Inny Valleys from Altarnun

Starting from the church at Altarnun, the walk crosses the river valleys of the Inny and Penpont Water, with some nice views of Bodmin Moor. In spring and summer, there are spectacular wildflowers all the way around the route. The gradients are relatively gentle but there are some steep and awkward stiles which is why it is graded at moderate-strenuous.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.6 miles/10.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Altarnun village hall
  • Parking: By the village hall, taking care not to block access. Turn beside Altarnun church and keep right to pass the bridge and reach the village hall Satnav: PL157SJ
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Pretty village of Altarnun
  • Spectacular St Nonna's church known as "cathedral of the moors"
  • Pleasant winding country lanes and footpaths with wild flowers in spring and summer
  • Woodland rich in orchids and other woodland wildflowers around the river crossing at Laneast
  • Ancient church and Celtic cross at Laneast
  • Tranquil setting of Gimbletts Mill and Bridge

Directions

  1. Starting from the church at Altarnun, turn left from the churchyard onto the lane and head uphill until you reach a junction by the Treween sign.

    Altarnun is a pretty village to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The name "Altarnun" is a corruption of "Altar of St Nonna" although the village was originally known by the Cornish name Penpont (hence the name of the river - Penpont Water). The Old Rectory near the church was featured by Daphne Du Maurier in "Jamaica Inn".

  2. Turn right and follow this lane for half a mile until it ends at a Y-shaped junction.

    Wild garlic grows along the lane here, which is evident in spring and early Summer.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  3. At the junction, ignore the footpath ahead and turn left. Follow the lane a short distance until you reach a stile on the right. Cross the stile and bear left across the field, to a stile in the middle of the far hedge.
  4. Cross the stile and follow the winding path, through a copse, to another stile.
  5. Cross the stile onto a track and cross the stile opposite. Then bear right slightly across the field, to a stile in the far hedge near the corner.

    In farms around Cornwall, harvest was celebrated with traditions such as "crying the neck".

    Neck - a miniature sheaf of wheat with four plaited arms, intertwined with everlastings and the more durable of flowers. The stalks of wheat brought down by the last sweep of the scythe are brought home in thankful triumph, and woven as described. In the evening, the sheaf or zang is taken into the mowhay, where are assembled all the harvest party.

    A stout-lunged reaper proclaims: "I hav'en! I hav'en! I hav'en!"
    Another loud voice questions: "What hav'ee? What hav'ee? What hav'ee?"
    "A neck! A neck! A neck!" is the reply;
    and the crowd take up, in their lustiest tones, a chorus of "Wurrah".

    General merriment follows and the draughts of ale and cider are often deep. The neck may be seen hanging to the beam of many of our farm-houses between harvest and Christmas eve, on which night it is given to the master bullock in the chall. "Hollaing the neck" is still heard in East Cornwall, and is one of the cheerfullest of rural sounds.

    Since the 20th century, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies has been reviving this tradition; the ale part sounds good.

  6. Cross the stile and head across the field, aiming for a stile, in front of a house in the field behind.

    The Harvest Festival was invented in Morwenstow in 1843 by Rev. Hawker. He invited his parishioners to a Harvest service, as he wanted to give thanks to God for providing such plenty. The service took place on the 1 October, and bread made from the first cut of corn was taken at communion. It quickly caught on and spread throughout Cornwall and beyond. In the Port Isaac Harvest Festival celebration, fish, nets, oars and lobster pots took the place of the more conventional flowers and fruit.

  7. Cross the stile and head across the field to another stile slightly to the right of the house.
  8. Cross the stile onto the lane and take the track opposite, signposted "Public Footpath". Follow the track past some houses and towards the grain silos, to a fork at a waymarked post.
  9. Bear right at the fork and follow the track to a barn where the track bends to the right.

    The farmstead at Tregunnon was first recorded in 1189 as "Gunan" and is from the Cornish word goon meaning "downs". By 1231, the settlement had split into Higher and Lower Tregunnon which in 1231 were referred to using the Middle English for "higher" and "lower": Overgunan and Nithergunan.

