Bodmin Moor remains one of Cornwall's few true wilderness areas. Much of the unspoilt high moorland has Open Access status, which means that members of the public have the right to walk freely within designated areas without having to stick to paths, which is clearly of great benefit to walkers who wish to explore hitherto inaccessible places. For this is a landscape that lends itself to walking; dotted with history, from disused 18th century mine workings to rare Neolithic quoits and ancient stone circles.
The moor is also rich in legend and folklore, from Arthurian tales to mysterious ghost stories. A walk here is a true voyage of discovery, not least because Bodmin Moor has not been subject to the same level of tourist development as many of Cornwall's better-known seaside resorts. There are precious few gift shops and tacky fast food outlets here. Instead, horses and sheep graze freely, freshwater streams tumble over ancient boulders, isolated farms and tiny remote hamlets nestle on the slopes of Cornwall's highest hills; tors dotted with huge granite outcrops.
Cornwall's newest middle-distance trail focuses on Bodmin Moor. The Copper Trail, devised in 2005 by Mark Camp, a local moorland authority, pays homage to the great copper mining boom, of which the villages of Minions and Caradon were once the centres. The Copper Trail is a sixty-mile ten-day round trip of the entire moor, that takes in many of its most striking ancient monuments and intriguing villages. It is relatively new and has not yet been waymarked, but many of the most interesting sites along the Copper Trail can be seen as part of shorter one-day excursions.
The Copper Trail starts in the village of Minions, which is accessible by car from the road that links Launceston and Liskeard. Minions is probably home to the greatest concentration of historical sites and artefacts on the whole of the moor and it was here that the first of Cornwall's Mineral Trails were found. Mineral trails are double lines of granite, built to transport the copper, tin and china clay that was dug out of the ground. Many of them have now been opened up as walking routes. From Minions there are mineral trails leading to both Stowe's Hill and Crow's Nest, through a landscape distinguished by the ruins of old engine houses.
Stowe's Hill, a three mile circular walk from Minions, is home to the fascinating Daniel Gumb's Cave, where a 'simple' stone worker named Daniel Gumb managed to carve a Euclid theorem onto a rock, having taught himself mathematics! On the summit of Stowe's Hill is the Cheesewring, an incredible natural formation of nearly circular rocks balancing one of top of one another and leaning precariously over a quarry.
The Hurlers and the Pipers are just another short walk away from the village of Minions. These giant standing stones are the subject of ancient folkore, in which men were turned to stone for playing the ancient Cornish game of Hurling (apparently much like rounders or baseball) on a Sunday. The Hurlers are comprised of three ancient stone circles, one of which is now flat for an unknown reason, while the Pipers are two tall stones that stand alone and are said to have been the musicians responsible for playing the music that would have accompanied the game.
Minions is a good place to begin a walk to the fascinating Trevethy Quoit, which represents the best example in Cornwall, and perhaps anywhere, of a Neolithic portal dolmen. Trevethy Quoit (quoit being the Cornish name for this type of monument) is a massive 4000 year-old burial chamber. Seven vast slabs of granite remain, one of which has fallen into the tomb so that the huge capstone (weighing in at around ten tonnes) slopes at an angle. There is a mystery associated with this particular quoit. At some point the bottom corner of the 'closure' stone has been cut away, apparently so that the chamber can be entered.
A final enjoyable walk in the Minions area is the short half-mile track along the Fowey River (one of the few places the river can be accessed) to Golitha Falls. Rather than being a massive waterfall, Golitha Falls, in the middle of a lush beech woodland microclimate which encourages the growth of rare ferns, lichens and mosses, is around two hundred yards of tumbling river that gently falls one hundred feet. To walk to the falls park in the big free car park off the road that links the villages of Minions and Doublebois.
The second leg of the copper trail takes you to the small village of St Neot, tucked away on the very southern edge of the moor. Head north from St Neot, past the remains of china clay workings, to Brown Gelly, a 1130 foot peak whose name is derived from Bron Ughella, or highest hill. Brown Gelly is in fact only the third highest hill in Cornwall, the highest being Brown Willy and Rough Tor, but the views from the summit are suitably enticing. There is a curving line of Bronze Age cairns on the top of the hill and nestling below the summit is Dozmary Pool, a natural lake made all the more mysterious for the lack of a visible water supply.
