Godolphin to Tregonning

The walk passes Godolphin house then climbs Godolphin Hill from which there are panoramic views. The route then descends to Great Work Mine which made the Godolphin family so wealthy, where gunpowder was first trialled, and where William Cooksworthy had his inspiration for China Clay. The walk then climbs Tregonning Hill which has spectacular heather in summer. The return to the Godolphin Estate is via the mediaeval settlements of Tregonning and Herland.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.8 miles/7.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: NT Godolphin Entrance
  • Parking: NT Godolphin. Make your way to the crossroads on the B3280 at Townshend then follow the brown signs to Godolphin, looking out for the turning on the right. Satnav: TR139RE
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic Godolphin House
  • Possibly the oldest formal gardens in the country
  • 360 degree panoramic views including 3 coasts

Directions

  1. From the main car park, make your way to the top and turn right onto the track to reach the Entrance sign. If you are parked in the Additional Parking area, make your way to the bottom and turn left to reach it. Follow the path from the Entrance sign until it emerges on a track next to the ticket hut.

    There has been a settlement at Goldolphin which has been continuously occupied since before the Norman Conquest and it's possible that the settlement evolved from a fortified settlement on the hill during the late prehistoric period. The first record of Godolphin was in 1166 as Wotolta. Later in the mediaeval period it was known as Godolghan.

  2. Turn left to the ticket hut then immediately right through a gate into a field marked "Goldolphin Hill". Cross the field initially towards the telegraph pole to reach a gate where a track leaves the field.

    The Goldolphin family built a grand manor house from stone quarried from Tregonning Hill. The house today has features dating from the 15th Century and was subsequently expanded on the profits from tin and copper mining and the materials from shipwrecks. The dining room ceiling is carved from the remains of a Portugese boat that sank in Mounts Bay in 1526. By 1640, Godolphin was the largest house in Cornwall with two courtyards.

  3. Go through the gate and follow the track to a junction. Turn right and follow the track to a stile on the left roughly 20 metres before the track ends in a gate.

    By 1785 there were no male heirs in the Godolphin family and the focus of the family shifted to London in the early 1800s. As the price of tin fell, less was spent maintaining the house and the dilapidated southern courtyards were demolished. When the Earl of Godolphin title passed to the Duke of Leeds (hence nearby Leedstown and Leeds Shaft in Great Work Mine) the stagnation of the estate continued until it was eventually sold off in the 1920s.

  4. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow the right edge of the field to a stile in the corner with the far hedge.

    A deer park was created in mediaeval times which stretched out from the manor house to include most of the hill. This was surrounded by a hedge low enough from the outside for deer to jump over, but a ditch along the hedge made it difficult for deer inside to escape again. The last members of the deer herd survived until the mid-19th Century but were exterminated by farmers and hunting.

  5. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge at a junction of paths. Follow the path uphill past a NT sign for Godolphin Hill to reach a junction of paths at an inscribed stone about the bequest of the Godolphin Estate.

    The Godolphin Estate was purchased in 1929 by the artist Sidney Schofield who devoted the rest of his life to restoring it. In 1970, the family committed to passing the property to the National Trust but it was not until 2000 that the wider part of the Godolphin Estate was finally sold to the National Trust. The Schofield family retained the house and gardens which they continued to restore and open to the public. Then in 2007, the house and gardens were also sold to the National Trust to secure their ongoing conservation.

  6. Continue ahead on the path leading uphill to reach the top of the hill.

    During mediaeval times, rabbits were not common in Britain and were considered a great delicacy. Wealthy families imported rabbits from the Mediterranean and farmed these in warrens, such as the one located on Godolphin Hill, both for their meat and their fur. Flat, rectangular (pillow-shaped) mounds were created with stone tunnels in which rabbits could shelter from wet weather and then dig their burrows into the mounds. The mounds were built on the slope of a hill so that water could drain out of the tunnels to keep the accommodation dry.

  7. When you reach the ring of boulders at the top of the hill, turn left and take the path in the direction of the chimney and large hill on the left. Stick to the main path and follow it downhill until it forks either side of a small hawthorn tree just after passing a pink waymark.

    At the summit of Godolphin Hill, there are remains of a fortified enclosure and six hut circles. It's thought that the site may date back to the Bronze Age.

