Bowithick to Buttern Hill

Bowithick to Buttern Hill

A circular walk over the northern tip of Bodmin Moor to the prehistoric burial chamber at the top of Buttern Hill and source of the River Fowey, returning via farm tracks and country lanes to the tributary streams of the River Inny.

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From Bowithick, the walk follows a track to the base of Buttern Hill, which it ascends to the prehistoric burial chamber on the summit. The route continues down into a valley on the other side of the hill, crossing between the marshes that form the source of the the River Fowey. The walk then turns along the valley side towards Oldpark and follows a series of tracks to reach a winding country lane leading back to Bowithick.


  • The moorland landscape is difficult to navigate solely with directions - use of app's map screen is strongly recommended for this walk.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 4 miles/6.5 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in dry weather / wellies in wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


  • Neolithic cairns and burial chambers on Buttern Hill
  • Pretty hamlet of Bowithick
  • Panoramic views of Bodmin Moor including Davidstow Moor, Rough Tor and Brown Willy


  1. Take the stony track that starts next to the ford and leads towards the hill. Follow it over a bridge, to the remains of a concrete platform on your right.

    The concrete bases are the remains of a 20th century mineral processing mill.

    The conical structures in the old dressing floors are the remains of devices known as "buddles". These were used to separate the ore from the rock (known as gange) in the ore slurry created by the stamping mill. The slurry was trickled onto the centre of the dome and a rotating set of brushes, suspended from wooden spokes, smeared the slurry around the circular structure. The heavy ore fragments would deposit near the central dome whereas unwanted rock fragments would travel further and end up in a pit around the outside.

  2. Pass the concrete platform and after you pass the first gorse bush on the left, bear slightly left off the track through the area with boulders and head for the right-hand end of the raised embankment to reach a makeshift crossing over the stream.

    Between the two species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century). Common gorse flowers are bright yellow. Western gorse flowers are very slightly more orange - more like the colour of the "yolk" in a Cadbury's creme egg. Also like creme eggs, gorse flowers are edible but are significantly better for use in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

    Granite is pretty hard stuff. It ranks at 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. It's harder than normal steel but not quite as hard as hardened steel (which is 7-8). Cutting on granite worktops is therefore not a good idea as knife blades become blunt quickly.

  3. Cross the stream via the stones etc and climb the raised embankment. Follow it until it peters out at a junction of paths.

    The dam is thought to be part of a stream working operation for tungsten.

    Tungsten (also known as Wolfram) is a rare metal which occurs as mineral compounds such as Wolframite (an oxide with iron and manganese). Tungsten is the hardest of all metals and has the highest melting point, imparting these properties when a steel alloy is made containing tungsten. This made it in great demand for arms in the World Wars. It still has many different modern-day uses including cutting tools, electronics, turbine blades and rocket nozzles.

  4. Bear right on the path and continue to a track crossing.

    The gully has been formed by the streamworking. The embankments and eroded areas in the valley are thought to date from several different periods of working. Whilst the more recent working was for tungsten, it's likely that much earlier working would have been for tin.

  5. Bear right onto the grassy path opposite leading between two banks. Follow this to reach the edge of the rocky gully.

    The first method to extract tin was known as "tin streaming" which reached its peak in the 12th Century, though continued until the mid 20th Century.

    Alluvial deposits occurred where a river had eroded the tiny crystals out of mineral veins. Due to tin being so heavy, the crystals had become concentrated on the bottom of the stream as the lighter rocks around them were washed away. Over time these deposits were buried in gravel and sand, and eventually soil.

    Using quite elaborate banks and channels, the river was diverted to wash away the soil and gravel, leaving the heavy tin-rich rocks behind which could be dug out once the river was diverted away.

    One side-effect of all this industry was that the topsoil, sand and gravel washed downriver caused the silting of many river estuaries and once-thriving mediaeval river ports literally dried up and were superseded by sea ports.

    Once the relatively rich alluvial deposits had been used up, mostly by the 18th Century, mineral veins were instead mined directly.

  6. Bear left and follow alongside the gully until you reach a large cuboid boulder near the edge of a deep cleft which drops into the main gully near the top.

    Granite formed as a molten blob of rock beneath the surface, underneath millions of tons of other rock. As the granite cooled, it cracked, mostly vertically due to the pressure from above. Hot water circulated through the cracks, reacting chemically with the rocks and depositing minerals. Over millions of years, the softer rocks above were eroded and the pressure from the weight of the rock above was released, causing horizontal cracking in the granite. The result is cubic blocks where the rough edges have been gradually smoothed by weathering.

  7. Bear left very slightly from the boulder to make your way to the very summit of the hill. As you ascend, a rocky area on the left will come into view - keep this on your left. As you approach the summit, make your way to a circular grassy embankment on the top which contains a burial chamber.

