Cardinham and Bury Castle circular walk

Cardinham and Bury Castle

A circular walk in the tributary valleys of Cardinham Water to the remains of the Bury Castle hill fort where the ramparts are still over 14ft high even after more than 2000 years.

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The walk starts through a wooded valley to reach the Iron Age hillfort of Bury Castle. There is then is a gradual descent from the Downs with views over Cardinham village and woods to reach the church. The walk then descends into the valley, passing below the site of the Norman castle. The walk then turns upriver, criss-crossing the valley on footpaths, tracks and small lanes to return to the Treslea Downs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 4.7 miles/7.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

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


  • Bury Castle - remains of a large Iron Age hillfort
  • Panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from the Downs


  1. Make your way towards the no-through sign on the lane to reach the track to Higher Bury Farm on the left. Turn left onto this and follow it down the valley to a cattle grid. Cross this then pass the two waymarks as you head uphill. Continue until you reach a stony track leading from the left opposite a waymark post on the right with three blue arrows and a yellow arrow.

    In the sunny clearings along the track, damselflies can sometimes be seen on the vegetation near the river.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

    Woodland with plenty of bushes is an ideal habitat for blackbirds.

    Only male blackbirds are actually black. The females are brown. The difference in appearance between males and females is known as sexual dimorphism and is an evolutionary strategy by the males to get noticed more by females at the cost of decreased chances of survival.

  2. Turn left at the waymark and cross over the track to the path running between the hedges. Follow the path until it ends in a stile.

    In Elizabethan times, starch made from the bulbs was used to stiffen collars and cuffs in clothing. The ruffs that were highly fashionable at the time would have needed a lots of starch to prevent them flopping. The toxins in bluebell sap might also have had the desirable property of preventing the starch encouraging the formation of mould.

    A thick outer bark on a tree helps to protect it from frost damage during the winter. The bark, which is often textured to trap air, and forms an insulating "buffer zone" that shields the living part of the tree, keeping this above freezing when there are sub-zero temperatures outside. The mass of dense wood inside the tree also acts as night store heater, absorbing heat during the day which is gradually released at night.

    The inner bark of the tree carries sugars created by photosynthesis down from the leaves to feed the rest of the tree. The inner bark dies over time to produce the outer bark which protects the living part of the tree.

  3. Cross the stile and continue ahead keeping the embankment on your left to reach a wall on the far side, then follow along this to reach a gate.

    Bury Castle was a large Iron Age hilltop camp. A single bank and ditch remains, with the ramparts rising to an impressive 14 feet in places. The fort originally had a second outer rampart around its northern side (in the large field beside it) but much of this has been ploughed away to fill in the ditch that would have been in front of it, so that today it is just visible as a small ridge before the ditch of the inner rampart.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the track towards the church, Once through the line of gorse, bear right to a gate in the bottom hedge, with a stile to its right.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandinavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  5. Cross the stile then turn right and follow the path through the enclosure to a gate at the far end.

    Whilst there are two Iron Age settlements in the area in Cardinham, there is very little evidence for any early mediaeval settlement. In most areas of Cornwall, place names starting with Tre- or Bos- indicate dwellings in the post-Roman period sometimes known as the Dark Ages. Based on the evidence of the field systems present, it is thought that the Cardinham area may have been abandoned after the Iron Age and not resettled until the late mediaeval period after the Norman conquest.

  6. Go through the gate and bear left slightly to join a path leading across the hill through the bracken. Continue along the path until you reach a junction of paths where some narrow granite slabs across the path to the left.

    Bracken is one of the acid-tolerant plants that is able to colonise the downs.

    Bracken is a type of fern. Perhaps the easiest way to spot mature bracken plants is by their sturdy stem which acts a bit like the trunk of a tree with leaves going out horizontally from this. Other ferns leaves tend to grow directly out of the ground. Earlier in the year, bracken is recognisable by the fronds emerging from the ground singly rather than grouped in tufts.

  7. Turn left and follow the path over the granite slabs and down the field. As you approach the bottom, head for the pair of gates in the bottom-left corner of the field.

    Boulders of Bodmin Moor granite protrude from the thin soils of the downs.

    Granite mostly contains slightly acidic chemical compounds, and consequently there is nothing to neutralise acids arising from plant decay and carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater, resulting in acidic moorland soils.

  8. Go through the left-hand gate and follow the track to bend with some gates. Continue downhill on the track until it ends on a lane.

    The large area of trees in the valley ahead is Cardinham Woods. This was used for forestry and some of the conifer plantations can be seen from here. Part of the woodland management plan is to increase the amount of native broadleaf species to promote biodiversity so over time areas of these conifers will be logged and native species will be allowed to colonise the cleared spaces.