    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.

  8. Keep left at the fork, heading towards the engine house chimney. Follow the path to a junction of paths.

    In Mediaeval times, bringing hawthorn blossom into the house was thought to bring death and it was described as smelling like the Great Plague. The explanation for this is thought to be that the hawthorn blossom contains trimethylamine which is one of the first chemicals formed when animal tissue decays. Young leaves of the plant can be used in salads as the chemical is not present in the leaves so these taste nutty rather than of death.

  9. Continue ahead to the path along the bottom, bear left then immediately right to reach a gate. Cross the stile or go through the gate and follow the path downhill to reach a track.
  10. Follow the track ahead until it ends on a lane.

    German miners (whose traditional outfits now appear on garden gnomes) introduced the use of gunpowder for mine blasting in Cornwall in 1689 (as well as gnomes). This was first carried out in one of the mines of the Godolphin estate, quite possibly Great Work Mine.

    Gunpowder represented a great technological breakthrough, as beforehand, rocks had to be cracked by heating and rapid cooling, or by soaking wooden wedges in water. An amount of granite that would take 6 days of work to break with a pick could be broken in one blast.

  11. Turn left onto the lane and follow it to the mine car park.

    Gunpowder was discovered by accident by Chinese Alchemists attempting to make an elixir of life to render themselves immortal. A text from the 9th Century documented the event which quite literally backfired:

    smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down.
  12. Turn left into the car park and follow the path ahead with the Great Work Mine sign to reach the engine houses. Keep following the path until you reach a junction of paths with the path to the left leading out onto the road.

    Great Work Mine started as Godolphin Bal - a tin mine on land leased from the Godolphin estate. By 1584, the mine employed 3,000 people. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the mine expanded to annexe those nearby, forming a large complex with at least 15 shafts - hence the name. There were originally 3 engine houses for the mine. The surviving one was used for pumping water from 1000 feet below the surface up to the deep adit at 180 feet below the surface. The other two - for winding (hauling material from the mine) and stamping (crushing ore) - were demolished.

  13. Go through the gap onto the lane and turn left. Follow the road, keeping left to reach a T-junction.

    The massive gain in efficiency by breaking rocks with explosives rather than hand tools resulted in increased profits for the mine owners but it was less good for the miners themselves. When gunpowder burns, it produces copious amounts of acidic sulphurous gasses which attack the respiratory system - far from ideal in the poorly-ventilated confined space of a mine. A quill or reed filled with gunpowder was used as a fuse which worked most of the time but burnt at an unpredictable rate, and burning material from the fuse could drop and prematurely ignite the main body of gunpowder. Consequently there were many horrific accidents and fatalities.

  14. Turn left at the T-junction and follow the road a short distance to a track on the right.

    In 1830, William Bickford devised a way of making blasting safer, based on his observations of the activities of a rope maker. His safety fuse consisted of a core of gunpowder surrounded by twisted yarns, bound in twine and sealed with tar to make it waterproof. Since gunpowder contains everything it needs to burn without the need for oxygen from the air, it would burn reliably inside its waterproof container at a predictable rate of 30 seconds per foot.

  15. Turn right down the track marked Granny Polly Lane. Follow this until you reach "The Bungalow" (with two owls on the gateposts).

    The name is from Granny Polglase who lived in a cottage on the lane. It's relatively common for Cornish surnames to be place names (quite a few start with Tre) and her surname was probably the name of the place where her family came from. In Cornish pol is "pool" and the word glas can be used to represent either blue or green or even grey! The colours in Cornish are quite different concepts from English colours as they are based on the landscape: blue-green-grey is a single colour and so is grey-brown.

  16. Continue ahead on the grassy path until you reach a fork after some stepping stones.

    Ore from a smaller mine on Tregonning Hill was transported down this track to be crushed at Great Work Mine.

    In order to be processed, ore-bearing rock mined from mineral veins needed to be crushed to a powder. In earlier times, millstones were used to grind down lumps of ore but later it was done using a process known as "stamping" where the ore was crushed by dropping heavy granite or metal weights to pound it against another hard surface (often a piece of granite known as a mortar stone - as in "pestle and mortar"). The crushing was automated first with waterwheels and later with steam engines. The process was far from quiet and could often be heard from a number of miles away.

