Golitha Falls and Siblyback Lake circular walk

Golitha Falls and Siblyback Lake

A circular walk through the Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve along ancient rights of way to pass around Siblyback Lake where the remains of a mediaeval field system rise from the water when reservoir levels fall.

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The walk starts from Draynes Bridge and loops through the Golitha Falls nature reserve. The route then crosses the Bulland Downs to the hamlet of South Trekieve to follow the remains of an ancient walled trackway which now fades out at the reservoir dam. The walk then follows the path around the perimeter of the lake before returning to the Golitha Falls car park.


  • Two of the stiles consist of stone footholds over walls. One wall is quite high.
  • The path alongside the river at Golitha Falls is quite uneven with boulders and tree roots and can get slippery after heavy rainfall.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 6.1 miles/9.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots; waterproof boots (possibly wellies) in winter.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 109 OS Explorer 109 (laminated version)

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


  • National Nature Reserve at Golitha Falls with beautiful woodland and riverside scenery
  • Panoramic views of the lake and surrounding hills from the ancient trackway from South Trekieve
  • 3 mile lakeside path around Siblyback


  1. Walk out of the entrance to the car park and bear right a short distance along the road to the end of the white line. Cross to the wooden gate and go through the gap to the left of the gatepost. Keep left at the junction of paths to follow the main (lower) path past the information board and dog bag dispenser. Continue on the path until you reach a junction of paths at a dog waste bin.

    At the Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve, the River Fowey cascades through a pretty valley covered in a mixture of ancient woodland and a beech avenue.

    The name is slightly misleading as there are no major waterfalls but rather a series of cascades and rapids. Once expectations are managed that something rivalling Niagara won't be encountered then it's a pretty spot to unwind and enjoy the riverside scenery and wildlife, and journey back through Cornwall's history from 20th Century china clay and Victorian mining to Celtic times where the last king of Cornwall drowned here in the river.

    In spring, the valley is carpeted with bluebells and in autumn, the trees are vivid colours and there are lots of fungi. In summer, look out for woodland butterflies such as the orange and black silver-washed fritillary; the males are attracted to orange items including car indicators!

  2. Just before the dog bin, take the stony path to the right leading uphill and follow this through the woods until the path ends in a junction with another path with a waymark post on the right.

    It is thought that the path running between the raised banks (that you emerge onto at the end of this direction) was once part of the leat that channelled water to a high point ready to power waterwheels below.

    The simplest design for a waterwheel is known as an undershot wheel where the paddles are simply dipped into flowing water. This works well in large rivers where there is a strong current.

    However, in hilly areas with smaller streams (such as Cornwall), the overshot design is more common where the water is delivered via a man-made channel (leat) to the top of the wheel where it flows into buckets on the wheel, turning the wheel through the weight of the water. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  3. From the waymark, follow the stony path leading downhill towards the river. When you reach the wooden railings, keep left to continue downhill to the water's edge. Then turn left and wind between the boulders alongside the river to reach a clearing with some fallen tree trunks.

    During Victorian times a mine, appropriately named Wheal Victoria, operated in the woodland here. The wheel pit beside the wooden fences contained a 30ft waterwheel and the sunken path running above it was once a leat that carried water to it. The mineshaft is some distance away from the waterwheel so it is thought that power was transmitted mechanically via a system of rods between the two.

  4. From the clearing, continue ahead to follow along the brook on your right. As a wooden footbridge on the left comes into view, make for this.

    The name of the River Fowey is from Fowydh, based on the Cornish word for tree, gwydh, and more specifically beech, fawen.

  5. Turn left before the bridge (don't cross it). Follow the winding path uphill to reach a sunken path running along a sunken channel.

    Golitha Falls is pronounced by most (even many Cornish) people as "Gol - eye - tha". However it is pronounced "Goleetha" by the local farmers in the immediate area and this considered the correct pronunciation. It was spelt Galetha in the 19th century and Goletha in 1949 so may have originally been pronounced to rhyme with "let" rather than "leet".

