St Columb Major to St Mawgan

The walk passes the church of St Columb Major, rebuilt in 1676 after being blown up with gunpowder by mischievous youths. The walk follows footpaths and lanes along the edge of Vale of Lanherne to the hamlet of Lanvean. The route then descends into the valley and crosses the River Menalhyl to St Mawgan where the sanctuary light has been burning for hundreds of years in 800-year-old cloistered convent. The return route follows a path alongside the river through the broadleaf woodland of the Carnanton Estate on whose land a hoard of silver coins dating back to Elizabethan times and a huge Roman ingot of tin were found. A small lane leads back into the winding streets of St Columb Major.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 7.3 miles/11.7 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: St Columb car park
  • Parking: Car park on Trekenning Road. From the A39 roundabout, take the A3059 towards Newquay and then turn right, signposted for free parking 550 yds. The car park is on the right, just past South Park. Satnav: TR96RR
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or shoes in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Mediaeval market town of St Columb Major with many historic buildings
  • Meadows rich in wildflowers and wildlife along the Vale of Lanherne
  • Tranquil riverside village of St Mawgan with a mediaeval church and convent
  • Pretty broadleaf woodland along the River Menalhyl
  • Ancient sport of Cornish Hurling played in St Columb

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Exit the car park onto Trekenning Road and turn right. Follow the road until it ends in a T-junction.

    The two parishes of "St Columb" are so named because their churches are both dedicated to St. Columba - a local saint with a holy well at Ruthvoes. It is not known exactly who St. Columba was, but it is known she was not Columba of Iona, who is (mistakenly) depicted in a modern west window in St Columb Major church.

    The place name, Sancta Columba, is first recorded in the 13th century. To distinguish the 2 settlements, they are now prefixed with "Major" and "Minor". Previously these were known as Higher and Lower St Columb, with "St Columb" often used to refer to St Columb Major.

  2. At the end of the lane, turn right then immediately left onto Fair Street and follow this past the Bank and the church until it ends at a T-junction just past the War Memorial.

    As with many Cornish churches, the parish church of St Columb Major is likely to be an ancient pagan site where Celtic missionaries would have later erected the first Christian place of worship, most probably a wooden building which would have been replaced a number of times.

    In about 1100 A.D., a Norman stone church was built. Part of the original Norman foundations can still be seen at the base of the pillars.

    For most of the Middle Ages, the church belonged to the Arundells of Lanherne and was lavishly endowed. The 80ft tower is a fine example of a fifteenth-century building, consisting of four stages with battlements and pinnacles. It contains eight bells which were re-hung in 1950.

    In the year 1676, the greatest part of the church was blown up with gunpowder by three youths of the town, and subsequently rebuilt.

    A college for six priests, that stood adjacent to the church, survived this incident but only 15 years later was destroyed by a (this time accidental) fire.

  3. At the junction, turn left past the Ring O' Bells and follow the lane until it forks.

    The legend of St. Columba is preserved in a manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge. This states that she was the daughter of an Irish King, and that, in order to escape marriage with a pagan prince, she took a ship to Cornwall. She arrived at Trevelgue head but unluckily, she had been followed by the Prince. He chased her through the forest (which is now Porth beach). The princess fled up the valley, past Rialton and Treloy until she was captured at Ruthvose. The Prince cut off her head and where blood fell, a spring gushed forth and the water following the course of her flight, formed the river that runs across the beach.

  4. At the fork, turn left and follow the road downhill over a bridge to a driveway on the left, just past the postbox on the end of the bridge.

    The river passing beneath the bridge is the Menalhyl, and the tall building on the right just before the bridge was a watermill known as "Town Mills". The wooden protrusion was a hoist for unloading sacks of flour.

    The River Menalhyl, which meets the sea at Mawgan Porth, is about 12 miles long and had a number of mills along its length. The name of the river comes from the Cornish words melyn, meaning mill, and heyl, meaning estuary.

  5. Turn left down the driveway and follow it until the path forks.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  6. Keep right at the fork, continuing straight ahead along the wooded path until you reach a gate.

    Ivy is well-known for being able to climb up almost anything but is not a parasite and is rarely a threat to healthy trees. Extracts from the plant were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of modern-day cough medicines.

