Kit Hill to Kelly Bray

The walk circles the hill to the chimney of South Kit Hill Mine before climbing to the summit where three viewing tables indicate all the places you can see from the summit stack. The walk descends past the North Engine Shaft and quarry and follows the incline of the former tramway to the bottom of the hill. The return route is on lanes and footpaths via Kelly Bray.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Car park at bottom of Kit Hill climb
  • Parking: Kit Hill (bottom car park). Follow the A390 towards Gunnislake and turn off at the sign for Kit Hill. If you are coming through Kelly Bray, you can cut down Florence Road beside the garage to get onto the A390 and turn left to reach the Kit Hill turning. Satnav: PL178HS
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views over southeast Cornwall and the Tamar
  • Mining heritage
  • Golowan midsummer bonfire in June

Directions

  1. Go through the pedestrian gate leading uphill from the car park and follow the path to a crossing.

    Kit Hill Country Park, which includes the hill and surrounding area, was donated by the Duke of Cornwall to the Cornish people to mark the birth of Prince William in 1985. The hill was formed in the same way as Bodmin Moor by magma pushing up beneath the existing sedimentary rocks to form a body of granite and mineral veins in the cracks formed as the granite cooled. The name "kit" comes from the Old English word for a bird of prey, and the Country Park still has a population of buzzards and sparrowhawks.

  2. Turn left at the crossing and follow the path to reach some wooden gateposts with blue waymarks.

    On a clear day there are views to the southeast (on your left) of the Tamar estuary and Plymouth including the suspension bridge.

  3. Continue in the direction indicated by the waymark pointing ahead and follow the path until you approach a chimney and a path leads up to the chimney on your right.

    The mining activity on Kit Hill has been mapped and is said to contain over 1000 shafts, pits and trenches in search of mineral ore. Minerals extracted included tin, copper, lead, silver and tungsten.

  4. Turn right and follow the path uphill past the chimney to a junction of paths with a granite waymark near an information board.

    South Kit Hill Mine opened in 1856 and closed in 1874 and reached a maximum depth of over 100 metres. The chimney was for a steam engine which drove ore-crushing stamps for the adjacent dressing floors and pumped from the engine shaft via a flat rod system. Two rectangular embanked areas partly cut into the hillside were originally reservoirs providing a water supply for the processing floors which were connected by leats.

    In the 15th and 16th Centuries, surface mining took place for tin and various pits on the surface remain from this.

  5. Turn right at the junction and follow the path uphill a short distance to another granite waymark where a small path departs up the hill.
  6. At the granite waymark, bear left onto the small path leading uphill and follow this to a gate.

    Five hills in Cornwall are designated as Marilyn hills (coined to contrast with Munro - another geological term) which are local highest points, protruding above the surrounding land by at least 150 metres. They are: Brown Willy, Kit Hill, Watch Croft, Carnmenellis and Hensbarrow Beacon.

    Kit Hill only just qualifies as a Marilyn hill, being 171 metres above the surrounding land. The summit is 1096 feet (334 metres) above sea level.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path uphill to reach a bank with a wide grassy path leading off left and ahead.

    The tower on the summit of Kit Hill is the remains of a chimney stack for the steam engine used by the Kit Hill United (later known as Kit Hill Great Consols) mining complex. The steam engine, installed in the early 1850s, was used both to pump water from the mine and to drive winding apparatus to lift ore from the mine. Prior to the steam engine, a windmill erected in the 1830s stood at the top of the hill to provide power for the mine. The chimney stack is now festooned with transmitters and all-important lightning conductors, being the highest point for miles.

  8. Turn left and follow the path along the bank. At the end of the wall, head towards the low building to the left of the tower.

    Until the end of the 19th Century it was traditional to celebrate St John's Eve on 23rd June in a bonfire festival known as Golowan from the Cornish word golow, meaning light. During the 20th Century, the tradition faded amid concerns over insurance claims from the fire torches and flaming tar barrels associated with the festivities. It has subsequently been revived by Old Cornwall societies, albeit in a slightly lower-risk form, involving midsummer bonfires from the 23-29th June.

