Cardinham Woods and church circular walk

Cardinham Woods and Lady Vale

A circular walk in the wooded valley surrounding Cardinham Water where the mediaeval chapel of St Mary de Valle once stood but now only the Lady Vale mediaeval bridge remains.

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The walk starts in Cardinham Woods with forest tracks alongside the streams where the tree species are most diverse. The route then joins a footpath through more ancient woodland. Two fields complete the route to the Celtic churchyard. The return is downhill through meadows and areas of natural woodland to re-enter the forestry area. The final stretch is an easy walk on forest tracks.


  • Occasionally short sections of paths within Cardinham Woods may be closed for forestry operations. Follow the signposted diversions if this is the case.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

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


  • A woodland walk with a mixture of conifers and broadleaf areas
  • Bluebells in spring in the broadleaf areas of Cardinham Woods
  • Woodland and river wildlife

Adjoining walks


  1. From the car park, cross the pedestrian bridge to the café and bear left to reach a sign for Callywith Wood Walk.

    By the end of the First World War, Britain had only 5% of its original forest cover left. The Forestry Commission was founded in 1919 to address the timber shortage and bought large amounts of agricultural land, becoming the largest landowner in Britain. As part of the 1968 Countryside Act, the public have been allowed to use many parts of the forestry estate for recreation. Know known as Forestry England, it still plays a key role in woodland creation as part of the government's strategy to increase Britain's tree cover to 12% by 2060.

  2. Bear right between the tall posts to join the tarmac path and keep right to where it meets a gravel track. Turn right onto the gravel track and follow this around a bend to the right. Continue along the riverside track to reach a wooden bridge across the river.

    Bugle (sometimes called "bugleweed") forms a carpet of dark green oval leaves with purple highlights, hence it is also known as "carpetweed". It is most easily recognised from its small flower spikes with blue flowers.

    The name is thought to be an Old French word which came from the Latin word for the plant, bugillo. The origin is unclear but it's nothing to do with the brass instrument (which gets its name from the Latin for "ox" due to the horn shape).

    Rosebay willowherb is a tall plant with a spike of pink flowers in late summer which can often be seen beside paths and tracks. Their long leaves have a distinctive thin, white vein along the centre.

    It is a pioneer species which is good at colonising disturbed ground as its seeds travel long distances in the wind and remain viable in the soil for many years. It was considered a rare species in Britain in the 18th century but spread along the corridors cleared for railways in Victorian times.

    Ivy is rarely a threat to healthy trees. Ivy is not a parasite. Since it has its own root system, it absorbs its own nutrients. It simply uses a tree for support. The main risk to trees is during strong winds when the surface of the ivy can act as a sail which, together with the extra weight from the ivy, can cause a tree to fall.

  3. Pass the wooden bridge and continue along the left side of the river to where the track widens out into a fork with the right-hand track crossing the river.

    The Chapel of "St Mary de Valle" was recorded in the 13th and 14th Centuries and thought to have been located in the valley near Cardinham Water. No obvious traces of a building remain in the location thought most likely (a field called "Chapel Meadow"). Lady Vale bridge also dates from the mediaeval period and may have been part of a path network connected with the chapel.

  4. Bear right across the river and keep right past a junction to the left with purple and grey arrows and reach a second junction to the left with a pink arrow. Take the lower of the tracks to the left (indicated by the pink arrows) and follow this to where a wooden bridge crosses the river, also marked with a pink arrow.

    Conifers can produce an economic yield of timber up to 6 times faster than broadleaf trees. Imported species such as Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce are amongst the more common used for timber production.

  5. Stay on the track to pass a pink arrow pointing ahead and continue to a bend with a pink arrow pointing left with the back of a green sign to the right with a tiny gravel path descending to the right just after this.

    Young squirrels suffer a high mortality rate in the wild and less than one in three make it to adulthood. The ones that do, live on average for about 6 years, although a lucky one can live to about 12 years old. In captivity, where there are neither predators, cars nor cold winters to contend with, they can reach 20 years old.

