Coombe and Old Kea

At direction 19 (Halwyn Cottage) there is a signposted temporary path diversion. Continue on the track into the field as instructed and turn left to follow the path between the fences to pick up the route at the next direction.

A circular walk on the creeks of the Fal river network settled by Celtic monks where the ruin of a huge mediaeval church still towers above the trees

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The walk begins by following Cowlands creek with views over the area surrounding Trelissick Gardens. The route then turns inland to reach the ruined mediaeval church tower of Old Kea and Victorian church built first as a Poor House from the mediaeval remains. The walk then descends the Truro River to its confluence with the River Fal and completes the circle on woodland paths overlooking the creeks.

Reviews

A really lovely scenic walk.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Views over the creeks of Carrick Roads
  • The ivy-clad ruined church tower at Old Kea
  • Wildflowers throughout the spring including snowdrops, daffodils, primroses and bluebells

Directions

  1. If the tide is out, facing the river, turn right and follow along the shoreline until you reach a waymark where a track descends to meet the path along the water's edge. If the tide is fully in, making it impossible to follow the shoreline, then follow the track marked with the Public Footpath sign to Lower Lanner Farm which goes up, then along, then down to rejoin the path at the waymark by the water's edge.

    The village of Coombe and much of the surrounding land is owned by The Tregothnan Estate (of Lord Falmouth). Coombe had no road access until 1926 and for centuries was occupied by two ancient Cornish families (Gunn and Ferris) and so was alternatively known as the "Gunn Valley" (as Coombe just means "valley"). A stone enclosure part-way down the creek is thought to be the remains of a mediaeval oyster keep.

  2. Follow the waymarked path along the edge of the creek until you reach the point where the path turns away from the creek.

    Over 400 years ago, plums were discovered growing beside Cowlands Creek on land owned by the Tregothnan Estate. Soon this had been multiplied into a number of small orchards and by the 19th Century, pickers would arrive by steamer to help with harvest. This was done my shaking the tree to ensure only ripe plums were harvesting. Since some of the plum trees overhung Cowlands Creek, boats needed to be positioned beneath the tree to catch falling plums. The plums were stored in baskets lined with ferns to allow air circulation and protect the fruit from any mould.

  3. Follow the path uphill to a waymark and turn left past the Turn-a-Penny sign then follow along the hedge to join a path and reach a stile.

    In the late 20th Century, the Kea Plum was largely forgotten. A number of trees still grew in back gardens in Coombe but the fruit was just used by tenants living in the cottages. In the 21st Century, interest in reviving heritage varieties of fruit and veg has generated a market for the Kea Plum. Residents were contacted by the Tregothnan Estate to inform them that their fruit belonged to the estate who now once again collect the plums each year. Tregothnan sells Kea plum jam and frozen plums online and is working on making the area a Protected Designation of Origin.

  4. Cross (or go around) the stile and follow the path to emerge on a track beside the white cottage (ignore the waymarked path to the right).

    In spring, bluebells and early purple orchids flower in the woods.

    The early purple orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

    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.

    A flower is effectively an advert to insects that nectar is available and the reason that flowers are coloured and scented is so these adverts get noticed. The basic idea with most flowers is to lure the insect in with a bribe of nectar and then whilst they are there, unload pollen they are carrying from another flower, stick some pollen to them from this flower, and send them on their way.

  5. Follow the track around a bend to the right, signposted to Cowlands, until it ends on a lane.

    Anyone who has sat on a holly leaf will know how prickly they can be but the leaves particularly on larger holly bushes often vary considerably with less spiky leaves nearer the top.

    Holly is able to vary its leaf shape in response to its environment through a chemical process known as DNA methylation which can be used to switch genes on and off. If its leaves are eaten by grazing animals or trampled by walkers, the holly will crank up the methylation level to produce really spiky leaves on these stems. Conversely on the stems where the leaves are able to grow old in peace, the holly will produce versions that are flatter and therefore more efficient at catching the light. An individual leaf can last up to five years.

  6. Turn left onto the lane and follow it over the bridge until you reach a public footpath on the right just past the thatched house.

    At high tide, swans can paddle up to the top of the creek to get at the weed growing the in freshwater coming down under the bridge.

