Cotehele to Metherell circular walk

Cotehele to Metherell

A circular walk via the quays, woods, engine house and mills of the Cotehele Estate where by Georgian times the house had become a tourist attraction because it was so antiquated, and has changed little since.

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The route passes Cotehele house and gardens and then crosses into the wooded valley of Danescombe with copious bluebells in spring. The route then follows the stream and climbs out of the valley at Metherell to reach the pub. The return route is via Clampits, Comfort Wood and finally along the river from the weir, past Cotehele Mill to reach the Quay and Edgcumbe Arms.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 3.9 miles/6.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer; walking boots in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 108 OS Explorer 108 (laminated version)

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


  • Cotehele House - a well-preserved Tudor mansion
  • Spectacular Victorian gardens with Mediaeval dovecot
  • Historic mills, engine houses, quays and limekilns
  • Views along the River Tamar to Calstock
  • Wildflowers including bluebells and orchids

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Carpenters Arms


  1. Make your way out of the car park and head towards the Discovery Centre until you reach The Edgcumbe and then bear right to follow the lane uphill to a junction with the road.

    The Cotehele Estate, now owned by the National Trust, was strategically situated alongside the River Tamar for trade.

    The name Tamar is documented in the second century and likely to be substantially older. It is thought it might share a common origin with the River Thames and both might stem from an ancient Celtic word meaning "dark". The source of the river is within 4 miles of the North Cornish Coast and the river flows 61 miles south across the peninsula forming the majority of the historic border with Devon. Work is being done by the Environment Agency to improve the water quality of the Tamar and its tributaries by reducing the amount of run-off of phosphate fertilisers into the rivers.

  2. When you reach the road, turn right up the drive to Cotehele House, signposted to the house and car park. Continue until you reach a pair of car park signs on the bend.

    Cotehele House belonged to the Edgcumbe family for nearly 600 years before being donated to the National Trust in 1947, together with over 1000 acres of land. The house is largely Tudor, and by the 1750s it was already attracting tourists seeking to visit a historic building.

  3. Keep left at the car park sign, signposted Main Car Park, then almost immediately turn right, signposted to House and Garden. Follow the road to a corner with a white gate ahead and granite gateposts on the right into a gravel area leading to the reception.
  4. Bear right between the granite gateposts to the gravel area and pass the reception on your left to reach a waymarked gate to the right of the toilets.

    Cotehele house includes a turret clock which is powered using weights on a rope wrapped around a capstan, rather than a pendulum. The clock has no face and instead strikes a bell on the hour. It is the earliest turret clock in its original position and still working, and possibly the earliest working turret clock in the world. The design was relatively common in the 14th Century but most were replaced and scrapped.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the track, passing beneath the house and formal gardens. On the other side of the house, keep right to follow the track around a bend to the right. Follow the path to a junction of paths.

    The gardens at Cotehele were constructed during Victorian times and are now Grade II* listed in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historical Interest. The formal Italian terraced gardens around the house are connected by a tunnel to the Valley Garden, which is planted with trees including rhododendrons and azaleas which produce profuse amounts of brightly-coloured flowers in spring. Within the Valley garden is a Victorian Summerhouse and former mediaeval elements including an exceptionally well-preserved dovecote and a pond which was originally used to farm carp to supply fish for the kitchens.

  6. Continue ahead, signposted to Calstock, at the junction, and then keep right on the lower of the paths ahead. Follow the path until it ends in a junction with a track beside a signpost.

    Beechwood ageing is used in the production of Budweiser beer but beech is not the source of flavour. In fact beechwood has a fairly neutral flavour and in the brewing process it is pretreated with baking soda to remove even this. The relatively inert strips of wood are then added to the fermentation vessel where they increase the surface area available for yeast. It is the contact with yeast that produces the flavour in the beer, not the beech itself.

  7. Turn left onto the track and follow it up the valley. Continue on the main track past the cottages and engine houses where it peters out into a path. Follow the path alongside the stream until it eventually emerges onto a lane.

    Danescombe Sawmill was opened in 1878 and used a 43 foot waterwheel to drive the sawing machinery. Power from the waterwheel was also used to haul carts up the tramway, which is now the track. These were loaded with timber grown on Cotehele Estate land that was landed on the quay at the bottom of the track. Using just the power from the waterwheel, the mill could saw 2000ft of timber in an hour. Even the sharpening of the saw was mechanised using water power. Despite its efficiency, the mill was relatively short-lived; by 1905 it was disused and had lost its iron roof, which was presumably sold as scrap. Its demise is thought to have been brought about by the closure of the nearby mines as much of the sawn timber was used in the mines.

