Calstock circular walk


A walk at Calstock where a Victorian mineral railway from Kelly Bray once ran down to the quayside and the viaduct was built in the 1900s to connect this to Plymouth, creating today's Tamar Valley Line.

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The walk begins along the River Tamar via Lower Kelly to reach the Danescombe valley and then climbs to Calstock Church. From here, the route joins the Tamar Discovery Trail, passing Okel Tor mine on its way back to Calstock.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/6.0 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer; walking boots in winter.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 108 OS Explorer 108 (laminated version)

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


  • Historic engine houses, quays and limekilns
  • Views along the River Tamar
  • Wildflowers including bluebells and orchids

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Boot Inn
  • The Tamar Inn

Adjoining walks


  1. In the car park, make your way towards the river to locate the walkway with wooden railings leading around the village hall. Follow the walkway to merge onto the riverside path. Continue to the ferry pontoon.

    In tidal rivers, the discharge of freshwater and friction with the riverbed effectively "holds back" the rising tide. The further up the tidal region of the river, the shorter the interval between low and high tide and the faster the rising tide comes in when it eventually does.

  2. From the ferry pontoon, go down the steps to the road and turn left. Follow the road a short distance past the pub until it ends in a junction.

    The first record of Calstock is in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it had 30 villagers and 30 small farms and encompassed 100 acres of woodland as well as pasture land. The name is Old English (stoc means "dwelling" or "place"), reflecting the Saxon influence stretching into this area of Cornwall before Norman times. The place name expert Craig Weatherhill suggests the original meaning may be along the lines of "outlying farm near a bare hill".

  3. Turn left at the junction and follow Commercial Road a short distance to pass a junction on the left leading downhill and reach Lower Kelly immediately after this on the left.

    The land on the opposite side of the river is Devon which according to Cornish folklore is where the Devil lives. This is apparently not due to Devon's cream tea heresy but due to the Devil's fear of being used as meat to fill pasties in Cornwall!

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onward, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no veg, just meat (venison), port wine and spices. The first "Cornish pasty" recipe is from 1861 which contained just beef and no veg.

    Even during Victorian times, main meat available to poor people would have been pork. The Cornish dialect word for a pork flatbread eaten in the mines during the 18th and 19th Centuries is hogen (pronounced "hugg-un") which evolved into "oggy" - the dialect word for pasty. The really poor had a "tiddy oggy" (with no meat at all).

    The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect from its more formal name of "Swedish turnip") seasoned with salt and pepper. It's thought that this probably dates from the late 18th Century (when the Poldark novels were set) when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor but the first documented "traditional" recipe is not until 1929. Over 120 million Cornish pasties are now consumed each year.

  4. Pass the block-paved driveway leading to the river and turn left onto the tarmacked Lower Kelly Road. Follow the road until you reach Danescombe Valley House at the far end and continue a few paces to where the tarmac ends at a fork.

    The bridge over Lower Kelly once carried the railway incline leading to Danescombe Quay, built in 1859. It consisted of a 1 in 6 gradient leading to the top of the valley. Wagons were lowered on a rope and raised with the help of a steam engine at the top.

  5. Keep right at the fork and follow the lane uphill marked with a Public Footpath sign. Continue until you reach a path on the right immediately after a telegraph pole with one yellow and two white-and-green waymark arrows opposite a parking area on the left.

    Danescombe House was built in 1856 by the local landowner - Lord Ashburton - and within four years had been renamed the Ashburton Hotel which sought "to remedy Calstock's complete lack of amenities for entertaining visitors". It was soon advertising "water boiled and tea made for parties" and there are stories of visitors coming up the Tamar from Plymouth by paddle steamer for strawberry teas and dancing on the lawn. It was briefly owned by the National Trust who restored the veranda in the 1970s, sold again and then run as a private hotel until the late 1990s.

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  7. Turn right up the path opposite the passing area. Follow the path to pass beneath a footbridge and emerge onto another path.

    Buddleia are originally from northwest China and Japan where they grow in forest clearings, on riverbanks and on limestone outcrops where they are able to survive with minimal nutrients. They were introduced into the UK as an ornamental plant in the late 19th Century and can found in many gardens. Some have escaped and established a niche on industrial land which resembles their native limestone outcrops.

    The shrub is commonly known as the Butterfly Bush as the flowers are profuse, rich in nectar and are in the shape of champagne flutes; butterflies and bees have sufficiently long drinking apparatus to reach the bottom.

    The plant has two types of leaf; the broad green leaves are replaced with shorter hairy grey leaves during the winter which are more resistant to frost and the drying effect of cold winds.

    Squirrels are rodents, closely related to chipmunks and slightly more distantly to dormice. The word "squirrel" originates from an ancient Greek word meaning "shadow-tailed", referring to the bushy tail of a squirrel. A family group of squirrels is known as a "drey" (also the word for a squirrel nest). A group of unrelated squirrels is known as a "scurry", though squirrels tend not to hang out in groups.

