Coombe and Old Kea

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.

The byway between directions 9 and 10 is closed as a culvert has collapsed. It's possible to cross through the shallow water downstream if you don't fancy leaping over the chasm.


A really lovely scenic walk.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Coombe beach
  • Parking: Coombe beach or along road in Coombe TR36AR. From Truro, take the A39 to Falmouth but turn off left almost immediately after the double roundabout at Truro. When the lane ends, turn left and left again, following signs to Coombe. Keep following signs to Coombe and either park in the parking area alongside the road just after the cattlegrid beside the cottages or at the top of the beach if a high tide is not expected.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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  • 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


  1. If the tide is out, facing the water, 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.

    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 another waymark where the path turns away from the creek.
  3. Follow the waymarked path uphill to another waymark, pass the Turn-a-Penny sign and then turn left and follow along the hedge to join a path and reach a stile.

    There are some nice primroses along the path here in early spring.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  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.

  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.

    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 towards the gate but turn right at the end of the fence to keep following the fence on your right. Follow 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.

  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!

  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.
  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 is part of the National Cycle Network and 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.

    Between Bude and Land's End, the National Cycle Routes 3 and 32 (which is an alternative North Coast route from Bodmin to Truro) are collectively known as the Cornish Way, stretching for 123 miles. Together they comprise of 175 miles of route.

  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 500AD. 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 past Churchtown Farm 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 field gate if open or the pedestrian gate on the left then bear left off the track onto the path leading up the bank. Follow the path between the two lines of fence posts across the field to a stile on the far side.
  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.
  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.
  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.

  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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