  10. Opposite the barn, there is a gate on the left. Go through the gate and head for the stile on the opposite side of the field, in the middle of the hedge.

    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 bleeting, 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.

  11. Climb the (somewhat epic) stile. Then cross the next field to a stile, roughly in the middle of the far hedge (bear left slightly as you head downhill).
  12. Cross the stile onto a track; cross over the track to a waymark and follow the path down into the valley to reach another waymark.
  13. From the waymark, go down the steps and follow the path, past another waymark, to a stile.
  14. Cross the stile and turn right on the lane and follow it, over a bridge across the river, into Laneast until you reach the church (on your left).

    The River Inny is a tributary of the Tamar and is approximately 20 miles long, supporting populations of trout, salmon and sea trout as well as otters and kingfishers. The name of the river was recorded in the 1600s as Heanye and may be from the Cornish word enys - for island. Penpont Water is its main tributary and has a status of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Area of Great Scientific Value and Area of Great Historical Value. The source of the Inny is very close to the Davidstow Cheese factory, from a spring in the field opposite Pendragon House.

  15. After the church, follow the lane, for a short distance, to a bend with a public footpath sign pointing into a farmyard on the right.

    The name Laneast is thought to mean "church to the East" (of the older one at St Clether). The church building dates from Norman times with additions in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 15th Century, the tower and south aisle were completed. The church was restored in the mid-1800s but much of the 15th Century woodwork and stained glass remains.

  16. Turn right and follow the right wall of the farmyard, to a stile. Cross the stile and follow the path over another stile to a track. Then bear right to reach a waymarked stile beneath a tree.
  17. Cross the stile into the field and follow the right hedge to a waymarked gateway.

    Laneast Holy Well is located on private land within the meadow to the right.

    The Holy Well, known locally as "Jordan Well" or "Wishing Well", is covered by a slate-roofed granite building dating from the 16th Century which is now Grade II listed. Water from the well was still used for baptisms until relatively recently.

  18. Go through the gateway and head to the tree in the middle of the field. Then bear left to some stepping stones over the stream, in front of the other large trees.

    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 must: 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.
  19. Cross the stream and a stile. Keep right along the edge of the field for about 20 metres to reach another stile.

    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.

  20. Cross the stile and a brook and follow the right-hand hedge of the field uphill all the way to the farm, where there is a stone stile.

    Some of the large trees along the right hedge are beech which scatter beechnuts along the path in early Autumn.

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

  21. Cross the stile and turn left on the farm lane. Just before the barn, turn right over a stile and follow the right hedge of the field to a stile next to a gate at the corner with the far hedge.
  22. Cross the stile onto a track and turn left. Follow the left wall of the track, past a waymark and a house, until the track ends at a gate.

    The settlement of Trespearne was first recorded in around 1200 as Trespernan. The name is Cornish and means "thorn tree farm". It is thought that the settlement dates from the Dark Ages.

  23. Go through the gate and turn right onto a lane. Follow it downhill to the bridge at Gimblett's Mill.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  24. Follow the lane over the stone bridge to a footpath signposted to the left, at a bend to the right.

    Gimblett's Mill, on the River Inny near Altarnun, dates from about 1800. The bridge over the river was built in 1847, following the great flood which swept away almost all the crossings along the river.

  25. Turn left onto the path and follow it to a stile.

    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.

  26. Cross the stile and follow the path ahead, between the lines of trees, to a gateway.

    Waterspouts are funnels of spray caused by a rotating vortex of air over the sea or a lake caused by warm air spiralling as it rises. Massive waterspouts can be caused by tornadoes but they can also occur on a smaller scale in stormy weather. Eventually the rising column of air collapses and the spray (and frogs or fish that ventured too close to the surface) falls as rain. The author has witnessed two waterspouts over the Atlantic in North Cornwall in recent years.