    It is thought that name may derive from an old Cornish word for obstruction, similar to the Welsh word gorlifo meaning "to overflow". Another possibility is the name is based around the Cornish word leth meaning "milk" which could have been used to describe white water on the rapids. The go- prefix means "slight" in Cornish so go-leth-a (literally "little milky place" could mean "small rapids").

  6. Turn right and follow the path along the leat (the sunken channel) leading underneath the overhead pipeline. Continue on the path along the leat until it ends in a junction of paths with the dog waste bin on your left and a granite block your right.

    The raised pipeline crossing the Fowey valley is more recent than the mining activity near Golitha Falls. The pipeline was used to transport china clay slurry from the pit north of St Neot at Parsons Park to the Moorswater works on the edge of Liskeard. The old china clay pit is now used as a reservoir for the public water supply, known as Park Lake.

    At Park Lake a floating pump is used to extract water from the surface of the lake without disturbing clay sediment. Due to the relatively flat profile of the lake, dropping the water level by up to 7 metres requires the pump to be on a floating pontoon 100 metres out from the shore. However, the wet surrounding moorland is able to replenish the water in the pit at several million litres per day.

  7. Turn right past the granite block and cross the bridge to reach the main river. Bear left to head upriver and follow the path to return to the lane.

    The Westcountry Rivers Trust began life in a meeting in a Devon pub in 1994 and was set up as a charity in 1995 to protect and improve the Westcountry's rivers and streams. It was initially a small grassroots charity staffed entirely by volunteers and was then run from the home of its first employee.

    In 2001 an umbrella organisation was set up to coordinate the work of four regional rivers trusts (including the WRT) and is now simply known as the Rivers Trust. The 4 founding members have been joined by another 53 that now cover all of Wales, most of England and some parts of Scotland and Ireland.

  8. Turn right onto the lane and follow it over the bridge to a junction. Turn left in the direction signposted to Bolventor. Follow the lane uphill past one old public footpath sign on the right opposite the cottages on the left. Continue uphill to a gate on the right opposite a braced telegraph pole on the left (which used to have a public footpath sign but may not yet have been replaced).

    From Golitha Falls to its source on Bodmin Moor, the river Fowey lies within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    There are 33 regions in England designated Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) many of which were created at the same time as the National Parks. In fact the AONB status is very similar to that of National Parks.

    There is a single Cornwall AONB which was established in 1959 and is itself subdivided into 12 sections. 11 of these are stretches of the coastline and the 12th is Bodmin Moor.

  9. Go through the gate on the right (it's a Gold public footpath) and follow the track ahead, keeping right at the junction of paths along the track leading down into the valley. Follow the path past a waymark on the left to reach a second waymark on the left with a tree ahead.

    The stones of sloes (and plums, cherries and peaches) contain the compound amygdalin which is metabolised into hydrogen cyanide. Therefore breaking the stones is best avoided when using them in cooking, gin etc.

    In mediaeval times, blackthorn was associated with evil. This may also tie in with the English word "strife" which has Celtic origins. Straif was the name of a letter used in Celtic Ogham script and was originally the word for "sulphur". Some of the other letters in the script corresponded to tree names. In late mediaeval times, a retrospective assignment of trees to the letters in the alphabet used for Ogham that weren't already tree names became popular (sometimes known as the "tree alphabet") and blackthorn was chosen for Straif.

  10. From the waymark, follow the path between the gorse and tree to reach one waymark on the right and continue a little further to reach a second waymark on the right.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for bread ovens and kilns as it burns rapidly, very hot and with little ash. It was in such demand that there were quite strict rules about how much gorse could be cut on common land.

    In more recent times, due to reliance on fossil fuels, this is now out of balance and gorse has increased in rural areas which have been abandoned agriculturally.

  11. Continue ahead on the path through the bracken and into the woods. Follow the path until you reach a stone stile crossing a wall ahead.

    The stream is a tributary of the River Fowey which it joins near Draynes Bridge at the start of the walk. The stream is fed by a number of moorland springs around Common Moor and Higher Gimble.

