car park and follow the Bolventor road for about three miles before crossing a clapper bridge that leads up to Carkeet farm.
It is possible to follow the River Fowey from Siblyback reservoir via Draynes Bridge to Golitha Falls, a distance there and back of around eight miles. Golitha Falls is one of the most popular corners of Bodmin Moor and consists of two hundred yards of gently tumbling river in the centre of ancient oak and beech woodland, located in a steep sided valley gorge created by the River Fowey. A micro climate encourages the growth of rare ferns, lichens and mosses. If you are not up for an eight mile walk then park in the big free car park just off the road that links Minions and Doublebois and walk the gentle half mile track that runs alongside the River Fowey.
West of Draynes Common and a good base for exploring this section of the moor is the relatively large village of St Neot, which lies on the Copper Trail and is home to the comfortable London Inn, offering both food and accommodation. Located on the southernmost edges of the moor, St Neot also offers easy access to Cardinham Woods and the Carnglaze Slate Caverns, three underground caverns set in seven acres of wooded hillside. Guided tours lasting about 45 minutes take you through these three huge and unique slate caverns built by slate miners centuries ago as a place to stash contraband. St Neot is home to a holy well, restored in 1862 and located on the north bank of the River Loveny, as well as delightful public gardens known as Doorstep Green.
Lost between the villages of St Neot and Cardinham is the tiny hamlet of Warleggan, formerly famous for being the most inaccessible village in Cornwall, until a road was built in 1953 linking the eleven houses, chapel and church of Warleggan to the A38. The church of Bartholomew has a history of attracting strange clergymen and is teeming with ghost stories. The rectory, now made into flats, is also thought to be haunted. The church was one of the few on Bodmin Moor to have a spire until it was struck by lightning in 1818.