Bodmin town and beacon

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The walk starts in the centre of Bodmin and climbs to the local nature reserve at the top of Beacon Hill passing the Bodmin-Wenford railway station and the barracks where the Regimental Museum is now located. The route then descends to the Jail and returns through the town to Mount Folly where an imposing Franciscan Friary once stood and the Town Museum is now located.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.5 miles/4 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Back of main Priory car park
  • Parking: Priory car park PL312AE. Head into the centre of Bodmin to the roundabout by the church and then follow the road uphill from the roundabout. The car park is signposted.
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Cornwall's historic County Town
  • Town Museum (free entry)
  • Cornwall's Regimental Museum
  • Bodmin's historic jail
  • Courtroom Experience in the Shire Hall
  • Bodmin & Wenford heritage railway
  • Bodmin Beacon Nature Reserve

Directions

  1. Make your way to the back of the car park and then follow the track leading uphill to the right. Continue past the entrance to the Football Club and on the pavement along the track past one sign for the railway and museum to reach a second (smaller) sign for these where the a path departs uphill.

    Bodmin is one of the oldest towns in Cornwall, with a religious foundation in the 6th Century by St Petroc. It was the largest town and main religious centre in Cornwall in 1086 when it was documented in the Domesday Book:

    The Church of St Petroc holds Bodmin. There is 1 hide of land, and land for 4 ploughs. There are 30 acres of pasture and 6 acres of scrubland. St Petroc has 68 houses and 1 market. The whole is worth 25s.

    Bodmin received its first Royal Charter in 1563 from Elizabeth I which established it as a self-governing town. However, it wasn't until early Victorian times that it took over from Launceston as the County Town of Cornwall. In late Victorian times, the administrative functions began to move to Truro once the Great Western Railway arrived and the cathedral was built. Despite Truro being the cathedral city and administrative centre, Bodmin is still the County Town of Cornwall.

  2. Bear left onto the path indicated for the train and museum and follow it until it ends on the road.

    "The Keep", which today houses Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, was originally built in 1859 to provide stores and a parade ground for the Royal Cornwall Rangers Militia Regiment. This was later extended into Victoria Barracks in 1881 with the addition of many other buildings, including separate soldiers' quarters for the newly formed Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI). The barracks played a major role in the life of the town and the county for over 100 years. During the Cold War, the barracks housed a Russian language school, the "School for Spies".

  3. When you reach the road, turn left and follow the pavement until you reach a crossing at a junction to the right.

    The Museum is housed in the original home of Cornwall’s Regiment. The Victorian Keep was built in the style of a French Chateau, and many original features of this Grade II listed building still exist, including the great granite staircase which visitors climb to reach the museum’s collections, and the military Police cells which are dressed to the Cold War era. The museum also holds the DCLI and LI archives, and a reference library where a team of research volunteers help over 300 families a year to discover their military past.

  4. If you wish to visit the Regimental Museum, continue ahead and return here afterwards. Cross the road to Harleigh Road and follow this past the Bodmin and Wenford Railway to a junction with Marks Drive.

    When the London to Penzance line was built in the 1800s, the initial intention was to run this through Bodmin to link with the Padstow line, running on what is now the Camel Trail. However, to cut cost, the line was never built through Bodmin and instead a station was built at Glynn Bridge (now Bodmin Parkway).

    In 1887, a branch line was built into Bodmin from the mainline station now known as Bodmin Parkway to a station known as Bodmin General. A year later it was also connected to the Bodmin and Wadebridge railway via Boscarne junction, providing a link between the main line and the railway running from Wenfordbridge to Padstow.

    Although the station closed to passengers in 1967, it remained in use for freight trains until 1983. Although many of the buildings and structures were demolished by British Rail, the station building remained and the Bodmin-Wenford railway is now run from here.

  5. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and continue following Harleigh Road until it ends in a junction.

    The Bodmin and Wenford heritage steam railway runs for 6.5 miles between Bodmin Parkway station and Boscarne Junction on the two sections of branch line built to link Bodmin General station to the main line and to the Padstow - Wenfordbridge line. This is Cornwall's only full-size (standard gauge) railway still operated by steam locomotives (the Launceston Steam Railway uses smaller gauge locomotives and tracks originally used in the Welsh quarries).

  6. Turn right at the junction and follow Beacon Road uphill until you reach a track on the left marked "Except for Access" just as you reach the top of the hill.

    Red valerian grows in the wall along Beacon Road.

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

  7. Cross the road to the track opposite and follow this to a gate. Pass around the left of the gate and continue along the track until you reach a small gap in the wall on the right, just before a granite gatepost on the left.
  8. Go through the gap on the right and follow the left hedge to reach a gate on the far side.
  9. Turn right before the gate to stay in the field and continue past the benches to join a gravel path. Follow this through the gap in the wall to reach the base of the monument.

    Near the monument on Beacon Hill is a circular earthwork known locally as the Wrestling Ring as Cornish Wrestling took place here. Previous to this, it is thought to have been a fire beacon, hence the name of the hill. It's possible that the beacon may have itself used a prehistoric barrow as its basis (barrows are often found on the top of prominent hills such as this and several were recorded here in 1813).

