Dunmere, Penhargard and Bodmin Jail

A circular walk along the River Camel from Dunmere through bluebell woods and fields to Penhargard, and along an ancient route lined with wildflowers to Bodmin's historic Jail.

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The walk starts by following the Camel Trail through woodland from the Borough Arms to Dunmere Falls. It then climbs through fields to the farm at Penhargard and from there the route follows an old turnpike road into Clerkenwater and then along woodland tracks and lanes to Bodmin Jail and back to the Borough Arms.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.1 miles/9.9 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: the Borough Arms
  • Parking: Camel Trail car park PL312RA. Turn off the A389 just above the railway tracks into the Borough Arms. Drive straight through the pub car park to the Camel Trail car park behind.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots; wellies in winter (passes through a farmyard)

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Pretty riverside scenery at Dunmere
  • Views over Dunmere Woods and surrounding countryside from Penhargard
  • Carpets of bluebells in spring at Clerkenwater
  • Bodmin's 18th Century Jail
  • Snowdrops, bluebells and woodland wildlife at Bodiniel in spring

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Walk down the track to the Camel Trail and turn right. Follow the trail under the bridge until you reach a junction.

    The Camel Trail is a recreational walking and cycling track along the track bed of an old railway running from Wenfordbridge to Padstow. The railway, where the Camel Trail now runs, was originally built in 1831 by local landowner, Sir William Molesworth of Pencarrow. The line from Wadebridge to Wenfordbridge, with a branch to Bodmin, was intended to carry sand from the Camel estuary to inland farms for use as fertiliser. Later, the railway was used to ship slate and china clay from inland quarries to ships in Padstow and also transport fish, landed in Padstow, to London and other cities. The last passenger train was in 1967 and freight finally ceased in 1983, when a need to invest in new track forced closure of the line.

  2. At the junction, turn left towards Camelford and Wenfordbridge and follow the path to a junction with a milestone for Poley's Bridge.

    During March and April, primroses flower along the trail.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  3. Turn right, past the house, and continue to where a lane crosses.

    National Cycle Route 3 is part of the National Cycle Network and runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

    Between Bude and Land's End, the National Cycle Routes 3 and 32 (which is an alternative North Coast route from Bodmin to Truro) are collectively known as the Cornish Way, stretching for 123 miles. Together they comprise of 175 miles of route.

  4. Cross the lane, and follow the trail until the lane crosses it again.

    Yellow celandine flowers also can be seen along the trail in early spring.

    Celandine flowers close each night and open each morning. This is controlled by a circadian rhythm, so they really are 'going to sleep' at night and 'waking up in the morning'. It is likely that this has arisen to protect the internals of the flowers from any frost during the night as they begin flowering in March when frosts are still common.

  5. Cross the lane, back onto the trail, and continue to where a track crosses the trail.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay, making it the longest river in Cornwall after the Tamar.

    The name Cam-El is from the Cornish meaning "crooked one". It is documented that only the upper reaches of the river, above Boscarne, were originally known as the "Camel". The section from Boscarne to Egloshayle was known as the "Allen" and below this, it was known as "Heyl".

    The River Camel is classed as a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive. The river is a breeding ground for otters, Atlantic salmon and bullhead (a small fish that looks a bit like a blenny but is more closely related to lionfish and scorpionfish).

  6. Cross the track and follow the trail, past the house and the weirs, until you reach a plaque in memory of a fisherman.

    In July 1847 a large waterspout came in off the Atlantic and collapsed over Davidstow Moor where the sources of both the River Camel and River Inny rise. A wall of water 12-18 feet high swept down the Camel Valley demolishing all but two of the bridges. The solidly-built mediaeval Helland Bridge survived despite tree trunks piling against it. Wadebridge survived by being secured with ropes and chains by (brave) men in boats. Many years after the flood, pieces of hay and straw could still be seen in the trees 20 feet above the river at Dunmere.