  27. From the gateway, bear right across the field to a ladder stile in the top corner of the far hedge.

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a 'hill' in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means 'breast' as well as hill.
  28. Cross the stile into the next field and bear right towards the pylon in the far hedge, beneath which is the stile.
  29. Cross the stile and bear right across the field to a waymarked gateway, in the top right corner, beneath the trees.
  30. Go through the gateway and follow the green lane, onto a track and through a gate or two, until it finally emerges onto a lane at Trethinna.
  31. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction.

    The small settlement is called Trethinna. The place name has changed little since the Middle Ages - it was recorded as Trethynna in 1350. Other than indicating a farm, the meaning of the name is not known.

  32. Turn left at the junction and follow it, a short distance, until you reach a stile on your right.
  33. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge until it ends. Then continue ahead, along the left side of a line of trees, to a gate.

    In summer you may need to bear left around the patch of nettles along the line of trees on the right, but the route to the gate should still be clear.

    The idea of eating something that can sting you seems wrong until you realise that nettles lose their sting as soon as you cook them, and they taste like spinach. Wearing gloves, strip off the young tender leaves, discarding any large coarse leaves and stems. Use lightly boiled, steamed or wilted as if it were spinach (though not raw unless you want to live dangerously!). All the usual spinach flavour combinations apply (e.g. with ricotta). Nettles are extremely nutritious, containing high levels of vitamin A and C, large amounts of iron and a significant amount of protein.

  34. Go through the gate to reach a waymark. Turn right at the waymark, past a gate, to reach another waymark. Turn right again onto a track between the gates. Follow the track until it ends in 2 gates.

    The settlement here, now known as Trerithick, was recorded in 1350 as Treydock. It is thought to be based on a personal name, i.e. "Ydock's farm" and date from the early Middle Ages.

  35. Take the left gate into a field. Bear right across the field, to a stone stile roughly 20 metres to the left of the gateway.
  36. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a gate leading to a ladder stile.
  37. Cross the stile and cross the field to another gate in front of a ladder stile opposite.
  38. Cross the stile and cross the field to another stile opposite.
  39. Cross the sequence of 3 stiles and follow the right hedge to a gate.
  40. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge, to a gate onto a track.
  41. Go through the gate and follow the track to Trenarrett, until it ends in a yard.

    The settlement of Trenarrett is likely to date from the early mediaeval period. It was recorded in 1363 as Tregnaret and is thought to be based on a personal name, i.e. "Naret's farm".

  42. At the end of the track, go through the gate and between the granite gate posts, to a waymark opposite the telegraph pole.

    Penpont Brewery was established in 2008, in a converted farm building at Trenarrett near Altarnun. They use their own spring water (from a spring that feeds Penpont Water) to make their beer, using locally produced ingredients where possible. Their beers are available at the Rising Sun Inn, near Treween.

  43. Turn left, at the waymark, along the track and follow it past a house, to a waymarked junction.
  44. At the waymark, turn left, down a track leading downhill, until you go round a bend and reach two gates.
  45. Go through the first of the gates (on the left). Ignore the remnants of a stile with a path running outside of the field (this is disused and the footpath is now through the field); also ignore the waymark on the gate on the right, as that is for a different footpath (there are 2 that go from here). Once through the gate, follow the left hedge to another gate.
  46. Go through the gate and head to the bottom-right corner of the field, to a footbridge over Penpont Water.

    The Cornish language has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream
    • tenow - valley floor
  47. Cross the bridge and follow the right hedge to a waymarked stone stile.
  48. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge, passing the farmhouse at Oldhay and continue uphill to a gate.

    Unlike many of the place names along the walk which date from the early Middle Ages and are based on the Cornish language, Oldhay is an English name. The first record of it is slightly later than many of the surrounding farms, in 1436, when it was spelt Oldheye. This was Middle English for "old enclosure".

  49. Go through the gate and turn right, following the right-hand hedge, to an opening into the next field.
  50. Go through the gap in the hedge and follow the right hedge to a pedestrian gate near the right corner of the field.

