East Moor and Lynher Valleys

A circular walk in one of the less well-known areas of Bodmin Moor to the summit of Fox Tor and through the prehistoric remains which date from the Bronze Age and Neolithic times.

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The walk starts on the lane from Tregrenna, where it heads onto the moor to Fox Tor. After climbing to the summit, the route descends to a series of ring cairns to Graymare rock and Carey Tor. The walk then follows an ancient right of way leading down from the moor into the Lynher valley. The walk then follows the valley upriver, crossing the river via an ancient clapper bridge to Trevague to complete the circle.

Considerations

  • On the approach to Clitters (direction 15) there is a year-round marshy area of track the needs to be negotiated.

Reviews

One of my favourites. Didn't meet a soul. Great walk across Bodmin Moor with just the ponies for company. Then Clitters Plantation where goblins and fairies live beneath the magical old trees. Just wonderful.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Panoramic views across Bodmin Moor from the summit of Fox Tor
  • Pretty woodland around Tolcarne and Treburland
  • Hut circles, boundary stones, cairns and other ancient remnants of a Bronze Age civilisation

Directions

  1. Facing the gateway, turn right onto the lane and follow it to a sharp right corner, after which the road goes through a gate.

    In May and June, the hedges are a mass of wild flowers. The pink ones are red campions.

    The roots of red campion contain saponins (soapy compounds) which protect the plants against microbes and fungi. These compounds make it easier for large molecules such as proteins to enter cell membranes. This has the potential to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy against cancer by allowing immunotoxins to enter the cancer cells more easily.

    The edge of the moorland is an ideal habitat for rowan.

    Rowan is a small, deciduous tree that is native to Britain and is also known as "mountain ash" because it grows at high altitudes and the thin leaves superficially resemble ash leaves. However, rowan is actually a member of the rose family.

    Another name for rowan is "(wild) service tree". This came about because the Old English name of the tree was syrfe and thus the "service" is in the sense of "serf".

    Orange berries appear in July and, once ripe, can be used to make jams. The raw berries are too bitter to eat and contain a chemical that causes indigestion and can lead to kidney damage. Cooking the berries converts this chemical into a benign compound. Freezing reduces the bitterness so this can be done prior to cooking. In the days before freezers, waiting until the first frost before picking was used to achieve something similar.

    Rowan is also sometimes called the "chequer tree", perhaps due to the spotted pattern of the fruit, and berries themselves are called "chequers". The berries were used to flavour beer and spirits which is thought to be the origin of the pubs with this name.

  2. At the bend, bear left onto the track that continues straight ahead and follow it to an iron gate.

    Due to the plentiful supply of water draining off the moor, damselflies are common here in spring.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

    The hedgerow trees include oaks.

    Wood from the oak has a lower density than water (so it floats) but has a great strength and hardness, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. This made it perfect for shipbuilding.

  3. Go through the gate and bear left to follow the sunken track. Cross over a small spring and keep right at the fork. Continue on the main sunken track around a bend to left for about 30 metres to where a stony incline on the right leads up onto the moor.

    The ponies on Bodmin Moor are semi-feral: they are all owned by farmers, but allowed to roam free on the moor. Many are not microchipped and look similar to others, so for people other than their owners, it can be difficult to tell to whom they actually belong. During the winter, natural food is scarce so the farmers supplement the ponies' diets; this prevents the ponies wandering off altogether.

  4. Bear right off the track and head up the hillside to the triangulation point at the summit of Fox Tor.

    The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the retriangulation of Great Britain - a project which to improve the accuracy of maps which took three decades.

    The brass plate with three arms and central depression was used to mount a theodolite which was used to measure the angles between neighbouring trig points very accurately. These angles allowed the construction of a system of triangles which covered the entire country and provided a measurement system accurate to around 20 metres.

  5. From the summit of Fox Tor, continue ahead in the same direction towards the summit of a small grassy hill in line with the depression in the hills along the skyline ahead. As you climb the hill, head for a ring cairn on the summit which looks similar to a lunar crater, now that the stones have fallen over.

    From the summit of Fox Tor, look left from the direction you climbed to see the peaks of Dartmoor on a clear day, and right to see Buttern Hill and Brown Willy. The wooded valley to the right is the source of the River Lynher and the tributaries are fed by water draining off East Moor.

    Brown Willy is a tor on the north-west area of Bodmin Moor. The name "Brown Willy" is actually a distortion of the Cornish Bronn Wennili which means "hill of swallows". The summit of Brown Willy is the highest point in Cornwall, at 420m above sea level, but only 20m taller than Rough Tor.

  6. From the ring cairns, bear left slightly towards the right-hand side of the valley to the right of the aerial on the skyline. As you cross the brow of the hill, slightly further to the right a massive boulder at the bottom of the hill will come into view - head for this.