  10. Continue ahead on the gravel path from the monument to reach a gate with a parking area behind.

    The 44-metre tall monument was built in 1857 by the townspeople of Bodmin to honour the life and work in India of Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert who was born in Bodmin in 1785. At the age of fifteen he joined the Bengal Infantry as a cadet and eventually rose to the rank of major-general. He became a national hero following his conquests in Northern India and (apart from the Duke of Wellington) was the only army officer whose portrait appeared on an army medal.

  11. Pass around the gate and keep right to follow the tarmac ahead. Continue to the junction with the road, joining the pavement on the left to reach a crossing on the speed hump.

    The Bodmin Beacon Local Nature Reserve was designated in 1994 on what was formerly known as Bodmin Downs and covers 87 acres surrounding the Gilbert Monument on Beacon Hill. The meadows and community woodland provide a range of habitats for birds and insects.

  12. Cross the road and follow Robartes Road downhill. Continue downhill past the school until you reach a junction with Beacon Hill on the right.

    Robert Robartes was the son of the Earl of Radnor and had the title "Viscount Bodmin" during the Stuart times of the Civil War. He purchased Lanhydrock House where his family have lived since then.

    Viscount ranks above a Baron (the lowest peerage title) but below an Earl (with Marquess and Duke forming the highest two peerage ranks). When intermarriage resulted in the inheritance of multiple titles, the oldest son was often given the father's lower-rank title whilst he was still alive and then the higher rank one was inherited on his death.

    Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Robert Robartes sat in the House of Commons for 19 years before becoming ambassador to Denmark. He died whilst in the Danish court at only 48 and whilst his father was still alive. He therefore never inherited the title of Earl which passed to his eldest son on the death of his father.

  13. Bear right down Beacon Hill and follow this until it ends in a T-junction.

    Tucked behind the houses towards the bottom of the hill, there is a large chapel (now Wetherspoons) on the right which dates from Victorian times when Methodism was popular in Cornwall. The organ, built in 1886, is still present.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  14. Turn left and follow the pavement to Robartes Road. Cross over this and continue along the pavement to the pedestrian crossing just past the Give Way signs.

    The cross was made in 2002 of granite from De Lank quarries.

    The De Lank quarries are on Bodmin Moor between Blisland and St Breward. The quarries lie along the bed of the De Lank river, which runs through a culvert beneath the quarry workings. Buildings and monuments that have incorporated silver-grey granite include Tower Bridge, The Royal Opera House and monuments to Churchill and Marx. At the Eden Project, "The Seed" in "The Core" was quarried from here.

  15. Cross via the island to the pavement opposite. Turn right and follow the pavement past the Mason's Arms and downhill to a junction on the left signposted for Bodmin Jail.

    The Mason's Arms was originally located on Fore Street next to Bell Lane but was relocated twice in the first half of the 19th Century before settling in its present position.

    As you go down the hill, the large building opposite was built as a Bible Christian chapel.

    In the first half of the 19th Century, the methodist movement fragmented into several different factions, often each with its own chapel in the same town. The Bible Christian movement was one of these, founded in 1815 by William O'Bryan from Luxulyan and his followers are also known as the Bryonites, although after falling out with most of his ministers, O'Bryan emigrated to America.

  16. Bear left down Cardell Road and follow the road downhill using the right-hand pavement until the road ends in a T-junction.
  17. Turn right at the junction and follow the road a short distance to where there is a junction opposite with a Celtic cross, signposted for Bodmin Jail.

    The cross was found lying on a heap of stones near the jail in the 1800s and re-erected. In 1968 it was hit by a lorry and broke into 3 pieces which have subsequently been stuck back together. The cross may have marked the pilgrim route to Scarlett's Well.

    Scholars speculate that the Celtic Cross (a crucifix with a circular ring) developed from the sun cross (a cross inside a circle), a common symbol in artefacts of Prehistoric Europe, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods. When Christianity came to the celtic regions, Christians extended the bottom spoke of this familiar symbol, to remind them of the cross on which their new Saviour was crucified.

  18. Cross the larger road to the stone cross opposite. At this point you can take a short diversion up the road opposite to visit the Jail and return here to continue the walk. Cross over the smaller road and join the pavement to follow along the left side of Berrycoombe road to a junction with Wallace Road.

    Bodmin Jail is a historic former prison situated in the town of Bodmin, on the south-west edge of Bodmin Moor. Bodmin Jail was built in 1779 by prisoners of war and was a milestone in prison design and progressiveness. It was light and airy and it was the first British prison where inmates had individual sleeping cells. There was hot water and an infirmary for sick prisoners. It was separated into three isolated areas for felons, misdemeanants and debtors. Males and females were also segregated. Prisoners worked to make products which the governor sold and paid them from the profits.