  9. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach a grassy path on the right with a Public Footpath sign in the hedge.

    From April to June, white flowers of Greater Stitchwort can be seen along hedgerows and paths. The petals are quite distinctive as each one is split almost all the way to create pairs - most of the flowers typically have 5 pairs. The name comes from alleged powers to cure an exercise-induced stitch. Other common names include Star-of-Bethlehem (due to the shape and perhaps Easter flowering time) and Poor Man's Buttonhole for budget weddings. It is also known as Wedding Cakes but that may be more due to the colour than anticipation of what a buttonhole might lead to. The seed capsules can sometimes be heard bursting open in the late spring sunshine which gives rise to another name: Popguns.

    Both the first large tree and also some of the smaller ones making the hedgerow are ash.

    Ash trees are often easy to spot by the knobbly twigs all over the ground beneath the trees. They also have distinctive rows of quite small leaves. Ash trees can live for over 400 years and the life of the tree can be prolonged further by coppicing. Ash was traditionally coppiced to provide wood for firewood and charcoal. However, the name is nothing to do with this. It is from æsc - the old English word for spear. This comes about because ash is one of the toughest hardwoods and absorbs shocks without splintering. It is still used for making tool handles and sports equipment, including hammers, axes, spades, hockey sticks and oars.

    Ash trees in Britain are now under threat from a highly destructive fungal pandemic similar to Dutch Elm Disease, known as chalara or "ash dieback". Rather than being spread by beetles, this one is simply carried by the wind. Work is underway to try to find genetic factors which allow some trees to resist infection in order to breed a new generation of disease-tolerant trees.

    The Living Ash project started with over 150,000 seedlings gathered from a wide range of areas, planted during 2013 in locations with the most ash dieback. In 2018, grafts were taken from the 575 trees which appear to have resisted infection and planted alongside 420 grafts from trees in woodlands and hedgerows which also seem to have survived infection. The idea is that these can all cross-pollinate to maximise genetic diversity and it is hoped this will eventually become a source of seeds of disease-resistant trees.

    Similarly to Dutch Elm Disease, the chalara fungal disease that causes ash dieback is originally from Asia and the ash species there have co-evolved to be tolerant. In case attempts to breed disease resistant native ash trees are unsuccessful, work is underway to create hybrid species that closely resemble the Common Ash but with the disease resistance from an Asian parent plant.

  10. Turn right down the grassy path and follow this until it ends in a gate.

    The red campion produces a blaze of pink flowers along hedgerows in the spring with the most intense flowering period occurring between late April and the end of June. A scattering of flowers continue throughout the rest of the summer. In the mild Cornish climate, a few plants can often be seen flowering during winter months.

  11. Go through the gate and bear left to another gate beside the barn. Go through this and follow the left side of the yard to the waymarked gate. Go through this and walk ahead on the concrete then bear right to keep the cottage on your right. Go through the gate leading onto a driveway then follow this until it ends on a lane.

    The settlement of Penpoll was first recorded in 1430 and means "top of the stream". The Cornish word pol spans a fairly broad range of aquatic features from "stream" to "pool" and even "cove".

  12. Cross the lane to the Public Footpath sign opposite and cross the stile into the field. Bear right across the field to the pedestrian gate in the fence.

    The name "buttercup" is thought to have come from a mediaeval belief that cows eating the flowers gave butter its yellow colour. In fact this couldn't be further from the truth as the plant contains toxins which make it taste acrid and is therefore avoided by grazing animals.

    The word "downs" may seem strange for hilly moorland areas which are, if anything, "up". The reason is that it's derived from the Old English word dun meaning hill or moor which itself stems from the Celtic word din for hillfort (e.g. Castle-an-dinas and London). The word "dune" applied to sand is from similar origins but may have come from the original Celtic via Dutch and French where the meaning is "sand hill" rather than "moorland".

  13. Go through the gate and continue in the same direction to a gate in the corner of the field.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomfortable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  14. Go through the gate and turn right. Head downhill and join a track leading to a farm gate, but stop short when you reach a waymarked pedestrian gate on the right.

    Geese migrate to warmer climates for the winter and fly in a V-shaped formation known as a skein or wedge (on the ground, a collection of geese is known as a gaggle). The V-formation allows birds behind the leader to fly more efficiently as the rising air from flapping wings of the bird ahead helps to support the weight of the one behind. This can increase the range that the bird can fly by over 70%. The birds each take it in turns to do the harder job of flying at the front.

  15. Go through the pedestrian gate and rejoin the track (a bit contrived but it's the right of way). Follow this downhill to a lane.

