Caradon Hill to Trethevy Quoit circular walk

Caradon Hill to Trethevy Quoit

A circular walk in the valley of the River Seaton to the Neolithic tomb from the copper mines of Caradon Hill where the brittle ore could not be usefully crushed by machine so teenage girls were used instead to break the ore with hammers.

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The initial section of the walk is through the workings of South Caradon mine. The route then follows the River Seaton and the Caradon Trail to Trethevy Quoit. From here the route gradually descends into the Seaton Valley via small lanes and wooded paths. After crossing the river, fields, tracks, small lanes and the old railway trackbed form the return route.

Considerations

  • One stile on the route consists of stone footholds over a wall.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 5 miles/8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots for most of the year; mud-proof boots (e.g. wellies) in winter after prolonged rain.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Lots of mining heritage including engine houses
  • Spectacular bluebells in Rosecraddoc Woods in April and May
  • Trethevy Quoit - massive tomb of a prehistoric chieftan
  • A mix of moorland, mining landscapes, small fields and woods in the Seaton Valley

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Crows Nest Inn

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. In the car park, make your way towards the Caradon Hill sign and along the line of boulders to a track with two metal posts either side. Follow the track for just over half a mile until it ends in a junction.

    A trial excavation via an adit (horizontal tunnel) on Caradon hill initially proved unpromising and so the South Caradon mining sett was bought and sold a number of times, sometimes for as little as a guinea. In 1833 it was acquired by a group of miners who failed to raise capital in London to develop it but nevertheless persevered for three years until they struck the main copper lode. Almost overnight their shares rose in value to £2000 (equivalent to a quarter of a million pounds in 2018) and over the subsequent decades they became very wealthy indeed. By the 1840s, there were nearly 4000 miners working in the district and South Caradon became the largest copper mine in the UK.

    The tips are from Kittow's shaft which marked the far end of the South Caradon workings. There was a pumping engine and winding engine (to raise ore from the mine) here and by 1884, this area had become the main focus of activity as ore in the western area had been exhausted. The man engine was removed from Jope's shaft, refurbished, and reinstalled here. This didn't prove to be successful and by the end of 1885, work underground ceased. There was a brief re-opening in 1889 when the copper price doubled but in less than a year the mine had closed for the final time.

  2. At the junction, bear right and walk a few paces uphill then depart on the path to the left leading through the arch. After the engine house, continue ahead on the well-worn path to descend onto a stony track leading downhill with a level path leading ahead on the opposite side.

    The two large engine houses on the same side of the track were for pumping engines added in the 1860s and 1870s. There were two shafts here (Holman's and Rule's) and each had its own engine house. Both engine houses shared a chimney located on the opposite side of the track and a series of leats and wooden launders (aqueducts) were used to transport water from ponds higher up the hill to the boilers. The remains of the building on the opposite side of the track was a winding engine, used to service both shafts.

  3. Cross the track and follow the level path ahead. Continue to reach a crossing of paths.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for bread ovens and kilns as it burns rapidly, very hot and with little ash. It was in such demand that there were quite strict rules about how much gorse could be cut on common land.

    In more recent times, due to reliance on fossil fuels, this is now out of balance and gorse has increased in rural areas which have been abandoned agriculturally.

  4. Turn right at the crossing and follow the path uphill. Continue past the ruins of an engine house and fence to a path descending to the left just after the level area ends and before the gorse bushes.

    Pumping at Pierce's Shaft (surrounded by the wire fence) was initially done using power transferred via a series of flat rods leading uphill from the winding engine below at Sump Shaft. An engine house for a dedicated pumping engine was built alongside Pierce's Shaft to replace this and brought into service in 1870. The shaft itself is unusual in that it doesn't meet the surface vertically like most but instead is at an angle. This is why the engine house needed buttresses to support it against the sideways force from the weight of the pumping rod hanging down the angled shaft.

  5. Bear left onto the path and keep left to follow the path below the embankment and then towards the nearest chimney. After passing the chimney, follow the path to the right to descend to the level below opposite a barbed wire fence.

    The area with the chimneys is known as "Old Sump".

    "Old Sump" was the first area of the mine worked with an engine in the 1830s. Situated near Sump Shaft are the remains of a pumping engine. Slightly higher up the slope is the remains of a smaller engine house used for a winding engine used to raise ore from the mine. A series of flat rods were used to transfer mechanical power up the hill from this to Pierce's Shaft.

