Cotehele to Metherell

The route passes Cotehele house and gardens and then crosses into the wooded valley of Danescombe with copious bluebells in spring. The route then follows the stream and climbs out of the valley at Metherell to reach the pub. The return route is via Clampits, Comfort Wood and finally along the river from the weir, past Cotehele Mill to reach the Quay and Edgcumbe Arms.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.9 miles/6.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Cothele Quay Car Park
  • Parking: Cotehele Quay Car Park. Follow signs to Cotehele, cross the bridge, and at the bend after the limekilns take the first right signposted Car Park for Quay and Mill Satnav: PL126TA
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Cotehele House - a well-preserved Tudor mansion
  • Spectacular Victorian gardens with Mediaeval dovecot
  • Historic mills, engine houses, quays and limekilns
  • Views along the River Tamar to Calstock
  • Wildflowers including bluebells and orchids

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park and head towards the Discovery Centre until you reach The Edgcumbe and then bear right to follow the lane uphill to a junction with the road.

    The Cotehele Estate, now owned by the National Trust, was strategically situated alongside the River Tamar for trade.

    The name Tamar is documented in the second century and likely to be substantially older. It is thought it might share a common origin with the River Thames and both might stem from an ancient Celtic word meaning "dark". The source of the river is within 4 miles of the North Cornish Coast and the river flows 61 miles south across the peninsula forming the majority of the historic border with Devon. Work is being done by the Environment Agency to improve the water quality of the Tamar and its tributaries by reducing the amount of run-off of phosphate fertilisers into the rivers.

  2. When you reach the road, turn right up the drive to Cotehele House, signposted to the house and car park. Continue until you reach the car park on the right.

    Cotehele House belonged to the Edgcumbe family for nearly 600 years before being donated to the National Trust in 1947, together with over 1000 acres of land. The house is largely Tudor, and by the 1750s it was already attracting tourists seeking to visit a historic building.

  3. Keep left at the car park, signposted Overflow, then almost immediately turn right, signposted to House and Garden and follow the road to the Reception Area. Bear right through the Reception Area to reach a waymarked gate to the right of the buildings.

    Cotehele house includes a turret clock which is powered using weights on a rope wrapped around a capstan, rather than a pendulum. The clock has no face and instead strikes a bell on the hour. It is the earliest turret clock in its original position and still working, and possibly the earliest working turret clock in the world. The design was relatively common in the 14th Century but most were replaced and scrapped.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the track, passing beneath the house and formal gardens. On the other side of the house, keep right to follow the track around a bend to the right. Follow the path to a junction of paths.

    The gardens at Cotehele were constructed during Victorian times and are now Grade II* listed in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historical Interest. The formal Italian terraced gardens around the house are connected by a tunnel to the Valley Garden, which is planted with trees including rhododendrons and azaleas which produce profuse amounts of brightly-coloured flowers in spring. Within the Valley garden is a Victorian Summerhouse and former mediaeval elements including an exceptionally well-preserved dovecote and a pond which was originally used to farm carp to supply fish for the kitchens.

  5. Continue ahead, signposted to Calstock, at the junction, and then keep right on the lower of the paths ahead. Follow the path until it ends on a track at a waymark.

    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 described as being similar to a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture. Older leaves are a bit chewy, as you'd expect.

  6. Turn left onto the track and follow it up the valley. Continue past the cottages and engine houses where it peters out into a path; follow the path alongside the stream until it eventually emerges onto a lane.

    Danescombe Sawmill was opened in 1878 and used a 43 foot waterwheel to drive the sawing machinery. Power from the waterwheel was also used to haul carts up the tramway, which is now the track. These were loaded with timber grown on Cotehele Estate land that was landed on the quay at the bottom of the track. Using just the power from the waterwheel, the mill could saw 2000ft of timber in an hour. Even the sharpening of the saw was mechanised using water power. Despite its efficiency, the mill was relatively short-lived; by 1905 it was disused and had lost its iron roof, which was presumably sold as scrap. Its demise is thought to have been brought about by the closure of the nearby mines as much of the sawn timber was used in the mines.

    The small holiday cottage where the track up the Danescombe valley opens out by some buildings is an engine house thought to be built in the mid 1830s for a pumping engine. At this point, it was known as Danescombe Mine. However, it's thought that the mine was first worked for copper and arsenic from the 1820s as Wheal Calstock. The larger engine house slightly further up the valley was built in 1881-2 as part of Cotehele Consols but by 1884 the engine was put up for sale. In 1973, this engine house was converted by the Landmark Trust into a holiday cottage.

  7. Turn left onto the lane, pass Danescombe Farm and then turn right onto a track towards a public footpath sign, then keep left on the leftmost track (in the direction of the yellow waymark, not the direction indicated by the footpath sign). Continue past the ruins of a building to a fork in the path at a waymark.

    The ruined building beside the footpath from Danescombe Cottage was a paper mill which is thought to have been built in the 18th Century, and was recorded as being in production in 1788. Water from the stream was used to fill a header pond and then a leat ran from this to a waterwheel around 14 feet in diameter. The mill closed in 1857 after a larger one opened further up the valley.

  8. Keep left at the waymark and follow the path to a kissing gate and continue along the path to a second kissing gate, onto a lane.

