Werrington to Bridgetown

A circular walk through two tributary valleys of the River Tamar in a parish that was borrowed by Devon for 800 years, passing the remains of the wharf at the furthest reaches of the Bude Canal.
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The walk is in a pair of river valleys that feed tributaries of the Tamar. The route follows footpaths across the farmland that was once part of the manor of Werrington. The return route is via Crossgate which has a bridge over the River Tamar into Devon, but we stay safely on Cornish soil and return via Werrington church.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 112 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Werrington Cricket Club
  • Parking: On lane outside Werrington cricket club PL158TP. Follow the B3245 though Yeolmbridge to the crossroads at Ladycross. Turn beside the phone box, signposted to Werrington. Follow the lane until you reach the grassy verges beside the Cricket Club, taking care not to block access.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Pretty countryside in the Tamar Valley
  • Remains of the furthest reaches of the Bude Canal

Directions

  1. Facing the entrance to the cricket ground, turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach a sharp bend with some tracks on the right and a public footpath sign beside a gate on the left.

    Werrington Park dates back over 1000 years to Saxon times and in the Domesday Book, shortly after the Norman Conquest, a manor was recorded here. Most of the present house dates from Elizabethan times, built by the nephew of Sir Frances Drake, also called Frances Drake, in 1641. In 1704, the house was modified slightly to add the present front and little has been altered since. In 1976, it was damaged by fire but this was mainly confined to the roof.

  2. Bear left off the road and go through the gate beside the footpath sign. Continue ahead across the field towards the bottom corner of the cricket pitch. Head to the left of the two gates - the waymarked one in front of a large dead tree.

    At the bend in the road, Werrington church is a few metres down the track next to the one going to the gatehouse.

    Werrington church originally stood within Werrington Park next to the Manor. When the manor was owned by William Morice, much to the anger of the parishioners, he had the church pulled down so that he could extend his bowling green! The replacement church was completed in 1743 just outside the park. The design is unusual in that the main tower is flanked by two smaller replica towers each made of solid stone. The font was rescued from the original church and is thought to date to Norman times.

  3. Go through the gate and cross the field to the gateway opposite.

    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.

  4. Go through the gate and cross the field to the gate opposite.

    Werrington is an example of a Saxon place name.

    The Saxons had a stronghold in northeastern Cornwall, which is reflected in many of the place names (-stow, -bury, -ton, -worthy, -cott, -ham, -ford etc). As you move further west, the Celtic place names (Tre-, Pen-, Lan-) become more common.

  5. Go through the gate and cross the field towards the house to reach a stile in the fence opposite.

    During Saxon times, the River Tamar was used as the border between Devon and Cornwall. After the Norman Conquest, a new border was drawn up between the two counties using the River Ottery as the dividing line near Launceston. The result was that the parishes of North Petherwin and Werrington were lost into Devon and remained there for nearly 900 years until 1966 when the border was altered to once again be along the River Tamar.

  6. Cross the stile, the footbridge and the stile on the other side. Head up the field to a wooden gate immediately to the right of the cottage but to the left of the gateway in the right hedge.

    The Latin name of the buttercup, Ranunculus, means "little frog" and said to be because the plants like wet conditions. It is thought it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived near marshes!

    The plant produces a toxin called protoanemonin, which is at its highest concentration when flowering. It is thought that buttercups may be partly responsible for Equine Grass Sickness. A man in France who drank a glass of juice made from buttercups suffered severe colic after four hours and was dead the next day! Fortunately the toxin is quite unstable and drying of the plant in haymaking leads to polymerisation into non-toxic anemonin.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the short track alongside the cottage to the lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it a few paces to a public footpath signpost on the left. Turn left down the track and follow this to a gate.

    Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?

    If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.

    If the gate is ajar but not latched then it's possible that the gate was left open a by previous group of walkers. Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving a small child from being run over by a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.

  8. Go through the gate and cross the field towards the large house to reach a waymark at the end of the short wire fence.

