Delabole circular


A circular walk around Delabole past the slate quarry, along back lanes and tracks, and through fields and bluebell woods.

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The walk starts at the Delabole slate quarry and follows paths around the quarry then through fields, heading up through the hamlet of Medrose and onto a wide, grassy, cattle-droving track which skirts across the top of Delabole. The route then heads through Higher Pengelley, down into the woods at Helland Barton and along the River Allen, before climbing the slate tips back to the quarry.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 3.6 miles/5.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

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


  • Delabole slate quarry - once the biggest man-made pit in the world
  • Pretty woodland at Helland Barton with bluebells in spring
  • Panoramic views of the surrounding countryside near the cemetary
  • The Bettle & Chisel Inn within distance from the route
  • Quaint, old slate cottages built for the quarrymen in Pengelly
  • Pleasant scenery and wildflowers along the old cattle-droving track across the top of Delabole

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Bettle and Chisel


  1. Walk through the car park, to the left of the visitor's centre (ahead), and follow the track to the quarry viewing platform.

    Delabole Quarry is over a mile in circumference and was once the deepest man-made pit in the world. It is England's oldest slate quarry; the first written records of a slate order date from 1314 and slate almost certainly from Delabole has been found in prehistoric settlements on Bodmin Moor. Delabole slate is noted for its uniform colour, durability and imperviousness to rain, making it ideal for roofing. There is a visitor centre with some interesting historical photos including the Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales), plummeting down the tram line into the quarry.

  2. Facing the quarry, turn right onto the path around the quarry; follow it to the junction with a track.

    The layers of slate in the quarry were eloquently described in 1758: "The strata in the following order: the green sod, one foot; a yellow brown clay, two feet; then the rock, dipping inwards into the hill towards the south-west, and preserving that inclination from top to bottom: at first the rock is in a lax shattery state, with short and frequent fissures, the lamina of unequal thickness, and not horizontal: thus the rock continues to the depth of ten or twelve fathom, all which is good for nothing, and entirely to be rid off; then comes in a firmer brown stone, which becomes still browner in the air; this is fit for slating houses, and the largest size for flat pavement never sweating as the cliff slate, which is exposed to the sea air. This is called the top-stone, and continues for ten fathom deep, the stone improving somewhat as you sink, but not at the best till you come to twenty-four fathom deep from the grass; then rises what they call the bottom-stone, of a grey blue colour, and such a close texture, that on the touch it will sound clear, like a piece of metal. The principal horizontal fissures, which divide the strata, run from ten to fifteen feet asunder; they are no more than chinks or joints, and contain no heterogeneous fossil. The stone of this quarry weighs to water as 2-(62/121) are to 1, is not subject to rot or decay, to imbibe water, or split with falling, as the bottom-stone of Tintagel, and other quarries; but for its lightness, and enduring weather, is generally preferred to any slate in Great-Britain."

  3. Cross over the track and bear left onto the waymarked path along the fence. Follow this to a kissing gate and stile leading into a field.

    The working of the quarry is described in 1758 as follows: "The whole quarry is about three hundred yards long and one hundred wide: the deepest part from the grass is judged to be forty fathoms. The masses are first raised rough from the rock by wedges driven by sledges of iron, and contain from five to ten, twelve or fourteen feet, superficial square of stone: as soon as this mass is freed by one man, another stone-cutter, with a strong wide chisel and mallet, is ready to cleave it to its proper thin-ness, which is usually about the eighth of an inch; the shivers irregular from two feet long, and one foot wide, downwards, to one foot square and sometimes (though seldom) dividing into such large flakes as to make tables and tomb-stones. In this quarry several parties of men work on separate stages or floors, some twelve fathom from the grass, some twenty, others forty fathom deep, according to the portion of ground belonging to each party; the small shattery stone, not fit for covering houses, serves to shore up the rubbish, to divide the different allotments, and shape the narrow paths up and down the quarry; all the slate is carried with no small danger from the plot where it rises, on men's backs, which are guarded from the weight by a kind of leathern apron, or rather cushion; the carrier disposes his charge of stones in rows side by side, till the area allotted to his partners is full, and then horses are ready to take them off, and carry them by tale to the person that buys them."

  4. Go through the gate and follow along the fence on the left to reach another stile and kissing gate.

    The group of wind turbines to the right is Delabole Wind Farm.

    The Delabole wind farm was the first commercial wind farm in the UK, built in 1991 partly due to local opposition to a proposed nuclear power station which would have been somewhat suboptimal for the tourism on which Cornwall depends. In the 20 years since the Delabole wind farm was first built, the technology improved significantly. In 2011, the 10 original turbines were replaced with just 4 new models which are significantly more powerful and efficient. The cabling for the turbines is all underground and there are no access roads which allows the land beneath the turbines to be farmed.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the wall on the left to join a stony path at a waymark. Follow this along the fence to reach a kissing gate on the corner of the fence.