  7. From the plaque, follow the trail to cross a road junction and continue until you reach a house.
  8. Opposite the house, take the footpath to the right and follow the path uphill to a bend on a track.
  9. Take the footpath on the opposite side of the track, next to the rockface, and follow this until it emerges on a track.
  10. Cross the track onto the track opposite and follow this until you reach a gate on the left with a waymark.
  11. Go through the gate and head for the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, head for the waymarked gate on the other side.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  12. Go through the gate and bear left very slightly across the field until you can see the far hedge, then head for protruding corner and keep the hedge on your right to reach a gate.

    From Tudor times onwards, the majority of farming in Cornwall was based around rearing livestock with dairy cattle being predominant. This is reflected in traditional Cornish dairy produce including clotted cream and, later, ice cream and in the North Cornwall dialect where the pejorative for "farmer" was a fairly graphical description of the act of milking before the introduction of milking machines which rhymed with "bit fuller".

    Since 1984, the European Common Market agricultural policy - to restrict milk production - has reduced dairy herds and prompted shifts to beef and lamb production, and arable crops - particularly maize and oilseed rape. Two large buyers of Cornish milk - Rodda's for their clotted cream and Diary Crest for the production of Davidstow and Cathedral City cheeses - have helped to buffer the Cornish dairy industry from this to some degree. Post-Brexit, there is speculation that Britain may become more agriculturally self-sufficient and this could change the dynamics once again.

  13. Go through the gate and cross the field to the gate opposite.

    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 bleating, 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.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the grassy track between the fence and hedge to reach a gate into a farmyard.

    There is a high density of buzzards around the farm, which can often be see circling over the valley.

    Buzzards breed once they reach 2-3 years old. During their breeding season in spring, male buzzards create spectacular aerial displays to impress females by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground. The birds then pair for life.

  15. Go through the gate and turn right through another gate onto a track. Follow the track until you reach the cottage, then bear left along the front of the barn to a junction in the track.

    Penhargard Castle, in the Camel Valley below Penhargard Farm, is the remains of an Iron Age fort approximately 90 metres in diameter, perching on a steep slope overlooking the Camel Valley. There was a main circle of ramparts around the enclosure which were up to 15 feet high in places. On one side, there is an additional outer wall covering the most exposed two-thirds of the defences. The interior was horseshoe-shaped due to an additional rampart cutting through it, and has been terraced into two distinct levels due to the steep slope. A track ran from close to the castle entrance and joined the road near the entrance gate to Penhargard Farm.

  16. Turn right and follow the track past the farmhouse, and between fields, until it eventually ends on a lane.

    The fortified settlement known as Lower Helland Castle was situated slightly further up the Camel Valley from Penhargard. This was a large eliptical enclosure, surrounded by a single line of ramparts. Evidence has been found that the track to the nearby Penhargard Castle crossed the River Camel at a ford between the two.

  17. Turn right on the lane and follow it into the valley until you reach a sharp bend to the left, where a track joins the lane.

    The lane through Clerkenwater is thought to be along an ancient route from the river crossing at Hellandbridge to Bodmin. It would have been one of the main roads into North Cornwall in mediaeval times.

  18. Keep left to stay on the lane and follow it downhill until you reach two cottages on the right.

    In early spring, the verges of the lane have an impressive display of bluebells.

    When photographing bluebells, the flowers that look blue to your eye can end up looking purple in photos. The first thing to check is that your camera isn't on auto white balance as the large amount of blue will cause the camera to shift the white balance towards reds to try to compensate. Another thing to watch out for is that the camera's light metering will often over-expose the blue slightly to get a reasonable amount of red and green light and the "lost blue" can change the balance of the colours. You can get around this by deliberately under-exposing the photo (and checking there is no clipping if your camera has a histogram display) and then brightening it afterwards with editing software.

  19. Turn right onto the track between the cottages and follow this to a ford, crossing the footbridge and heading uphill on the other side of the stream. Continue on the track until it ends in front of a barn.