    The village of Cardinham is thought to have originally been from the Cornish words car and dinas which would mean something along the lines of "enclosed fortress". Given the name, it is thought that some form of fortification has been present here since ancient times. A Norman castle was built here in around 1080 by the half-brother of William the Conqueror, who seized much of the land from the Priory of Bodmin.

  16. Turn right onto the lane and follow this to a junction opposite the church. The walk continues down the hill to the left but you may want to have a look at the church first. Follow the lane down the hill until you reach a gate on the left for "Wayside" with a Bridleway sign.

    The present church at Cardinham dates from the 15th Century, though the churchyard is thought to date back to Celtic times. The church was damaged during the Second World War by a somewhat off-target German bomb which was intended for Bodmin, but has since been repaired.

    Two Celtic crosses containing Latin inscriptions are located in the churchyard. These were found embedded in the walls of the church and were subsequently relocated to the churchyard. One has been dated to the 5-8th Century and the other to the 10-11th Century.

    The church is dedicated to St Meubred who is depicted in nearby St Neot church. St Meubred was an Irish missionary who came to Cornwall to preach to the moorland folk but had the misfortune of being beheaded in Rome. It is said his body was returned to the parish and buried here.

  17. Go through the main gate of "Wayside" (next to the Bridleway sign) and continue ahead through a gap in the bushes to an overgrown path. Follow the stream bed to reach a pedestrian gate. Go through this and follow the path to reach a stream crossing and gate.

    The stream is a tributary of Cardinham Water. The main river collects water from a number of streams running off the downs around Cardinham, and then flows through Fletchersbridge (where it was presumably once bridged by someone called Fletcher!) and joins the River Fowey in the Glynn Valley at the road bridge near Bodmin Parkway station. The well-known Cardinham Woods forestry plantation is along the valley of the river and its lower tributaries.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path uphill, leading along the left hedge to a gate on the far side of the field.

    Further up the hill on the left (on private land) are the remains of Cardinham Castle.

    Cardinham Castle was built in late mediaeval times using the Norman motte and bailey design. Little remains now apart from a pair of earth banks but originally there would have been a stone tower on the mound in the centre. The stream was dammed in mediaeval times to form fish ponds and one large dam still remains.

  19. Go through the gate and follow the path to a gate beside the barn. Go through this and bear right slightly to join a track leading away from the building. Follow the track through a gate to reach a lane.

    The barn was once a farm mill powered by an overshot waterwheel. The metal mill wheel is still present although the wooden slats have rotted away.

    The simplest design for a waterwheel is known as an undershot wheel where the paddles are simply dipped into flowing water. This works well in large rivers where there is a strong current.

    However, in hilly areas with smaller streams (such as Cornwall), the overshot design is more common where the water is delivered via a man-made channel (leat) to the top of the wheel where it flows into buckets on the wheel, turning the wheel through the weight of the water. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  20. When you reach the lane, turn left and follow the lane until it ends in a junction.

    In the 11th Century after the Norman Conquest, the castle at Cardinham was held by Richard Fitz Turold - an Anglo-Norman landowner who also owned the manor of Penhallam. His family - known as the de Cardinhams - also owned Restormel Castle in the 12th Century but died out by the mid-13th Century. The estates were divided amongst the female descendants.

  21. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane for just under half a mile until you reach a Public Footpath sign on the left.

    Sycamores leaves can sometimes be seen with black dots. This "tar spot" fungus reduces the efficiency of the leaves slightly but overall seems not to harm the tree significantly. The fungus overwinters on fallen dead leaves and its spores are released in spring to infect new leaves.

    Less active woodland management has led to a decline in hazel as larger woodland trees gradually form a dense canopy that blocks out the light, out-competing the hazel. Grey squirrels have also contributed to the decline by eating so many of the nuts that fewer now successfully germinate.

  22. Go through the kissing gate on the left, beside the footpath sign, and follow the left hedge to reach a gate on the opposite side of the field.

    There are several different reasons why passing walkers should never feed horses. A range of plants can make horses ill and many human foods such as chocolate also contain cumulative poisons that build up over time. The horse could also have allergies to a normally safe plant or have an underlying medical condition such as blood sugar issues. A horse may have behavioural problems that feeding it can make worse, and singling a horse out for "special" attention can also cause it to be attacked by jealous herd members. Some horses may also accidentally bite a hand containing food even when held flat.

  23. Go through the sequence of two gates and follow the path along the hedge to the corner of the field, then turn right to stay in the field and follow the path to reach a gate.

    Daisy flowers are not actually a single flower but a composite made of lots of little flowers. Each tiny yellow dot making up the central area is a tubular flower. Similarly each petal is a specially-adapted miniature flower.

    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.

  24. Go through the gate and follow the path to a driveway and follow this through a gate to a lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it uphill a short distance to reach a junction with a "20%" sign.