There is intriguing evidence of very early occupation here in the form of shaped stone tools that date back to 2000BC, and legend has it that this brooding stretch of water is a bottomless lake. Over 1km in circumference, Dozmary is one of two places Sir Bevedere is reputed to have thrown King Arthur's 'Excalibur' sword after Arthur's defeat by his wicked nephew Mordred. The ghost of the mythical John Tregeagle is also associated with the lake. It is said that he was cruelly ordered to empty the lake with a broken limpet shell as a punishment for the terrible life he'd lived on earth.
The next leg of the copper trail takes you from St Neot in the south to the attractive villages of Blisland and St Breward on the west side of the moor. Blisland is an attractively well-preserved place that retains a traditional village green, something which is very unusual in Cornwall. Just north of Blisland is the famous Jubilee Rock, a giant volcanic rock ten feet high and twenty five feet across thought to be the oldest stone on the moor. The rock takes its name from the carvings of coats of arms and insignia that were made by Lietenant John Rogers and his men when they rested beneath it in 1810 on the fiftieth anniversary of King George III.
The Copper trail continues through the village of St Breward, which was once called Simonward after the brewer to King Arthur's Court, Simon Ward. St Breward's church tower is said to be the highest in Cornwall, standing some 750 feet above sea level.
North of St Breward is another moorland curiosity that has folkloric links with King Arthur. King Arthur's Hall is a large prehistoric area, often waterlogged, and enclosed by an ancient stone wall which today consists of apparently random stones some upright, some angled and some lying flat. The surrounding area is known as King Arthur's Downs, and although there is no known factual connection with King Arthur, these names have, inexplicably, been in place for centuries. Gazing east along the moor from King Arthur's Hall you will see isolated standing stones that may have marked a prehistoric track over the moor.
Not far from King Arthur's Hall is Stripple Stones Henge, the only example in the county of a stone circle within a henge (a circular bank with a ditch). Opinion is divided as to how many standing stones were originally in the circle and estimates vary from 15 to 28, although only four remain standing and even the central longstone lies flat on the ground.
Stripple Stones Henge can be visited as part of an enjoyable circular walk that takes in King Arthur's Hall, Garrow Tor and Hawk's Tor.
Venture north of Stripple Stone's Henge and you enter what is known as High Moor, the home of Brown Willy. Brown Willy, at 1375 feet above sea level, is officially Cornwall's highest point, and the views from the peak are as splendid as any in the county. Brown Willy can be climbed either from Camelford or from Jamaica Inn, just off the A30. After Dairywell Hill the climb takes place across Open Access Moorland so it is wise to carry a map and a compass.
Rough Tor, at 1312 feet a little shorter than the neighbouring Brown Willy, can be climbed more easily that Brown Willy from a car park at its foot (head to Bude from Camelford and follow signs to Rough Tor). There are a choice of paths across the moor from the summit, which offers spectacular views. The tortured ghost of Charlottle Dymond, who was murdered on the slopes of Rough Tor in strange circumstances (her crippled boyfriend Matthew Weekes was hung for the murder in Bodmin in 1844 although it is unclear whether he was actually the perpetrator) is said to have a strong presence on Rough Tor, which is managed by the National Trust. There is a stone monument to her near a footbridge on the lower slopes and the remains of a Bronze Age settlement higher up.
The final leg of the Copper Trail takes you down through the village of Altarnun on the east side of the moor. Altarnum's church with its high tower is known as the Cathedral of the moor and the benches inside the church are carved with the names of 16th century local craftsmen. Just south of Altarnum is the village of Trewint, a hamlet famous for its connection with John Wesley, an iconic Methodist preacher who lived in the cottages of Digory and Elizabeth Isbell in 1744. The land around Altarnum, known as East Moor, is an unrestricted open access area that includes the 1100 foot Fox Tor and the Nine Stones Circle.
The ground on Bodmin Moor is often very wet and it is advisable to wear appropriate shoes, even wellies, when walking. Rambles on the edge of the moor are safe and suitable for all. However, if you plan to venture into the heart of the moor it is essential to take a map and a compass as weather patterns can change surprisingly quickly, paths are not always marked and it is very easy to get lost. Walkers should use OS Explorer sheet 109 and Landranger sheet 200.