Minions and the Cheesewring

The walk passes The Hurlers stone circles, the Bronze Age Rillaton barrow where a gold goblet was found, and the stone hut of eccentric stone mason and mathematician Daniel Gumb. The route then climbs Stowe's Hill to the Cheesewring formation and crosses a neolithic walled enclosure to reach the summit. The walk descends to the valley hamlet of Sharptor and village of Henwood then a lane and bridleways lead to the engine houses of the Phoenix United Mine. The walk then follows mining trails along the edge of Craddock Moor, passing the Minions Heritage Centre and The Cheesewring pub to complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles/5.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: The Hurlers car park
  • Parking: Hurlers Carpark. Satnav: PL145LW
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • The Hurlers stone circles, cairns and other remnants of ancient Neolithic civilization
  • The Cheesewring - a weather-sculpted granite tor, and other tors on Stowe's Hill
  • Panoramic views across Bodmin Moor and surrounding countryside from Stowe's Hill
  • Engine houses and other relics of the Pheonix United add South Phoenix mines
  • Pretty woods and countryside around Henwood
  • Cream teas and local ales in the village of Minions

Directions

  1. From the car park, head away from the road to the steps at the back left corner. Go up the steps and bear right, passing the hedge on your right, to reach the centre stone in the lower of the two stone circles.

    These stone circles are called "The Hurlers".

    The Hurlers is a group of 3 stone circles, near the village of Minions on the eastern flank of Bodmin Moor, which date from the Bronze Age: around 1500 BC. The name is said to derive from a legend in which a group of men were turned into stone as a punishment for playing a game of Cornish hurling on the Sabbath.

    In 2013, the strip of grass between the centres of the stone circles was excavated to uncover a 4000 year old cobbled stone pavement joining the two circles. Archaeologists describe this as a "unique" structure.

    Many of the folk names for standing stones such as the Hurlers, Pipers and Nine Maidens are based on petrification legends, which generally involve punishment for some form of Pagan fun such as dancing on a Sunday. It is thought that the early Christian Church encouraged such myths in an attempt to prevent old Pagan practices occuring at these sites.

  2. Continue ahead to the centre of the other stone circle.

    It is not fully understood what function the stone circles served, although excavation of some monuments has shown an association with burials. Some circles also appear to have been used to mark the passage of time and seasons, which is indicated by the alignment of stones with landmarks, to mark important solar or lunar events such as the sunrise and sunset at the winter or summer solstice. Where excavated, they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (2400-1000 BC).

  3. Bear right to where the well-worn path merges with another path at a raised bank.

    Some of the earliest mining remains are shallow pits dug to home in on and then mine lodes (mineral veins) at the surface of the bedrock. These are known as shode workings as pits were initially dug to locate displaced fragments of ore within the soil known as shodes. Further pits were then dug to follow these fragments back to the main lode that they had broken off. Once the lode was located it was worked using a line of pits along it.

    The adjective "shoddy" is thought to have been derived from shode, initially via the textile industry for recycling fragments of usable cloth from rubbish. Later, when garments made from this material were found to disintegrate, it came to mean "inferior quality".

  4. Bear right towards the summit of this gentle hill, slightly right of the rocky peak in the distance, and head to a the base of a grassy mound at the summit.

    The mound is an ancient neolithic tomb known as Rillaton Barrow. The entrance to the tomb is on the east side, to your right as your approach.

    Rillaton Barrow is a neolithic tomb located near Minions, on the east side of Bodmin Moor. When it was excavated in 1837, numerous artefacts were found alongside the human remains, including a bronze dagger, beads, pottery, glass and - most notably - a gold vessel known as the Rillaton Gold Cup. Radiocarbon dating of the artifacts places them around 2300 BC and research has linked the style of this cup with the East Mediterranean, showing evidence of a trading link between Cornwall and the Mycenaean Empire over 4000 years ago. The cup became lost after its discovery but turned up years later in the dressing room of King George V as a receptacle for his collar studs. It is now on show at the British Museum, though it still belongs to the Royal Collection. An exact copy may be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum at Truro.

  5. Bear right around the mound then follow a path towards the rocky hilltop, which passes a hedge on the right, until you reach the corner of the fence on your right.

    Barrows are megalithic tombs constructed with stone supports and covered with a mound of earth. Archaeology has revealed that the ancient tribes of Cornwall practised burial of their dead. Important individuals, such as kings or tribal chiefs, were often buried in monumental tombs to indicate their significance. Valuable items such as weapons and jewellery were often buried along with the dead. However, many barrows have been subject to grave robbers over the ages, meaning much of this treasure has been lost.