    Spanish bluebells have been planted in gardens and these have hybridised with native bluebells producing fertile seeds. This has produced hybrid swarms around sites of introductions and, since the hybrids are able to thrive in a wider range of environmental conditions, the hybrids are frequently out-competing the native English bluebells. Sir Francis Drake would not be impressed! The Spanish form can be fairly easily recognised by the flowers on either side of the stem. In the English form, they are all on one side. In general, the English bluebells also have longer, less-flared flowers and are often a deeper colour. However, the easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells is to look at the colour of the pollen: if it is creamy-white then the bluebell is native; if it is any other colour such as pale green or blue then it's not native.

  9. Go through the kissing gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until it ends at a junction.
  10. Turn left at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and cross onto the right-hand side of the road; then continue a short distance to another junction.

    The Tamar Valley Donkey Park is roughly three-quarters of a mile up the lane to the right, signposted St Anne's Chapel.

    There are about 30 donkeys at the Donkey Park which are rescued from a range of places. Some are from Ireland, where they are bred to work in the peat fields; others are from Bodmin Moor. A few are donations from other farm parks or farmers who didn't have enough donkey company to keep them from getting bored and causing mischief. At the Tamar Valley Park, the donkeys are trained to provide rides for young children which provides stimulating activity for the donkeys as well as income for their upkeep.

  11. Turn right at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and continue a short distance to one more junction.
  12. Turn right at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and follow the lane until you reach a road on the left marked Nicolas Meadow.

    The settlement of Metherell was first recorded during mediaeval times, in 1298. The name is thought to be mean "middle hill", from the dialect of English in use during mediaeval times.

  13. Turn left into Nicolas Meadow and follow the road a short distance until you reach a junction on the right, just past No 6.
  14. Turn right and follow the road to the corner, then follow the public footpath ahead, signposted to Lower Metherell, to reach an iron kissing gate. Go through this and follow the path across the garden to reach another iron kissing gate leading into a field.
  15. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the field to a waymarked gate.

    The field is sometimes used by the Tamar Valley Donkey Park. Donkeys are normally kept in pairs or more as single donkeys get lonely and bored and then get up to mischief.

  16. Go through the kissing gate on the right of the gate and follow the track to reach the gates of Brooklands
  17. Pass the gates of Brooklands on your left and go through the small metal gate ahead; follow the narrow path between the walls to reach a post at a junction of paths.
  18. Continue ahead from the post to merge onto a lane. Follow the lane ahead past the Carpenter's Arms to reach a junction.

    The Carpenter's Arms is named after the carpenters who built Cotehele House in the 15th Century, and the pub here is thought to date from the same period, although the current building is more recent.

  19. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a gate and stile on a bend with a Public Footpath sign.
  20. Cross the stile into the field and follow the left hedge to the end. Then continue ahead on the grassy strip to reach a stile.

    You are now re-entering the Tamar Valley AONB.

    The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a similar conservation status to a National Park and encompasses a region around the rivers Tamar, Tavy and Lynher, partly in Cornwall and partly in Devon. This also includes an area of Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape World Heritage Site. It was first suggested in 1963 that the Tamar valley area should be designated but this was only eventually granted in 1995.

  21. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to a point where a path departs to the left.
  22. Follow the path ahead, down the steps, between the wall and the fence. Continue to reach a junction of paths at the bottom of a flight of steps. Turn right here and follow the path a short distance further until it ends on a lane.
  23. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends at a junction.
  24. At the junction, cross over the road to the track opposite and keep right at Orchard Cottage to follow the path down into the valley to reach the weir.

    A leat channels water to the mill from the weir across the Morden stream. The waterwheel is an overshot design, with a wooden channel bringing water from the leat to the top of the waterwheel. Most waterwheels in Cornwall used the overshot approach which generally requires more construction effort to feed water to the top of the wheel, compared to an undershot wheel which is simply placed in the river. Fairly recent publications in engineering journals have demonstrated that overshot wheels are more efficient at transferring energy than undershot waterwheels. This would have been particularly important during drier months when the supply of water from a small stream can be very limited. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  25. Continue ahead at the weir to follow along the left-hand side of the river. Continue until you reach a junction of paths at a signpost for the mill.

    The mill building at Cotehele dates back to the 18th century and was further developed during Victorian times. It was originally used to grind flour and after this was used for grinding animal feed until the 1960s. It was restored in 2002 for grinding flour, and the mill bakery has also since been revived. The flour is on sale at the mill.

  26. Continue ahead in the direction signposted to the mill until you reach another junction, then follow the path ahead, signposted for Cotehele Quay, until it ends on a road.

    Cotehele mill is regularly used to grind grain from which the flour is sold in the mill shop. In the interests of science and lunch, a number of baking experiments have been tried with the Cotehele flour. It has a rustic, grainy texture that adds fantastic character to bread. The flour produces beautiful rustic breads when mixed 50:50 with strong white bread flour. When mixed at just a quarter with strong white flour it produces a dough which still has plenty of character and makes excellent rolls. These have been extensively tested in picnics on walks.

  27. Follow the road ahead to return to Cotehele Quay and follow along the edge of the Quay past the Discovery Centre to return to the Car Park.

    By Victorian times, the parish of Calstock had more lime kilns than any other in Cornwall, with many of these along the river at Lower Kelly and Cotehele where coal and limestone were landed. Often culm (a local soft, peaty coal) was used as the fuel. The coal and limestone was loaded into the top of the kilns and was allowed to burn for a week; this produced quicklime which was raked out of the bottom. The lime from the kilns was transported by horse and cart to the nearby farms and market gardens.

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.

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