  9. From the base of the tower, follow the path alongside the building, down the hill (marked by granite waymarks) and between two fenced-off mineshafts to emerge onto a wider gravel path.

    As you descend from the summit, you pass a rock channel crossed at intervals by granite slabs. This was a flue which carried arsenic vapour, an impurity which was removed from the ore by roasting it in a furnace. Little remains of the calciner furnace at the far end apart from a little stone walling.

  10. Turn left onto the gravel path and follow this to a pedestrian gate.

    The largest of the shafts here is the North Engine Shaft (also known as "Old Crumbly") which was the principal shaft of the summit mine and is over 200 metres deep. The smaller shafts were used for ventilation and prospecting. Mining on Kit Hill ceased in 1884 due to the high cost of cutting through the hard granite bedrock.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the main path to reach another gate.

    In 1877 work began on a tunnel from Deerpark Wood in the area of Excelsior Mine towards the North Engine Shaft of Kit Hill mine. The intention was to create a deep adit that could be used to drain water from the mine and run a 2 mile tunnel all the way beneath Kit Hill. However, due to the tough bedrock, progress was slow and the work ceased after a year. In 1881, work recommenced when a new company took over the mine but by 1885 it was once again abandoned as being too costly. Tunnelling recommenced a third time in the 1930s but ceased by 1938 resulting in a tunnel that ran roughly half way to the North Engine Shaft.

    In 1959, the tunnel was taken over for an altogether different purpose by the Atomic Energy Authority: detection of underground explosions as part of an effort to determine whether the Russians were secretly carrying out nuclear tests underground and how large the explosions were. In the Excelsior tunnel, small TNT charges were detonated to investigate an effect known as "decoupling" where a chamber of the right size can attenuate the pressure wave from an explosion that travels through the surrounding rocks.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path until it emerges beside Kit Hill Quarry.

    The quarry at Kit Hill was for high quality granite. Large-scale quarrying began in the 1880's and the granite was used for sea defences in Plymouth, London and even Singapore! The stone was shaped and finished in the quarry before being shipped as completed pieces via the railway.

    The lake now occupying the quarry pit is rich in wildlife including dragonflies and damselflies. The trees growing within the quarry provide perches for songbirds for which the surrounding stone cliff provides a nice acoustic.

  13. At the quarry turn left and walk through the level gravel area with boulders alongside to reach the incline. Walk down the incline to reach a gate.

    Granite from the quarry was lowered on trucks down the incline to sidings which connected to the East Cornwall Mineral Railway. The incline worked on a balance system where a load of granite from the quarry descended as another load (e.g. coal for the steam engine) was raised.

  14. Go through the kissing gate to the left of the farm gate and when you reach the car park, bear right to reach the road.
  15. Cross the road to the lane opposite signposted to Downgate and Stoke Climsland. Follow the lane into Higher Downgate until you pass Parkhill House and reach a public bridleway sign on the right opposite a lane to the left.
  16. Turn left down the lane opposite the Public Bridleway sign. Follow the lane until you pass through national speed limit signs at a bend in the lane with a Public Bridleway leading ahead.
  17. Continue ahead from the bend in the lane onto the Public Bridleway and follow this until it ends on another lane.
  18. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach a gravel track on the right just past a wooden farm gate.
  19. Turn right down the track and follow it between some houses until it ends in a junction with another track.
  20. Bear left onto the track and follow it until it ends at a junction of tracks.
  21. Turn right at the junction and follow the track uphill past an engine house. At the top of the hill where the the track forks around a triangular grassy area, keep left to reach the road.

    The cluster of mines around Holmbush (Holmbush, Redmoor, Kelly Bray, West Holmbush, East Holmbush and South Kelly Bray) were thought to have been started in the early 1600s, working on a lode of lead ore, with a resurgence of activity in the late 1700s. During Victorian times, industrial-scale deep mining took place for copper ore in addition to the lead ore which also contained silver. The mines were worked worked from at least 1845 under various names, finally closing in 1893. During the early 20th Century (from 1919-21), the dumps of waste material were worked with newer technology to recover more of the minerals.