    Dolmens, also known as quoits, are a type of megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone. These were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the burial mound remaining.

  8. From the summit, head down the hill towards the rightmost of the rocky peaks on the skyline (Showery Tor). As you near the valley floor, head to a small upright granite stone. Once you reach this, continue in the line of Showery Tor to reach another small standing stone on the valley floor.

    From the summit of the hill, you can see the peaks of Brown Willy on your left.

    Brown Willy is a tor on the north-west area of Bodmin Moor. The name "Brown Willy" is actually a distortion of the Cornish Bronn Wennili which means "hill of swallows". The summit of Brown Willy is the highest point in Cornwall, at 420m above sea level, but only 20m taller than Rough Tor.

    Behind this, to the right, are the peaks of Roughtor, and Showery Tor on the far right.

  9. Cross the valley floor then bear right slightly up the hill ahead, but to the left of the dip in the skyline where the two hills meet. Once you reach the ridge and can see Showery Tor and the stony peak of Roughtor again, then bear right to some earthworks on the ridge. As you approach these, head to a stone wall damming a small stream.

    The marsh on the left is the source of the River Fowey.

    The name of the River Fowey is from Fowydh, based on the Cornish word for tree, gwydh, and more specifically beech, fawen.

  10. From the stone wall, cross the watercourse and turn right to reach the concrete platform and pass the bank on your left. Follow along the watercourse by keeping the line of reeds on your right until the reeds end. Then locate a copse of trees slightly to the right in the distance behind a grassy field. Continue towards the copse until a metal gate comes into view in front of a field boundary. Head to the gate.

    The 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).

  11. Go through the gateway and follow the fence along the right hedge and around a bend to the right to reach a stile beside a gate.

    The earthworks and a small lake on the left are the remains of the Great Rough Tor Consols mine.

    Great Rough Tor Consols was a tin mine with two shafts worked using a steam engine. A system of flat rods (horizontal wooden beams) were used to transport power from the engine over a distance of a quarter of a mile. The mine turned out not to be that productive and closed in the 1850s.

  12. Go through the gate if open, or cross the stile if not, and continue to follow the grassy track until it ends at a fence.

    One of the reasons that little remains of the mine is that during the late 1850s, materials such as timber and stone were salvaged and sold off to reduce the losses. Recorded in the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser. 21st August, 1857:

    FATAL ACCIDENT - On the 11th instant, Mr. RICHARD PIKE, of Davidstow, was in the act of removing some of the timber from Great Roughtor Consols mine, when the sollar on which he was standing, gave way, and he was instantly precipitated into the shaft. His friends and some men from Bray Down Mine, have used every exertion to recover the body, but the shaft being nearly full of water, they have not yet succeeded. His father was quite close to him at the time of the accident, but could render no assistance.
  13. At the fence, turn left between two wooden gateposts, then turn immediately right and follow the fence on the right to reach a gate.

    Despite the salvage of materials, this didn't turn out to be a good investment for the venture capitalists (known at the time as "adventurers"). A solicitor's letter in 1860 to a Mr Bodenham states that he is instructed on behalf of the Adventurers to apply for arrears of calls, and that unless he pays within the week, proceedings will be taken. Attached was a letter on blue paper from W. Thomas, Purser (mine Accountant), asking for payment "being your proportion of the loss incurred in winding up the Great Rough Tor Consols Mine", and saying he will put the matter with his Solicitor.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the fence on the left. Continue along the grassy track until it reaches another gateway.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) many of which were created 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 was established in 1959 and is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are stretches of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

  15. Go through the gateway and follow parallel to the right hedge until you reach a track ahead leading from a gateway on the right (with a line of granite posts along the track in the field to the right).

    The area of Bodmin Moor designated as an Outstanding Natural Beauty also has an International Dark Sky designation due to an exceptionally high quality night sky. Cornwall Council has committed to protect this as part of its Planning considerations.

    More about the IDA accreditation for Bodmin Moor.

  16. Join the track ahead and follow this until you reach another gate across the track.

    Due to their flocking behaviour, sheep have gained a reputation for not being intelligent but actually this is more about being nervous of being eaten. In a study, their intelligence was found to be on a par with cows: they can recognise human faces, learn a name given to them etc. This may even extend to problem-solving: in Cornwall we've seen them escape into a neighbouring field by operating a kissing gate and in West Yorkshire there are reports of sheep that have worked out that they can cross a cattle grid by rolling on their backs with their feet in the air.

  17. Go through the gate to reach a lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it for a mile to complete the circular route.

    The streams here all feed the Penpont Water (which is technically the first of the two streams that you cross over on the way back). These join a little way downstream and the river passes through Altarnun before joining the River Inny at Two Bridges.

    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.

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