Cotehele to Cremyll Ferry

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Leaving Cotehele

We left our exploration of the Tamar valley somewhat hanging in the air after our walk to Cotehele. We had found somewhere to launch our canoes. It was all a question of waiting for the right tide and a gap in diaries.

The aim of this expedition was to canoe the tidal Tamar to Cremyll Ferry and thus to complete our circum-navigation/walk around Cornwall. Unusually, we had invited friends to join us as part of our joint exploration of Cornwall’s rivers.

IMG_0864A very early start saw us leaving Cotehele at 9:00 at the top of a spring tide. The water was lapping the top of the quay and the gigs were returning from their morning exercise as we set off. The river was already ebbing making our progress satisfyingly easy.

We could not have chosen a better day. There was no wind and although rain was threatened for late afternoon, we expected to remain dry all the way.

20170528_091704The first stretch past Chapel Farm and round an enormous bend to Hole’s Hole  and on to Cargreen was a joy. Great reed beds lined the right hand side of the river; shelduck were teaching their offspring to swim; an occasional swan preened its feathers; the water was smooth and we made good progress.

Approaching Cargreen after 5 miles, we went through the first of two strange patches of water.  Despite the strong tide which was straining at the buoys and moored yachts, the water was glassy flat. There was not a ripple on it, as though someone had ironed it smooth. The clouds were perfectly reflected in its mirrored surface. Was this, perhaps, some junction between fresh and salty water?

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Cargreen for coffee

A coffee stop at Cargreen was welcome, but short, as we did not want to miss out on the benefit of the fast-flowing tide.

Rounding West Point, the two great bridges came into view at the end of a long straight.

We passed the entrance to the River Tavy with its impressive railway bridge. It is a reminder of the free market at work in the Victorian age that neither this bridge, nor Brunel’s masterpiece allowed pedestrians or carts: the railway wanted to preserve its monopoly.

We met the second strange water feature just before we reached the bridges: a line of flotsam right across the river as though it had picked up a load from a single beach and was now transferring it out to sea. Not even our tame geographer could account for this. One only notices such features when close to the water surface.

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Brunel’s masterpiece

Crossing this line, we noticed a change in the conditions. A line in the sky hinted that the rain might be moving in rather earlier than expected, a gentle headwind emerged from nowhere and we had to start working for progress, despite the strong tide.

By the time we reached the bridges, the wind was strengthening and funnelling through the gap. Waves were beginning to appear. So much so that the passage under the bridges was through fast-flowing maelstrom of water, pulling us this way and that.

This was the beginning of some very different conditions. ‘Wind against tide’, is a familiar statement in navigation theory lessons, hinting at discomfort and hard work. We experienced both.

The stretch from the bridges down the Hamoaze, past the naval dockyards, was ‘everyman for him/herself’ with rough water in patches, standing waves, and a strong headwind. Individual canoes disappeared into troughs and appeared over crests at random. Had anyone capsized they would have had to fend for themselves.

Though there was no over-riding pattern to the water, beneath us, the river was moving inexorably towards the sea. We were just grateful that there were no large ship movements as we battled on.

Eventually, we had all passed the Torpoint ferry, heading for the green of the Mount Edgcumbe peninsular, Maker church peeking above the trees.

We were swept onwards towards Cremyll Ferry and landed, thankfully, at bang on 12:30. We had completed the journey in 3.5 hours with a ten minute stop. A total distance of just over 11.5 miles.

Celebrations were delayed until we had found some dry clothes, warmed our frozen fingers and loaded our canoes. We can recommend the carvery in the Edgcumbe Arms after a hard morning on the water. It was well-deserved: at least we thought so.

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Celebrating the completion of our journey down the Tamar

Thus, we had completed our circum-navigation/walk around Cornwall without having to walk through Plymouth.

Our next project will be to cross its width of Cornwall yet again, and to circle Bodmin Moor, while continuing our exploration of the county’s churches. Oh, and our friends are already talking of exploring yet another river or two.

Thanks to Pom, Jeremy, Yvette, Gordon for joining us on this trip.

Posted in On the water, Tamar valley

Restormel to Lanhydrock

P1090397Walking the Saints’ Way, as we were last weekend, makes one think more about the geography of the Bodmin-Lostwithiel corridor.

We are so influenced by modern communications that the two towns seem to live in their own bubbles. Bodmin hugs the A30 and is generally approached along it. Lostwithiel hugs the other major road in the area, the A390, which distributes traffic east and west.

There are significant Iron Age settlements outside both towns demonstrating that earlier generations appreciated the importance of their locations. The Normans got the message and Bodmin was an important centre for them, while Lostwithiel became the seat of the Duke of Cornwall and the de facto capital of the duchy once the unruly Cornish had been pacified.