    The working in 1882 had changed with the advent of the steam engine: "The scene is enlivened by a throng of men busily engaged in various noisy employments, while waggons and horses are everywhere in rapid motion, and steam-engines are lifting with a harsh sound their ponderous arms, and raising loaded trucks from the depths of the pit, or masses of slate of several tons' weight, which are seen slowly ascending guide-chains to stages which overhang the quarry. The quarry is about 260 ft. in depth. Upon the edge of the quarry is the Papete Head, a projecting platform, from which a number of guide-chains are stretched like the shrouds of a ship to the base of the pit. The slate is first loosened by small charges of gunpowder ; it is then torn up by wedges and crowbars, and placed in trucks, which, being attached to a wheel which traverses a guide-chain, are drawn up by the steam-engine some feet above the Papete Head, Movable stages, called hatches or tables, are then run out under the trucks, which, being lowered upon a framework on wheels, are drawn away by horses to the different workshops, where the slate is split into various sizes, according to the purpose it is intended to serve. The water is pumped from the quarry by water-wheels into an adit, and the slate is shipped at the little harbours of Port Gaverne, Port Isaac, and Boscastle, the former being the principal port in the summer, the latter in the winter, as affording the best shelter to the vessels. About 1000 men are employed in these works, who raise on an average 120 tons of slate per day." ("Papete" is thought to be a local abbreviation of "Parapet").

  6. Go through the gate and turn left. Keep following the path along the fence to reach a gate leading to the houses on the right.

    The track here is the old trackbed of the North Cornwall Railway.

    The North Cornwall Railway was a venture backed by the London and South Western Railway to compete with the Great Western Railway for services to Cornwall. The North Cornwall line ran from Halwill in Devon to Padstow via Launceston, Camelford and Wadebridge and was built for economy rather than speed, including climbs and curves to avoid costly construction work. The line was opened in sections at the end of the 19th century, reaching Padstow in 1899. There was an aspiration to connect Wadebridge to Truro, but this was never realised. Due to holidaymakers increasingly travelling by car in the 1960s, demand for passenger services dwindled and the line was closed as part of the cuts in 1966.

  7. Continue ahead along the fence to pass the gate and reach a flight of steps with a metal handrail on the right.

    The huge pieces of slate winched from the quarry by steam engines were known as "steamers". Occasionally, a chunk would fall off one, back into the quarry, or a chain would snap and whip into the edge of the quarry, causing a rockfall. Landslips also occurred occasionally, due to faults in the rock above the face being quarried, or material on the edges of the pit collapsing. There were a number of injuries and fatalities but also some miraculous escapes. One quarrymen was saved by his pasty, which a cheeky raven grabbed and he gave chase, narrowly avoiding a landslip where he had been standing. Another quarrymen, ascending a ladder, was hit in the backside by a flying piece of slate and found himself sat, unhurt, on the grass at the side of the quarry pit!

  8. Climb the steps and turn left onto the lane. Follow the main lane (ignoring junctions to the left) until it ends in a T-junction with the main road.

    Even in Victorian times, slate was blasted with black powder (aka gunpowder), rather than high explosives such as dynamite. This is because high explosives combust with a supersonic shock wave known as a detonation wave, travelling at a speed of more than a mile per second. This causes very high pressure and resulting high temperature in the explosive, setting off neighbouring parts. This would shatter the brittle slate into tiny pieces, rather than breaking off large chunks.

    As fuse technology improved, holes were drilled at regular intervals along a quarry face, filled with black powder. These pockets were all blasted simultaneously using a linked fuse (electrically triggered in the latter years of quarrying), to break off a very large chunk of slate. You can sometimes see the blasting holes in waste pieces of slate on the slate tips.

  9. Cross the main road and turn right onto the pavement. Follow this past some houses until you see a track on your left marked with a public footpath sign.

    The road from Port Gaverne which joins the Delabole road was quarried out in the early 1800s by the Delabole Slate company and known as "The Great Slate Road". Around 100 ships a year came to Port Gaverne to collect slate, each capable of carrying 50-80 tonnes. It would take thirty wagons, pulled by over a hundred horses, to load a sixty ton ship. The slates were loaded by women, who then packed them in straw to protect them on the voyage. The incoming ships also brought coal from Wales and limestone, for the local limekiln, which was used to whitewash the cottages.

  10. Turn left onto the track marked with a footpath sign, and follow it to a stile at the end.

    The word "quarry" (for stone) comes from the Latin word for a square -quadrum. Rather than the initial extraction of the raw material, the name is based on the masonry work that took place afterwards to shape it into neat blocks.

    Although the same word in English was used for a hunted animal, this has completely different origins. It is from a mediaeval word for entrails (fed to the hounds) from an Old French word cuiree which came from the Latin word cor, meaning "heart".