  6. Continue ahead, towards the leftmost rock stack on the hill, until you reach a rough track with a grassy bank behind it.
  7. Bear left onto the track, following it until a path departs from the right, at the end of the mound on the right.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which were created in 1949 at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks. There is a single Cornwall AONB which is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are sections of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

  8. Turn right along the path and follow the well-worn track until it ends at the base of a bank.
  9. Bear right on the path up the bank to reach a fence. Turn left and follow the rocky path along the fence on the right until it bends away sharply to the right.

    On the opposite side of the bank, which can be reached by bearing right along the bottom of the bank, is a rock outcrop with a hole with a date carved on a stone to the right of the hole.

    Daniel Gumb is described in a letter from 1814:

    Daniel Gumb ...was bred a stone-cutter... By close application Daniel acquired, even in his youth, a considerable stock of mathematical knowledge, and, in consequence, became celebrated throughout the adjoining parishes. Called by his occupation to hew blocks of granite on the neighbouring commons, and especially in the vicinity of that great natural curiosity called the Cheesewring, he discovered near this spot an immense block, whose upper surface was an inclined plane. This, it struck him, might be made the roof of a habitation such as he desired; sufficiently secluded from the busy haunts of men to enable him to pursue his studies without interruption, whilst it was contiguous to the scene of his daily labour. Immediately Daniel went to work, and cautiously excavating the earth underneath, to nearly the extent of the stone above, he obtained a habitation which he thought sufficiently commodious. The sides he lined with stone, cemented with lime, whilst a chimney was made by perforating the earth at one side of the roof... The top of the rock which roofed his house served Daniel for an observatory, where at every favourable opportunity he watched the motions of the heavenly bodies, and on the surface of which, with his chisel, he carved a variety of diagrams, illustrative of the most difficult problems of Euclid, etc. These he left behind him as evidences of the patience and ingenuity with which he surmounted the obstacles that his station in life had placed in the way of his mental improvement.
  10. As the fence bends away to the right, depart from the fence and follow the rocky path passing to the right of the tree, then bear right uphill to the base of the closest rock stack.

    This stack of rocks is known as "The Cheesewring".

    The Cheesewring is a tor on Stowes Hill near Minions. The tor gets is name because it is topped with a natural rock formation that looks like the press with a stack of weights that was used to make cheese (and also cider as the apple pulp was known as "cheese"). The cheesewring was a well-known landscape feature by Tudor times and it featured in large illustrations in the margins of Cornwall maps at the end of this period. The granite slabs, which appear to have been balanced, were created by erosion over many thousands of years.

  11. Continue to follow the path uphill and bear left to the plateau on the right side of the highest rock stack.

    The word granite comes from the Latin granum (a grain), in reference to its coarse-grained structure. Granite forms from a big blob of magma (known as a pluton) which intrudes into the existing rocks. The huge mass of molten rock stores an enormous amount of heat so the magma cools very slowly below the surface of the Earth, allowing plenty of time for large crystals to form.

    Granite mostly contains slightly acidic chemical compounds, and consequently there is nothing to neutralise acids arising from plant decay and carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater, resulting in acidic moorland soils.

  12. Continue ahead along the path to where it ends at a wall of loose granite rocks.

    The granite wall is part of Stowe's Pound.

    Stowe's Pound is hilltop enclosure situated on Stowe's Hill near Minions. It comprises two defensive walls made of granite rubble and dates from the early Neolithic period (4000-3500 BC). Inside the walls are two Bronze Age cairns, a stone round house and over 100 house platforms.

  13. Carefully cross over the loose granite wall to the other side. Follow the path along the ridge until you reach a pile of large rocks on the far side of the hill.

    Sadly, people ignorant of what Stowe's Pound represents removed some of the stones to build rock stacks ("fairy stacks"). Removing stones from the Egyptian Pyramids would be bad enough but Stowe's Pound is at least 1,000 years older than the pyramids! Many of the removed stones have now been replaced as well as possible by volunteers.

    Rock balancing art is best avoided on Bodmin Moor as what looks to the untrained eye like a pile of rocks is very likely to be prehistoric remains, and often a grave or memorial which is best not desecrated. Even innocent vandalism of ancient monuments is an illegal act that could result in a criminal record and jail sentence. Fortunately, Cornwall has a considerable supply of pebbly beaches where towering extravaganzas can be constructed without fear of imprisonment or the ghosts of Celtic Kings.

  14. Bear right down the hill in the direction of the rocky tor, making for the lane at the bottom of the hill near a group of houses in front of the tor.

    The rocky hill ahead is Sharp Tor.