    The piles or rings of stones known as cairns, were built for a variety of purposes: some ceremonial including burials, some practical such as markers in a calendric sundial. Although much speculation has taken place, the reason for the construction of each is now unknown. When radiocarbon dating was done on nine of the cairns on Bodmin Moor, eight gave average date ranges between 2162 to 1746 BC, suggesting the early Bronze Age was the main building period. The remnants you see today are in many cases a small fragment of the original structure as the rocks from many cairns have since been "re-purposed" for use in drystone walls, buildings, roads etc. The Cornish word for cairn is karn or carn (from karnow, meaning "rock piles") and Cornwall (Kernow) itself may actually be named after the cairns that dot its landscape.

  7. At the boulder, turn left and head for the stack of rocks on the next hill (Carey Tor).

    The large boulder is called Graymare Rock.

    The word granite comes from the Latin granum (a grain), in reference to its coarse-grained structure. Granite forms from a big blob of magma (known as a pluton) which intrudes into the existing rocks. The huge mass of molten rock stores an enormous amount of heat so the magma cools very slowly below the surface of the Earth, allowing plenty of time for large crystals to form.

    Granite formed as a molten blob of rock beneath the surface, underneath millions of tons of other rock. As the granite cooled, it cracked, mostly vertically due to the pressure from above. Hot water circulated through the cracks, reacting chemically with the rocks and depositing minerals. Over millions of years, the softer rocks above were eroded and the pressure from the weight of the rock above was released, causing horizontal cracking in the granite. The result is cubic blocks where the rough edges have been gradually smoothed by weathering.

  8. From the summit of the hill, continue ahead to pass the large rock outcrop on your right. Once past this, head towards the metal gate in the wall and turn left to keep the wall on your right. Keep following along the wall until you reach a track.

    Seven hut circles remain from a prehistoric settlement on the south-eastern slope of Carey Tor.

    The low stone walls remaining as hut circles were once the foundations of a round house. The granite foundations were likely to have been set into cob (mud and straw) walls which provided insulation and draft exclusion over bare-stone walls. A conical thatched roof on a timber frame rested on top of the walls. Heating was via a central fire which required some care with the thatched roof - presumably roof fires were not unheard of! These buildings varied in size from a just over a metre in diameter up to 10 metres. Some had walled enclosures attached and a few also had internal partitions.

  9. Follow the track to join a stony track leading from a farmyard gate.

    The tors to the right are Trewortha Tor (the stony one) and Hawk's Tor (with the more solid granite outcrop on the top).

    Tors started out a lump of granite beneath the surface, which cracked vertically into squares and then part-way through horizontally to form something resembling a stuck-together stack of square pancakes. Millions of years of weathering then gradually rounded these off and widened the cracks between the layers to result in a more burger-like appearance.

    In some cases the horizontal cracks didn't go all the way through so the layers are still joined (the skewer through the brioche bun to stretch the burger analogy to its limit). In the cases where they did fully separate, a massive rocking stone such as the famous Logan Rock at Treen could be created, or the whole lot could collapse into a pile of huge rocks.

    The "basins" on the tops of some of the tors are also the result of repeated freezing and thawing of water which has collected on the surface.

  10. Continue downhill on the track which becomes a lane. Follow the lane to a cattle grid.

    Foxgloves are reliant on bumblebees for pollination and bumblebees are much more active when the weather is good. As an insurance policy against bad weather, foxgloves have evolved to stagger their flowering over several weeks, starting with the flowers at the base of the stalk and working up to the top, where the higher flowers protrude over other vegetation that has grown up in that time.

    Water pepper grows on the wet ground along the streams and along the verge of the lane.

    Water pepper, as the name implies, grows on wet ground such as on the margins of lakes. The plant has a number of common names including "smartarse". As Emma Gunn points out in her foraging book "Never Mind the Burdocks", this is nothing to do with being clever: in the past, the dried leaves were added to bedding to drive away fleas etc. and the name comes from rolling over on a leaf in the wrong way. The leaves can be used as a herb and have have a lemony flavour similar to sorrel followed by heat which is a little like chilli.

    The first record of Bowhayland is from 1342 as Bogheineye. The name is thought to derive from Old English words for a curved track (boga is the word for "bow").

  11. Pass through the gate immediately on the left of the cattle grid and continue following the lane downhill until you reach a junction to the left with a Give Way sign and a sign for "Stonaford Barn".

    Whilst it's fairly obvious why cows are reluctant to cross a cattle grid, you might be surprised to learn that cows will also not cross a "virtual" cattle grid composed of dark and light lines painted on a completely solid surface. This even works with wild cattle who have never encountered a "real" cattle grid before and so is unlikely to be learned behaviour. It is thought that the reason is due to the limitations of cows' vision, specifically their limited depth perception means that they cannot discriminate between bars over a pit and a series of light and dark lines.

