Pelynt and the West Looe Valley

The walk descends via a lane from Pelynt and footpaths into the woods and follows a tributary of the West Looe River to its confluence with the main river. The walk then follows a footpath downriver from Sowden's Bridge through the woods of the West Looe valley to reach a river crossing. The route continues to St Nun's Well, the subject of colourful legends, and returns along country lanes.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.4 miles/10.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Pelynt
  • Parking: Pelynt car park. If you are heading south (towards Looe) through Pelynt, take the first right after the church to reach the parking spaces. Satnav: PL132LG
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Broadleaf woodland along the West Looe Valley
  • Damselflies and butterflies beside the river
  • St Nun's Holy Well

Directions

  1. Make your way to the main road and turn right. Follow the road past the Jubilee Inn to a lane on the left, opposite a signpost on the main road for Looe and Liskeard.

    The name Pelynt is thought to be from the Cornish Plu-Nent and mean "Parish of St Nonna".

  2. Turn left down the lane and follow it until you reach a junction on the right by a gate outside a bungalow (Trelay Fields).

    An Iron Age fort known as Hall Rings was located on the spur of the hill to the left. It is thought this may have started as a relatively small twin-rampart hill fort and then been extended later with an outer enclosure. The ramparts were ploughed away during the Second World War.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandanavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  3. Head towards the gate of the bungalow (Trelay Fields) and then turn right to follow the Public Footpath along the fence to reach a stile.

    Primroses grow along the bank on the right-hand side of the path and put on an impressive display in April.

    Although most primroses tend to be pale yellow, in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  4. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to reach another stile.

    A fragment of a bronze dagger was found in 1834 at Pelynt when a farmer attempted to plough up a barrow and relics were unearthed. The dagger is thought to have come from Greece and was made during the Mycaenean Bronze Age era of 1600-1100BC, which has been supported by radiocarbon dating. It is thought to have been brought by traders for tin and may be evidence that sea trade between Cornwall and the Mediterranean took place as far back as the Bronze Age.

  5. Cross the stile and follow the path through the trees until you reach a waymarked stile on the left.

    Pelynt is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Sir Jonathan Trelawney - one of the seven bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1688 by James II and charged with seditious libel. However, they were acquitted. When the news reached Pelynt, the mayor fired the two town cannons and the church bells were rung in celebration.

  6. Turn left at the waymarked stile and follow the path to join a track. Follow the track downhill to a clearing.

    The Cornish Anthem known simply as "Trelawney" or "Song of the Western Men" was written by Rev. Robert Stephen Hawker. It is thought to be based on older folk songs such as "Ye jolly tinner boys" which contains the line "Why forty thousand Cornish boys shall knawa the reason why". Since Bishop Trelawney was acquitted, there was no march of Cornishmen associated with his custody. It is thought that the song mixes references to the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 led by Michael An Gof.

  7. Bear right across the bridge and then follow the lower track until you reach a path on the left just before it ends in a gate onto a lane.
  8. Bear left onto the small path just before the gate and follow it down into the woods until it eventually descends from a bank onto a lower path. Merge onto the lower path and follow this until it ends on a stile onto a lane.

    This area of the woodland is planted with broad-leaf trees including beech.

    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.

  9. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow it until you cross over a bridge and reach an old wooden gate on the left with a Public Footpath sign.

    Wild garlic grows along the lane beside the bridge over the river.

    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.

  10. Turn left to go through the gate and follow the footpath to reach a gate and stile.
  11. Cross the stile beside the gate and continue along the path to reach a stile.

    Bluebells grow in the woodland and are particularly profuse on the steep bank to the right

    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.

  12. Cross the stile and follow the footbridge to another stile. Cross this and follow the path to the riverbank. Continue along the riverbank to join the path leading from it. Follow the path to reach a waymark on the riverbank.
  13. Follow the waymarked path, initially along the riverbank and then climbing slightly from the river, until you eventually reach a stile.
  14. Cross the stile and follow the contour of the field to reach a waymark in a gap in the hedge opposite.

    Herons hunt along this stretch of river.

    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.

  15. At the waymark, bear right slightly to follow the path indicated. Continue on this until it emerges into a meadow then keep right to continue parallel to the river to reach a gate and stile.

    The West Looe river rises near Dobwalls and runs for roughly 8 miles through Herodsfoot and Churchbridge before entering the creeks of the flooded river valley just below Milcombe with a final mile along the creek to its confluence with the East Looe river. The sedimentary rocks surrounding the river form an aquifer reserve which results in the river levels being topped up by groundwater during periods of low rainfall.

  16. Cross the stile beside the gate and cross the track to the stile opposite. Go through the gateway beside the stile and follow the path across a footbridge, then bear left on the far side of the river to reach a stile.

    During the summer, black-and-yellow dragonflies can often be seen.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a stile emerging onto a track.

    Iridescent blue-green damselflies can also often be seen.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

  18. Cross the stile and the one opposite. Bear left towards the barn then follow the track along the bottom of the bank to reach a stile.

    The Pisky was a figure of folklore associated with mischief. Piskies were also known under the name "Jack-o-lantern" and this is thought to have similar origins as willo-the-wisp - the mythical marsh gas flares that were mistaken for the lights of settlements. Consequently the local dialect for becoming lost was "pisky-led".

    It was believed that milk was turned sour by piskies dancing on the roofs of barns. As a preventative measure, farmers would nail lumps of lead known as "piskie paws" to trip up the pesky piskies.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the track uphill, past St Nun's Well, until it passes through a pair of wooden gates and meets a lane.

    St Nun's (or St Nonna's) Well dates from mediaeval times and was rebuilt in the 19th Century; the stone basin inside is thought to date from Norman times. The well is associated with many superstitions: the well is guarded by an elf, and visitors failing to leave a bent pin as an offering will be followed home by clouds of piskies disguised as moths. The following old story was also recorded in Victorian times:

    An old farmer once set his eyes upon the granite basin, and coveted it; for it was not wrong in his regard to convert the holy font to the base uses of the pigsty. One day he drove his oxen and wain to the gateway above, with intent to remove it. Taking his beasts to the entrance of the well, and fixing his chains around the sculptured trough, he tried to drag it from its ancient bed. For a long time it resisted the tugs of the oxen, but at length they started it and pulled it laboriously up-hill to where the wain was standing. When nearly up it burst away from the chains, rolled down towards the well, and, making a sharp turn, rolled into its own old place. No one will again venture to displace it, seeing that ... a man thriving and well-to-do in the world never prospered from that day forward. Indeed, retribution overtook him on the spot, the oxen falling dead, and their owner being struck lame and speechless. No one since has been hardy enough to try the removal of the font.
  20. Follow the lane uphill and continue on the lane for roughly 2 miles until it eventually ends in a T-junction.

    On the hill spur behind the bend in the lane is the remains of St Non's Camp - an Iron Age hill fort. It is built in a figure-of-8 form to enclose a natural hollow and make use of a natural oval platform. It is thought that it might have been built to defend the river crossing between Pelynt and Duloe.

  21. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left. Follow the lane down the hill to return to Pelynt church and complete the circular route.

    The churchyard at Pelynt is thought to date from the Dark Ages and the Celtic preaching cross in the wall of the north aisle of the church is a relic from this period. The church tower was built in the 14th Century and the rest of the current church a little later, in Perpendicular Gothic style.

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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