  6. Turn right and follow the path past the ruined building then turn sharply left immediately after the remains of a chimney to pass between the chimney on your left and some gorse bushes on your right. Walk a few paces past the gorse bushes to locate the least steep of the paths leading down into the gully to the right.
  7. Follow the path down into the gully and around a bend to the left to emerge on a larger stony path.

    The sandy waste tips on the opposite side of the valley are from West Caradon Mine.

    Other than the waste tips, very little remains above ground of West Caradon Mine which was the second largest in the area, producing over 85,000 tons of copper ore during its lifetime. Mining began in 1839 and by 1844 the mine was rapidly expanding with 500 employees by 1850. By the 1860s, production was declining as the large mineral reserves in the valley had been exhausted and mining operations moved onto smaller veins of ore further west. The mine closed in 1874 after a fall in copper prices. The western area of the mine was re-worked on a small scale in the 1880s as New West Caradon mine.

  8. Turn left and follow the path downhill. When you reach the pond, keep right to stay on the main path and follow this downhill to where it forks.

    Donkey Pond was originally filled by leat from the river. There is a wheel pit below the pond so it was presumably used for the waterwheel.

  9. Bear left at the fork and follow the path past a capped mineshaft. Continue alongside a large wall and a little further to reach a junction with a stony track.

    The group of buildings at the bend in the track was known as "The Yard" as they were arranged around an open yard. Photos of the site from the 19th century show that the buildings and even the chimney were originally rendered and whitewashed. The chimney provided heating for two Miner's Dries (changing rooms). Changing out of dirty, wet clothes before a long walk home was a significant factor in reducing deaths from lung disease. Other buildings around the yard included a tool shed, wash house and even a barber's shop. This significant investment in miners' welfare may have arisen because the owners of the mine had once been miners themselves.

  10. Bear right to merge onto the stony track and follow this downhill. Continue to reach a gate across the track in front of a large arch.

    The large ruined building was a smithy.

    The mine office (count house) was on the opposite side of the path from the smithy.

    Further down the slope towards the valley floor were the dressing floors where much of the ore was processed by hand to minimise waste

    An engine house situated on the opposite side of the path from the large chimney contained a stamping engine which was used to break the more stubborn pieces of rock.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the track downhill until it ends in a junction with the road.

    The arch was a bridge for the Liskeard and Caradon Railway.

    The Liskeard and Caradon Railway was a mineral railway built to transport granite, copper and tin ore from around Minions to Looe Harbour. The journey from Moorswater to Looe was initially on the Liskeard and Looe Union Canal and later on the Liskeard and Looe Railway which was built alongside the canal.

    The railway opened in 1844 and was powered initially by gravity and horses. The full wagons ran downhill under gravity with brakes to control their speed. Each wagon was individually piloted by a brakesman. The empty wagons were then hauled uphill the next day by horses.

  12. Cross the road and follow the small lane ahead, signposted Caradon Trail, to reach a junction at a bend.

    The Mining Trails are a 60km network of walking, horse riding and cycling trails opened in 2010. The routes are largely based on the trackbeds of tramways and railways that were used to transport ore from the mines to the ports on both coasts. For this reason, the project was originally known as the Mineral Tramways.

  13. Keep right to follow the lane over the bridge. Continue uphill on the lane to reach a forked junction by some parking spaces for Trethevy Quoit.

    Another name for celandine is pilewort as the tubers of the plant are said to resemble piles. Based on the "doctrine of signatures" (i.e. a plant that looks a bit like something must be a cure for it), the resemblance suggested to mediaeval herbalists that celandines could be used to cure haemorrhoids. This was done by applying an ointment containing crushed celandine leaves to the relevant area. Since celandine contains a poisonous compound, some attempts to ingest celandine in an effort to cure piles have not gone too well.

    Ferns evolved a long time before flowering plants and dominated the planet during the Carboniferous period. The bark from tree ferns during this period is thought to have been the main source of the planet's coal reserves.

  14. Bear left at the Caradon Trail Waymark and then right opposite the Coach House to reach the junction opposite the gate to Trethevy Quoit. The walk then continues on the lane to the left but you may want to have a look at Trethevy Quoit first. Follow the lane until, just after the 30 mph signs, you reach a junction with a small lane on the left beside "Tregarth".