  11. Cross over the stile on your right and bear left across the field towards the opposite left corner to reach a stile about 30 metres to the right of the field corner.

    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.
  12. Cross the stile into the next field and cross the field diagonally to the stile in the opposite corner between the two gateways.

    Every part of the dandelion plant is edible and is high in Vitamin A and higher still in Vitamin K. The leaves can be eaten in salads, though their bitterness is not to everyone's taste. However, the bitterness can be reduced by blanching: drop the leaves into boiling salted water and remove after a minute and quench in ice-cold water to prevent the leaves from cooking.

    Until 2005 it was thought that grasses evolved around 10 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct, based on the earliest fossil of a grass-like plant. Consequently the BBC went to great effort to find filming locations with no grass for its ground-breaking computer animation series "Walking with Dinosaurs". Since then, fragments of a grass plant related to rice and bamboo have been found in fossilised dinosaur dung. Also the fossil remains of a rodent-like creature which appears to have grass-eating adaptations suggests that grasses could have been around as far back as 120 million years ago.

  13. Cross the stile and turn left on the track, following it until you reach another stile.

    The slate tips you can see are from Trebarwith Road Rustic Quarry.

    Trebarwith Road Rustic Quarry is located on the road from Delabole to Trebarwith village. The quarry was originally known as "Jenkins Quarry" and was worked during Victorian times with a steam engine. By the 1880s it was recorded as disused and the engine house remained. By the 1900s, the engine house had been removed. The quarry was reopened in the 1960s as Trebarwith Road Rustic Quarry and was worked until the late 1980s when the business was sold. As well as rustic slate, blue elvan was also quarried here.

  14. Cross a stile and follow the grassy track to a gate and stile.

    Elvan is very hard volcanic rock formed where magma intruded into other rocks to form a (vertical) dyke or (horizontal) sill that cooled fairly quickly, resulting in fairly small crystals. Elvan can be seen in many of the churches across Cornwall where it is often used for intricate parts of buildings, such as doorways, so they can be finely carved.

    The term "white elvan" is sometimes used for those which are chemically very similar to granite (but in the case of granite, slower cooling resulted in large crystals) i.e. formed of mildly acidic compounds.

    The term "greenstone" is used by quarrymen to describe igneous rocks that, unlike granite, are rich in (basic) iron and magnesium compounds and these often give it a blue-green colour. When greenstone is formed as a sill or dyke it is sometimes called "blue elvan". This is also fairly common in Cornwall and has been quarried for a long time: in the Neolithic period, stone axes made from blue elvan were exported from Cornwall to various parts of Britain.

  15. Cross the stile onto a track by a farm and continue along the track to the end, where it meets a lane.
  16. When the track emerges onto a lane, turn left and follow it to a junction with the main road.

    At this point, turning right and following the road for about 200 metres would take you on a mid-walk diversion to the Poldark Inn.

    During the Second World War, a building near the Poldark Inn was used for counting holes in drogue (fabric) targets. These were towed behind aircraft known as a "target tug" for naval firing practice and dropped over Treligga Downs by the towing aircraft. They were then retrieved and laid out on long tables where the holes were counted. A reward of 5 shillings was offered to any member of the public who found one. Piloting a target tug aircraft was not without risk! The planes were often painted bright colours to help distinguish them from the targets they towed.

  17. At the junction, cross directly over the main road onto a track, which passes to the right of Pentire Workshops. Continue to follow the track downhill past the cemetery, until you reach a fork in the track at the slate sign for Helland Barton House.

    Another mid-walk diversion to a local pub can be taken here by turning left and following the road for about 200 metres to the Bettle & Chisel.

    The Bettle & Chisel is a public house on the main road in Delabole nearly opposite the lane to Pengelly. The pub takes its name from two of the tools historically used by slate quarrymen - bettle is a local dialect word for a lump (club) hammer. "The Bettle", as it's known locally, was, and still is, a favourite hangout of the quarry workers. The bar attests to just how much of a pub can be made from slate!

  18. Where the track forks in several directions, keep right and follow the track signposted to Helland Barton to a second fork in the track and another slate sign for Helland Barton.

    Slate is formed when clay or volcanic ash is compressed under millions of years of deposits to form shale, and then the shale is subject to a (relatively low, in geological terms) heat and pressure transforming it into a harder, less-crumbly rock - slate. The heat and pressure can arise from an intrusion of molten magma into the sedimentary rocks or from the friction associated with collision of tectonic plates. Like shale, slate also has a layered structure, splitting into thin sheets which have proven ideal for shedding water from roofs without collapsing them under the weight of stone. However, the direction that the slate splits into layers is often not the same as the direction of the layers that were laid down in the original shale. This is because a reorganisation of the mineral components occurs during the metamorphosis, based on the direction that the pressure was applied. In other words, it's possible to have stripey slates.