  12. Cross the stile over the wall and follow the fence on the right to reach the stream. Follow along the stream to reach a gate in the fence ahead.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  13. Go through the gate and follow along the wall on the left, past the gateway, to reach a gap at the top of the fence on the far side of the field.

    Sheep are now farmed pretty much solely for their meat rather than their wool. The reason that you may see scruffy sheep with wool falling off is that due to cheap synthetic (plastic) fibres, demand for wool declined through the late 20th and early 21st centuries resulting in many sheep not being shorn due to the wool price being lower than the cost of the labour to remove it.

  14. Go through the gap and follow the path between the fence and wall to reach a metal kissing gate.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

  15. Go through the gate and downhill a couple of paces to a track. Bear left to follow the track until you see a waymark on the right. Then make for this.

    Whereas many plants rely mainly on bitter chemicals to avoid being eaten by herbivores, thistles have gone one step further and evolved spikes. Grazing livestock will understandably avoid them which allows them to accumulate in pastureland and become a nuisance. One thistle plant produces thousands of seeds dispersed by the wind which can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years.

    Plant nutrients like phosphates and nitrates are used to improve the fertility of soils to make crops grow well. These chemicals dissolve easily in water and can wash into rivers where they stimulate the growth of algae. This uses up the oxygen in the water, suffocating the other aquatic life.

    Phosphates are also used in many laundry and dishwashing powders. These cannot be fully removed by the sewage treatment process and the remainder is discharged into rivers, causing serious damage. You can help to reduce this by switching to low or phosphate-free dishwashing and laundry detergents (Ecover brand is particularly good and their dishwasher tablets seem to work amazingly well). Other things to be on the lookout for around the home are waste pipes that go into drains instead of sewers (these don't get any sewage treatment so any phosphates go straight into rivers). It's worth ensuring cesspits/septic tanks are emptied regularly otherwise all kinds of nasty things including phosphates will seep from these through groundwater into rivers.

  16. At the waymark, cross over the stream then follow the wall on the right to a waymarked stile. Cross this and follow the path alongside the stream to reach a final stone stile with a Public Footpath sign.

    Foam on the surface of a river can look like pollution but, as with sea foam, it's normally a natural phenomenon. When water plants such as algae die and decompose, organic matter is released into the water. If the water is agitated, proteins in the water can form a froth, just like whisking egg whites. Plant nutrients entering the water will increase the amount of algae, making foam more likely or prolific so a very foamy river can be an indicator of nitrate or phosphate pollution.

  17. Turn left and follow the lane around the bend until you reach a track on the left with a public footpath sign, just past the sign for Rosemorran Bowjie.

    The first record of the settlement of Trekieve is from 1401 but given the Cornish place name it is thought to date from early mediaeval times. By 1665 it had been subdivided into separate "North" and "South" settlements. The name is thought to be based on the Cornish word kyf, meaning "stump".

  18. Turn left onto the track and follow it to where it ends in a gate into a field and a grassy path departs to the right.

    Ash trees are often easy to spot by the knobbly twigs all over the ground beneath the trees. They also have distinctive rows of quite small leaves. Ash trees can live for over 400 years and the life of the tree can be prolonged further by coppicing. Ash was traditionally coppiced to provide wood for firewood and charcoal. However, the name is nothing to do with this. It is from æsc - the old English word for spear. This comes about because ash is one of the toughest hardwoods and absorbs shocks without splintering. It is still used for making tool handles and sports equipment, including hammers, axes, spades, hockey sticks and oars.

    Ash trees in Britain are now under threat from a highly destructive fungal pandemic similar to Dutch Elm Disease, known as chalara or "ash dieback". Rather than being spread by beetles, this one is simply carried by the wind. Work is underway to try to find genetic factors which allow some trees to resist infection in order to breed a new generation of disease-tolerant trees.