    Trethevy Quoit, near Tremar, is a 9ft tall 4000 year old Dolmen (burial chamber) with a 10 ton capstone that would have originally been buried in earth. It is one of the two known as "King Arthur's Quoit". The other one is situated at Trethevy near Tintagel, which is pretty confusing, since that one isn't known as "Trethevy Quoit". If that isn't confusing enough, the one near Tremar is sometimes referred to as Trevethy rather than Trethevy. It appears on a 1614 map as "Trethevy Stones".

    More information about Trethevy Quoit from the Cornwall Heritage Trust.

  15. Bear left onto the small lane and follow it to reach an "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles" sign. Keep following the lane to where it eventually becomes a track after "Wytham".

    Traditional Cornish hedging is done using a row of living bushes. Wooden stakes are first put in at 18 inch intervals along the line of the hedge. The stems (known as pleachers) of the hedging bushes are then cut at an angle at the base of the trunk until the remaining part of the stem is flexible enough to bend. The pleachers are then woven between the stakes. The branches of the bushes (known as brush) are generally placed facing towards any livestock to protect the pleachers from nibbling. On some hedges this is just on one side and, particularly on those that border two fields, sometimes on both. After the hedge has been laid, thin pieces of hazel known as binders or hethers are woven along the top of the stakes to keep the hedgerow solid and to prevent wind damage. Often the hedges were laid on top of earth banks reinforced with stone walling to give the overall structure increased height.

  16. Continue ahead onto the track and follow this until it ends at the gates to a property where a path continues ahead.

    Mosses' lack of deep roots mean they need to store their own supply of water during dry periods which is why they are found in shady places that are not dried-out by the sun. This also applies to moss on trees - it rarely grows on the south-facing part of the trunk which can be used as a crude form of compass when navigating.

  17. Bear right onto the path and follow this until this emerges onto a tarmac track leading from a driveway.

    Some plant nutrients such as phosphorus tend to be more abundant near the surface of the soil where decaying organic matter collects. Bluebell seedlings start life at the surface so these are OK but as bluebell plants mature and send their roots deeper into the soil to avoid winter frosts, they have a phosphorus problem. They have solved this by partnering with a fungus that extends from their root cells, drawing in minerals from the soil in return for some carbohydrates from the plant.

    There are over 30,000 miles (more than the distance around the earth) of hedges in Cornwall, many of which are based on distinctive local styles of stone walling. Consequently, often what a Cornish person calls a "hedge", most people from outside the county do not recognise as a hedge, resulting in some foreign translation needed for walk directions.

    Around 50% of the hedgerows in the UK have been lost since the Second World War. Although intentional removal has dramatically reduced, lack of maintenance and damage from mechanical cutting techniques such as flailing are still causing deterioration of the remaining hedgerows.

    Some Cornish hedges are thought to be more than 4,000 years old, making them some of the oldest human-built structures in the world that have been in continuous use for their original purpose. They act as vital miniature nature reserves and wildlife corridors that link together other green spaces. This supports hundreds of species of plants and tens of thousands of insect species, many of which are vital pollinators for arable crops.

  18. Bear right onto the tarmac and follow this a short distance to a junction with a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow to the driveway for "Manorside" and a couple of paces further to reach a gate and stile on the left, marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    Primroses prefer moist soils so they tend to grow either in semi-shady places which don't get dried out too much by the sun such as woodland clearings and the base of hedgerows, or in wet open ground such as near streams.

  19. Cross (or pass around) the stile on the left and follow the path along the left side of the woods to a waymark post at the far end. Bear left from this to reach a stile.

    Wood anemones can be recognised by their white star-like flowers growing in shady locations during the spring. Hoverflies are important pollinators of the plant so you may also see these nearby. Avoid touching the plants as they are poisonous to humans and can cause severe skin irritation.

    The anemones grow from underground stems (rhizomes) and spread very slowly - to spread by six feet takes about 100 years! This makes it a good indicator of ancient woodland.

    Beech bark is very delicate and does not heal easily. Consequently some graffiti carved in beech trees is still present from more than a century ago. This is a practice that should be strongly discouraged as it permanently weakens the tree, making attack by insects more likely which can prematurely end its life.

  20. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to a stone stile on the right of the gate.
  21. Cross the stile and head towards the transmitter on the skyline. As you approach the corner of the field, head to the wooden gate on the right, indicated by the footpath sign.