  7. Cross the stile next to the gate and continue until you reach a fork in the path in front of the remains of a building.

    Blackbirds are one of the most common birds in the UK with a population of somewhere between 10 and 15 million. However, blackbirds were in steady decline from the 1970s through to the mid-1990s. The population has only relatively recently recovered.

    The reference in the nursery rhyme "sing a song a sixpence" to "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" is thought to be to the 16th Century amusement (though not for the blackbirds) of producing a large pie with a chamber for live birds which would fly out when the pie was cut open.

    Baby blackbirds usually leave the nest before they can actually fly then hop and scramble through the bushes. Their parents watch over them so don't attempt to rescue them.

  8. Bear right at the fork, to meet the fence on the right and continue to reach a footbridge.

    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 can't avoid it: 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.
  9. Cross the footbridge and stile and bear right slightly across the field to a waymarked opening in the far hedge where there is a stone stile.

    This stretch of the Menalhyl valley runs approximately east to west towards the coast. Notice how the trees on the hill on the right increase in size from southwest (ahead) to northeast as the neighbouring trees provide increasing amounts of shelter from the prevailing wind. Based on the prevailing winds being southwesterly, you can use the shape of exposed trees as a compass.

  10. Cross the stile and stream and bear right slightly to a waymarked opening beneath a tree.
  11. Cross the footbridge and follow the hedge on the right until you reach a waymarked opening about two-thirds of the way along the hedge, just after a wooded area.
  12. Climb the stile into the field above and turn left. Follow the left hedge to a waymarked stile near the corner of the field.

    The top of the stile into the field above is formed from an old stone roller. Rollers were used to flatten the loose soil created by ploughing and harrowing.

  13. Cross the stile and bear right very slightly across the field to join the higher of the two tracks, leading to a wooden gate in front of a barn.

    The farm here is called Trenowth which is from the Cornish for "new farm". Since the name is in Cornish, it implies it was "new" a very long time ago - probably in the early mediaeval period. The first record of it is from 1294 as Trenewith.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the track past the barn and into a field. Follow the left hedge to a gate ahead in the far corner.

    The farmland here provides a habitat for birds in the crow family, including jackdaws.

    Birds of the crow family are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals, displaying a high learning ability and are able to use logic for solving problems. Researchers have found some crow species capable of not only tool use but also tool construction. Crows have also demonstrated the ability to distinguish individual humans apart by recognizing facial features. Ravens are considered the most intelligent species, outperforming chimpanzees in some tests.

  15. Go through the gate ahead and follow the left hedge to an opening at the far corner of the field with a pair of gates.
  16. Cross the stile to the left of the gates and turn right then follow the right hedge to reach a stone stile in the corner of the far hedge.

    If you see low-flying aeroplanes, these are likely to be from RAF St Mawgan (aka Newquay Airport) on the top of the hill on your left.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge past a pair of gates to another wooden gate in the right fence which is waymarked.

    The large house and surrounding grounds on the opposite side of the valley are part of the Carnanton Estate.

    The Carnanton Estate covers an area upriver of St Mawgan in the Vale of Lanherne. Carnanton Estate includes the ancient Nanskeval House which is recorded in 1277 as Nanscuvel. It is thought that the surname of Nankivell and its variants derives from here. Nans means "valley" in Cornish. It has been proposed that Kivell may derive from an extinct Celtic word for "horse" (as there is a similar word in Welsh, though margh is the Cornish word for horse). Alternatively, the Cornish word kevelek for Woodcock has been suggested, which would be highly compatible with the wooded river valley in which pheasants thrive today. It's also possible that Cuval or Kevall was simply someone's name.

    In Victorian times, Nanskeval House was the home of Edward Brydges Willyams, Liberal MP and High Sherriff of Cornwall, who was a keen supporter of Cornish Hurling. The Estate is still owned by descendants of the same family.

  18. Go through the gate into the field above and turn left. Cross the field to a pedestrian gate about 20m from the bottom-left corner of the field.