    The large house on the opposite side of the valley is called Polapit Tamar and was built in 1866 by a local landowning family. It was further extended in the early 1900s to add a ballroom, reportedly for the 21st birthday of the owner's daughter. The ballroom includes some ornately carved chimney pieces, one of which depicts a view of Launceston.

  9. Walk between the two posts and bear right to a waymarked gateway in the right fence.
  10. Go through the gate and bear left to the footbridge at the bottom of the field.

    The river crossed by the footbridge is the Tala Water.

    The Tala Water is a tributary of the River Tamar and runs for around five and half miles. Its catchment area includes the settlements named Beer and Curry.

  11. Cross the footbridge and continue ahead across the marsh beneath the tree and cross the footbridge into the field on the right. In the event that the marsh is impassable, the fields are also joined by a gate further up the hedge, which should be left exactly as found. Once in the field on the right, head for the farm gate between the buildings.
  12. Go through the gate into the yard and follow the track between the buildings. Join the gravel track and follow this away from the farm to reach a lane.

    The Bude canal ran along the bottom of the valley ahead.

    Bude Canal runs from Helebridge, through the centre of Bude, to the sea lock near Summerleaze beach. The canal was built in the 1820s to carry sea sand and lime inland for use as fertiliser and the original canal system spanned 35 miles reaching Launceston. The canal closed in 1901 when competition from the railway, bringing cheap manufactured fertilisers, rendered it uneconomical. Today, roughly 2 miles of canal remain filled with water.

  13. Continue ahead to join the lane and follow this to a junction.

    The Bude canal was situated in the line of trees just on the other side of the buildings ahead. A few hundred metres up the road to the left is a bridge over the road which carried the canal.

    To deal with the rising land and poor supply of water, the Bude canal included "inclined planes" (hills in a canal!) which were cheaper to construct, saved water and were quicker to use than a flight of locks.

    The 20ft long canal boats had wheels, and the boats laden with 20 tons of cargo were hauled uphill on rails. Power was provided by waterwheels or, in one instance, a very large bucket of water which acted as a counterweight as it was lowered down a shaft.

    The Barge Workshop at Helebridge - a small museum, opened on Sundays during the summer by volunteers - houses the only known example of a Bude Canal tub boat. Despite being at the bottom of the canal until 1976, this is substantially complete, including its wheels.

    Ahead of the bridge, the Werrington Inclined Plane raised the canal by just over 50 feet along a 295 foot incline. It was powered by a large waterwheel and the cottage beside the bridge was the keeper's residence.

  14. Keep right at the junction and follow the lane past the farm, over a bridge and up a hill to reach another junction.

    The road bridge over the Tala Water is from the 19th Century, built after 1835 when floodwaters carried away the bridges along what is normally a tiny river. A short distance downriver, where the line of trees passes over it, there is a single arch aquaduct which carried the Bude Canal and a towpath for horses to pull the barges. This was also demolished by the 1835 flood and subsequently rebuilt.

  15. Continue ahead on the lane, signposted for Launceston, and follow it until you reach the cottages at Crossgate, where several tracks meet the lane.

    The large river on the left-hand side of the lane is the Tamar.

    The name Tamar is documented in the second century and likely to be substantially older. It is thought it might share a common origin with the River Thames and both might stem from an ancient Celtic word meaning "dark". The source of the river is within 4 miles of the North Cornish Coast and the river flows 61 miles south across the peninsula forming the majority of the historic border with Devon. Work is being done by the Environment Agency to improve the water quality of the Tamar and its tributaries by reducing the amount of run-off of phosphate fertilisers into the rivers.

  16. Turn right before The Old Barn and follow the gravel track towards the white cottage (Wharf Cottage) at the end. As you approach the cottage, keep left to reach a small path.

    The lane to the left as you enter Crossgate crosses the Tamar via Druxton Bridge.

    Druxton Bridge, over the River Tamar, is thought to date from the 16th Century, when three of the four spans were constructed. The last one was added more recently. When it was built, the bridge would have been within the county of Devon but since 1966 it forms part of the county border.

