Altarnun and West Moor

The walk passes through the village and then follows a footpath across the fields to Trewint. From here the route is alongside the Trewint Downs to Westmoorgate and then out onto the moor. The walk climbs to Black Rock where there are panoramic views across West Moor and then joins a track from Leskernick. The walk then follows along the boundary wall along the edge of the moor passing prehistoric hut circles and tin streamworks. The return to Altarnun is along quiet country lanes.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.5 miles/8.8 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Altarnun village hall
  • Parking: By the village hall, taking care not to block access. Turn beside Altarnun church and keep right to pass the bridge and reach the village hall Satnav: PL157SJ
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views across Bodmin Moor
  • Prehistoric remains including hut circles and cairns

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Cross the bridge opposite the church and continue ahead onto the lane. Follow it through the village and up the hill until you reach a metal kissing gate on the right just before the word SLOW painted on the road.
    The slate bridges from the doorways of the row of cottages along the road span a leat that was once used to power a mill in the village.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  2. Go through the kissing gate (or the gate next to it if you wearing a backpack) and follow the path through another iron kissing gate to reach a stone stile.

    Altarnun is a pretty village to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The name "Altarnun" is a corruption of "Altar of St Nonna" although the village was originally known by the Cornish name Penpont (hence the name of the river - Penpont Water). The Old Rectory near the church was featured by Daphne Du Maurier in "Jamaica Inn".

  3. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach another stone stile.

    Beech trees form part of the canopy overhanging the path.

    Compared to many native trees, the beech colonised Great Britain relatively recently, after the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. The fruit of the beech tree is known as "mast" or, less crypically, "beechnuts". The small triangular nuts are encased in spiky husks which split and drop from the trees from late August to early October. The kernels of these are edible and are similar to hazelnuts. They were once used as a source of flour, which was ground after the tannins had been leached out by soaking them in water. If you find them too bitter, you might want to try this trick, although toasting them in a hot pan is also a good option. Young beech leaves can be used as a salad vegetable, which are apparently similar to a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture. Older leaves are a bit chewy, as you'd expect.

  4. Cross the stile into the field and follow the right hedge to reach a wooden stile in the corner.
  5. Cross the stile and descend the steps to the road. Cross to the pavement opposite and turn right. Follow the pavement until you reach a lane on the right signposted to Westmoorgate.

    The manor of Trewint was first recorded in the 1086 Domesday survey as Trawint held by Roger. The name is thought to mean something along the lines of "windy farm". Before the Norman invasion it was held by Burgred whose taxes included 4 smallholders and one slave.

  6. Turn right onto the lane to Westmoorgate and follow it to where a track forks to the right to Tredarras.

    Sheep roam free on the Trewint Downs.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleeting, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic. If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause the lambs to be stillborn. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  7. Keep left to stay on the tarmacked lane and follow it to Westmoorgate.

    The settlement of Tredarras was first recorded in 1433 as Dyrras More.

  8. Continue ahead across the parking area to the left-hand of the two gates ahead. Go through the gate and follow the stony track until it bends sharply and a grassy path leads ahead between the banks.

    The banks are the remains of surface workings for tin possibly dating back as far as mediaeval times.

    Tin is a semi-rare metal well-known for its corrosion resistance which is used extensively in electronics, engineering alloys and anti-corrosion coatings. Unlike many other "heavy" metals, it is not poisonous which has resulted in its use within food packaging - the ubiquitous "tin can" - and increasingly as a replacement for lead, which was used extensively before its toxicity was understood.

    Tin is found in Cornwall as the ore cassiterite (tin oxide) which occurs in small crystals amongst other rocks; even a "rich" tin ore only contains 5% tin. The name for the ore is thought either to come from the Greek kassiteros meaning "tin" or from the Phoenician name Cassiterid for Britain and Ireland.

  9. Continue ahead onto the grassy path and follow it until it forks.

    The first method to extract tin was known as "tin streaming" which reached its peak in the 12th Century, though continued until the mid 20th Century.

    Alluvial deposits occurred where a river had eroded the tiny crystals out of mineral veins. Due to tin being so heavy, the crystals had become concentrated on the bottom of the stream as the lighter rocks around them were washed away. Over time these deposits were buried in gravel and sand, and eventually soil.

    Using quite elaborate banks and channels, the river was diverted to wash away the soil and gravel, leaving the heavy tin-rich rocks behind which could be dug out once the river was diverted away.

    One side-effect of all this industry was that the topsoil, sand and gravel washed downriver caused the silting of many river estuaries and once-thriving mediaeval river ports literally dried up and were superseded by sea ports.

