Walking 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.
What 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.
Restormel 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.
It 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.
Crossing 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.
The 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.
The 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.
A 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.