    As you go through the gate into the field above notice that the gatepost on the left has lichen only on one side. This is another compass: at our latitude the sun comes mostly from the south. Lichens like damp conditions, so the lichen grows only on the northern side of the post where it's in the shade and doesn't get fried by the sunshine.

  19. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a wooden gate in the far hedge.

    Lichens are a partnership of two different organisms: a fungus providing the "accommodation" and an alga or cyanobacterium providing the "food" through photosynthesis. The fungal partner provides a cosy, sheltered environment for the alga and tends it with mineral nutrients. However, the alga partner is more than simply an imprisoned food-slave: it is such a closely-evolved alliance that the fungus is dependant on the alga for its shape and structure. If the fungal partner is isolated and grown on an agar plate, it forms a shapeless, infertile blob.

  20. Go through the gate and turn right onto the concrete track. Follow it uphill until it ends on a lane.

    Both navelwort's latin name and common name are based on its resemblance to a belly button. Other common names include wall pennywort and penny pies. It is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. The succulent leaves can be eaten and used in a salad. Older leaves become more bitter so the younger leaves are recommended. Care should be taken not to pull roots out of wall when breaking off leaves.

  21. Turn left onto the lane and follow it for just over a mile until you reach Trevenna Cross.

    There are nice views over St Mawgan Church through some of the gateways on the left side of the lane.

    The church in St Mawgan dates from the 13th Century and was enlarged in the 15th Century, which included raising the tower to 70ft in height. It is dedicated to the Celtic saint Mauganus who crops up elsewhere in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. By the top of the steps near the porch is a mediaeval cross in the shape of a lantern which dates from 1420.

  22. Turn left and follow the lane until you reach a small settlement and see a track on your left between two wooden fences.

    The settlement on this side of the river is known as Lanvean.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the river to St Mawgan is known as Lanvean. The name Lanvean may refer to a former chapel: Lan typically refers to a churchyard and Vean means "small" in Cornish and survived for a long time in the local dialect, even when English replaced Cornish as the spoken language (e.g. "E'm only a vean child").

  23. Turn left and follow the track to the river crossing.

    The settlement now known as St Mawgan, is first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086. The village was then known as Lanherne, and the river valley is still known as "The Vale of Lanherne". The Lan part probably refers to the church; no-one is quite sure of the origin of the herne part. After the Norman Conquest, the village was "rebranded", being recorded as Villa Sancti Malgani in 1206, which evolved into the modern day St Mawgan.

  24. Cross the river and continue ahead until you reach a lane into a car park, just past the Post Office.

    From here it's a short diversion (or potentially long...) to the Falcon Inn.

    The Falcon Inn in St Mawgan dates back to, at least, the 16th Century. In 1780, the pub was known as the Gardeners Arms and was later renamed The Falcon due to its association with the Willyams family of the Carnanton estate whose coat of arms features a falcon.

    Records of an Inn in the village have been found as far back as 1758, and in 1779 there were records of a pub called "The New Inn". It is known that from the 14th century, the village had a number of breweries and cider houses which is presumably why it was seen as a "New Inn" in the 16th Century.

  25. Turn left past the Post Office and follow the lane into the car park to reach a path on the right leading between the cottages.

    St Mawgan School are participating in the Great British Elm Experiment.

    The first epidemic of Dutch elm disease occurred in the 1940s but a more agressive form swept across Britain in the 1970s and wiped out over 25 million elms. However, a small number of trees survived. Cuttings taken from mature trees that appear to have resisted Dutch elm disease for over 60 years have been skillfully micro propagated. The resulting saplings are being distributed to schools, community groups, local authorities and private landowners who have signed up to take part in The Great British Elm Experiment. It is hoped that a significant proportion of these trees will prove resistant to the disease and further cuttings can then be taken to begin re-establishing the elms that were for so long an iconic feature of Britain's landscape.

  26. Turn right onto the path and follow it a short distance between the cottages to a gate.
  27. Go through the gate and continue ahead to a junction of paths. Bear left into the woods and follow the path for about three quarters of a mile until it eventually forks. At the fork, bear left and follow the track alongside the river until you reach a crude bridge on your left with a "No Entry" sign on the tree behind.
  28. From the bridge, continue follow the track until you reach a fork with a wooden footbridge visible on the left.