  12. Turn left and follow the lane until it ends in a parking area.

    Bluebells flower along the lane in the spring.

    In folklore, the bluebell is a symbol of constancy, presumably based on the fact that they flower in the same place every year. It was said that anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. This is probably the origin of the "…something blue…" that a bride should wear on her wedding day.

    Common valerian is a tall, upright plant with pink flowers that likes damp ground. It can reach 5-6ft high in sheltered places but in harsher environments such as the coast it's generally 2-3ft tall. The flowers have a pleasant scent and their nectar attracts butterflies.

    Due to some very unfortunate naming, there is potential for confusion with red valerian which is both more common in Cornwall and, despite its name, is most often actually pink (although sometimes red or white). If it grows in a wall or hangs out from a verge, or has profuse flowers, or is in flower before June, it's red valerian (even if it's pink or white). If it grows in a damp place and is upright with pale pink flowers in spaced-out flattish clusters a bit like cow parsley, then you've found some not-so-common common valerian.

    Valerian root has been used for centuries in herbal remedies to promote sleep. Some scientific analysis has been done on a subset of the broad range of chemical compounds that it contains and an effect is considered plausible although there is not yet any strong clinical evidence to support this. However, the smell of valerian's essential oil is less likely to promote sleep, described as "unwashed feet" or "well-matured cheese".

    Valerian root also seems to be an attractant to cats in a similar way to catnip. Perhaps it should be called "catnap"?

    The telegraph poles are handy perches for buzzards.

    The majority of buzzards diet is earthworms and carrion and consequently they have a reputation for being lazy and scavengers. However, when they need to be, buzzards are formidable predators. Diving on rabbits and small mammals from a slow or hovering flight, or from a perch, they nearly always make the kill on the ground.

  13. Keep left to pass to the left of the cottage and join a grassy path leading past the barns. Keep following the path, which opens out into a stony track to reach a gate.

    The Domesday survey of 1086 records Tolcarne as a manor held by "Ermenhald" from Tavistock Abbey which included 2 smallholdings. The manor was the residence of the Tolcarne family until the 17th Century. The current farmhouse dates from the 18th or 19th Century. Pieces of an earlier building's granite window frames have been used within some of the farm walls and as a gatepost. The name of the settlement is from Cornish words tal and carn and means something along the lines of "brow of the tor" - a reference the the ridge above it.

  14. Go through the gate and follow along the wall on the right. Where the path forks, keep right along the fence to reach a gate on the right. The path to the left at the fork can be used for an optional diversion to the Nine Stones circle (just over half a mile away), returning here to continue the walk.

    The Nine Stones Circle, near Fox Tor, comprises a ring of 8 stones with the ninth in the centre. It was reconstructed in the nineteenth century from stones of local granite, although some of the stones have since fallen again or are leaning at precarious angles. Alexander Thom proposed the circle is in lunar alignment with the nearby border stone row which leads towards some cairns, although this has been considered doubtful as the row is likely of mediaeval construction.

  15. Go through the gate then follow along the fence on the left to a bend where a marsh crosses the track (evident from reeds). If the ground is too marshy to cross, the field on the right can be used to bypass the marsh, re-joining the track after the reeds where the trees overhang. Follow the track past an old cottage and continue to reach a waymarked gate.

    The first record of the settlement of Clitters is from 1888 OS map. There is nothing recorded for it on the 1840 Tithe map which suggests the two ruined buildings as well as the inhabited one date from Victorian times. The woodland alongside (the Clitters Plantation) is recorded in the 1880s so is likely to be a similar age to the settlement.

  16. Go through the gate and follow along the wall to reach a fork in the track.

    Beard-like lichens (known as Old Man's Beard) are very sensitive to sulphur dioxide in the air. Where the air quality is poor, at best they only manage to grow a few millimetres and may not survive at all. Long beards are therefore an indicator of clean air.

  17. Bear right at the fork and follow the path along the side of the hill until you reach a waymark at a junction.

    Bracken is a type of fern. Many ferns have a leaf with leaflets leading out from the main leaf stem. In bracken, these leaflets also have their own mini-leaflets which most other ferns do not (but a few do). Another characteristic feature of bracken is that the fronds emerge from the ground singly rather than grouped in tufts. 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.

  18. From the waymark, bear right onto the track and follow the track downhill a short distance to a second waymark. Turn left along the track (which often has a small stream flowing along it) and follow it until you see a stile on the right.
  19. Cross the stile and follow the waymarked path through the woods until you reach a fork, then turn left onto the path between the last two rows of trees to reach a gate.