    Tors are the result of millions of years of weathering. They started out as a molten blob of rock beneath the surface, which cooled and crystallised into granite, cracking (mostly vertically) as it cooled. Hot water circulated through the cracks, reacting chemically with the rocks and depositing minerals. As the softer rocks above were worn away fairly quickly, the reduction in pressure from the weight of the rock above caused the granite to crack (this time more horizontally). Water, acidic from carbon dioxide in the air, circulated in the cracks, causing weathering. Repeated freezing and thawing during Ice Ages caused blocks of varying sizes to break off. The "basins" on the tops of some of the tors are also the result of repeated freezing and thawing of water which has collected on the surface.

  15. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past the houses until the lane ends at a junction.
  16. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a track departing from the left beside a house called Clouds Hill.
  17. Bear left onto the track marked by the Public Bridleway and follow the path leading downhill from the end of the track to reach a footbridge.
  18. Cross the bridge and follow the path uphill to where it levels out on a mine tip. Continue ahead to reach a waymark against the fence, just to the right of the telegraph poles.
  19. Turn left at the waymark and keep the fence on your right. Follow the path until it meets a track at a waymark.
  20. Turn right onto the track and follow it around the gate and onwards for a few more paces to where a wide track departs to the left, just past the pond.
  21. Bear left onto the track, passing the chain, then follow it to reach an elaborate waymark post carved with an engine house just before the track ends in a gate.
  22. Turn right at the waymark up a steep path with wooden steps. Follow this until a small path departs to the right towards the building.
  23. When you reach the path to the right, turn onto this to reach the building. Follow the path along the right side of the building and towards the engine house ahead. As you approach, keep left around the engine house to reach the steps into it.
  24. From the engine house, head to the white waymark. Follow the waymarked path until it merges onto another path.
  25. Keep right to merge onto a grassy track and follow this until it ends at on a stony track.
  26. Bear left onto the track, following it until it ends at a lane.

    The large hill on the left is Caradon Hill.

    Caradon Hill is situated on the east edge of Bodmin Moor. The hill has a 371 metre summit and the antenna on the top broadcasts TV & radio coverage as far as Truro, Bude, Plymouth and Barnstaple. The name is thought to originate from the Cornish word car for fort. The slopes are dotted with the remains of engine houses and the area was once famous for its copper mines, which were discovered relatively late in Cornwall's mining history. The South Caradon Copper mine was the largest copper mine in the UK during its heyday in the late 1800s. In an account documented in the early 20th Century, it was described:

    On Saturday nights after pay-day, the populous villages of Caradon Town, Pensilva, Minions and Crows Nest were crowded with men, and resembled in character the mining camps of Colorado and the Far West.
  27. Cross the lane and follow the path to the left of the small tree opposite the junction. Follow the path uphill to a large boulder and continue uphill until it merges onto a well worn track. Turn left onto the track and follow this to 4 large boulders where it forks.
  28. Keep right at the fork, following the path until it merges with another path.
  29. Bear left onto the main track and keep right at the fork to reach a T-junction with a gravel track.

    The engine house on the right was part of the South Phoenix Mine.

    South Phoenix Mine is a complex of disused engine houses and quarries near Minions. Mining for tin and copper began in 1836 and continued until 1914. The engine house over Houseman's Shaft has been turned into the Minions Heritage Centre.

  30. Turn right and follow the track until it ends at a junction with another track.

    At this point you can turn right along the track to take an optional diversion to the Minions Heritage Centre.

    Minions Heritage Centre is located in the restored Houseman's Engine House of the South Phoenix mine. The building contains a permanent exhibition on the history, ecology, archaeology and mining heritage of the surrounding area.

  31. Turn left and follow the track until it ends at a road in the village of Minions.

    Minions is a small village on the south-east corner of Bodmin Moor. Near the car park, one of the engine houses of the South Pheonix mine has been converted into the a heritage centre which interprets the history of the surrounding landscape. The area surrounding Minions offers a wealth of archaeological interest from early Bronze Age to the Tin and Copper Mining which finished early in the last century. Most of the village is over 300m, and Minions claims to be the highest village in Cornwall, rivalling St Breward.

  32. Bear right along the road through the village of Minions, following it until just past the houses on the right.

    The Cheesewring Hotel in Minions claims to be Cornwall's highest pub, at an altitude of 995ft. It opened as a coaching inn in 1863 and is now a hotel and restaurant serving a variety of local Cornish food and ales.

  33. Turn right into the car park to complete the walk.

    The source of the River Seaton is in Minions near the Cheesewring Hotel and it connects with two tributary streams running through St Cleer. Due to the copper mining activity around Caradon Hill, the tributary streams contain dissolved copper salts where the groundwater drains from old mines or percolates through waste tips. The level of copper in the main river is not high enough to prevent fish living in it but it does restrict the invertebrate species that are able to live in the river and so the fish population is lower than surrounding rivers as there is less for them to eat. The river runs for just over 10 miles before reaching the sea at Seaton beach.

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

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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