P1090417What is strange is that there is no obvious historic road between the two towns. It is almost as though their C21 separateness has always been the case.

We thought we would walk between the two to understand more of the landscape. We found a suggested route in a guidebook which took us from Restormel castle to Lanhydrock and back.

P1090399Restormel is managed by English Heritage and a quite lovely place. An unusual ring keep, it has the feel of a place that was used as a folly in the C18 and for once the carefully mown grass seems entirely in keeping.

But it is something of an enigma in its own right. It commands a view of the river crossing and yet is well outside the town of Lostwithiel and there is no sign of any settlement anywhere near it.

P1090396It was originally painted white and must have been a very assertive statement of Norman power when it was first built. However, it would have quickly fallen out of use when the Palace was built in town and a bridge was thrown over the river. This perhaps accounts for the lack of buildings around it.

We parked in the castle car park and headed down hill past Restormel Farm which is owned by the Duchy and titivated like a Costwolds estate. We expected Barbour jackets and green wellies to emerge at any point.

P1090407Crossing the railway, we made our way past the Duchy Nurseries and onto the ridge of a hill along which we walked for a mile or more on a small road with the valley of the Fowey river stretching out below us.

Eventually, passing a piece of wild wood filled with bluebells, we arrived at a wayside cross, artfully included in the front garden of what was probably once a toll house.

From here, it was  a short walk to the crinkle-crankle Respryn bridge. Quite why the builders decided to change direction midstream is not clear but they did and the result is amusing, but perhaps less so for car drivers of a nervous disposition. One of the width bollards at the entrance had been knocked over. I see that has gone again said a passing local.

P1090410The tannoy of a horse-riding event came to us over the air as we entered Lanhydrock estate and walked up the long and magnificent double avenue towards the house. This undulates and it is not until the last moment that the gatehouse appears in view.

The gardens were in full bloom, with enormous rhododendrons doing what only that plant can do when in full flower: sparkling with bright reds, whites and yellows.

After a restorative cup of National Trust coffee, we headed back, eventually leaving the gardens and descending in a lovely wood from which there were wide open views over a field towards the Lanhydrock woods.

P1090413The broad-leafed trees provided all the colour one needed, mixing their greens into a child’s picture of a wood with pom-pom parkland trees in the foreground.

Eventually we left the National Trust’s property and joined a rough track past the inevitable water treatment works. By now we were walking parallel to the river on the edge of flood plain. This would have been the natural direct route from Lostwithiel to Bodmin but there was little sign that it had been used as such.

P1090416A little further on and we found ourselves passing through the amazingly trim outbuildings of Restormel Farm before turning back up to the castle again. We had walked 7.6 miles in 2.75 hours.

It was good to feel that we had crossed the corridor between the two towns but the lack of historic symbols such as crosses did not suggest that this ‘instinctive’ route was indeed the historical route used by our ancestors. Two crosses do link Bodmin to St Hydroc’s church next to the house but there is no sign of any south of there.

If we walked this route again we might prefer to cover the same ground twice and stay on the western side of the river, to save walking along the road, even though this would mean missing out on some lovely views of Restormel castle isolated on its hilltop.

Posted in Uncategorized, Walks

The Saints’ Way 4

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Lanlivery church

It has been a wonderful spring with three weeks of dry sunny weather during April. The camelias, bluebells, azaleas and blossom seem to have gone on for ever and it is only now that they are beginning to look as though their flowering is drawing to a close.

At the beginning of May we took the chance to complete ‘the other leg’ of the Saints’ Way.

The Saints’ way splits at Helman Tor with the westerly route going through Luxulyan, St Blazey and Tywardreath to enter Fowey across the Menabilly headland. The easterly route heads for Lanlivery and follows the river to Golant, entering Fowey from the north. When we previously walked the Saints’ Way we had used the westerly route.

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Polyntor standing stone

We started at Lanlivery, having previously walked the Helman Tor to Lanlivery section on a warm summer’s day after a pub lunch at the (excellent) Crown Inn.

The way crossed a small valley, past a curious shrine to Humpty Dumpty, complete with lighting effects, to where a large standing stone stood, sited unusually on the side of a hill but within view of the church tower. This would have been a good waymarker for a passing saint.

There was another waymarker over the next hill where we encountered a wayside cross, set next to the busy A390 at a place charmingly called No Man’s Land.

After a short distance walking alongside this road, the way dived right and we took a steep lane down a field towards Milltown.

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St Winnow church

Passing a vain goose admiring her image in a greenhouse, we emerged on a small road running parallel to the river. All around, the vegetation was red, white and blue against a background of the fresh green of spring: campion, wild garlic and bluebells were doing their bit and the air smelled strongly of fresh garlic.

This was a lovely section and very easy going. In the distance, across the river, the sight of St Winnow church in its waterside setting just added to the delights.