  17. Turn right at the fork and follow the path uphill to reach a junction with a grass path departing to the left.
  18. Keep right to stay on the well-worn path and follow this to another junction of paths at a waymark.
  19. Again keep right on the well-worn path to reach another junction of paths.

    Clay from Tregonning Hill was used to make bricks which were needed for the mine flues and furnaces.

    The granules of ore were heated in a furnace to remove impurities such as sulphur and particularly arsenic. By heating the ore in air, the arsenic impurities could be driven off as a vapour. As the impurities escaped as gasses, the particles of ore melted into grey crystalline lumps of tin oxide known as "black tin".

    The exhaust gasses were cooled and condensed to form a white powder deposited in the flues or purpose-built condensers. The white powder - arsenic - was collected and sold. A few grains of pure arsenic are enough to be fatal but the majority of arsenic workers managed to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting their faces and any other exposed areas of skin white with fuller's earth to prevent arsenic being absorbed through the pores of their skin.

  20. At the junction, keep left to follow the path uphill. Continue to reach a cross at the top of the hill.

    Heather plants can live up to 40 years. Heather plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi which grows inside and between some of the plant root cells. Up to 80% of the root structure can be made up of fungi. The fungi are able to extract nutrients from poor, acidic soils that plants struggle with. Conversely the plant is able to generate other nutrients that are useful to the fungi by photosynthesis.

  21. At the cross, turn left and follow the path until it eventually emerges onto a stony path.

    On the top of Tregonning Hill are the remains of an Iron Age hillfort which was surrounded by a pair of ramparts. Within the enclosure are thought to be the circular remains of roundhouses. The fort is known as Castle Pencaire (pencair is Cornish for "top fort"), perhaps to distinguish it from the other two fortified settlements on the slopes of Tregonning Hill. The hill was formerly known as Pencaire Hill. In 1540 the site was recorded as "Cair Kenin, alias Gonyn and Conin, stood in the hill of Pencair there yet apperith two ditches".

  22. Turn left and follow the stony path to reach a sign commemorating William Cooksworthy's discovery of China Clay.

    The Preaching Pit is an old quarry used for services, commemorating John Wesley's visits to nearby Kennegy Downs and Breage during the mid-1700s. The pit was used for Sunday School meetings on Whit Sundays and is still used at Pentecost.

  23. Continue on the path ahead until you reach a waymark as the path approaches the cottage.

    The pure white porcelain used by the Chinese was discovered millennia ago and has always been a valuable material, appearing in many stately homes. Despite many attempts to find it elsewhere, it remained elusive until a few deposits were found in parts of Europe and in America early in the eighteenth century.

    In 1746 William Cooksworthy noticed the miners repairing the furnaces with clay at Great Work Mine and how this was fired by the furnace. He developed a way to process the clay to separate the kaolin from the gritty rock and fire this into fine porcelain.

    The clay from Cornwall was found to be a much finer quality than elsewhere in Europe and also turned out to be the largest deposit in the world.

  24. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path downhill to reach a waymark in the middle of the path.

    The cottage at the end of the hill was built during the Napoleonic era as a signal station to warn of an approaching French fleet. If a landing army was sighted, a beacon would be lit and the people were instructed to burn their crops and the food reserves they could not carry, and move inland with their cattle so that the landing army would be starved of food.

  25. Continue ahead from the waymark and follow the path downhill to reach a wooden gate.

    The overgrown area above the field to the right is the remains of Tregonning Hill China Clay works.

    China clay in Cornwall and Devon resulted from a sequence of events that began over 300 million years ago; molten rock cooled into granite: a mixture of quartz, feldspar and mica. As it cooled, the feldspar reacted with other minerals to form china clay.

    The extraction of china clay has dramatically altered the landscape. For every 1 tonne of china clay, there are 9 tonnes of mineral waste products (a gritty sand of quartz and mica), which has led to the creation of large areas of tips. The now disused conical or "sky tips", can be seen near St Austell from as far away as Bodmin Moor.

  26. Go through the gate and follow the path downhill to merge onto a lane. Keep following the lane downhill until you reach a public footpath sign at the track for Tregonning Farm.