    Conifers evolved around 300 million years ago, a long time before the first dinosaurs. For nearly 200 million years, conifers were the dominant form of trees and it wasn't until around 65 million years ago that broadleaf trees were out-competing conifers in many habitats.

  20. Go through the gap on the left of the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow the track 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.

    Heronford was formerly called Newton. The earliest records of the settlement are from 1748. The name is Old English for "new farm" - equivalent to Trenoweth in Cornish.

  21. Turn right onto the lane to reach a ford. Cross via the footbridge to the left then continue on the lane to where it ends in a T-junction.

    The footbridge is thought to date from the early 19th Century.

    Clapper bridges are an ancient form of bridge built out of stone slabs spanning piers in the river. Most were built during mediaeval times, often beside a ford where horses and carts would cross. There is disagreement over the origin of the word "clapper". One candidate is an Anglo-Saxon word cleaca meaning "a bridge of stepping stones". Another is a mediaeval Latin word clapus which is is thought to have originated in Celtic Western Europe and mean "pile of stones".

    The ruins beside the junction near Trevague are the remains of Trevague Mill. This was a corn mill that is known to have been in use from at least 1856 and was recorded as still extant in 1907. Water was transported along quite a long leat from a weir near the bridge over the lane at Tregrenna.

  22. Turn left and follow the lane a few metres to a grassy island with a Public Footpath sign. Turn left onto the drive and follow it to a gate.

    Where tracks met in a T-junction, this presented a challenge for horses and carts as these didn't have a tight turning circle. The triangular islands often visible on junctions of tracks and small lanes today were formed by the cartwheels cutting the corners of the junction. Eventually these cut corners were formalised as surfaced tracks with a grassy triangular island in the centre.

  23. Go through the gate into the yard and turn right to pass the buildings and reach a gate in the fence. Go through the gate and bear right across the lawn to a stone stile in the corner.

    The manor of Trevague is recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 which states it was held by Alwin (which sounds like a Celtic name) in 1066 but had been transferred to (the Norman landowner) Nigel by 1086. The manor contained land for 6 ploughs, 1 acre of woodland, and pasture. The settlement consisted of 8 villagers and 18 smallholders. There is also a record of a chapel at Trevague from the 15th Century.

  24. Cross the stile and turn left into the field. Follow along the left hedge to a gap into the field ahead.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. 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:

    Do

    • 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).

    Don't

    • 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.
  25. Go through the gap and follow the left hedge to a stile in the far corner.

    The reason that you can cut yourself on a blade of grass is that grass leaves contain minute particles of silica (glass). As well as deterring some animals from grazing, these particles also help to give the stems more rigidity.

  26. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to the gateway opposite.
  27. Go through the gateway and follow the left hedge to the left-hand of the two gates ahead (in the very corner).
  28. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach another gate at the far end.

    A well-known country remedy for the stings of nettles is to rub the sore area with the leaf of a dock plant. A common misconception is that dock leaves are alkaline and neutralise the acids in the nettle sting but, in reality, docks contain a mild (oxalic) acid. Also the formic acid in nettle venom is at a concentration that is too low to cause a sting, and it is instead a combination of neurotransmitters (histamine, serotonin and acetylcholine) in the venom which causes skin irritation. Although dock is claimed by some to contain a natural antihistamine, no scientific evidence has been found for this. It is thought that it is simply the rubbing and moisture in the leaf which provides a short-term relief/distraction whilst the sting itself is diminishing over time. The most effective relief is likely to be from an antihistamine cream but only if applied quickly enough. Alternatively, almost any moist leaf should provide a little relief, with the exception of another nettle leaf!

  29. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane over the river and back to the start of the walk.

    The first record of the settlement of Tregrenna is from the Domesday survey of 1086 when it was spelt Tregrenou. Other than "Tre" signifying an early mediaeval farmstead, the origin of the name is unknown.

    The River Lynher (pronounced "liner", as in ocean) is just over 20 miles long, rising on Bodmin Moor and joining the Tamar in its estuary near Saltash. The name dates back to mediaeval times, being recorded as "Lyner" in 1318. It is also known as the St Germans River at the point where it widens into a broad, tidal channel, close to its mouth.

    During Victorian times, the river was polluted by copper mining waste and during the late 20th century, runoff from intensive dairy farming and an increase in arable farming were found to be affecting water quality and silting the gravel beds needed by spawning salmon. In the early 21st century, a number of these issues were addressed under the Cornwall Rivers Project.

    The river is now a haven for wildlife with several stretches being designated as Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSIs). The river's resident species include otters, brown trout and Atlantic salmon which breed in its major tributary, the Tiddy.

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

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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