St Breward to King Arthur's Hall

The walk heads out from St Breward along lanes across the Treswallock Downs to the top of Casehill. From here, the route crosses the moor to the monument of King Arthur's Hall near where Nampara cottage is set in the BBC's Poldark series. The walk then turns back through ancient field systems and farms, crossing tributaries of the Rivers Camel and De Lank to return to St Breward.
Crosses a marsh so may be difficult after prolonged wet weather. Wellies recommended in winter and early spring.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.0 miles/9.0 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: St Breward Church
  • Parking: On roadside next to church. Follow signs to the Old Inn. The church is next to the pub. Note that the pub car park is for customers only. Satnav: PL304PP
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots (crosses marshes)

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views across King Arthurs Downs from Casehill
  • Curious prehistoric relic of King Arthur's Hall
  • St Breward church - the highest in Cornwall
  • Local food and drink at the historic Old Inn in St Breward

Directions

  1. Walk along the lane from the church towards the Old Inn, turning left down the track marked with a public footpath sign to reach a waymarked stile on the left.

    St Breward church claims to be the highest in the county. The tall tower can be seen easily, for many miles around. The church dates from the Middle Ages (1278).

  2. Cross the stile, then cross the field to a stile next to the gate.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomforable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  3. Cross the stile and head across the field to a stile, next to the gateway, in the opposite hedge.
  4. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to the right of a series of conifers, to a stile next to the gate.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you must: 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.
  5. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge, then continue across the field to the opposite corner to reach a waymarked stile to the left of the gate.

    Fields used for grazing, such as these, provide a good habitat for wildflowers, particularly where livestock are released into one field at a time, so the wildflowers in the latter fields have more time to bloom before being munched.

    Dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion (lion's tooth), which is thought to refer to the shape of the leaves. Dandelion leaves can be eaten in salads, though their bitterness is not to everyone's taste. However, the bitterness can be removed by blanching: drop the leaves into boiling salted water and remove after a minute and quench in ice-cold water to prevent the leaves from cooking.

  6. Cross the stile into a large field and go straight ahead between the stone walls either side. Cross the field towards the far side and head to an opening with a granite gatepost at a corner roughly three-quarters of the way along the wall.
  7. Go through the gap and cross the next field to a stone stile on the corner to the left of the gateway.
  8. Cross the stile then turn right along the lane and follow it to a junction where another lane joins from the right, just after a farmhouse on the left.

    Just before the junction is a farm building on the right with a pretty doorway. This was a chapel built in 1840 during a large Methodist revival in the area. However this quickly fizzled out and the chapel was only used for about 10 years.

  9. Turn right onto the small lane opposite the farmhouse and follow this until it ends at a junction.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  10. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a junction where a lane joins from the left, marked with a no-through road sign.

    The moorland to your left is known as the Treswallock Downs and the tor at the summit is Alex 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.

  11. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to Candra until it ends, turning a sharp left and becoming an unpaved track leading to a gate to a house.

    As you reach the top of the hill, there are some remains of prehistoric hut circles on the hillside, in the direction of the farm to your right.

    The low stone walls remaining as hut circles were once the foundations of a round house built. The granite foundations were likely to have been set into cob (mud and straw) walls which provided insulation and draft exclusion over bare-stone walls. A conical thatched roof on a timber frame rested on top of the walls. Heating was via a central fire which required some care with the thatched roof - presumably roof fires were not unheard of! These buildings varied in size from a just over a metre in diameter up to 10 metres. Some had walled enclosures attached and a few also had internal partitions.

  12. Bear right off the road towards the wall and, keeping the wall on your left, follow it until you reach a raised mound beside the wall at the top of the hill.

    Looking across the barren granite landscape of Bodmin Moor, it may seem strange that so many settlements can be found here from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. About 10,000 years ago, Bodmin Moor was almost entirely covered in forest, and the Neolithic tribes would have lived in forest clearings. During the Bronze Age, the majority of forest was cleared for farmland. The burning and grazing, over several thousand years, has resulted in poor soils which are naturally quite acidic due to the granite rocks. This, together with the exposure to the wind, is why the few trees on the moor today are generally stunted.

  13. Turn right towards the rectangular fenced enclosure in the distance (King Arthurs Hall) and walk to the nearest corner of the fence.

    Several varieties of heather grow in Cornwall and are most easily recognised when they flower from July to September. The one with the most brightly coloured (purple) flowers is known as bell heather due to the bell-shaped flowers. This is usually interspersed with ling or common heather which has much smaller flowers which are usually paler and pinker. A third kind known as cross-leafed heath is less abundant but can be recognised by the pale pink bell-shaped flowers that grow only near the tips of the stems, resembling pink lollipops. A fourth species known as Cornish heath grows only on the Lizard and has elaborate flowers.

  14. Bear right and follow along the fence on your left to reach the stile and gate forming the entrance to King Arthurs Hall.

    King Arthur's Hall is a rectangular enclosure on the downs near Casehill, which are consequently known as King Arthur's Downs. It has been known as King Arthur's Hall since at least Tudor times, and is marked on maps drawn in the early 1600s. Historians are scornful of the King Arthur connotations, but are unsure of its exact purpose. Many think that due to the standing stones, it was a ceremonial site. It has also been suggested that it may have had an altogether more practical purpose - as a cattle compound. Estimates date the structure to around 2000 BC, in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

  15. Facing out from the enclosure entrance, turn right and head (almost back the way you came from) to the right-hand corner of the wall ahead with a fence on top of it.