    Swans usually mate for life, although "divorce" can sometimes occur if there is a nesting failure. The birds can live for over 20 years but in the 20th Century many swans were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. This was tracked down to the tiny "lead shot" weights used for fishing that swans would hoover up with weed and roots from the bottom of rivers and lakes. Since the introduction of non-toxic metals for making fishing weights, incidents of poisoning have disappeared and the swan population is now even growing very slightly.

  7. Turn right onto the footpath and follow it along fence to keep the fence on your right. Continue on the path through the woods to emerge into a field.

    During periods of cold weather, spring flowers, such as bluebells, have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs during summer and autumn. They are then able to grow in the cold of winter, or early spring, by using these resources stored in their bulb. Once they have flowered, the leaves die off and the cycle begins again.

    Other species (such as cow parsley or dandelions) require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow. With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells lose their "early start" advantage, and can be out-competed.

    Black fungi that resemble lumps of coal are known as coal fungus but also King Alfred cakes due to a legendary baking disaster by the regent. The dried fungus can be used with a flint as a fire starter - a spark will ignite the inside which glows like a piece of charcoal and can be used to light dry grass. There is evidence that prehistoric nomadic tribes used glowing pieces of fungus to transport fire to a new camp.

  8. Continue ahead up the field towards the houses to reach a small gap in the bank.

    Buttercups grow amongst the grass in the field but aren't very obvious until they flower during the spring.

    The Latin name of the buttercup, Ranunculus, means "little frog" and said to be because the plants like wet conditions. It is thought it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived near marshes!

    Today, more than 11,000 species of grass exist around the world. In the UK, around 160 species occur. The most widely sown grasses by farmers are ryegrasses (recognisable by the alternating spaced-out "ears of corn" pattern of seeds along the stem) as these are able to take up nitrogen fertiliser efficiently and also generate high levels of sugars. On dry land, cocksfoot (recognisable from distinct tufts of seeds) is often sown as this is the most deep-rooted of the grass species.

  9. Cross through the bank and continue a few paces to a track. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it emerges onto a lane beside a farm.

    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.

    Ferns lack seeds as well as flowers and reproduce via tiny spores which are most commonly distributed by the wind. This allows them to colonise some quite random places.

  10. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends in a T-junction.

    The lane forms part of National Cycle Route 3.

    National Cycle Route 3 runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

  11. Turn right, signposted to Old Kea. Follow the lane until you reach a junction.

    A Celtic monastery at Kea was recorded in the Domesday book in 1086 and is thought to have dated from around AD 500. There are references to a Celtic monk named Kea who rose to the status of Bishop. During mediaeval times, the parish of St Kea was large and important, reflected in the size of the mediaeval church tower. The parish stretched as far as Chacewater and Scorrier.

  12. Turn left, signposted to Old Kea, and follow the lane to Churchtown Farm.

    The riverside settlement you can see to the left is Malpas, on the confluence of the Tresillian River (which you can see ahead) and Truro River (to the left but mostly hidden by the hills). This was the site of a mediaeval ferry crossing and a public footpath from Churchtown Farm leads to the water's edge to connect with the ferry. Due to silting of the creeks from mining activities, Malpas is now the highest navigable point at low tide on the Truro river and so ferry services to Truro terminate at Malpas when the tide is low.

  13. Bear right at Churchtown Farm to follow the lane towards the gate of Old Kea church which you might want to explore before continuing. Then continue on the lane until it ends beside a gate with a public footpath sign.

    A substantial church was built at Old Kea in the 13th Century or before with some early 16th Century restoration, from which the ruined tower remains. The church fell into ruin because it was located in the extreme east of the parish resulting in 10 miles of walking on a Sunday for some of the congregation. A new church was built in Kea in 1802 and the old church was largely dismantled, with some of the window tracery sold off to construct Perranzabuloe church and the font and bells used in the new church at Kea. Some of the building materials were used to construct a parish poor-house on the site which was later rebuilt into the small church building initially in the 1850s and extended into its present form in the 1860s, when the stained glass was added.

    More about Old Kea church

  14. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left and follow the path between the two lines of fence posts across the field to a stile on the far side.

    Swallows migrate to India, Arabia and Africa for the winter. Journeys of over 7000 miles have been recorded.

    Oak was often associated with the gods of thunder as it was often split by lightning, probably because oaks are often the tallest tree in the area. Oak was also the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid-summer sacrifice.