  19. Follow the track on the left through the gate, if open. Otherwise, walk a few paces along the right-hand track to the Helland Barton Farm sign and go through the waymarked kissing gate onto the left track. Follow the track until it passes through a gateway in a hedge.

    The second part of the Latin name of red campion - dioica ("two houses") - refers to the plants' gender. Some plants are male and others are female. The male plants' flowers can be recognised from five yellow stamens sticking out from a protruding ring in the centre of the petals. The female plants' flowers have no protruding ring and instead have 5 curly white stigmas. These produce a white froth to trap pollen.

    The settlement of Helland Barton may have the same name as one near Bodmin, but it is for different reasons. Whilst the one at Bodmin is thought to have its origins in the Cornish words hen and lan (meaning "old church"), this one is from the Middle English words meaning "hay land"; it was recorded in 1345 as Haylond.

  20. Go through the gate (or the kissing gate next to it if closed) and follow the track until it bends sharply right at an intersection of paths and tracks.

    Sycamore is a member of the maple family which is why the leaves look a bit like the Canadian flag. Although sycamore doesn't have the striking red autumn colour of other maples, the young leaves and developing seeds are a vivid red colour which is caused by similar red anthrocyanin compounds.

  21. At the junction, turn sharply left to take the small path and follow it downhill until it joins another path at a waymark.

    Mosses are close relatives of the first plants to colonise the land 500 million years ago. They descended originally from freshwater algae but evolved an outer coating that protected them from the temperature changes and UV radiation that made life on the land more of a challenge than in the water. There are now estimated to be over 10,000 species of moss.

  22. At the junction of paths, go left, passing a small quarry on your left and follow the path to where a footbridge comes into view on the right.

    There is a spectacular show of bluebells in the woods during the early spring.

    When photographing bluebells, the flowers that look blue to your eye can end up looking purple in photos.

    The first thing to check is that your camera isn't on auto white balance as the large amount of blue will cause the camera to shift the white balance towards reds to try to compensate.

    Another thing to watch out for is that the camera's light metering will often over-expose the blue slightly to get a reasonable amount of red and green light and the "lost blue" can change the balance of the colours. You can get around this by deliberately under-exposing the photo (and checking there is no clipping if your camera has a histogram display) and then brightening it afterwards with editing software.

    Ferns produce 2 different types of leaf (although they often look quite similar). The normal leaves are used for photosynthesis of sugars just like in other plants. Ferns also produce a special kind of spore-bearing leaf which can often be identified from the dots on the underside. In hart's tongue ferns, these are really obvious.

  23. Keep left past the footbridge, following the path alongside the stream. Continue on the path through the woods, keeping right along the stream, until you reach a stone wall from which the stream emerges with the path leading over a bank to the left.

    The stream is the start of the River Allen which is fed by the marshes around the edges of the slate tips.

    The Rivel Allen is a major tributary of the River Camel, joining it just above the estuary near Wadebridge. It was known as the Dowr Alen in Cornish, which is documented as meaning "shining river". There is also a River Allen in Truro, although that one is Dowr Lain in Cornish, so as long as you speak Cornish, you won't get them confused!.

  24. Follow the path to the left over the bank to reach a junction. Turn left at the junction and follow the path to another junction of paths.

    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.

  25. Turn right at the junction and follow the path to the top of the hill to reach a junction of paths with a fence ahead of you.

    After copper was discovered on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula in 1859, large numbers of Cornish miners settled there. By 1875, the Moonta mine on the Yorke Peninsula had surpassed Cornwall as the largest copper producer in the British Empire and became the first mine to pay out dividends of one million pounds. As as result, 10% of the South Australian population is of Cornish descent and there is even a Delabole Quarry in Willunga, near Adelaide.

  26. At the junction of paths at the top of the hill, turn left and follow the path to a kissing gate. Pass this and follow the left-hand path to return to the car park.

    Swanky beer was traditionally brewed six weeks before Christmas in Cornwall so it would be ready for the festivities. The beer is still brewed there on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. One of the Cornish-descended South Australians - Jan Gluyas - kindly posted this recipe:

    Boil five gallons of water and add 8 oz hops, 4lb brown sugar, 8oz ground ginger, 4 oz raisins and an ounce of salt. Boil for 45 minutes, then empty into a vessel and let stand until nearly cold. Then add two tablespoons of fresh yeast and allow to stand for 15-18 hours. Strain off the liguor and allow it to stand for at least 24 hours before bottling, making sure the bottles are clean and dry. Into each bottle put one fresh raisin (to prime the swanky) - then fill and cork, making sure that each cork is securely tied down. Swanky is a great "worker" so leave enough room for its head to form. It is ready for drinking when the head is about to force the cork out of the bottle.

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