  17. Bear left up the path to the left of the cottage and follow this to a stile into a field.

    As the name of the cottage indicates, Druxton Wharf - the inland terminus of the Bude Canal - was located here. The cottage predates the canal and is thought to have been first built in the 17th or possible early 18th Century. From 1823, the cottage was the residence of the wharfinger (wharf keeper).

  18. Cross the stile and follow along the left hedge to reach a waymark, then bear left beneath the trees to reach a stile in the corner of the field.

    The wharf was located in the meadow below the cottage, which contained a large canal basin. Remains of some of the other canal buildings are along the track leading into the meadow.

  19. Cross the stile and the one opposite and follow the right hedge to reach a stile in the far hedge.

    The hedges are planted with blackthorn and may have sloes in Autumn and early Winter.

    In Autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. The sloe gin produced from sloes in September and October seems just as good but possibly requires a little more sugar to compensate.

  20. Cross the stile and cross the field to the gate to the right of the double gates, marked with a wooden post with a yellow top.

    The farmland in this area is located on the Culm Measures, resulting in acidic clay soils. The Bude Canal was used to transport lime-rich beach sand 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.

  21. Go through the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow it to a sharp bend where there is a stile on the left.
  22. Cross the stile on the left and another into the field. Follow the left hedge to reach a gate in the far hedge.

    For such a widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly inefficient at reproducing naturally. It can take 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns and even then, the overwhelming majority of the acorns it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot on the ground. Squirrels play an important part by burying acorns and occasionally forgetting a few, which have a much better chance of growing than on the surface.

    The older an oak tree becomes, the more acorns it produces. A 70-80 year old tree can produce thousands. As well as for squirrels, acorns are a really important food for deer and make up a quarter of their diet in the autumn. Acorns are high in carbohydrates and were also eaten by people in times of famine. Acorns were soaked in water to leech out the bitter tannins and could then be made into flour.

    Oak was often associated with the gods of thunder as it was often split by lightning, probably because oaks are often the tallest tree in the area. Oak was also the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid-summer sacrifice.

    Wood from the oak has a lower density than water (so it floats) but has a great strength and hardness, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. This made it perfect for shipbuilding, and barrels made from oak released preservative tannins into their contents.

    The high levels of tannins make large amounts of oak leaves and acorns poisonous to cattle, horses, sheep, and even goats, but not to pigs as wild boar were adapted to foraging in the oak forests.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a gate in the far hedge onto a lane. Take care of the barbed wire as you go through the gate onto the lane.

    Barbed wire was first used in Victorian times with several different people independently inventing and patenting different designs. Modern barbed wire is made from steel which is then galvanised to prevent it rusting (at least until the zinc coating dissolves away). The barbed wire used for fencing is often made of high-tensile (springy) steel which is suited to being laid in long, continuous lengths. As it is forbidden by the Highways Act of 1980 for barbed wire to block a Public Right of Way, one practical solution used by farmers is to put a plastic sheath over the barbed wire where it passes over a stile. In the rare circumstance that you encounter exposed barbed wire on a stile, the most likely cause for this is mischievous cattle pulling off the plastic sheaths; let the Countryside Team know and they can alert the landowner.

  24. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow it back to the start of the walk to complete the circular route.

    The north exterior wall of Werrington Church includes a gravestone of Philip Scipio, buried on 10th September 1784 and described in the church register as "A black servant to Lady Lucy Morice", who had the stone erected. Philip Scipio was brought to England from St Helena by the Duke of Wharton and is believed to have been only eighteen years old when he died. The stone was found at Ham Mill Farm in the nineteenth century and the final lines of the epitaph are missing, perhaps because it had been cut to fit into a space as a paving stone.

    Deposited Here
    Are the Remains of Philip Scipio
    Servant to the Duke of Wharton
    Afterwards to Sir William Morice
    An African
    Whose Quality might have done Honour
    To any Nation or Climate
    And Give Us to See
    That Virtue is Confined
    To no Country or Complexion
    Here Weep
    Uncorrupted Fidelity
    And Plain Honesty
    In pious regard to which virtue's approv'd
    By a brother and husband...

    It is particularly unusual for this period in that it challenges racial stereotyping.

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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