  6. Bear right onto the gravel path and follow it downhill a few paces to a junction. Turn left and follow the track uphill slightly until you reach a waymark at a junction.

    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.

    Holly was known in Cornwall as the holm (bush) and is the origin of the Holmbush area of St Austell and Holmbush Mine in Kelly Bray.

  7. Turn right and pass through the gap next to the barbed wire fence. Follow the path until it ends in a stile.

    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).

    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.

    Around 400 million years ago, green algae made its way from the sea to the land and the first liverworts appeared. These ancient, very simple plants are still around today. DNA studies suggest that all land plants and mosses may have originally evolved from early liverworts.

    Liverworts are found in damp, shady places but form flat structures that almost resemble soft corals. Their name is based on the appearance of the leaves which was thought to resemble an animal liver. Like mosses, liverworts don't produce flowers but instead reproduce via spores.

  8. Cross the stile and descend to the stream. Cross this and then head along the middle of the field to reach a metal gate in the middle of the far hedge.

    Moles have specially-adapted velvety fur which allows them to reverse in their tunnels as well as go forwards without their fur catching on the soil. It was found that by weaving a heavy cotton fabric and then shearing one side, a suede-like texture was produced. This was given the name moleskin (despite not actually being made from moles) due to the resemblance to moles' fur. The friction-reducing and insulating properties that benefit moles also made the material popular for workwear in cold environments. It is an example of biomimicry.

  9. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow this over the bridge to reach a stile on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.
  10. Cross the stile and stepping stones. Head up the field to the right of the building to reach a gate.

    Dandelions are dispersed very effectively by the wind. The tiny parachute-like seeds can travel around five miles. Each plant can live for about 10 years and produces several thousand seeds each year.

    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.

  11. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left of the gate and follow the track a short distance to reach a raised grassy path leading up to the churchyard on the left. Follow the path to reach a gate into the churchyard.

    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.

  12. Go through the gate and bear right at the junction of paths to pass the church entrance. Continue to the steps leading out of the churchyard.

    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.

  13. Go down the steps out of the churchyard and turn right onto the lane. Follow this past the Old Rectory to a gate on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    Scholars speculate that the Celtic Cross (a crucifix with a circular ring) developed from the sun cross (a cross inside a circle), a common symbol in artefacts of Prehistoric Europe, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods. When Christianity came to the Celtic regions, Christians extended the bottom spoke of this familiar symbol, to remind them of the cross on which their new Saviour was crucified.

  14. Go through the gate and cross the middle of the field (passing just to the left of the 2 trees within the right-hand area of the field) to a metal gate in the middle of the far hedge.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  15. Go through the sequence of 2 gates and follow the path between the fences to reach a stile.

    Lesser celandines are common plants along woodland paths recognisable by their yellow star-shaped flowers. Despite their name, they are not closely related to the Greater Celandine. Lesser celandines are actually a member of the buttercup family and, like buttercups, they contain the poisonous chemical protoanemonin.

    Green woodpeckers are the largest and most colourful of the woodpeckers native to Britain and have a distinctive laughing "yaffle" call. The two species of spotted woodpecker are smaller and usually noticed from the drumming sound they make on trees although they can sometimes be heard making a short "cheep" sound.

    All of the woodpeckers bore holes in trees in which they nest, but only the spotted woodpeckers drill into trees in search of food, spending most of their time perched on a tree.

    Conversely, green woodpeckers spend most of their time on the ground, hunting for ants. The ants nests are excavated using their strong beak, and then ants are caught on the barbed end of their long tongue. In fact, their tongue is so long that it needs to be curled around their skull to fit inside their head.

  16. Cross the stile, turn left and head downhill between the two trees. Cross the field to a stile.

    Meadow buttercups spread across a field relatively slowly as most seeds fall quite close to the parent and although it has a creeping root system capable of propagating new plants, this only extends a fairly short distance from each plant (unlike creeping buttercup which has a much more extensive root system). Because grazing animals avoid buttercups due to their acrid taste, this allows them to accumulate over time. The combination of these factors allows the number of meadow buttercups in a field to be used an indicator of how long it's been used for grazing.

