Gunnislake to Chilsworthy

The walk follows Calstock Road to the Tamar and passes along the canal built to reach the non-tidal quay above the weir. The walk continues along the river to Newbridge featured in Turner's painting Crossing The Brook. The walk then enters Clitters Wood and follows the woodland path and a mediaeval holloway to Chilsworthy. The return route is past the engine houses of Gunnislake Clitters Mine where the main shaft descends half a kilometre which is equivalent to half of the walk back to Gunnislake.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Gunnislake
  • Parking: Gunnislake village car park. Follow the A390 into Gunnislake and turn left opposite the Tavistock Arms signposted to the car park and toilets. Satnav: PL189LZ
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Rich heritage including mining and canal trade
  • River wildlife including kingfishers, damselflies etc

Directions

  1. Turn left out of the car park past the toilets and then right when you reach the main road. Follow the road uphill until you reach a junction with Calstock Road, opposite the Cornish Inn, with a signpost for the Rising Sun.

    The settlement of Gunnislake dates from mediaeval times and is based on the Old English word for "stream" and a personal name.

  2. Bear left down Calstock Road and follow it for just over half a mile, passing the Rising Sun and Wisteria Cottage, until you reach a track on the left with a wooden waymark post immediately after the national speed limit sign.
  3. Bear left down the waymarked track to reach a parking area by a house.
  4. Keep right across the parking area and follow the small path ahead from beside the shed to reach a path along the river at a waymark.

    Internally, a lime kiln consisted of a conical stone or brick-lined chamber which was loaded from the top with alternating layers of limestone and carbon-rich fuel such as charcoal, peat or coal. At the side of the kiln was an alcove known as an "eye" which was used to access the kiln and remove the quicklime from a hole at the bottom of the chamber. The kiln was often run continuously with more layers of fuel and limestone added to the top as the previous layers worked their way down through the kiln. Air was drawn in through the bottom of the kiln and heated up as it passed through the quicklime (also cooling the quicklime) before it reached the level where combustion was taking place.

  5. Turn left onto the riverside path and follow it through the woods past a house with a bridge and join a track to emerge beside a row of cottages at the end of a wall.

    The footpath crosses over the remains of a tailrace from a mill which was situated at the end of the row of cottages where the path passes along a wall. The mill was used to manufacture paper in the early 1850s and after this as a bone mill to manufacture fertiliser.

    Bone mills used the power from a waterwheel to crush animal bones and produce bonemeal. The bonemeal was primarily used as a fertiliser to release phosphorus into the soil, which is a vital mineral for healthy crops. In the 20th century, fertilisers based on phosphate minerals, which could be mined cheaply, made bone mills uneconomical. However, the known phosphate reserves are expected to run out within a few decades and so organic phosphorus sources such as animal bones, and even urine, may become increasingly important for farmers.

  6. Bear right to follow the track past the row of cottages to a pair of cottages numbered 1 and 2.

    The lock that the footpath passes was the sea lock for the Tamar Manure Navigation Canal. The cottage beside the lock was originally occupied by the lock-keeper.

    The Tamar Manure Navigation Canal was originally intended to connect with the Bude Canal to bring beach sand and lime (known at the time as "manure") up to the Tamar Valley. However only 500 yards of canal were ever completed - just the section with a sea-lock which bypassed the weir at Weir Head and allowed barges to move from the tidal area below the weir to the quay in the non-tidal area above. Despite its modest length, the canal outlasted all others in Cornwall and was in use for nearly 120 years.

  7. Bear right along the front of the two cottages to reach a small waymarked path. Follow the path along a fence and then alongside the canal to reach a building beside the weir.

    A weir at Weir Head was originally built as a fish weir during mediaeval times by the monks of Tavistock Abbey. A waterside settlement of "Ware" was documented in the 14th Century. The weir was rebuilt in around 1800 as part of the Tamar Manure Navigation project in order to create a barrier between the tidal and non-tidal regions of the river and maintain a navigable depth of water up to New Bridge.

  8. From the weir, keep following the path alongside the river for nearly half a mile to reach a metal barrier crossing the path.

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish. The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  9. Continue ahead from the barrier and follow the path alongside the river until it ends on the road beside a bridge.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

  10. Cross the road carefully to the track opposite and follow it uphill, ignoring the Public Footpath signs and sticking to the main track. Follow the track until you reach a waymark on a wooden post.

