Little Petherick Creek and the Camel Trail

From Padstow, the route climbs Dennis Hill to the obelisk where there are panoramic views of the area. It then follows the Saint's Way up Little Petherick Creek through meadows and woodland to reach Little Petherick's gothic church. From there the path follows the other side of the creek to reach Sea Mills. The return route is through fields and down a small track then along the Camel Trail over the old railway bridge spanning Little Petherick Creek.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: outside the National Lobster Hatchery
  • Parking: Padstow. Satnav: PL288BL
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic fishing village and harbour at Padstow
  • Panoramic views of the creeks and estuary
  • Wildflowers in the woodland along the creeks
  • Ornate gothic church at Little Petherick
  • Remains of a tidal mill enclosure at Sea Mills
  • Wading birds such as curlews and egrets
  • Local Cornish food in Padstow

Alternative walks in same location

Directions

It is important that you carefully time this walk with the tide times: the footpath along the edge of the creek is underwater at high tide. Once you reach the slate tips at Sea Mills, there is no time pressure from this point on. The edge of the creek is quite muddy so ensure you have appropriate footwear.

  1. Facing the National Lobster Hatchery, turn right and follow the path to the no entry signs. Follow the lane between the buildings until you reach the start of the Camel Trail.

    The National Lobster Hatchery, located on the quayside at Padstow, are aiming to create a sustainable shellfish fishery in Cornwall by providing a predator-free environment for lobsters to grow past the zooplankton stage where they normally mostly perish. The lobsters are reared in captivity until they are a year old - the age when they set up home in a burrow. They are then released at different points around the coast to replenish stocks caught by fishermen. There is a visitor centre there where you can find out more about what they do and meet the lobsters.

  2. Follow the trail ahead until you reach another Camel Trail signpost with a "Newquay 18" sign.

    Lobsters are among the planet's oldest inhabitants with fossil remains dating back more than 100 million years. They are also extremely long-lived with some individuals reaching ages in excess of 80 years. A specimen of over 50 years old was caught in Cornwall in 2012 and was given to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay; it was a metre long and weighed 4kg. The heaviest lobster recorded was caught in 1934 and weighed an immense 19kg!

  3. From the signpost, continue ahead on the trail towards Wadebridge and Bodmin a short distance further until you reach a bench on your left, opposite a path into the bushes on the right.
  4. Go down the path between the bushes on the right and descend the steps towards the lake. At the bottom of the steps, turn right and follow along the edge of the lake to reach a lane.

    Padstow is a very old port town facing into the Camel Estuary (formerly Petrockstow after St Petroc). Possibly from as early as 2500 BC, Padstow has been used as a natural harbour, linking Brittany to Ireland along the 'Saints Way' from Fowey. In the Middle Ages, it was known as Aldestowe (the 'old place', to contrast with Bodmin, which was the new place). The Cornish name Lannwedhenek or Lodenek derives from the Lanwethinoc monastery that stood above the harbour in Celtic times.

  5. Turn left onto the lane and follow it a short distance to a Saint's Way sign. Then take the second track on the left, marked with a public footpath sign, and follow it a short distance to a waymark in front of the gate.

    Cornwall was a popular tourism destination in Victorian times, but until the railway was extended from Wadebridge to Padstow in 1899, Padstow was scarely known to holiday makers and remained undeveloped. Initially the focus of tourism in the area was Trevone Bay, and it wasn't until the 20th Century that tourism finally caught on in Padstow. Despite the late start, tourism quickly became Padstow's dominant industry, though a number of the older industries such as farming and fishing still survive. Padstow now gets hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

  6. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path uphill to a waymarked gate.

    The settlement of Dinas, to the south of Padstow, was first recorded in 1327 when it was spelt Dynays. The name Dinas (the Cornish word for fort) is thought to have arisen because the neighbouring Dennis Hill (which is likely to have once been called Dinas Hill) has a natural geological formation which resembles an Iron Age hillfort.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a stile at the top of the hill.

    Many placenames in Cornwall containing "Dennis" are corruptions of Dinas which is the Celtic (Cornish and Old Welsh) word for a fort or citadel. The boy's name Dennis has an altogether different origin, from Dionysus - the god of wine. St Dennis (in Cornwall) and the shortened version of it in Australia - Sydney - are both of the latter origin.

  8. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to an opening into a large field.

    The obelisk was erected on Dennis Hill to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887; it is a magnificent viewpoint. To reach it, go through the green metal gate on your right. Once you're done, retrace your steps to the stile.

  9. Bear right across the field to the bottom hedge to reach a waymark post beside a path leading into the woods.
  10. From the waymark, follow the path down into the woods to a footbridge.

