Tremail to Davidstow

The walk begins in the hamlet of Tremail, following a lane to reach the disused airfield of RAF Davidstow. The route skirts along the edge of the airfield, past the remnants of WWII-era buildings, then follows a tree tunnel to Treworra. The walk crosses fields to reach the hamlet of Trewassa, then heads along tracks, lanes and across fields to reach Davidstow's church and holy well. The route continues down a lane towards Tremail, then cuts down a track back to Treworra before crossing fields to return to Tremail.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111,109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7.0 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: outside Tremail Methodist Chapel
  • Parking: In the lane outside Tremail Methodist Chapel. From the A395, turn down the lane signposted to Tremail, roughly opposite Davidstow Church Satnav: PL329YQ
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots (even in summer)

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Eerie remnants of the World War 2 airfield "RAF Davidstow Moor"
  • Church of St David and its Holy Well
  • Tree-lined "tunnels" along lanes and tracks with wildflowers in spring in early summer

Directions

  1. Starting in the lane outside the chapel, with the chapel on your right, walk a short distance to the junction on the left, opposite a red telephone box. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane for about a mile until it ends at a cattle grid.

    The manor of Tremail was first documented in the Domesday Survey of 1086 when it was held by the Count of Mortain. Before the Norman Conquest it was owned by Aiulf.

  2. Go through the gate on the right of the cattle grid, then continue straight ahead along the track until it ends at a wide paved track forming part of the airfield.

    The large square building used to be the control tower at RAF Davidstow Moor.

    The paved areas on Davidstow Moor that the road runs alongside and form an intriguing pattern on satellite maps are the remains of RAF Davidstow Moor, and the main control tower is still clearly visible. Constructed during World War 2, RAF Davidstow Moor was used as an airbase from late 1942 until December 1945. The air base was used mainly by the Americans and Canadians for training in the run up to D-Day and were visited by General Eisenhower during 1944. However, the frequent moorland mist rendered the base unusable for much of the time which is why it was closed after the war.

    After the airfield closed, it became a motor racing circuit, known as Davidstow Circuit. In the early 1950s, three Formula One races were held there (the Cornwall MRC Formula 1 Races), including the first success for the Lotus marque.

    Today, part of the airfield is still used by the Davidstow Flying Club (on the less misty days), and the Davidstow Airfield and Cornwall At War Museum has been set up to commemorate the work and people of RAF Davidstow Moor.

  3. Turn right and follow along the right edge of the paved track until another paved track branches off to the right, just past a ruined building on the right.

    Before the airfield was built, there was nothing here but moorland.

    Davidstow Moor is the northernmost part of Bodmin Moor, close to Crowdy Reservoir and Roughtor.

  4. Turn right down the branch and follow the track as it bends left into a wide paved area.

    Rough Tor is the second highest peak on Bodmin Moor. It is pronouced "row-tor" because the local dialect word "row" meant "rough". The summit of Rough Tor is encircled by a series of rough Neolithic stone walls which link natural outcrops, to form a tor enclosure. Also on the summit are the foundations of a mediaeval chapel, built into the side of one of the larger cairns.

  5. Continue straight ahead across the paved area towards the sheds in the distance, passing a derelict building on the right, until you reach an intersection where a paved path leads off to the right, passing the building.

    The large industrial building in the distance is Davidstow Creamery.

    The large building with the tall chimney close to the A39 at Davidstow is the cheese factory, more formally known as Davidstow Creamery. Davidstow Creamery is famous for producing both Davidstow Cheddar (using water from Davidstow holy well) and the ironically named Cathedral City cheeses (Davidstow Moor having neither a cathedral nor anything resembling a city).

  6. Turn right down the paved path and follow it straight ahead until it bends sharply left, just past some ruined buildings on the left.

    Swallows nest in the abandoned buildings and can be seen in summer, flying across the airfield.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

  7. Where the track bends away to the left, continue straight ahead, merging onto a short, rough track which leads to a gate in the hedge ahead.

    The woods on the far side of the road, behind you, provide roosts for large flocks of starlings in the winter.

    Nearly three-quarters of the UK starling population has been wiped out in recent times, and starlings are now on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The cause of this decline is a combination of changes to farming practices and grassland management (such as use of pesticides reducing the insect population), and a lack of nesting sites in urban areas.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the track until it forks near a sign for "Belle Tents".

    Mosses reproduce with tiny spores rather than seeds. Many mosses use wind to carry their spores but Spagnum (peat) mosses use compressed air to launch theirs. To get an idea of the acceleration that the spores are launched with, an astronaut in a rocket launch experiences an acceleration g-force of about 3-g and the maximum in a fighter jet is about 9-g. Spagnum moss spores are accelerated at 36,000-g! If that caused you to spill your cider, mosses are also able to absorb around 20 times their own weight in liquid.

  9. Keep left at the fork and follow the track until you reach a waymarked gate on the left, just past a farmhouse on the right but before Treworra Barton.

    The house at Treworra has 17th Century features including mullioned windows but the settlement itself dates from mediaeval times. If was first documented in 1302 and is thought to date from the Dark Ages.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge until you reach a pedestrian gate in a fence.

    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.

  11. Go through the gate and continue ahead downhill, making for a waymarked stile in the far hedge, about 30 metres to the right of the left corner of the field.

    Rabbits were originally from the Iberian peninsula and were brought to Britain by the Normans and kept in captivity as a source of meat and fur. Rabbits are able to survive on virtually any vegetable matter and with relatively few predators, those that escaped multiplied into a sizeable wild population. Given that most farmers' crops met the "virtually any vegetable matter" criterion, in the 1950s, the disease myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to the UK to curb rabbit numbers and they almost became extinct. The few survivors resistant to the disease have since multiplied and the peak population is now estimated at around half the size of the UK human population. Rabbits provide food for foxes, stoats, weasels and birds of prey such as the buzzard.