    Once the relatively rich alluvial deposits had been used up, mostly by the 18th Century, mineral veins were instead mined directly.

  10. At the fork, bear left and follow the track until it peters out on the moor. Continue in the same direction and when a rock outcrop comes into view on the skyline head for this.

    The little yellow flowers with four petals all over the moor in July are tormentil (potentilla erecta). Its common names include Bloodroot and Flesh and Blood because roots yield a red dye which is still used as an ingredient for artists’ colours (tormentil red). The roots also have very a high tannin content and have even been used to tan leather. Extracts from the plant have been widely used in folk medicine and is it still used as a remedy for diarrhoea and as a lotion for skin sores.

  11. At the rock outcrop, turn right and descend into the valley. Keep going until you eventually meet a stony track which runs along the length of the valley. Turn right onto the track and follow it back towards Westmoorgate to reach a wall on the left, just before it returns the way you came.

    The rock you are standing beside is known as Black Rock. If you are facing across the valley, to your left the stony hill on the opposite side of the valley is Leskernick Hill. You can optionally extend the walk to the top of there and then drop down to the bottom of the valley and follow the stony track back towards Westmoorgate.

    On Leskernick Hill, near Altarnun, is the remains of a Bronze Age settlement which originally had over 44 round houses with two stone circles nearby.

  12. Turn left and follow along the wall. Keep the wall on your right to join a track leading into a gulley.

    Just before you reach the gulley there are two rings of stones which are prehistoric hut circles.

    The low stone walls remaining as hut circles were once the foundations of a round house. The granite foundations were likely to have been set into cob (mud and straw) walls which provided insulation and draft exclusion over bare-stone walls. A conical thatched roof on a timber frame rested on top of the walls. Heating was via a central fire which required some care with the thatched roof - presumably roof fires were not unheard of! These buildings varied in size from a just over a metre in diameter up to 10 metres. Some had walled enclosures attached and a few also had internal partitions.

  13. Follow the track up the other side of the gulley and keep following the wall on your right until you reach the end of the wall.

    The gulley is the remains of another tin streamworks.

    The final stage of tin production was a process known as smelting which produced the pure shiny metal which was known as "white tin". The smelting process used charcoal or coal as a source of carbon to chemically reduce the tin from the oxide to its elemental form, similar to the blast furnaces used for producing iron.

    Particularly in the earlier years of mining, this was typically done in a specialised facility (known as a "blowing house") to which the concentrated tin oxide (known as "black tin") was transported from the mines. In Victorian times, reverbatory furnaces using powdered anthracite replaced the charcoal and forced-air furnaces powered by water wheels, and more smelting was done onsite at the mines.

  14. At the end of the wall, bear right to reach a sunken track along the middle of the field. Bear right onto this and follow it until it ends in a gate.

    In summer, swallows may swoop past your feet. The swallows here have learned that sheep (and walkers) disturb insects on the ground.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

  15. Go through the gate and continue ahead to reach a lane. Turn right onto this and follow it to a farm where a track forks off the road to the right, beside a yard.
  16. Keep left and follow the road a short distance to pass between the barns on the left and cottages on the right and reach a fork.
  17. Keep left at the fork and follow the lane to a river crossing.

    The river is the Penpont Water which passes through Altarnun and is a tributary of the River Inny which it joins at Two Bridges near Polyphant.

  18. Bear left over the footbridge to cross the river then merge back onto the lane. Follow the lane uphill and continue until it ends in a T-junction.

    Clapper bridges are an ancient form of bridge built out of stone slabs spanning piers in the river. Most were built during mediaeval times, often beside a ford where horses and carts would cross. There is disagreement over the origin of the word "clapper". One candidate is an Anglo-Saxon word cleaca meaning "a bridge of stepping stones". Another is a mediaeval Latin word clapus which is is thought to have originated in Celtic Western Europe and mean "pile of stones".

  19. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a gate leading into the churchyard with a "warning stairs" sign.
  20. Go through the gate and keep right on the path to follow it around the church to the main gate and complete the circular route.

    Altarnun church is located beside Penpont Water - a tributary of the River Inny - in the centre of the small village of Altarnun which is just to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The 15th century church, dedicated to St Nonna, has an amazing collection of carved pew-ends from about 1520 (including one that mentions the artist - Robert Daye), a striking Norman font with the original colour still visible, and 15th century Rood screen. The church is known as "Cathedral of the moors" due to its impressive 109ft tall tower on which you can still see the deep padlocks that once held its scaffolding in place. A 6th century Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard, from the time before the Celtic Cornwall had been conquered by the Anglo Saxons.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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