Hayle Valley from St Erth

The walk starts at the church and follows the pretty riverside path to Trennack Mill. From here, the walk climbs out of the valley and overlooks the low-lying land that was once a prehistoric lagoon. The route gently descends through the fields where there are nice wildflowers in the early summer, before returning to the church and pub.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.2 miles/5.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: St Erth Church car park
  • Parking: Church car park. Satnav: TR276HR
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Pretty and historic village of St Erth
  • Wildflowers and wildlife along the Hayle river
  • Views over the valley from Porthcollum

Directions

  1. From the car park, head to the Give Way sign and turn left. Cross the bridge to reach a bridleway sign, where a small path also departs towards the river. Turn left down the path and follow it alongside the river for about half a mile to where a bridge for vehicles crosses the river.

    St Erth is named after St Erc who was one of the many Irish who brought Christianity to Cornwall in the Dark Ages. The village is situated on what was the main crossing point on the River Hayle before the causeway was built in 1825. During the mediaeval period, the Star Inn was built as a stopover for horses and coaches and tin mined on the West Penwith peninsula was carted East along the road through St Erth. However the roads in Cornwall were notorious for being so badly potholed that carts or coaches could disappear into them, so long-distance haulage was generally done by ship from the ports along both coasts.

  2. Pass the bridge and continue along the right-hand bank for another half-mile until you reach a wooden footbridge crossing a small stream cutting through the bank.

    The fishing lakes along the river, known as "The Dixies", were once opencast mines and were worked during the Second World War by Prisoners of War, based at a camp in St Erth. They also built the pump house, next to the church, to feed water into their camp and the rest of the village.

  3. Cross the footbridge and continue a little further along the right bank until you reach a concrete footbridge crossing the main river.
  4. Cross the bridge and follow the path to emerge onto a lane. Turn left and follow the lane for just under half a mile. Continue past the cottages to the top of the hill to reach a lay-by on the right opposite a track on your left.

    Elder trees overhang the path along the river.

    Elderflowers appear in June and are easily recognisable as large white umbels on the shrubby green trees. Elder trees were associated with witchcraft which may have arisen because their berries were used in medicines. Consequently there were many superstitions about cutting down or burning elder trees.

    Elder be ye Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be.

    If you are harvesting the flowers to make cordial or wine, avoid picking umbels where the flowers are going brown or haven't opened yet; they should be bright white with a yellow centre. If you are harvesting the berries they should be black (not red) and not shrivelled.

  5. Turn left onto the track and follow it past several field entrances until the main track forks.

    To make elderflower cordial, remove the bitter stems from about a 20 flower heads and soak overnight in 1 litre of water containing the juice of 2 lemons. Strain the liquid and dissolve around 600g sugar to make a sweet cordial. To make dissolving the sugar easier, you can pre-dissolve the sugar in the water in advance by boiling the water and allowing it to cool before adding the elderflowers, though you lose some of your sugar on the discarded elderflowers that way. Dilute with water or sparkling water to serve.

  6. Keep right at the fork and continue a short distance to reach a waymarked field entrance on the right.

    To make Elderflower wine, make a slightly lower sugar elderflower cordial in enough quantity to fill a demijohn and ferment with a white wine or ideally champagne yeast. By varying the amount of sugar from about 1kg to 1.5kg to a gallon of liquid, you can create either a dry or sweet wine, or with a champagne yeast, a very strong wine. The wine needs a little aging to become less rough, but less than many fruit wines - a year is typically adequate.

    To create a sparkling wine, make a dry wine and rack the wine into 2 litre plastic bottles with a small amount of airspace and add half a teaspoon of sugar - this is enough to generate some carbon dioxide and, unlike glass wine bottles, the plastic bottles are able to withstand the pressure. Don't use more sugar or completely fill your bottles with liquid or you risk an explosion. In this case, aging of 6 months to a year is generally adequate.

    Too much pollen from the flowers can make the wine bitter and murky yellow. Pre-washing the elderflowers before de-stalking and soaking them will remove some of the pollen as well as any creatures hiding in the flowers.

  7. Turn right through the waymarked opening and follow the right hedge to reach a path in the far right corner.

    You may well find the fields here planted with cereal crops such as wheat and barley.

    Barley is a fundamental part of the rural culture - the word "barn" literally means "barley house". During mediaeval times, only the ruling classes had bread made from wheat; the peasants' bread was made from barley and rye. Barley was one of the first domesticated crops and has been dated back over 10,000 years. Consequently beer made from barley is likely to have been one of the first alcoholic drinks consumed by the Neolithic tribes.

  8. Bear right down the path and follow this through the woods to reach a junction of paths beside a wooden gate on the left.

    The mixture of farmland and woodland in this area supports a population of stoats.

    Stoats and weasels are related to badgers and to otters, which they more closely resemble. The stoat is roughly twice the size of a weasel but can be distinguished without the need to measure it by its black-tipped tail. The weasel preys mostly on voles, but the stoat will take on prey much larger than itself including birds and even full-grown rabbits. During the winter, the coat of the stoat (and also some populations of weasel) changes colour from brown to white to camouflage it in the snow. The soft, silky winter fur of the stoat is known as ermine and garments made from this were a luxury associated with royalty and high status. Given that stoats mark their territory using pungent anal scent glands, it’s likely a fair amount of washing of the furs occurred before being draped over royalty.

  9. Follow the path past the gate on the left, passing one stile, to reach another into a field. Cross the stile into the field and turn right. Follow the hedge to the gate marked "Free Range Chickens".
  10. Turn left and follow the path between the posts with white tops to reach a track running along the bottom of the field.

    During a period of global warming before the Pliocene period (up to about 3 million years ago), rising sea levels flooded the dunes, tuning West Penwith into an island. The Hayle valley was a narrow gulf separating the island from the mainland and the shallow sea depositing a layer of blue clay on top of the sand in the lagoons along the valley. As the climate cooled, sea levels dropped as water was tied up in the polar ice sheets, reuniting the island of West Penwith with the rest of Cornwall.

  11. Turn right onto the track and follow it you reach a final bend at the lowest point in the field before the track goes through an opening into the next field. Look for a small path leading off to the left under an overhanging tree at the apex of the bend.
  12. Bear left down the small path under the tree and follow it through the woods until it emerges onto a lane.
  13. Turn right onto the lane and follow this back to the church to complete the circular route.

    Pits were dug at St Erth to extract clay for affixing candles to the helmets of miners. The sand beneath the clay also found a use. As it was extracted from the water, each grain of sand would be coated in a thin film of clay. Under gentle pressure, this could be used to form moulds for casting molten metal. The sand was exported throughout Cornwall and beyond for use in engineering castings.

    In 1962 one of the old pits along Old Vicarage Gate was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and was Cornwall's first Geological Nature Reserve, now owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

    The clay pits contain a diverse range of marine fossils from the Pliocene period including sea snails, sponges, corals, jellyfish, worms, seasquirts and fish. A variety of zooplankton known as ostracods are extremely diverse here - over 350 species have been identified which is the most from any site in the world.

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.

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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