The path turned off halfway up a hill and crossed a large ploughed field, heading for Golant. We stopped here to visit St Sampson church which gets a single star from Simon Jenkins. This is well worth a visit, if only for its hillside setting and putative links with the story of Tristan and Iseult.

P1090384Leaving Golant, the way then became a narrow path and quite the loveliest section of the day. The vegetation continued to be quite splendid: sadly our camera cannot do it justice. There is something about the colours of bluebells that modern cameras simply do not like. They also cannot capture the smell of fresh vegetation or the noises of the birds enjoying a sunny day.

We emerged at a small quay and followed the valley up through a wood to a small waterfall where we ate a sandwich, surrounded by the smell of garlic.

Across another hill – and past the inevitable water treatment works – and we descended a hill towards the Bodinnick ferry. Around us were the signs of the former railway station and its accompanying infrastructure. The station itself being converted into ‘apartments’. We hope they like views of a car park.

We walked through the narrow streets of Fowey – it was almost mandatory to wear Joules and SeaSalt – and arrived at the church formally to end our walk. It had been an easy 7.5 mile (9 mile on our gps) walk in 3 and a quarter hours.

 

Posted in Walks

Gunnislake to Cotehele

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Morwell wood

The final stages of our Tamar walk were a bit disjointed thanks to our discovery that launching canoes at Gunnislake did not appear to be on the cards (except at dead of night when the gamekeepers were not watching). We were faced with a series of short links instead of one long stretch.

To link Gunnislake to our new get-in spot of Cotehele Quay needed one of these short walks on a sunny January day. There was not a leaf left on the trees but the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils were beginning to  appear from among the leaf-litter.

We started where we had left off, just south of Gunnislake, and walked on easy roads up the landmark of Calstock church. In the gorge below us the Tamar, now a mighty river, was winding its way past Morwell Woods and showing increasing signs of being tidal.

Calstock church was delightful and set, unexpectedly, on the site of a former Roman fort. We noted a ledger stone in the porch to a Griffin – an echo of entering Mylor church.

We shadowed the single-track railway as it twists and turns its way around the valley side, before dropping down past OkelTor Mine, holding our noses as we reached the river and its reedy bank close to the sewage works.

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Calstock viaduct

By now the Calstock viaduct (1904) was very visible in all its elegance, the town clutching the hillside on the north bank. It is something of a surprise that this little line – from Plymouth to Gunnislake – has survived successive railway closures but the winding river and lack of bridges means that communities like Calstock and Bere Alston are actually  rather cut off with few major roads.

Calstock appeared an attractive small town with come good quality houses. Others looked sadly neglected.

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Cotehele house

As a light rain began to fall, we followed the road along the river’s edge to the sharp Cotehele turn where we took to the woods and made our way up to the house. Cotehele (NT) is a fine Tudor mansion of a very domestic scale with wonderful views down to the river and viaduct below.

We wandered around the gardens and up to the folly on the hilltop. Built in the C18, this triangular tower sits on the top of the hill and was designed to look like a church tower from afar. The NT has thoughtfully provided a stair to allow one to reach the top.

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Cotehele Quay: Shamrock

Our walk took us down to Cotehele Quay on the river bank below. Here the Shamrock (1899), a Tamar barge, sits looking slightly disconsolate in winter, surrounded by glutinous mud. An NT cafe provided sustenance and shelter from the passing light drizzle.

Our return route took us past the little Edgcumbe chapel, built on the cliff edge close to where Sir Richard, a supporter of the future Henry VII, hid in the undergrowth to avoid his pursuers in ca 1483. He dived into the river to escape them. His pursuers, seeing his cap floating away, presumed him drowned and gave up the chase, allowing him to escape to Brittany. A charming story and a reminder of the perils of backing the ‘wrong’ side, as the Cornish gentry so often did.

A more direct route took us back up the hill and back to our car, the sun providing an entertainment of rainbows pointing at Kit Hill which really does need climbing one day.

Our Tamar walk is thus effectively complete: about 60 miles. The remainder of our ‘circumnavigation’ of the borderlands will be by boat (and reported here).

This circular walk of about 6 miles had taken us 3 hours of walking. We rewarded ourselves by visiting St Ive church on the way home.

Posted in Tamar valley, Walks | 1 Comment

Around Gunnislake

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Welcome to Gunnislake

We had planned to walk to Gunnislake and complete our journey down the tidal Tamar by canoe. A recce around Gunnislake soon disabused us of this idea. It is hard to imagine a more unnecessarily unwelcoming area than the banks of the river at Gunnislake.

We had previously run into bossy riparian owners a short distance up the river. It seems the same attitude prevailed here as the banks were littered with signs banning any activity at all.