  12. Cross a wooden stile, a footbridge and a stone stile into the next field. Cross another footbridge, then continue ahead uphill to meet the left hedge and follow along this to reach a stone stile and gate.

    The small stream is one of a few that drain from the marshes of Davidstow Moor. On this side of the road that runs alongside the airfield, the rivers drain into the River Inny. On the other side of the road from the airfield, the catchment area of the River Camel begins.

  13. Cross the stile onto a lane, with a track opposite. Go straight ahead on the track, following it until it ends at a crossroads with a lane.
  14. Go straight ahead, bearing right to follow the track opposite until it bends sharply left into "Lowertown".
  15. Where the track bends left, continue straight ahead through the gate marked with a public footpath sign. Follow the left hedge of the field to reach a stone stile in the corner.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

  16. Cross the stile and bear right slightly away from the left hedge towards the end of the bushes on the left on the bank crossing the field. Cross the stile or go through the gap in the bank and bear right slightly to a wooden stile and footbridge in the bottom hedge.

    The marshy fields here provide a good habitat for insects with aquatic lifecycles such as dragonflies.

    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 footbridge, and a stone stile into the next field. Then bear right across the field to a stile in the hedge opposite, about 20 metres to the left of the gate in the top-right corner.

    The small stream is technically the River Inny, although only about a quarter of a mile downstream of its source.

    The River Inny is a tributary of the Tamar and is approximately 20 miles long, supporting populations of trout, salmon and sea trout as well as otters and kingfishers. The name of the river was recorded in the 1600s as Heanye and may be from the Cornish word enys - for island. Penpont Water is its main tributary and has a status of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Area of Great Scientific Value and Area of Great Historical Value. The source of the Inny is very close to the Davidstow Cheese factory, from a spring in the field opposite Pendragon House.

  18. Cross the stile onto the road (beware of traffic). Carefully cross the road, turn right and follow the road then a pavement until you reach granite steps on the left leading up to the church.
  19. Ascend the steps into the churchyard, then turn right in front of the church and follow the path down to some iron gates.

    The name "Davidstow" (Cornish: Lanndhewi) means "David's Church". The Church is said to have been founded by St. David in the 6th century during a visit to his mother (St. Non or Nonna) in nearby Altarnun. St. Non left her native Wales in about 527 AD, one of many Celtic missionaries who came to Cornwall about that time.

    The church dates from the 13th century. A major restoration was carried out in 15th century; the nave, aisles and tower date from that time. Another major restoration was carried out in 19th century after almost 200 years of dilapidation of the church.

    Charlotte Dymond's grave is located in the churchyard. Her murder in 1844 became perhaps the most infamous historical occurrence on Bodmin Moor. Her lover Matthew Weeks was hung for her murder, but the evidence was sketchy and circumstantial, and many believed the true identity of her killer was never revealed.

  20. Go through the gates and turn right, carefully crossing the road, and continue ahead down the lane. Follow it until you reach a track on the right signposted "Belle Tents" and "Treworra Barton", just after crossing a bridge.

    An optional diversion can be made from here to visit Davidstow Holy Well: after going through the churchyard gates, turn left and follow the signed path for about 100 metres. Return by the same route to continue the walk.

    Davidstow Holy Well lies in a field behind the church and is reached by a permissive footpath. As with the parish church, the Holy Well is dedicated to St David - patron saint of Wales. The well has been restored twice, once in 1871 and once in 1996. The original granite structure is thought to date from the early Mediaeval period. Water from the holy well is pumped away to Davidstow Creamery where it is used to make the "Davidstow" and "Cathedral City" brands of cheese.

  21. Turn right onto the track for Treworra Barton and follow it uphill until it forks, just after passing through a gateway with granite posts.

    "Holy wells" were created because the Christian church was most unhappy with the Celtic people continuing their old Pagan ways and worshipping sacred springs. In the 10th Century, the church issued a cannon (law) to outlaw such practices. This didn't work, so they issued another one in the 11th Century, and again in the 12th Century. Even despite the church going to the lengths of building a chapel over the top of some springs to obliterate them, the people still hung onto their sacred springs. The church finally settled on a compromise and rebranded the springs as (Christian) Holy Wells, so the old practices could continue behind a Christian fa├žade.

  22. Take the left fork to "Treworra Barton", keeping left along the track until you reach the end of the left hedge, just before a barn.
  23. Keep left and walk along the track behind the barn, then turn right and follow the stony path to a gate. Then bear left to the large wooden gate in the fence on the left.
  24. Go through the gate into the field and bear left to follow the path around the perimeter of the field, crossing one stile next to a gate to reach a second stile and gate. Once past the second gate, bear right to the bushes in the bottom-right of the field where there is a waymarked gap in the bottom hedge.
  25. Go through the gap and down the steps, and cross a footbridge and stile into the next field. Follow the left hedge uphill to reach a stone stile in the top-left corner.

    Despite their reputation for being lazy and scavengers, buzzards are formidable predators. Diving on rabbits and small mammals from a slow or hovering flight, or from a perch, they nearly always make the kill on the ground. During their breeding season in spring, buzzards create spectacular aerial displays by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground.

  26. Cross the stile then continue straight ahead across the field to a stile in the hedge opposite.
  27. Cross the stile and walk ahead across the field until you can see a metal gate in the right hedge; make for this.
  28. Go through the gate onto a lane. Turn left and follow the lane to the junction opposite a red telephone box.
  29. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane back to the chapel to complete the walk.

    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).

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
  • Please let us know if there are nice autumn colours on this walk
  • 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 also useful.

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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