    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.

  20. At the barn, take the lane to the left, round a bend and uphill through woods until you reach a junction.

    Originally, the religion of the Cornish Britons was Celtic polytheism - a pagan, animistic faith, assumed to be led by Druids. Celtic Christianity was introduced to Cornwall in the year 520 by Saint Petroc, a Brython from the kingdom of Glywysing, and other missionaries from Wales, as well as by Gaelic monks and holy women from Ireland.

  21. At the junction, keep left to stay on the lane. Follow it until it eventually emerges in front of Bodmin Jail.

    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.

  22. At the Jail, turn right and follow the lane until you reach a sign for Lower, Middle and Upper Bodiniel.

    Joan Wytte, known as the "Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town", was unjustly condemned as a witch in the 18th century and died in Bodmin Jail. For many years, her skeleton hung unceremoniously in the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle. When the museum was taken over, the new owner wanted to give her a proper burial. However, as an alleged witch, the Church would not allow her to be buried on consecrated ground. Therefore her grave is just outside the perimeter of the churchyard.

  23. At the sign, turn left in the direction of Lower Bodiniel and follow it to Lower Bodiniel Cottage.

    In late winter there are some nice displays of snowdrops towards the end of this lane.

    Snowdrops are a member of the onion family, and one of the earliest plants to flower. They use energy stored in their bulbs to generate leaves and flowers during winter, whilst other plants without an energy reserve cannot compete. The downside to flowering so early is that pollinating insects are more scarce, so rather than relying exclusively on seeds, they also spread through bulb division. Although it is often thought of as a native British wild flower, the snowdrop was probably introduced in Tudor times, around the early sixteenth century.

    The bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants.

  24. At Lower Bodiniel Cottage, turn right up the track just before the cottage and follow it to a gate.

    Wild garlic grows along the track and is visible in spring.

    If cows eat wild garlic, this flavours their milk. Whilst this is definitely not what's wanted for tea or cornflakes, the butter made from it is more useful. This means of producing garlic butter became popular in Switzerland in the 19th Century.

  25. Go through the gate and bear left across the track to a stile. Cross this and then follow along the hedge beside the solar farm on your right to reach a gate and stile at the far side of the field.
  26. Cross the stile and the track to a footpath down into the woods. At the first fork, keep right and at the second, keep left to keep the bank on your right. Keep following the path downhill until it emerges onto a track.

    The wall along the left side of the woodland contains a large rabbit warren; you may encounter a few startled rabbits on your way through the woods if no-one has been down here for a few hours.

    During mediaeval times, rabbit was decreed by Pope Gregory I as "not meat" so it could be eaten during Lent. This accelerated the spread of rabbits through European monasteries in the middle ages. In fact there are no barriers in the world's major religions to eating rabbit which is considered both halal and kosher. As the number of people in food crisis continues to grow rapidly above 100 million, rabbits may once again become an important source of protein. Whilst rabbits are cute and fluffy, they are also one of the most sustainable sources of meat. Rabbits do not require grain in their diet which is also very good news for biodiversity.

  27. Turn left onto the track and follow it a short distance to reach the Camel Trail, immediately after the gate. Turn left and follow the trail to retrace the first part of your route past one milestone to a second at the junction with the signpost.

    The jay is a member of the crow family recognisable by the flash of electric blue on their otherwise brown body. Their natural habitat is woodland, particularly oak. Like squirrels, jays collect and bury acorns as a winter food store. Once jays were the main means by which oaks colonised new locations as a population of 65 jays can bury (but not always find again afterwards) half a million acorns in a month. Jays prefer to bury their acorns in open ground which is an ideal spot for a new oak tree.

  28. At the junction, turn right towards Wadebridge to get back to Dunmere Halt where the path leads up to the car park.

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
  • Please let us know if there are nice autumn colours on this walk

Take a photo and 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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