    The circular hut in the field on the right below the hill is the remains of a beehive kiln for firing bricks from a brickworks operated in the 1870s and 1880s. As well as being used locally, firebricks were exported from the port at Hayle to New York.

  27. Turn left up the track to Tregonning Farm and follow this to the farmyard.

    The first record found of the settlement of Tregonning is from Tudor times but it is thought to be much older. The name is a reference to the hillfort on Tregonning Hill, originally known as Cair Kenin, then Conin which became Gonyn, and subsequently renamed Castle Pencaire. The Tre was added to indicate a farm and Cair to indicate a fort.

  28. Bear left through the farmyard via the gates to reach a wooden barn on the far side.
  29. Go through the gate leading onto an enclosed concrete track ahead. Follow the track to a gate into a field ahead.
  30. Go through the gate and cross the field to a stile located between the two gates ahead (closer to the gate on the left).

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: 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.
  31. Cross the stile (or go through the gate to its left if the stile is obstructed) and bear right to the left-hand of two gates in the bottom hedge.
  32. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a gate into the field below.
  33. Go through the gate and cross the field to a stile in the hedge opposite.

    This area is known as Afterwashes as this was where the fine rock residue from the tin separation process (known as tailings) at Great Work Mine was dumped.

    Once rendered into a powder, the tin ore was separated from fragments of less useful rock, usually using water and taking advantage of the heavier tin ore sinking more quickly out of a suspension than the other minerals. The slurry was sometimes run slowly down an inclined wooden board: the heavier tin fragments would settle near the top and could be scraped off whereas the fragments of lighter rock could be discarded from the bottom, and the material in the middle could be recycled into the next batch. It's possible that the Cornish mining word for the waste sludge of rock fragments - gange - is the origin of the English slang word "gunge".

  34. Cross the stile and walk straight ahead through the garden to the wooden gate. Go through this and walk between the buildings to emerge on a track. Follow the track until it ends on a road.

    The settlement of Herland was recorded in 1283 as Hyrleyn. The name is from the Cornish words hyr (meaning "long") and lyn (meaning "lake"). This could well refer to the long, thin pool in the stream at the bottom of the woods.

  35. Turn right onto the road and follow it until you reach a junction with Herland Road.
  36. Bear left down Herland Road and follow it until it ends in a T-junction.
  37. Turn left at the junction and follow the road downhill until you reach a private lane on the left for Lang-Lea, Brooke House and Stamps House.
  38. Turn left and follow the concrete track until you reach a flight of steps on the right just before the gate of Lang-Lea.
  39. Bear right down the steps and cross the footbridge and stone stile to a junction of paths. Turn left and follow the path past the sign for the Goldolphin Estate to reach a kissing gate.
  40. Go through the kissing gate and continue straight ahead up the hill to reach a gate in the corner of the field with a kissing gate alongside.
  41. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to a gate in the corner of the field with another kissing gate alongside.
  42. Go through the kissing gate to the left of the gate and follow the track until a small path departs to the right as the track bends to the left.
  43. Bear right onto the small path across the grass and follow it to reach a gap in the wall on the opposite side of a track where the path emerges.

    It is thought that the gardens at Godolphin might be the oldest surviving formal gardens in the the country, with parts that are around 700 years old. The gardens include mediaeval pathways, 16th and 17th Century ponds, and an Elizabethan side garden with a compartmentalised layout that has remained unchanged since it was created.

  44. Cross the stile through the gap and follow the right hedge of the field until you reach a corner where the field opens out. Bear right across this to the gap in the middle of the hedge to reach the gate that you passed through near the start of the walk.

    The ditch along the hedge was once a leat that transported water to the manor's fish ponds and powered waterwheels in the farm. The leat was fed by the shallower of two drainage adits within Great Work Mine.

    An adit is a roughly horizontal tunnel going into a mine. In Cornwall these were important for drainage as many of the ore-bearing veins are close to vertical, through which water can easily seep. Drainage adits were sloped slightly upwards to meet the main shaft, so water trickling into the main shaft from above could be diverted out of the adit. Below the adit, steam engines were needed to pump the water up to the level of the adit where it could then drain away.

  45. Go through the gate and follow the path to the left of the hut to return 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

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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