    Wild garlic grows alongside the path, which is noticable 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.

  11. Cross the bridge and follow the waymarked path to emerge in a field at a waymark.
  12. Follow the right hedge of the field to reach a stile and gateway.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay. The name Cam-El is from the Cornish meaning "crooked one". It is documented that only the upper reaches of the river, above Boscarne, were originally known as the "Camel". The section from Boscarne to Egloshayle was known as the "Allen" and below this, it was known as "Heyl".

    The River Camel is classed as a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive. Bullhead, Atlantic Salmon and Otters breed in the river.

  13. Cross the stile (or go through the gateway if open) and follow the left hedge to a stile in the far hedge near the corner of the field.

    The sea fish known traditionally in the UK as bass, but internationally as the European seabass (to distinguish from river species particularly in North America), is part of the perch family. Given they are normally found in the sea, bass are surprisingly tolerant of freshwater and sometimes venture quite a long way upriver. Bass is very nice to eat but is a slow-growing species and therefore threatened by overfishing. Since 2010, two-thirds of the population has been wiped out in what has been described as "an unfolding environmental disaster" and although there are emergency EU measures in place to restrict both commercial and recreational catches, there is evidence that commercial catches are still well above sustainable levels, partly as a result of dead fish being dumped back into the sea as by-catch.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to another stile.

    The Camel Estuary is a breeding ground for bass and is a designated conservation area. Fishing for bass is illegal during the closed season in the summer and autumn. Given they are normally found in the sea, bass are surprisingly tolerant of freshwater and sometimes venture quite a long way upriver.

  15. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a waymarked path, leading into the woods.
  16. From the waymark, bear left down the path into the woods and follow it to a stile.

    The pockets of woodland along the creek provide a habitat for bluebells.

    Some estimates suggest the UK has up to half of the world's total bluebell population; nowhere else in the world do they grow in such abundance. However, the poor bluebell faces a number of threats including climate change and hybridisation from garden plants. In the past, there has also been large-scale unsustainable removal of bulbs for sale although it is now a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild bluebells.

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  17. Cross the stile and follow the wooden walkway; then keep right around the top of the creek to reach a footbridge and stile.
  18. Cross the stile and turn left to follow the path into a small meadow. Follow the right hedge to the top corner of the meadow where a path leads into the woods.
  19. Follow the path from the top corner of the meadow, through the woods, until it emerges into a field. Then head for a waymark by the gateway ahead.

    The path through the woods is the remains of an old "sanding" track leading up from Credis Creek. Sand from a nearby beach was unloaded from boats and hauled up the track to the fields, where it was spread as a fertiliser both to increase the pH and improve the drainage of the heavy clay soil.

  20. Turn left at the waymark and follow the hedge to the corner.

    A small copper mine was located in the field above Credis Creek, near Little Petherick, and was worked in the 1820s. The shaft was no more than thirty fathoms deep yet over £9000 of copper ore was raised and the mine employed around forty men. Mining stopped soon after the 1820s to avoid litigation with a neighbouring landowner and the mine appears to have finally closed in the late 1860's; a reopening was proposed in 1872 but never took place.

  21. At the corner of the hedge, turn right and follow the hedge to a stile.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  22. Cross the stile and keep right along the path through the woods, passing though a gate, and eventually descend from the woods to emerge beside a small boathouse at a waymark.

    The woods are carpeted with contrasting celandines and bluebells in 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.

  23. Follow the track ahead until it eventually ends on a lane next to the church.

    In early spring, the small stream at the start of the track is surrounded by an impressive array of snowdrops.

    Snowdrops are a member of the onion family, and one of the earliest plants to flower. They use energy stored in their bulbs to generate leaves and flowers during winter, whilst other plants without an energy reserve cannot compete. The downside to flowering so early is that pollinating insects are more scarce, so rather than relying exclusively on seeds, they also spread through bulb division. Although it is often thought of as a native British wild flower, the snowdrop was probably introduced in Tudor times, around the early sixteenth century.

    The bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants.

  24. Turn left beside the church and follow the lane over the bridge until you reach a track on the left.

    The church at Little Petherick was built originally in the 14th century and was rebuilt in 1745. Since then it has been restored twice, each time by a famous Gothic architect: initially in the 1850s by William White, and the second time in 1908 by Ninian Comper. The result is impressively ornate.

    The church is dedicated to St Petroc who, according to legend, came this way when he fled to Bodmin from Padstow. The parish is known as St Petroc Minor to distinguish it from Padstow (formerly Petrocstow).

  25. Turn left down the track and go through the kissing gate on the left of the gate. Follow the track to another kissing gate.