The walk along the Tamar from the bridge passes through some woods filled with the remains of old industrial buildings being reclaimed by nature.

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Gunnislake weir

The remnants of the old canal and lock also become apparent as one reaches the weir which is the head of tidal navigation.

In the distance, as the river turns southwards towards the Morwelham bend, an attractive looking gorge appears, under Sheepridge wood.

It is a shame that one cannot access this area easily by boat and it is hard not to resent the prohibitions which are so uncharacteristic on a tidal river. We wondered what anyone would do if we had paddled upstream down the middle of the river.

We will have to walk on and launch further downstream.

Posted in Tamar valley, Walks

Milton Abbot to Horsebridge

p1080463Having reached Milton Abbot, our route planning became a little uncertain. We had a mere 4 miles gap linking our last destination at Milton Abbot with Horsebridge which we had reached from the other direction. We kicked ourselves for not having stretched ourselves on some of the earlier, easy walks.

To fill in the gap, we started at Horsebridge and did a circular walk to Milton Abbot and back. The preferred route is along the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail which takes you through Sydenham Damerel although there is a straighter route through Leigh Cross which we used on the return journey. The Sydenham route had the advantage of going off-road for a stretch after the village but was otherwise unremarkable; except for a rather jolly penny halfpenny gate.

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Milton Abbot Old Vicarage

This was not a walk filled with incident or particular delights. The distant profile of Bodmin Moor and the familiar shapes of Rough Tor and Brown Willy were constant companions, as was Kit Hill to the south west. As usual, we wished we could walk closer to the river itself.

Milton Abbot, which we only seem to visit on grey days, is clustered around its church (St Constantine) and contains some good looking small buildings. The Old Vicarage, however, is a candidate for any horror film and reminds one of the status of a Victorian vicar.

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Leaving Milton Abbot

There was another stretch of off-road walking out of the village before we headed back to Horsebridge by the more direct route.

Posted in Tamar valley, Walks

Newbridge to Milton Abbot

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Early morning

We picked up our journey where we left off, at a junction near Newbridge. A light rain – ‘heavy dew’ –  was falling as we stepped out.

It was early which is always a wonderful time to be walking. Ahead of us the mist was lifting from the valleys creating a magical, almost artistic effect.

Ahead, the roads were initially much the same as the previous day but as we dropped down to Bridgetown, the character changed. While we had been away the river had grown up a bit and had established its own mini flood plain.

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River Ottery

The stretch through Crossgate, close to Druxton Bridge was a joy. The road followed the edge of the higher ground. It was instantly more prosperous. The simple open pastoral fields we had experienced further north gave way to arable fields and paddocks. The landscape was tidier too.

Near Werrington, the significant river Inney joined the Tamar, adding considerably to the volume of water in the river.

A short stretch on the A388 took us through a garden centre and onto a footpath for the first time in many miles. We were soon back on a road again, re-tracing some former steps towards Polson bridge.

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St Leonard’s packhorse bridge

By now we had joined the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail with its apple symbols. If you follow this then be warned: the apple symbols are often overgrown with ivy and it has a habit of deserting you at critical moments.

The St Leonard’s water treatment works was as delightful as ever while close by polite children were passing their Sunday mornings exercising their mounts walking around a dressage ring. Hidden away was the tiny packhorse bridge over the river Kensey which we had spotted before, now covered in a spectacular carpet of orange leaves.

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Greystone bridge

We crossed over the A30, the usual dividing line between the ‘tougher’ landscape of north and ‘softer’ south Cornwall, and made our way to Lawhitton where we visited the unusual church.

We were back on very narrow lanes again, which we followed down a steep hill to Greystone bridge.

There were frantic warning signs about ‘uneven road surface’, ’10mph maximum’ and ‘danger of skidding’. No driver can keep to this sort of speed on empty roads. The road was so narrow that no driver could speed and any skidding would only damage the car as each side consisted of a Cornish bank. Perhaps there should be a sign at Polson bridge saying ‘Drivers use all roads in Cornwall at their own risk’. It would be cheaper.

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Felldownhead cider barn

At Greystone (the bridge dates from 1439) the Tamar enters a small gorge which stretches beyond Gunnislake.

What the books had not mentioned was the steep 1 mile 20% climb up the other side but it was cheering to see a drinking trough at the bottom of the hill and a cider barn at the top.

We sat to eat our picnic beside a kaleidoscope of apples waiting to be processed, their sweet smell reminding us of the abundant harvest.

From here, it was a short distance to Milton Abbot where, with the clouds looking distinctly threatening, we hastened down a non-existent path across some fields and up to the church where our car awaited us.

We had walked about 13 miles in five hours, leaving ourselves a ridiculously short distance to reach our target of Gunnislake where we will start the next stage of our odyssey.

 

Posted in Tamar valley, Walks