    The small holiday cottage where the track up the Danescombe valley opens out by some buildings is an engine house thought to be built in the mid 1830s for a pumping engine. At this point, it was known as Danescombe Mine. However, it's thought that the mine was first worked for copper and arsenic from the 1820s as Wheal Calstock. The larger engine house slightly further up the valley was built in 1881-2 as part of Cotehele Consols but by 1884 the engine was put up for sale. In 1973, this engine house was converted by the Landmark Trust into a holiday cottage.

  8. Turn left onto the lane, pass Danescombe Farm and then turn right onto a track towards a public footpath sign, then keep left on the leftmost track (in the direction of the yellow waymark, not the direction indicated by the footpath sign). Continue past the ruins of a building to a fork in the path at a waymark.

    The ruined building beside the footpath from Danescombe Cottage was a paper mill which is thought to have been built in the 18th Century, and was recorded as being in production in 1788. Water from the stream was used to fill a header pond and then a leat ran from this to a waterwheel around 14 feet in diameter. The mill closed in 1857 after a larger one opened further up the valley.

  9. Keep left at the waymark and follow the path to the remains of a kissing gate and continue along the path to a second (intact) kissing gate, onto a lane.

    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!

    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).

  10. Go through the kissing gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until it ends at a junction.

    Ferns produce neither flowers nor seeds and rely on the tiny spores for their reproduction which are most commonly distributed by the wind. This allows them to colonise some quite random places such as rocky ledges that heavier seeds might not reach. Since the spores come from just one parent fern, the offspring is a genetic clone.

    Navelwort is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. In dry conditions, the plant takes emergency measures to conserve water, producing fewer green chloroplasts (so it goes red) and loses it succulent fleshiness. Leaves with red tinges are therefore not the ones to forage.

  11. Turn left at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and cross onto the right-hand side of the road; then continue a short distance to another junction.

    The Tamar Valley Donkey Park is roughly three-quarters of a mile up the lane to the right, signposted St Anne's Chapel.

    There are about 30 donkeys at the Donkey Park which are rescued from a range of places. Some are from Ireland, where they are bred to work in the peat fields; others are from Bodmin Moor. A few are donations from other farm parks or farmers who didn't have enough donkey company to keep them from getting bored and causing mischief. At the Tamar Valley Park, the donkeys are trained to provide rides for young children which provides stimulating activity for the donkeys as well as income for their upkeep.

  12. Turn right at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and continue a short distance to one more junction.

    Postboxes are a Victorian invention. The first pillar boxes were erected in the 1850s and by 1857, the first roadside wall boxes were in place. Early postboxes were green and it wasn't until 1874 that some in London were painted red. Over the next 10 years this was applied elsewhere. Postboxes are initialled with the reigning monarch at the time which allows them to be approximately dated. For example Edward 7th (marked as E VII) was only on the throne for 10 years so these date from the 1900s before the First World War.

  13. Turn right at the junction, signposted to Metherell, and follow the lane until you reach a road on the left marked Nicolas Meadow.
  14. Turn left into Nicolas Meadow and follow the road a short distance until you reach a junction on the right beside a telegraph pole.
  15. Turn right and follow the road downhill to the corner with another telegraph pole. Then follow the public footpath along the fence, signposted to Lower Metherell, to reach an iron kissing gate. Go through this and follow the path across the garden to reach another iron kissing gate leading into a field.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the field to the remains of a kissing gate.

    The field is sometimes used by the Tamar Valley Donkey Park so some repairs to the gates may follow (let us know if that's the case and we'll update the directions). Donkeys are normally kept in pairs or more as single donkeys get lonely and bored and then get up to mischief.

  17. Pass the kissing gate and follow the track to reach the gates of Brooklands.

    The effect of ivy on buildings is controversial as it depends a lot on the properties of surface it adheres to. The rootlets wedge into any cracks in the surface and so on surfaces that are fragile, ivy will cause damage. A study for English Heritage found that on hard, firm surfaces, ivy did little damage. The blanket of leaves was also found to have beneficial insulating effects and protect the masonry from water, salt and pollution.

  18. Pass the gates of Brooklands on your left and go through the small metal gate ahead; follow the narrow path between the walls to reach a post at a junction of paths.
  19. Continue ahead from the post to merge onto a lane. Follow the lane ahead past the Carpenter's Arms to reach a junction.

    The Carpenter's Arms is named after the carpenters who built Cotehele House in the 15th Century, and the pub here is thought to date from the same period, although the current building is more recent.

  20. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a gate and stile on a bend with a Public Footpath sign on the left.