  8. As you emerge from beneath the bridge, turn left onto the path and follow this uphill to merge onto a track. Follow the track beneath a bridge and continue until you reach a public footpath sign pointing towards you, opposite a small path on the right.

    A railway opened in 1872 to bring minerals from more mines in the area to the Calstock incline leading to the quay. The new railway ran for just over 7 miles to Kelly Bray. At the time, there was no main line nearby so the line was not connected to any other. It wasn't until the early 20th Century that the new railway in Plymouth allowed the Calstock railway to be connected, and much of the trackbed of the East Cornwall Mineral Railway was re-used for the Tamar Valley line.

  9. At the footpath sign, turn right onto the small path and follow this over a wooden bridge to reach a waymark.

    The bridge crossed an inclined plane of the original East Cornwall Mineral Railway that was abandoned in 1908 when the rest of the mineral railway was re-purposed as part of the Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway.

  10. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path beneath the trees to emerge onto a lane at the far end of the path.

    Rhododendron is a member of the Ericaceae family to which heathers also belong and like its cousins, it is tolerant of acid soils. The word rhododendron is from the Ancient Greek for "rose tree" due to their spectacular flowers. As a result of these, rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the common rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age. Being a vigorous plant, common rhododendron was often used as a root stock onto which more fragile but exotically-coloured hybrids were grafted.

  11. Turn left onto the road and carefully follow it uphill a short distance to a junction.

    Cotehele and Calstock lie within the Tamar Valley AONB.

    The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a similar conservation status to a National Park. It encompasses an area of 75 square miles around the rivers Tamar, Tavy and Lynher, partly in Cornwall and partly in Devon. This also includes an area of Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape World Heritage Site, 41 county wildlife sites and over 1700 hectares of woodland. It was first suggested in 1963 that the Tamar valley area should be designated but this was only eventually granted in 1995.

  12. Turn right at the junction, signposted Parish Church, and follow the lane to the gate into the churchyard.

    In 2006-7 a team from Exeter University were doing surveys to investigate mediaeval silver mines when they accidentally discovered a Roman Fort. This is only the third one found in Cornwall and is the largest. It is thought to have been in use from the 1st Century AD. It was enclosed by two ramparts and ditches and finds have included remnants of furnace-lining, ore and slag which indicate metalworking was taking place. For a long time there was a suspicion that there might have been a Roman military interest in Cornwall's mineral resources and this is some of the first evidence that supports this.

  13. If you don't have a dog, go through the churchyard gate and keep right along the path to pass the church door and reach an iron gate leading out of the churchyard. With a dog, turn left at the junction to reach the next direction at the far end of the churchyard.

    Calstock church was consecrated in 1290, is dedicated to St Andrew and is under the Patronage of The Duke of Cornwall. The current building dates from the 15th Century and includes a mediaeval wall painting which was rediscovered during a Victorian restoration. The porch includes a built-in fireplace, the purpose of which is not definitely known but it is thought that this was believed to keep disease out of the church, along the lines of "keep warm or you'll catch a cold".

  14. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until it you reach a level crossing.

    The Vikings used crushed conkers to make soap as they contain saponins. As fresh conkers dry out, the saponins are released and scientists have found these repel moths. However no evidence has been found that they repel spiders despite many people believing this to be the case.

  15. Carefully cross the level crossing and turn left at the junction. Follow the lane until you reach a track on the right before a gate for Handel Wood where the lane forks.

    The section of the railway across the Calstock viaduct from Bere Alston was built in the 1900s just as the surveying was taking place for the 2nd edition of the OS map. Consequently various sections of the half-built railway are recorded on the map as "Railway in the course of construction" and the viaduct was just a series of pillars at this point. The new railway joined the existing East Cornwall Mineral Railway at Albaston (between Calstock and Gunnislake station) and the new station at Calstock opened in 1908. This created a railway line all the way from Plymouth to Kelly Bray. The section from Kelly Bray to Gunnislake was eventually closed but the remainder survives as the Tamar Valley Line.

  16. Turn right onto the track and follow it downhill until it ends on a lane.

    Okel Tor mine operated between 1849 and 1887 and extracted primarily copper and arsenic. Tin and lead ore (which also contained silver) were also extracted. In 1865, it was recorded as having two engines and employing 107 people: 80 men, 15 boys and 12 bal maidens.

  17. Join the lane ahead then turn left at the waymarked bridleway sign opposite the lime kiln. Follow the path through a kissing gate and along the river until you reach a pedestrian gate into a sports field.

    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.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path along the fence of the sports field, then continue along the river to reach the landing stage for the ferry.

    The Calstock viaduct is part of the Tamar Valley railway that was constructed at the start of the 20th Century and still runs between Gunnislake and Plymouth. The viaduct was built between 1904 and 1907 from 11,148 precast concrete blocks. It is 120 feet high with twelve main arches each 60 feet wide, and one mini-arch at the Calstock end. Originally, a steam-powered lift was attached to it which could raise and lower wagons from the quays over 100 feet below.

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