    The stream is the same one crossed earlier on the walk and you'll encounter it again at Treslea and in the woods closer to its source on Cardinham Moor. The waterside settlement where you currently are is known as Brightonwater Farm which is likely to be derived from the name of the stream.

  25. Turn left at the junction and follow the small lane to a cattle grid (which can be bypassed via the gate alongside). Continue on the lane around a bend to the right, uphill to where it ends in a T-junction.

    During spring, a pink version of bluebells flower along the lane. This could be a natural mutation or could be a pink variety of ornamental bluebells which have hybridised with the wild bluebells to create the "pinkbells".

    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.

  26. Turn left at the junction and follow the road over the bridge and cattle grid (or again bypass via the gate) and uphill until you reach a Public Bridleway sign beside a driveway on the right.

    The bridge crosses the same stream that you crossed downstream of here near the start of the walk. This is a tributary of the Cardinham Water which it joins near Milltown before entering Cardinham Woods. Cardinham Water then passes through Fletchersbridge before its confluence with the River Fowey near Bodmin Parkway station.

  27. Turn right onto the driveway of Treslea and then keep left to follow the track alongside the houses. Continue until you reach a fork.

    The settlement of Treslea was first recorded in 1421 as Treslegh and comes from the Cornish word for a stone or slab: legh. It may well refer to the stream crossing here and it has been suggested that the "res" in the name might come from the Cornish word rid, for ford. The settlement is now split into Higher and Lower Treslea, either side of the road. It isn't known which is the older of the two.

  28. Keep left at the fork and follow the track to another fork with a metal gate leading into the field ahead and another one to the right.

    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. Although grass is their principal natural food, rabbits are able to survive on virtually any vegetable matter and with relatively few predators, those that escaped multiplied into a sizeable wild population.

  29. Bear right then immediately left onto the track leading uphill lined with trees either side. Follow this track uphill until you reach a wooden stile on the right opposite a stone stile on the left, shortly before the track ends in a gate.

    Compared to red squirrels, grey squirrels are able to eat a wider diet (including acorns), are larger so can survive colder winters, and are better able to survive in the fragmented habitats created by urbanisation. They are also thought to be carriers of a squirrel pox virus which they usually recover from but has been fatal to red squirrels, although red squirrels are now also developing some immunity.

  30. Cross the stile on the right and follow the embankment around the field to reach a stile into the woods.

    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 bleating, 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 a miscarriage. 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.

  31. Cross the stile and turn right as indicated by the waymark to follow the path downhill along the hedge. Continue until the path emerges onto a track.

    Some estimates suggest the UK has up to half of the world's total bluebell population; nowhere else in the world do they grow in such abundance. However, the poor bluebell faces a number of threats including climate change and hybridisation from garden plants. In the past, there has also been large-scale unsustainable removal of bulbs for sale although it is now a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild bluebells with a fine up to £5,000 per bulb!

    As the name suggests, Wood Sorrel grows in shady places and as it spreads slowly it is used as an indicator of ancient woodland. It is recognisable by a carpet of bright green leaves that look a bit like clover. It is said that St Patrick used the three-lobed leaves to illustrate the Holy Trinity and therefore it's one of the plants dedicated to him and collectively known as "shamrock". Around Easter, wood sorrel produces delicate white flowers which gives rise to its European common name of Alleluia.

    The leaves and flowers fold up at night and reopen each morning, and they do the same during rain. This is a protection mechanism to avoid damage to the leaves when there is no solar power available, or pollen being knocked out of the flowers by the rain.

    A mature tree can absorb tens of kilograms of carbon dioxide each year adding up to a tonne over a number of decades. However, burning one litre of petrol produces just over 2kg of carbon dioxide so it takes about half an acre of trees to absorb the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by one car in a year. When trees die and decompose, the majority of the carbon is gradually released back into the atmosphere depending on how fast the various bits of tree rot (the woody parts take longer).

  32. Turn right onto the track and follow it across the cattle grid, then uphill to the junction to complete the walk.

    Gorse flower wine can be made using 5 litres of gorse flowers stripped from the stems and simmering these in 5 litres of boiling water. Once the flowers are removed, 1.3kg of sugar should be dissolved in the hot water and allowed to cool to room temperature. Then add 500g of chopped raisins and juice and zest of 2 lemons and ferment with white wine yeast and yeast nutrient. Although flowers are present year-round, they are best picked in spring (April and May) when they are most profuse and fragrant.

    Beard-like lichens (known as Old Man's Beard) are very sensitive to sulphur dioxide in the air. Where the air quality is poor, at best they only manage to grow a few millimetres and may not survive at all. Long beards are therefore an indicator of clean air.

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