    In mediaeval times, the Anglo-Saxon "stitch meal" technique was adopted in some parts of Cornwall. This involved dividing arable and meadow land into long strips called "stitches". Villagers would be allocated a (usually disconnected) set of strips so that the "best" fields were shared around, as evenly as possible. The long, thin shape was ideal for ploughing with oxen. A typical stitch was one furlong in length and one acre in area, which could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day.

  51. Go through the gate and bear left to a waymark on the bank, on the far side of the field.
  52. Pass the waymark, and bear left, in the direction of the house, to a stone stile, to the left of the gate.
  53. Cross the stile and follow the right-hand hedge to the large opening into the field ahead.
  54. Go through the opening and follow the right hedge to a stone stile.
  55. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to the corner, then bear left to the leftmost of the two gates in the far corner of the field.
  56. Go through the kissing gate and turn right, down the track, following the footpath diversion to reach a waymarked junction.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  57. Turn left at the junction, as indicated by the waymark. Keep right along the track between the houses to reach a public footpath signpost.

    Whilst following the footpath diversion, you may be wondering how frequently such diversions are reflected onto Ordnance Survey maps.

    In the late 1700s, the Department of Ordnance (forerunner of the Ministry of Defence) began a mapping exercise for military purposes and the Ordnance Survey maps were born. The Ordnance Survey remains a government department but acts as a Trading Fund, raising revenue through the sale of its maps.

    The frequency with which the maps are updated is based on how much change there has been in a particular area together with a five-year rolling surveying programme; this means that the OS maps on sale can be out of date by up to approximately seven years. There is a web page on the Ordnance Survey site which gives the date when each 1:25000 raster tile was updated in their digital dataset, which will appear within the next paper map print run.

  58. Keep right, in the direction indicated by the sign for "Altarnun 1/2", and follow the track until it ends in 3 gates.

    The settlement here, now called Tresmaine, was known during mediaeval times as Rosmaen, from the Cornish word ros, meaning "moor" or "hill-spur", and men, meaning "stone".

  59. Cross the stile next to the left gate, and follow the right hedge to a waymarked stile.
  60. Cross the stile and bear left, crossing the field to a stile in the middle of the far hedge.
  61. Cross the stile and head for the bottom left corner of the field, to another stile.

    Cornish kilts and tartans were an invention of the 20th Century. Carvings depicting men wearing garments resembling kilts (such as in Altarnun church), which may have given rise to the notion, are now thought to be typical mediaeval tunics. The "official" Cornish tartan was created in 1963. The pattern is based on St Piran's flag with the surrounding gold of the ancient cornish kings, red to symbolise the legs of the cornish chough and blue to represent the sea.

  62. Cross the stile and go through a pair of gates ahead to reach the lane in Altarnun, on which you started.

    Altarnun church is located beside Penpont Water - a tributary of the River Inny - in the centre of the small village of Altarnun which is just to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The 15th century church, dedicated to St Nonna, has an amazing collection of carved pew-ends from about 1520 (including one that mentions the artist - Robert Daye), a striking Norman font with the original colour still visible, and 15th century Rood screen. The church is known as "Cathedral of the moors" due to its impressive 109ft tall tower on which you can still see the deep padlocks that once held its scaffolding in place. A 6th century Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard, from the time before the Celtic Cornwall had been conquered by the Anglo Saxons.

  63. Turn right on the lane and follow it to return to the church.

    St Nonna's well is recorded as being used to cure the insane.

    The reputation of holy wells to cure madness stems from the mediaeval practice of "bowsenning" the "insane". This consisted of, without any warning, shoving the unfortunate person who was in a state of psychosis (and therefore already highly distressed) into the cold water. In many cases, this only increased the level of distress but the fatigue resulting from trying not to drown was mistaken for improvement. It is also possible that in a few cases that the shock caused a mental reboot which did bring a sufferer out of a mild psychotic episode, and these occasional successes fuelled enthusiasm for the practice. It is also possible that "insanity" was occasionally alcoholically-induced and similar improvement was noticed. For the very unfortunate sufferers that did not recover on first round of "treatment", the practice was repeated regularly.

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