    In the grassy area to the right of the footbridge is the remains of Lawry's Mill.

    Lawry's Mill is located alongside the River Menalhyl between St Mawgan and St Column Major. Lawry's Mill was recorded as a tucking mill in 1809 but may date back further, to before 1659 when unspecified mills were recorded to exist along the river. The building is now derelict though appears to have been patched up with concrete blocks and corrugated iron during the 20th century. A pair of long leats were diverted from the river several hundred metres upstream, and ran down the side of the valley to power the mill. These are visible as gullies (no longer filled with water) below the footpath leading up the valley.

  29. Keep right at the fork to follow the track uphill slightly. Continue until you reach a junction where a path joins from below.

    The are several hamlets and villages throughout Cornwall named "Tuckingmill". Tucking was the Cornish term for fulling - the process of cleansing woollen cloth to eliminate oils and dirt, and matting the fibres to make it thicker. In these mills, the process was automated with wooden hammers driven by a waterwheel. The technology originated in the Islamic world, came to Europe via the Moors in Spain and was introduced to Britain by the Normans. After fulling, the cloth would be dyed using natural colourants and then stretched out to dry on tenterhooks.

  30. Where the path joins from below, continue ahead until the path ends at a T-junction onto a larger path.

    Many of the trees in the woodland are Beech and the nut casings often cover the path.

    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 described as being similar to a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture. Older leaves are a bit chewy, as you'd expect.

  31. When you reach the junction, turn left and continue a short distance to meet a track at a public footpath sign. Turn left in the direction indicated (in microscopic writing) to St Columb Major and follow the track until it forks in front of a gate and stile.

    A large find of silver coins was made on the Carnanton estate which was recorded in the New Monthly Magazine of Sep 1821:

    A short time since some persons employed in a field belonging to James WILLYAMS, esq. of Carnanton, cleared the head of a spring for the convenience of drinking, and threw up the gravel on the sides. A heavy shower falling soon after, a broken pitcher and some pieces of silver were discovered by a boy who went to the well to drink; a search immediately took place, and several hundred silver coins of Elizabeth, James I., Charles I., and a crown and half-a-crown pieces of Charles II. were found.
  32. Cross the stile on the left of the gate (or go through the gate if open) and follow the track along the right hedge to another gate and stile.

    The estate rears pheasants which can often be seen in the fields here.

    The pheasant is named after the Ancient town of Phasis (now in West Georgia) and the birds were naturalised in the UK by the 10th Century with introductions both from the Romano-British and the Normans. However, by the 17th Century they had become extinct in most of the British Isles.

    In the 1830s, the pheasant was rediscovered as a gamebird and since then it has been reared extensively for shooting. The pheasant has a life expectancy of less than a year in the wild and it is only common because around 30 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates.

  33. Cross the stile and bear left onto the track. Follow it until it ends at a gate and stile before a lane.

    In 1819, an ingot of tin weighing nearly 18kg was found at Nanskeval Farm, buried nearly a metre below the surface in swampy ground. It was cast in Roman times, probably using an open granite mould, and is stamped with the head of a soldier wearing a Roman helmet. It is now in the Truro Museum.

  34. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open). Follow the lane until it ends at a T-junction at a Victoria Lane sign.

    St Column Major was a market town in the Middle Ages: in 1333, Edward III granted a market here to Sir John Arundell of Lanherne.

  35. Turn left then keep right to stay on the lane and follow it a short distance until it ends in a T-junction with Fore St. Turn right on Fore Street to return to the Car Park.

    Twice a year on Shrove Tuesday and the Saturday eleven days later, the mediaeval game of "hurling" is played in St Columb Major. The game vaguely resembles rugby though there are no written rules or even a referee. The town is divided into two teams of several hundred people (known as "townsmen" and "countrymen") and the objective is to carry a silver ball to the opposing team's goal. The goals are situated 2 miles apart and the "pitch" is the 25 square miles of the parish; the largest of any game in the world (and appears in the Guiness Records). Although the game takes place mainly on the streets of the town, it sometimes ventures into private gardens, through houses and into pubs. The game can stop at any time so members of the watching crowd can handle the ball which is said to bring good health and fertility.

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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