    Facing out from the enclosure entrance, the complex of buildings directly ahead is Ivey Farm, used for filming Nampara cottage in the BBC's Poldark series. The moorland between here and the cattlegrid into the property is Access Land so you can approach it if you wish to have a closer look before continuing the walk from here, but note that beyond the cattlegrid is private land.

  16. Continue ahead, following along the wall on the left to a waymarked ladder stile.

    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.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a stile in a fence at the end of the wall.

    The walls are built from the pieces of granite removed from the fields to make them easier to cultivate.

    The word granite comes from the Latin granum (a grain), in reference to its coarse-grained structure. Granite forms as a pluton - an intrusive igneous rock, formed from a big blob of magma slowly cooling below the surface of the Earth, resulting in the large crystals. Granite mostly contains slightly acidic chemical compounds, and consequently there is nothing to neutralise acids from plant decay and carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater, resulting in acidic moorland soils.

  18. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge, around the walled enclosure, to a gateway in the corner of the field.
  19. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge to a stone bridge and wooden stile in the right corner.

    The stream you cross is a tributary of the De Lank river.

    The De Lank River springs from Rough Tor Marsh, between the two highest peaks on Bodmin Moor and joins the River Camel near Blisland. It is an important wildlife habitat, noted for diverse and abundant flora and fauna and its surrounding banks, woodlands and marshes have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Together with the River Camel, the De Lank is an important habitat for the otter which is present along the whole length of the river.

    The name is reported as being from a Cornish name which is recorded as Dinlonk. The Cornish word lonk means gully. The name of the riverside settlement Lank is almost certainly related.

  20. Cross the bridge and stile into the overgrown field and continue towards a gap into the next field with a wooden post next to it. Go through the gap and follow the right side of the field uphill to the gateway on the left of the stone barn.
  21. Go through the gateway onto a track and follow it between the buildings, through the gate out of the farm. Continue following the winding track to a gate in a stone wall on the far side of the field.

    The Beast of Bodmin Moor is a phantom wild cat. Bodmin Moor became a centre of sightings of panther-like cats with occasional reports of mutilated slain livestock.

    A resident population of big cats is exceedingly unlikely due to the large numbers necessary to maintain a breeding population, plus climate and food supply issues would make survival in this habitat unlikely. One hypothesis is that alien big cats could have been imported as part of private collections or zoos, and later escaped or been set free. In these circumstances it's likely an escaped big cat would not be reported to the authorities due to the illegality of owning and importing the animals.

    The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food conducted an official investigation in 1995 and found that there was 'no verifiable evidence' of exotic felines loose in Britain, and that the mauled farm animals could have been attacked by common indigenous species. However it was noted 'the investigation could not prove that a "big cat" is not present.'

  22. Go through the gate and continue to follow the track for about 40 metres to a raised ridge on the right. Turn right and follow the ridge in an arc across the field to reach the entrance to Irish Farm with a white gate.

    The ponies on Bodmin Moor are semi-feral: they are all owned by farmers, but allowed to roam free on the moor. Many are not microchipped and look similar to others, so for people other than their owners, it can be difficult to tell to whom they actually belong. During the winter, natural food is scarce so the farmers supplement the ponies' diets; this prevents the ponies wandering off altogether.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the track towards the farm, past a metal gate on the right to a waymarked wooden gate on the right, just before the track reaches the farmhouse.
  24. Go through the waymarked gate and follow the track along the wall on the left to a gate into a field. Go through this and head to a waymarked gateway in the bottom right corner of the field.
  25. Go through the gateway, and bear left down the field to a gateway in the bottom-left corner.
  26. Go through the gateway into a marshy field. Cross the marsh, heading towards the right side of the copse of trees to the left of the barns, to reach a footbridge which is initially hidden behind some patches of gorse and brambles.

    The marshy land provides a habitat for dragonflies and damselflies.

    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.

    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.

  27. Cross the footbridge and a stile and turn right, following the waymarked path to a stile.

    The streams running through the marsh are tributaries of the River Camel.

    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.

  28. Cross the stile into a field and follow the right hedge to a gate towards some buildings, to the left of another gate into an animal enclosure.
  29. Go through the gate towards the buildings onto a track and follow this away from the farm until it ends, via a gate and cattlegrid, on a lane.
  30. Go through the gate on the right of the cattlegrid and cross the lane onto the grassy path opposite. Follow the path, keeping right to meet the wall on the right and continue along the wall to a stone stile.
  31. Cross the stile into a field and follow the right hedge to a gateway.
  32. Go through the gateway and follow the path across the field to a stone stile in the opposite hedge just to the right of the tall trees.
  33. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a stone stile just before a gate
  34. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to another stone stile.
  35. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a kissing gate in the fence.
  36. Go through the gate and head across the field to the waymarked gate in the right corner.
  37. Go through the gate and follow the track ahead until it forks.

    The houses around you lie on the outskirts of St Breward.

    St Breward is on the northwest side of Bodmin moor and the parish covers both Roughtor and Brown Willy. The name of the village is said by some to come from the 6th century Cornish Saint Branwalader. Others say it is from a 13th century bishop of Exeter. Previously the village was called Simonward which, according to legend, was the name of the brewer to King Arthur's household although that might have been concocted in the Old Inn after a few ales.

  38. Keep right at the fork, follow the track back past the church to the lane to complete the walk.

    The Old Inn can be reached by turning left along the lane at the end of the track.

    The Old Inn in St Breward dates back to the 11th Century when it provided shelter for the monks who built the neighbouring church, and claims to be Cornwall's highest Inn. There is an open fire in winter in the 11th Century granite fireplace. The pub was used as the setting for the TV comedy drama, Doc Martin, when the baby was born to the main characters.

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