    Originally, the religion of the Cornish Britons was Celtic polytheism - a pagan, animistic faith, assumed to be led by Druids. Celtic Christianity was introduced to Cornwall in the year 520 by Saint Petroc, a Brython from the kingdom of Glywysing, and other missionaries from Wales, as well as by Gaelic monks and holy women from Ireland.

  26. Go through the gate and follow the track past the entrance of the water works until you reach the remains of a stile next to an old gate.
  27. Go through the gap where the stile was and follow the path to a footbridge. Cross the bridge and bear right around the top of the creek to reach a stile into a field.
  28. Cross the stile into the field and follow the left hedge to a small opening in the bushes leading to a stile and footbridge (roughly 30m to the left of the larger opening into the next field). Follow the path through the opening to the stile.
  29. Cross the stile and footbridge; then follow the path up into a field. Follow the left hedge to a stile.
  30. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a stile.

    The creek provides a habitat for a range of wading birds, the larger of which can often be spotted from the fields alongside the creek.

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and is most commonly seen in or near freshwater. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - it is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! In Tudor and Elizabethan times, hunting herons with peregrine falcons was considered a royal sport which resulted in the birds being protected from peasants who might otherwise have caught and roasted them.

  31. Cross the stile and the one ahead of it; then follow the path through the copse until you reach a stile on your left.

    The little egret - a white member of the heron family - can be seen on many of the creeks in Cornwall and yet is only a very recent settler in Britain. The birds first appeared in Britain in any number in 1989 and the first to breed was in 1996 in Dorset.

  32. Cross the stile and turn right along the creek. Follow the edge of the creek, keeping the hedge on your right, until you reach a low wall on your right.

    The walled enclosure in the river was for the tidal mill here.

    In 1602, tide mills were described by Richard Carew in his Survey of Cornwall:

    Amongst other commodities afforded by the sea, the inhabitants make use of divers his creekes for grist mills, by thwarting a banke from side to side, in which a flood-gate is placed, with two leaves; these the flowing tide openeth, and, after full sea, the waight of the ebb closeth fast, which no other force can doe: and so the imprisoned water payeth the ransome of driving an under sheete (i.e. undershot) wheel for his enlargement.
  33. Continue along the creek edge, keeping the slate tips on your right until the path eventually ends on a lane.

    The tidal mill in Little Petherick creek was first recorded in 1675 as "two salt water grist mills". The mill closed in 1899, apparently due to the restriction of the tidal flow in the creek, caused by the construction of the North Cornwall Railway across the mouth of Little Petherick creek. The mill building was demolished in the early 20th Century and the outbuildings have been converted into houses; the garden of one of these is where the mill used to be located. The enclosing wall of the mill pond is still mostly intact, although the interior is now filled with silt. Further along shore, there are slate tips and, behind this, the slate quarries that yielded the stone used to build the mill and retaining wall.

  34. Turn left onto the track and follow it through the gate marked "Private - Footpath only" until you reach a path on the right signposted as a public footpath.
  35. Turn right down the path and follow it to a stile.
  36. Cross the stile and follow the path between the hedge and fence to reach a stile.
  37. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to another stile.
  38. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge past the house until you reach a stile into the garden.
  39. Cross the stile and walk down the steps; then turn right and follow the drive away from the house to a gate. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane, following it until it ends beside the creek.
  40. Turn right along the edge of the creek and follow the path to a footbridge.
  41. Cross the bridge and head straight across the field to a stile in the opposite hedge.
  42. Cross the stile and turn left onto the road. Walk a few steps to reach a kissing gate on the right and go though this into a field. Bear right slightly across the field to a stile in the bushes approx 50m to the left of the houses and gate.
  43. Cross the stile and bear right to a stile approx 5m to the left of the gateway.
  44. Cross the stile and turn left onto the track. Follow it until it ends at the Camel Trail.
  45. Turn left onto the Camel Trail and follow it back to Padstow.

    The Camel Trail is a recreational walking and cycling track along the track bed of an old railway running from Wenfordbridge to Padstow. The railway, where the Camel Trail now runs, was originally built in 1831 by local landowner, Sir William Molesworth of Pencarrow. The line from Wadebridge to Wenfordbridge, with a branch to Bodmin, was intended to carry sand from the Camel estuary to inland farms for use as fertiliser. Later, the railway was used to ship slate and china clay from inland quarries to ships in Padstow and also transport fish, landed in Padstow, to London and other cities. The last passenger train was in 1967 and freight finally ceased in 1983, when a need to invest in new track forced closure of the line.

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
  • 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 also useful.

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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