    In 1861, the jail was rebuilt as even despite being extended, the original building was not large enough to accommodate all those "doing time". Towards the end of the First World War, national treasures including the Domesday Book, Coronation Rolls and all State Papers were stored in the Jail. The Jail finally closed in 1927 and, since then, there has been no prison in the county.

  19. Cross over Wallace Road and continue along the pavement of Berrycoombe Road until it ends in a junction with a postbox on the left.
  20. Cross the road ahead to the pavement opposite the postbox and then cross main road via the crossing on the left of the roundabout. Then turn left to pass Chapel Lane and Market Street and reach Hamley Court with a pedestrian sign for the town centre.

    Cock's Well, located on the corner of Chapel Lane, supplied water for the houses nearby and a blacksmith opposite. The present well is dated 1849 but the spring here may have been in use before this date. In 1881, the water became contaminated with a typhoid-like infection which resulted in 60 cases of fever and 13 deaths. Two of the fatalities were the blacksmiths who drank a lot of water due to their hot work.

  21. Turn right and follow Bell Lane around a bend to the left to reach an alley just before the well railings on the right signposted to the town centre.
  22. Bear right up the alley to emerge on Fore Street.

    The well at Bree Schute is known as the Eye Well as the water was reputed to heal eye complaints. The stone tablet dating from 1700 indicates the well was already in use by the Civil War period. In 1872, a Rivers Commission report found the water to be highly contaminated and a source of possible illnesses.

  23. Turn left and follow the street downhill until you reach a junction.

    The small passage between the shops on the right-hand side of the road is known as Arnold's Passage.

    John Arnold was born in Bodmin in 1736 and worked initially as an apprentice for his father who was a clockmaker before moving to Holland and South East England to work as a watchmaker. He made the smallest watch ever, fitted on a ring, as a gift for George III. He was the first person to design a watch that was both practical and accurate and he introduced the term "chronometer" and largely invented the modern mechanical watch.

  24. Keep right at the junction to pass the Shire Hall where the road ends in a junction.

    St Francis of Assisi began preaching in 1207 and two years later the Franciscan Order was founded, requiring monks to live in austerity to emulate the life of Jesus. A group of Friars reached England in 1224 and the Franciscan movement spread quickly to the principal towns across England. It is known that Bodmin Friary was built before 1253 but not exactly when. It was located on Mount Folly where the Shire Hall and Courthouse now stand, and included a fairly large church which was demolished in the 19th Century to make room for the Courthouse. Remains of the cemetery have been found beneath the Shire Hall.

    Bodmin's Shire Hall was the County Court, completed in 1838 and in use for 150 years until 1988 when it was replaced by new County Courts in Truro. The building included two courtrooms, two judges' dressing rooms and 30 small holding cells with a communal washing trough. One of the courtrooms is still intact and used for a re-enactment of the Charlotte Dymond murder case.

    A museum in Bodmin is documented in 1843 which fell into neglect and was resurrected twice, with the current Town Museum opening in 1983 in the ground floor of the Public Rooms. The Town Museum has stones from Bodmin's Augustinian priory, a bell from the mediaeval Friary, the fire engine that was used to put out the Lanhydrock fire in 1881, and lots more from the Victorian period including Cornish kitchen and blacksmith displays. Entry is free.

  25. Cross the road to the bank opposite then follow the parking signs back into the car park. If you wish to visit the church after the walk, follow one of the paths from the car park through the park below to emerge on the road opposite the church then use the pedestrian crossing towards Lidl.

    In the mediaeval period following the Norman Conquest, the Augustinian Canons established a priory in Bodmin which became the largest religious house in Cornwall. It is thought that the priory was first established in the 12th Century around 1120, before the Franciscan friary was built at Mount Folly in the 13th Century. The priory was located in the area that is now mostly a park on the opposite side of the road from St Thomas Beckett's chapel which would have been several centuries old when the priory was first built. The pond in the park was originally the priory fishpond. Following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the mediaeval priory buildings were sold off and gradually demolished and replaced. In the 18th Century, Priory House (at the bottom of the park) was built and the surrounding area landscaped, burying the remains of the priory which still survive below the ground. During garden excavations, the remains of a dovecote and a private chapel were found between Priory House and the pond.

    St Petroc's church, which is the largest parish church in Cornwall, was built largely in the 15th Century after a mediaeval crowdfunding campaign where 460 householders donated money or nails. However, the base of the church tower remains from an early 12th Century stone church and the Norman font is also from this period. The 15th Century tower originally had a spire one hundred feet high until this was destroyed by lightning in 1699. The church underwent a fairly drastic restoration in the 1870s during which many of the mediaeval features were lost including a Norman door.

    The ruin in the churchyard is the remains of a chapel, recorded in 1377, making it the oldest surviving religious building in the town (albeit as a ruin). The chapel is dedicated to St Thomas Becket - the Archbishop of Canturbury who fell out with the King Henry II during Norman times. Beckett was murdered by four knights who quite possibly misinterpreted the King's words of exasperation as an order of execution. The chapel was used as Bodmin's first Grammar School and later as a school for girls before it went out of use in the late 1850s and fell into ruin.

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 very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

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