  15. Cross the stile and continue ahead to meet a track. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it emerges onto a lane.

    The settlement of Trevean was first recorded in 1278 and is Cornish for "small farm". The originally Cornish word vean was still in use as a dialect word for "small" within English in Cornwall during Victorian times.

  16. Turn left onto the lane and follow it to Higher Trelease Farm.

    Trelease was first recorded in 1278 but is thought to date from early mediaeval times. It is thought that part of the field system adjoining the farm may also date from the mediaeval period. The name is based on the Cornish word lys, meaning "court", which may suggest a high-status farmstead.

  17. Keep left to stay on the lane and follow it until it ends at a turning area.

    The lane is likely to be a mediaeval holloway.

    Some of the Public Rights of Way originating from mediaeval times appear as sunken paths, also known as holloways from the Old English hola weg, a sunken road. There are different reasons for the lane being lower than the surrounding land. In some cases it was simply erosion caused by horses, carts and rainwater over hundreds of years. There are also examples where ditches formed between banks as a boundary between estates and then later adopted as a convenient location for travel or droving animals.

  18. Join the track indicated by the "Public Footpath Coombe" sign. Follow the track until you reach a cottage ahead with a gate marked "Private" with a stile to the left.

    The settlement of Halwyn was recorded in 1278 and is based on the Cornish words hel, meaning "hall", and gwyn, meaning "white". The settlement was formerly a farm which was still present in the 1970s.

  19. Climb the stile and follow along the left edge of the gravel area to pass to the left of the cottage and reach a waymarked gate on the far side. Turn right and follow along the line of trees a path up the bank to reach a gap between two wooden posts leading into the field.

    This area of the estuary contains wild oyster beds.

    Native oysters rarely produce pearls (Pearl Oysters live in warmer seas) although all molluscs theoretically can and most would be tiny. The commercial value from native oysters comes from eating them and it takes around 4-5 years for an oyster to reach full size.

  20. Go through the gap and turn left. Follow the grassy area along the bottom of the field to reach a waymarked stile at the far end.

    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.

    During Victorian times, Norwegian vessels of nearly a thousand tons anchored at Malpas and unloaded their cargoes of timber. These were formed into rafts, and floated to the terminus of the West Cornwall Railway, on the river bank, ready to be transported to the mining districts.

  21. Cross the stile and follow the path until it eventually emerges onto a lane.

    Roughly mid-way along the path are a number of patches of wild garlic. Possibly due to the sheltered, south-facing woodland, they seem to shoot quite early.

    Unlike their more versatile narrow-leaved cousins the three-cornered leeks, ramsons grow mainly in shady places such as woodland. Their broad leaves are solar panels that have evolved to capture the weak winter light early in the year before the trees are in leaf. They are an indicator that woodland is ancient and has provided a shady environment over a long period to colonise.

    There are two types of ivy leaf. Those on creeping stems are the classic ivy leaf shape with 3-5 triangular lobes - they grow towards shade to find a tree to climb up. However, more mature ivy plants grow aerial shoots with a completely different (teardrop) leaf shape. These are the shoots that bear the flowers and fruits and are typically located in a sunny spot such as on an upright ivy bush or top of a rock face. The reason for the different shapes is that the larger, multi-lobed leaves are able to catch more light in shady areas whereas the smaller, stouter leaves are more resistant to drying out.

  22. Turn right onto the lane and follow this back to Coombe beach.

    Tides in the Atlantic are closely aligned with the moon's position above the Earth which takes just under 25 hours on average to return to the same position; this is slightly more than 24, as the Earth has to chase the moon's orbit. The tides therefore "slip" by at just under an hour each day so that over a 7 day week, low tide and high tide have approximately changed places (e.g. no beach in the afternoon vs a huge beach in the afternoon). High tides occur every 12-13 hours when the moon is directly overhead or on the opposite side of the Earth and its gravity is pulling the water in the oceans towards it. There are therefore just over 6 hours between low and high tide. The speed with which the tide comes in or goes out follows a sine wave: slow at low tide, speeding up to the fastest at mid-tide (known as the "tide race", when currents are at their strongest) and slowing down again towards high tide. Thus high and low tides are also referred to as "slack tide" when tidal currents are at their minimum.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

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