    Bracket fungi can be recognised by tough, woody shelf-like growths known as conks. Bracket fungi can live for a very long time and are often coloured with annual growth rings. Many begin on living trees and can eventually kill a branch or whole tree by damaging the heartwood and allowing rot to set in. They can continue to live on the dead wood afterwards.

  17. Cross the stile and bear left slightly to cross the field diagonally to a wooden gate surrounded by wooden sections of fence.

    The first record of slang word "bunny" being applied to rabbits is from the late 17th Century. Prior to this it was in use as a term of endearment, recorded in a 1606 love letter as "my honey, my bunny...". The origin of this pet name is thought to be a dialect word "bun" which was a general term for small furry creatures which did include rabbits but also applied to squirrels. The use of the word "rabbit" for chattering is from the Cockney rhyming slang for "talk" (rabbit and pork).

  18. Go through the gate and cross the footbridge. Follow the path past a ruined building, through a gateway and continue until it ends on a lane.

    Yellow Archangel is a native plant and member of the dead nettle family (and it's also known as the Golden Dead Nettle). The flowers are pale yellow, hence the first part of the name. The second part of the name (including the angelic association) is because it looks quite like a nettle but doesn't sting.

    A garden variety of yellow archangel known as "aluminium plant" (due to silvery metallic areas on its leaves) has escaped into the wild where it is spreading rapidly. It has been deemed so invasive that it is illegal to plant in the wild.

  19. Turn right onto the lane and follow it downhill a short distance to a junction just before Langs Mill.

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval medicine. The sap was used as a glue for book-binding as its toxicity repelled insects. It was also used to attach the fletchings onto arrows.

    Lang's Mill is recorded on the first edition OS map from the 1880s but the overall settlement of Milltown is recorded much earlier in 1550. It is thought that it may date from mediaeval times.

  20. Bear left and follow the tarmacked lane until it dips downhill and forks.

    Crocosmia (also known as Montbretia) is a garden plant in the iris family with bright orange flowers in summer. It has South African origins and was bred in France as a garden plant, then introduced into the UK in the 1880s.

    It has spread into the wild, particularly along the west coast of Britain and is extremely invasive. It is now a criminal offence to cause it to grow in the wild.

    Crocosmia means "saffron scent" and alludes to the smell of the dried leaves (the crocuses which produce saffron are also members of the iris family).

    Fungi are often most noticeable when fruiting, either as mushrooms or as moulds but their main part is a network made up of thin branching threads that can run through soil, leaf litter, wood and even living plant tissue.

  21. Bear right at the fork and pass the gate. Continue past a barrier and follow the path to a junction with a forest track.

    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.

  22. Turn right onto the track and follow it to where a wooden bridge crosses the river.

    Wheal Glynn, also known as Hurtstock's Mine, was worked in the 1850s both for lead/silver and tin ores. It was re-opened briefly in 1905 as Deviock Mine.

    The lead ore found in Cornwall is a form of lead sulphide known as galena which often contains an appreciable amount of silver. This was first smelted to produce "argentiferous lead" and then the silver was separated by a process known as "cupellation". The molten alloy of the 2 metals was placed in an oxygen rich furnace which caused the lead, but not the silver, to oxidise. The lead oxide was then absorbed into a calcium-rich material such as the ash from bones or seashells, leaving the liquid metal silver on the surface of the "cake". The lead oxide could later be converted back into lead by smelting it with charcoal.

  23. Continue on the track along the left side of the river to reach a river crossing with a "Walking Trails Map" sign.

    Cardinham Water is a tributary of the River Fowey which begins in the marshes of Bodmin Moor below St Bellarmin's Tor and from moorland springs near the A30. The confluence with the River Fowey is at the road bridge beside Bodmin Parkway station. The place names Millpool and Milltown arose from its use as a source of power.

