North Petherwin to Winsdon

A circular walk from North Petherwin in the river valleys of the Bolsbridge Water that you can combine with a visit to the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre.
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The walk starts and the church and follows the footpath alongside the Barton Millenium Wood to the Holy Well. The route then follows footpaths and tracks across the tributary valleys to reach Winsdon. From here the route follows small lanes to pick up the footpath to the ancient farmstead of Bodgate. The return route is across fields towards the church, through the Millenium Wood and finally via the churchyard itself.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.1 miles/6.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: North Petherwin Church
  • Parking: North Petherwin Church PL158LR. Follow signs to North Petherwin from either Egloskerry or the B3254 at Langdon Cross. When you reach the crossroads, follow the sign towards Week St Mary to reach the church.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Barton Millenium Wood
  • North Petherwin Church and Holy Well
  • Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre

Directions

  1. With the church behind you, walk to the Barton Millenium Wood sign to reach a grassy track marked with a public footpath sign. Turn right down this and follow it to a kissing gate.

    The parish of North Petherwin has been shuffled between Cornwall and Devon over the centuries but is currently occupied by the Cornish. The church is dedicated to St Padarn - an early 6th Century abbot from Ireland who also founded churches in Wales and Brittany. Padarn is documented as having a run-in with King Arthur who apparently attempted to steal his coat. The north aisle of the church is Norman and the south is Perpendicular Gothic. Many of the windows are 13th century in style.

  2. Go through the gate and bear left to follow the line of trees, keeping them on your right, to reach a water trough. Then bear left to a pair of posts marked with yellow tops and go through the gate onto the track. Turn right onto the track and follow it to a pair of gates.

    As you cross the field, the Holy Well is on the opposite side of the hedge, next to the water trough.

    The Holy Well of St Paternus taps a spring quite close to its source but is nevertheless one of the deeper holy wells in Cornwall. It is thought it may date to the 6th Century. Its location in a hedge meant that it became overgrown and was lost for a number of years until being rediscovered and finally restored in 1999. The land on which it is situated was once Glebe land, belonging to the Vicar of North Petherwin.

  3. Go through the gate on the left and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a waymarked pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. 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.
  4. Go through the gate, cross the footbridge and go through another gate. Turn left onto the track and follow this uphill to a gate onto a lane.

    It is thought that St Paternus, to whom the well and church are dedicated, might have been the father of St Constantine - a Cornish King who have up his throne to become a monk.

  5. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane, then turn almost immediately right onto a track. Follow this (unclipping and reclipping any fences across the track, as necessary), keeping ahead past the farmyard on the right, to a fork in the track.

    The trees along the lane are beech; there is a big one which drops a lot of nuts in Autumn just where the track departs.

    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.

  6. Continue ahead down the rough track and through the gate directly ahead into the field below. Then follow the right hedge of the field to reach a footbridge at the bottom of the valley.

    Beechnuts can be used very effectively as a thrifty alternative to pine kernels to make pesto. Collect one trouser pocketful of beechnuts. Shell them over a large cup of tea with a friend, toast the kernels over a medium heat in a dry pan, then grind with a pestle and mortar (surprisingly easy once toasted). Chop 4 sprigs of basil each about the size of your hand - roughly half a supermarket pack. Add to this a finely chopped small clove of garlic and a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then shave (with a peeler) or grate a lump about the size of the end of your thumb of some hard salty cheese such as pecorino or parmesan (a supermarket basic range imitation will do fine) though avoid padano is it's a bit lacking in oomph. Finally add a good slug of extra virgin olive oil and it's time to say "proper job". It makes a ramekin full which doesn't seem a lot but it is so packed with flavour that it goes a surprisingly long way.

  7. Cross the footbridge and go through the gate. Follow the path to a crossing of paths and continue ahead on the narrow grassy path between the bushes to reach a farm gate with a pedestrian gate alongside.
  8. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a gate at the top of the right hedge.

    Evidence of windmills in England dates from around the 12th century and in Cornwall there are records of windmills as far back as 1296. Wind turbines may be viewed as the modern successor but actually themselves date back to Victorian times: the first large windmill to generate electricity was built in 1888 in the USA, and in Cornwall, a private house was lit using electricity generated by a wind turbine in 1890.

  9. Go through the gate and turn left onto the track. Follow it until it emerges onto a concrete track opposite some barns.

    Nettles grow either side of the track and also present a foraging opportunity.

    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.