    The transmitter station on Caradon Hill was built in 1961 to bring ITV in black-and-white to South West England for the first time. In 1969 it was chosen to become a main station in the new colour television network. It was also one of two sites used for the first commercial radio broadcasts in Cornwall in 1992. Digital switchover was completed in 2009 and antenna now broadcasts TV & radio coverage as far as Truro, Bude, Plymouth and Barnstaple. It has a 780 ft mast, the top of which could be regarded as the highest man-made point in Cornwall, standing 613 ft above the summit of Brown Willy.

  22. Go through the wooden gate (ignore the stile on the left after this), and follow all the way along the left hedge to reach a granite sleeper footbridge crossing the stream at the bottom of the field.

    The reason moles create tunnels is that these act as worm traps. When a worm drops in, the mole dashes to it and gives it a nip. Mole saliva contains a toxin that paralyses earthworms and the immobilised live worms are stored in an underground larder for later consumption. Researchers have discovered some very well-stocked larders with over a thousand earthworms in them! To prepare their meal, moles pull the worms between their paws to force the earth out of the worm's gut.

  23. Cross the footbridge and follow the path to a stile. Cross this and a mini granite sleeper bridge into the main area of the field then head to the gate on the left side of the field.

    The source of the River Seaton is in Minions near the Cheesewring Hotel and it connects with two tributary streams running through St Cleer. Due to the copper mining activity around Caradon Hill, the tributary streams contain dissolved copper salts where the groundwater drains from old mines or percolates through waste tips. The level of copper in the main river is not high enough to prevent fish living in it but it does restrict the invertebrate species that are able to live in the river and so the fish population is lower than surrounding rivers as there is less for them to eat. The river runs for just over 10 miles before reaching the sea at Seaton beach.

  24. Cross the stile next to the gate and turn right to head towards the corrugated iron barn. Continue to reach a gateway just before the barn.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  25. Go through the gateway and pass the barn. Follow the left hedge of the field all the way to a gate onto a lane in the top corner.

    Despite their native habitat being woodland, wood pigeons are able to thrive wherever there is food. They have fared better than most birds with intensively-farmed crops and are particularly fond of oil seed rape. They are able hoover up food quickly (up to 100 peck per minute) and stuff large amounts into their crop (e.g. around 150 acorns!). They then digest this overnight.

  26. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow this between some barns to reach a track on the right marked with a Public Bridleway sign.

    Daffodils contain chemical compounds which are toxic to dogs, cats and humans and ingestion of any part of a daffodil is likely to cause a stomach upset e.g. when unsupervised children have eaten leaves. The bulbs have both higher concentrations and a broader range of toxins than the rest of the plant and can be mistaken for onions (although don't smell of onion).

    A barton (mediaeval farmhouse) existed at Trethake. The current farmhouse building incorporates remains of a previous building including a massive granite fireplace.

  27. Turn right onto the track and follow this through a gate. Continue on the track for just under half a mile until you eventually reach another gate across the track. Go through this and continue onto the tarmacked section. Follow the tarmac track uphill until it ends on a lane.

    Caradon Hill has a 371 metre summit and the name is thought to originate from the Cornish word car for fort. The slopes are dotted with the remains of engine houses and the area was once famous for its copper mines, which were discovered relatively late in Cornwall's mining history. In an account documented in the early 20th Century, the area was described:

    On Saturday nights after pay-day, the populous villages of Caradon Town, Pensilva, Minions and Crows Nest were crowded with men, and resembled in character the mining camps of Colorado and the Far West.
  28. Turn right onto the lane and follow this to a cattle grid. Continue a short distance further on the lane to a track on the left opposite a cuboid boulder.

    Whilst it's fairly obvious why cows are reluctant to cross a cattle grid, you might be surprised to learn that cows will also not cross a "virtual" cattle grid composed of dark and light lines painted on a completely solid surface. This even works with wild cattle who have never encountered a "real" cattle grid before and so is unlikely to be learned behaviour. It is thought that the reason is due to the limitations of cows' vision, specifically their limited depth perception means that they cannot discriminate between bars over a pit and a series of light and dark lines.

  29. Bear left onto the track and keep right of the bushes. Continue to reach a low embankment running approximately parallel to the road.

    From 1860 work began on extending the railway along the south side of Caradon Hill and also to bypass the inclined plane at Gonamena. By 1861, the Crows Nest end of the railway had been extended as far as East Caradon mine but the Gonamena bypass was never finished.

  30. Turn right onto the embankment and follow the railway trackbed back to the car park.

    In 1862, a steam locomotive was purchased to carry out some of the work done by horses more quickly. By 1869, there were 3 locomotives.

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