    You may remember from school geography lessons that the faster-flowing water around the outside of the bend causes a meander in a river to slowly grow as the outside edge is eroded and sediment is deposited on the inside by slower-moving water. At this point, your school geography teacher probably got excited about ox-bow lakes and never got around to explaining exactly why the water flows faster on the outside in the first place. So that you don't go to your grave feeling short-changed, an attempt at an explanation follows...

    Flowing water piles into the outside of the bend and creates a higher pressure there. Close to the riverbed, water is moving very slowly so the high pressure pushes water across the bottom from the outside to the inside. This drags the faster-moving water across the top of the river to the outside to take its place. This spiralling current both erodes the outside edge with faster-moving water and also transports the sediment back across the bottom to the inside

  24. Continue on the left side of the river to reach another wooden bridge.

    Trout are members of the Salmon family who all have an extra tiny (adipose) fin on their back towards their tail, that most other fish don't have. No-one is quite sure what the purpose is of this fin but a neural network in the fin indicates that it has some kind of sensory function.

    The trout that supermarkets and trout farms stock is the Rainbow Trout (which has a red flush along its side) and is native to North America not to the UK. Our native trout is the Brown Trout which has well-defined dark red spots along its sides. You can often make out the spots when you see them lying in pools. Rainbow Trout are often stocked in fishing lakes so do sometimes escape into the wild.

    Small trout typically feed on invertebrates whereas larger trout generally feed on other fish but have been known to eat anything of a suitable size unlucky enough to fall into a river. In fact in New Zealand, mouse-shaped lures are sold for trout fishing!

  25. Continue on the left side of the river to reach a barrier onto a tarmacked lane.

    As well as attracting insects, the brightly coloured foxglove flowers serve as a warning for animals that the plants contain toxins. All parts of the plant can cause a range of ill-effects in humans from nausea to heart and kidney problems which can be fatal.

    Foxgloves have a life cycle which spans two years. The seeds germinate in spring and during their first year they produce a "rosette" of large, velvety green leaves with toothed edges. These are particularly noticeable from October onwards once other vegetation has died back. The leafy foxglove plants remain dormant throughout the winter, ready for a quick start in the spring.

  26. Pass the barrier and continue on the lane until you reach a gravel path departing to the right with some wooden posts and a red bin.

    Badgers are most closely related to otters and weasels, but are omnivores and often catch their food by burrowing after it. Up until the 1950s, somewhat prior to the Gastro-pub revolution, many Westcountry pubs had Badger Ham on the bar!

    Due to their relatively large body size, badgers are susceptible to the same pathogens as domestic livestock, and so badgers and cattle can catch tuberculosis from each other. In recent years, there has been controversy over badger culling as an attempted means to control the spread of bovine TB. The conclusions of the scientific trials of 2007 were that badger culling was not effective. One reason is that culling creates vacant territories and causes other badgers to roam more widely, continuing a spread. In 2010, a TB vaccine was produced which is hoped will prove more effective than culling, as a band of vaccinated badgers will act like a firewall, blocking a spread.

  27. Bear right onto the gravel path to return to the car park.

    It is estimated that approximately half of UK households feed birds in their gardens and this vast amount of supplementary food is thought to support nearly 200 million garden birds which is getting on for half of the number of birds in the UK countryside. Studies haven't found any harmful effect on birds' abilities to forage for natural foods and the evidence seems to be that, in general, birds will make use of it when they want to and complement it with natural foods.

    The exception to this is in spring and summer when birds need a particularly protein and mineral-rich diet for breeding. The recommendation is to not feed birds peanuts and fat balls at this time of the year, partly because it fills them up with high energy but low protein/mineral food and partly because large chunks of peanut can choke the chicks. Mealworms are a really good alternative during the warmer months as birds naturally feed on insects to get the nutrients needed to raise healthy chicks.

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