  10. Turn left onto the track then immediately right after the barn to go through the double metal gates. Follow the track past the barns to reach a waymarked pedestrian gate on the left just as the track begins to bend to the right after the last barn.
  11. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to reach a waymarked gate in the far hedge.
  12. Go through the sequence of two gates and follow the right hedge to reach two gates in the corner of the field.
  13. Go through the gate ahead and cross the field to the far corner to reach a gate.
  14. Go through the gate onto a farm track and lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to reach a junction to the right with a sign for Winsdon and Avalon Lodges.
  15. Continue on the lane for about one third of a mile until you reach a gate on the right, opposite a public footpath sign on the left.
  16. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to reach a footbridge, just after the gate on the left.

    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.

  17. Cross the bridge and follow the track to a gate. Go through this and follow the track between the trees. Continue along the right hedge of the field to reach a gate onto a track.
  18. Go through the gate and follow the track until you pass a cottage and reach a fork.
  19. Keep right at the fork, past the pond, and follow the track between some farm buildings. Continue ahead past all the buildings until you reach a waymark on the right, just before the track passes through a gate.

    The cottages and farm buildings form the hamlet of Bodgate.

    The settlement of Bodgate was first recorded in 1286. It is thought that the name may be Cornish, containing the old Cornish word bod meaning "dwelling" (which became bos in later years). It is the only Cornish name in this area and may be a relic from the Early Mediaeval period before the parish became part of Devon.

  20. Turn left at the waymark and follow the track keeping right along the wall. Continue ahead through the wooden gate onto the unsurfaced track and follow this to a metal gate on the right.
  21. Go through the gate on the right and head straight across the field. When the church tower comes into view, initially make for this; then bear left of the church to an opening in the bottom hedge.

    There are detailed records from the late 15th and early 16th Centuries of the building of North Petherwin church which consisted of intense fundraising followed by building in several cycles. Initially the stone masons cut their granite at Hingston Down quarry on Kit Hill but switched to Roughtor Quarry part-way through construction. The two different sources of granite can be seen as a colour change half-way along the south aisle.

  22. Follow the stony track leading from the field to a stream. Cross over this (either jump, or walk through if you have suitable boots) and go through the gate. Head straight up the field, to the left end of the line of trees on the skyline. As you near the top, head to the far right-hand corner where there is a pair of gates.

    The farmland in this area is located on the Culm Measures, resulting in acidic clay soils. Lime-rich sand was brought up the Bude Canal to improve the soil for farming.

    The geological formation known known as the Culm Measures stretches from Dartmoor to north Devon and across northeast Cornwall as far west as Bodmin Moor. It is a 2-3 mile deep sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down during the Carboniferous period and named after a soft sooty coal known as culm which found occasionally within it. The heavy clay soils result in wet grassland and heath which is unlike any other in England and supports a wide diversity of species including rare orchids and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Over 90% of the culm grassland was lost during the 20th Century, and a number of wildlife organisations are now working together to protect what remains.

  23. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right and follow the path to a waymark.

    Barton Millenium Wood in North Petherwin was formerly an area of farmland with heavy clay soils. The wood was planted in 1999 and is being managed to encourage wildlife but also includes a maze and an open area for barbeques etc. Depending on the types of trees planted, new woodlands can take 20-30 years for trees to reach a reasonable height and to start to feel like mature woodland, but this one is already well on the way. The woods are encircled and crossed by a network of paths which connect to the public footpaths either side.

  24. Turn left onto the track at the waymark and follow it to a stile and gate.

    The churchyard at North Petherwin dates back to Celtic times when the church would have been a wooden structure. The current church building dates from Norman times with some additions in the 14th and 15th century and a 19th Century restoration. The church also contains some mediaeval and Tudor woodwork. The base of the rood screen was carved by three Bretons in the 16th Century and it is thought that they might have been immigrant workers undercutting the local carvers as there are records of the carvers at Stratton working for 40 shillings per foot, whereas the Bretons here only charged 24. The magnificent mediaeval pulpit from North Petherwin church is now in Launceston's St Mary Magdalene church, and survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Tudor times by being concealed under thick black paint.

  25. Cross the stile or go through the gate if open and keep right along the waymarked path into the churchyard. Follow the path past the church door to return to the car park.

    Britain lost most of its wild Yew trees due to longbow production in the Middle Ages. Once the national supplies had been exhausted, Britain began importing yew wood from just about any European country that had any, rendering yew trees extinct or rare in many parts of Europe. Ironically, Britain now has possibly the world's greatest collection of yews and the majority of these are in churchyards where it was deemed inappropriate to fell them for longbows.

    These are some of the oldest Yew trees found anywhere in the world and Yews can live for thousands of years: the Forestry Commission described them as "the toughest, most indestructible and longest lived tree we have". It is therefore possible that some of the ancient yews are older than the adjacent church buildings as Christianity took over many sacred places from the previous religious traditions: in 601 AD, Pope Gregory advised his followers not to destroy places of Pagan worship but to convert them into Christian Churches.

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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