    The settlement of Metherell was first recorded during mediaeval times, in 1298. The name is thought to be mean "middle hill", from the dialect of English in use during mediaeval times.

  21. Cross the stile into the field and follow the left hedge to the end. Then continue ahead on the grassy strip to reach a stile.

    Lady's thumb, also known as "redshank", grows on moist, disturbed ground often along field edges and tracks. It is related to water pepper and has similar long leaves but the lady's thumb leaves have a dark blotch (hence the thumbprint basis of the name). Its flowers are also in bigger clusters of pink rather than the puny white strand that water pepper produces. It is edible but without the chilli-like heat of water pepper (which provides a more memorable way to tell them apart).

    The plant has a plethora of local names in different parts of the UK but East Anglia deserves a mention for its baffling "saucy alice" and - an alternative suggestion for how the leaves got their markings - "devil's arse-wipe".

    You are now re-entering the Tamar Valley AONB.

    The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a similar conservation status to a National Park. It encompasses an area of 75 square miles around the rivers Tamar, Tavy and Lynher, partly in Cornwall and partly in Devon. This also includes an area of Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape World Heritage Site, 41 county wildlife sites and over 1700 hectares of woodland. It was first suggested in 1963 that the Tamar valley area should be designated but this was only eventually granted in 1995.

  22. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to a point where a path departs to the left.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

    The remains of horizontal tunnels beneath the woods and spoil heaps further down the slopes are thought to be from early, possibly mediaeval, mining activity. The steep slope would have provided an opportunity for natural drainage, allowing shallow underground mining to occur near the top of the slope without the need to pump water out of the shafts.

  23. Bear left through the gap and follow the path downhill, keeping the wall on your right to reach a flight of steps. Descend these and follow the path a short distance further until it ends on a lane.

    The chestnut tree originated in Sardinia and there is evidence of its cultivation by humans from around 2000 BC. It was introduced into Britain by the Romans who planted chestnut trees on their campaigns to provide an easily stored and transported source of food for their troops.

  24. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends at a junction.

    The small stream collects water from around Metherell and is a tributary of the larger river which is down the bottom of the hill to the right when you reach the junction, and the route will shortly follow. There were at least four mills dotted along the river system here, all of which were used to grind corn.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  25. At the junction, cross over the road to the track opposite and keep right at Orchard Cottage to follow the path down into the valley to reach the weir.

    A leat runs from to the mill from the weir to power the waterwheel. The weir was badly damaged and most of it was washed away by a flash flood in December 2020.

    The waterwheel is an overshot design, with a wooden channel bringing water from the leat to the top of the waterwheel.

    Most waterwheels in Cornwall used the overshot approach which generally requires more construction effort to feed water to the top of the wheel, compared to an undershot wheel which is simply placed in the river. Fairly recent publications in engineering journals have demonstrated that overshot wheels are more efficient at transferring energy than undershot waterwheels. This would have been particularly important during drier months when the supply of water from a small stream can be very limited. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which has obvious advantages during floods.

  26. Continue ahead at the weir to follow along the left-hand side of the river. Continue until you reach a junction of paths at a signpost for the mill.

    The mill building at Cotehele dates back to the 18th century and was further developed during Victorian times. In the 1880s it was known as Murden Mill after the small settlement just upriver and by 1905 both had changed to Morden. It was originally used to grind flour and after this was used for grinding animal feed until the 1960s. It was restored in 2002 for grinding flour, and the mill bakery has also since been revived. The flour is on sale at the mill.

  27. Continue ahead in the direction signposted to the mill until you reach another junction, then follow the path ahead, signposted for Cotehele Quay, until it ends on a road.

    Cotehele mill is regularly used to grind grain from which the flour is sold in the mill shop. In the interests of science and lunch, a number of baking experiments have been tried with the Cotehele flour. It has a rustic, grainy texture that adds fantastic character to bread. The flour produces beautiful rustic breads when mixed 50:50 with strong white bread flour. When mixed at just a quarter with strong white flour it produces a dough which still has plenty of character and makes excellent rolls. These have been extensively tested in picnics on walks.

  28. Follow the road ahead to return to Cotehele Quay and follow along the edge of the Quay past the Discovery Centre to return to the Car Park.

    By Victorian times, the parish of Calstock had more lime kilns than any other in Cornwall, with many of these along the river at Lower Kelly and Cotehele where coal and limestone were landed. Often culm (a local soft, peaty coal) was used as the fuel. The coal and limestone was loaded into the top of the kilns and was allowed to burn for a week; this produced quicklime which was raked out of the bottom. The lime from the kilns was transported by horse and cart to the nearby farms and market gardens.

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