  22. Turn left onto the road and follow it to a junction.

    Kelly Bray was first recorded in around 1286 as Kellibregh as is Cornish for "dappled grove" as agriculture was the main industry until the 19th Century. In the 1820s this changed when the area was developed for mining, with a mining workforce of over 250 people recorded in 1843. Mining continued into the 20th Century with the last mine closing in 1946.

  23. Turn left at the junction and follow the pavement to Station Road. Cross over this and continue on the pavement to reach Florence Road.

    A swingletree is a bar of wood or metal used to balance the pull from an animal towing a cart as this alternates between the animal's shoulders. This is particularly important when the animal is wearing a breast-collar harness which can rub on its shoulders if the pull is uneven.

  24. Turn left onto Florence Road and follow this a short distance past the garage on the left to a lane. Turn left down the lane and follow it through the industrial estate to a fork in front of Keltec Motors.
  25. Bear right at the fork and follow the track along the fence until the fence ends.
  26. At the end of the fence, bear right off the track and walk across the grass alongside the line of trees to pass the barn on your left and reach a stile.

    Celandines flower along the path in the spring.

    The name Celandine is thought to come from the Latin word for swallow. It is said that the flowers bloom when the birds return in Spring and fade when they leave in Autumn. 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.

  27. Cross the stile and join the track ahead. Follow this to a gateway.

    Kit Hill lies on the western side of the Tamar Valley AONB which you are now re-entering.

    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.

  28. Go through the gateway and continue ahead until you reach a kissing gate on the right with a waymark.
  29. At the kissing gate, turn left away from the gate and head up the hill to another kissing gate.

    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.

  30. Go through the gate and continue ahead to reach another kissing gate.

    At least 18 burial mounds occur on the slopes of Kit Hill, including one beneath the chimney on the summit, and traces of early field systems can be seen on aerial photographs. Prehistoric people left their mark with a line of barrows along Hingston Down which include a Neolithic long barrow (approx. 3000 BC) on the lower eastern slope and round barrows from the Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC).

  31. Go through the gate and turn right to go through the gate beside it. Follow the path to a fork with a blue waymark.

    During the spring and summer you are likely to hear the distinctive call of the cuckoo as you walk around the hill.

    Cuckoos are migratory birds that overwinter in Africa and are first seen, or more often heard, in Cornwall during the spring. The cuckoo is well-known for laying its eggs in the nests of other bird species. The adult cuckoo is a mimic of a sparrowhawk - a predator; this causes other birds to abandon their nests, allowing the female lay her eggs. Although cuckoo eggs are larger than those already in the nest, cuckoos produce eggs in several different colour schemes to match those of several species of bird. Since the cuckoo chick is a much larger than even the full-grown foster parents (which they seem not to notice, assuming their offspring is just a bit portly), it needs to monopolize the food supply. It therefore methodically evicts all other eggs and chicks from the nest.

  32. Bear left at the fork to the chimney.

    Another bird often heard in Kit Hill Country Park is the buzzard and can usually be seen gliding overhead whilst calling.

    Despite their reputation for being lazy and scavengers, Buzzards are formidable predators. Diving on rabbits and small mammals from a slow or hovering flight, or from a perch, they nearly always make the kill on the ground. During their breeding season in spring, Buzzards create spectacular aerial displays by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground.

  33. Continue ahead from the chimney to pass the information board and follow the main path uphill to the granite waymarks that you encountered earlier on the walk. This time keep right to pass between the granite waymarks and continue following the path until it eventually ends at the car park.

    The moorland surrounding Kit Hill is known as Hingston Down, made famous by the battle that took place there.

    The Celtic stronghold of Dunmonia held off conquest by the Saxons until the early 8th Century, when Devon was conquered. The Celts in Cornwall managed to repel the Saxons for another century. Although they allied themselves with the Vikings, it is implied that they were defeated in 838 at Hengestdun ("Stallion Hill") in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It has been suggested, based on the name, this might be Hingston Down although it is debated by historians whether a site on the Devon side of the Tamar is more likely. The Saxon victory has also been questioned given the very limited Saxon influence in Cornwall.

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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