    Newbridge was built in around 1520 by Sir Piers Edgcumbe - the owner of the Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe estates. It is constructed from rectangular granite blocks and its seven arch span is 182 feet long. The bridge formed the main route into southeast Cornwall and was the site of a civil war battle in 1644. It is featured in JMW Turner's famous painting "Crossing the Brook" which was exhibited in 1815. Turner said of the Tamar Valley: "I have never seen so many natural beauties in such a limited spot as I have seen here."

  11. At the waymark, take the small path ahead between the two tracks. Follow this parallel to the river to reach a small flight of steps descending to the right.

    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.

  12. When you reach the steps, keep left on the main path to reach a path departing through a gateway in a wooden fence on the right.

    Due to their spectacular flowers, Rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the Common Rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age.

    Rhododendrons are so successful in Britain that they have become an invasive species, crowding out other flora in the Atlantic oak woodlands. They are able to spread very quickly both through suckering along the ground and by abundant seed production. Conservation organisations now classify the Rhododendron explosion as a severe problem and various strategies have been explored to attempt to stop the spread. So far, the most effective method seems to be injecting herbicide into individual plants which is both more precise and effective than blanket cutting or spraying.

  13. Keep left at the fence to follow the main path uphill. Continue until you emerge onto a lane.

    The area behind the fence on the right was part of the Gunnislake Clitters Mine.

    Gunnislake Clitters Mine began in 1820 using an adit dug next to the river to drain the mine and a waterwheel for pumping out the water. In the 1860s, steam engines were installed allowing deeper mining below the level of the adit. The mine reached its heydey in the early 1880s when it employed almost 200 people and raised an average of over 2,500 tonnes of ore each year. Ores raised from the mine included copper, tin, arsenic and wolfram (tungsten). The mine was re-opened at the time of the First World War specifically for tungsten needed for armaments and finally closed in 1920.

  14. Turn right onto the lane and follow it downhill past one waymark to a sharp bend with another waymark.

    The mine now known as South Devon Mine (despite being located in Cornwall) was originally called Wheal Bramble and was first worked for copper ore some time before 1853 by driving a horizontal tunnel (adit) into the hillside to drain the mine. In 1854 a second adit was created and ventilated using a machine driven by a 20ft waterwheel. A beam engine drained the workings below the level of the adit and an engine house, boiler house and partly collapsed chimney still remain. The mine was active during the 1850s and was renamed the River Tamar Copper Mine in 1857. Work continued into the 1860s then the mine closed and was re-opened in 1896 for arsenic ore (mispickel). The cottage called Wheal Bramble is thought to have originally been the count house (administrative office) for the mine and garages etc. at the property are converted from some of the mine outbuildings.

  15. Keep left to follow the tarmacked lane around the bend and uphill to a concrete path marked "Unsuitable for motors".

    More than 7000 people were employed in the mines of the Tamar Valley during Victorian times and Gunnislake was amongst the wealthiest mining areas in Europe. Arsenic continued to be produced from the mine at Greenhill in Gunnislake until at least 1930.

  16. Keep left to follow the path leading uphill until it ends where a lane meets a driveway.

    The path is the remains of a mediaeval hollow way linking the settlements of Bitthams and Chilsworthy. It is thought that the flat bottom is an indication that it was used by horses and carts. The ruins of a mediaeval cottage are also located on a bend part-way along the path.

  17. Continue ahead onto the lane and follow it uphill until it ends in a T-junction with another lane.

    The house to the left is on the site of Chilsworthy mine. This was one of several unsuccessful attempts to sink mines to tap into the lucrative copper lode that was being worked on the opposite side of the Tamar by the Devon Great Consols mine which was one of the largest copper producers in Europe and chief arsenic producers in the world. This was the largest unbroken copper sulphide lode in Southwest England and the ore was also unusually rich.

  18. Turn left onto the lane and follow it through Chilsworthy until it ends in a junction.

    Chilsworthy was first recorded in 1337 spelt Chillesworthy. The name is Old English and means "Chilles' farmstead" (it is assumed that the first part is a personal name).

  19. Turn left at the junction, signposted to Gunnislake, and follow the road until it ends in a T-junction.

    The area with the engine houses by the road was known as Skinners and was part of the Gunnislake Clitters Mine. Three engine houses were built: one for pumping, one for hauling items up from the main, and one for crushing ore. There was also a boiler house connected to the three engine houses by steam flues. The mineshaft next to the pumping engine, known as Skinners shaft, is half a kilometre deep - one of the deepest in the area.

  20. Turn left, then immediately right onto Chapel Street and follow this until you reach Hoopers Lane (marked with a school sign) on the left.
  21. Turn left onto Hoopers Lane and follow this to a corner beside the school.
  22. Keep right at the corner to stay on the lane and follow it back to the village car park.

    Gunnislake lies within 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.

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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