    The Living Ash project started with over 150,000 seedlings gathered from a wide range of areas, planted during 2013 in locations with the most ash dieback. In 2018, grafts were taken from the 575 trees which appear to have resisted infection and planted alongside 420 grafts from trees in woodlands and hedgerows which also seem to have survived infection. The idea is that these can all cross-pollinate to maximise genetic diversity and it is hoped this will eventually become a source of seeds of disease-resistant trees.

    Similarly to Dutch Elm Disease, the chalara fungal disease that causes ash dieback is originally from Asia and the ash species there have co-evolved to be tolerant. In case attempts to breed disease resistant native ash trees are unsuccessful, work is underway to create hybrid species that closely resemble the Common Ash but with the disease resistance from an Asian parent plant.

  19. Bear right onto the grassy path between the walls and follow this until it ends in a gate.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the Latin name Digitalis (finger-like) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is possible that it is a corruption of another word. One suggestion is "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michaelmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

    The word "bramble" comes from bræmaz - a word of Germanic origin meaning "prickly". The study of brambles is involved enough to be considered a discipline of its own and is known as batology (from baton - the Ancient Greek word for blackberry).

  20. Go through the gateway (or wooden gate on the right of the main gate if closed) and bear left past the concrete structure to a gateway onto a track between two stone walls. Follow the track to where it opens out with a gateway to the left and a narrower section of track between the walls to the right.
  21. Keep right to continue on the track between the walls. Follow the track until it ends in a kissing gate.

    There are nice views to the right across the lake to Tregarrick Tor.

    The tor and surrounding Craddock Moor contain many prehistoric remains including standing stones and hut circles remaining from settlements. Somewhat more recently, the shots of Ross Poldark riding a horse in opening titles of the BBC's Poldark Series were filmed on Craddock Moor.

  22. Go through the gate and continue ahead towards the dam, visible just above the brow of the hill. As you cross the field, follow the line of the rocky gully to reach a wooden kissing gate in the hedge in front of the dam (not the metal gate to its left).

    The rocky gully once connected with the walled footpath earlier on the route as part of an ancient trackway. The isolated large tree in the field is also located where one of the walls was originally. This is thought to be mediaeval or older, possibly even prehistoric. The remains of banks within the field also suggest that there was a prehistoric enclosed settlement here which may possibly have been associated with the trackway.

  23. Go through the gate and take the path to the right signposted Car Parks and Café, leading around the lake. Follow this to a gate.

    In windy weather, if the path across the top of the dam is closed but the path to the right is still open then it's possible to follow the route as far as direction 27 to reach the café, then backtrack to here to continue the walk from direction 30.

  24. Go through the gate and follow the path to a lane. Cross the lane to the pedestrian path on the far side and follow this along the line of posts. Continue past the car park to the end of the line of posts near a postbox.

    The remains of an early mediaeval field system is submerged beneath Siblyback lake. After long periods of dry weather, remains of some of the stone walls can be seen.

  25. Bear left to cross back over the lane and pass through the pedestrian gap on the left of the gate. Follow the pedestrian walkway alongside the lane to reach the car park.

    In the 1990s, a process was put in place to transfer the leisure activities managed by South West Water to a new charity. The South West Lakes Trust was formed in 2000 and looks after the following lakes in Cornwall: Argal, College, Crowdy, Porth, Siblyback, Stithians and Tamar. The trust now also includes the Wheal Martin china clay museum.

  26. Walk through the car park towards the buildings to reach a gravel path departing to the left beside some signs.

    Moles are solitary except when breeding so a network of tunnels is occupied by a single mole. Moles typically live for around 3 years and when a mole dies, its tunnel network is often inherited by one of its offspring. Thus the expanding estate can be passed down through several generations. In wetland areas where there is no gradient available to retreat uphill from rising water, moles construct a large mound protruding around half a metre above the ground to act as an emergency flood shelter.

  27. Turn left and follow the path to a fork. Keep right to pass the post and continue to reach a junction with a tarmac path leading from the buildings.

    Boards with vertical sails were in use by Polynesians for short trips between islands. The idea of using a universal joint to connect a sail to a board was conceived in 1948 by Newman Darby in the USA who spent the next two decades perfecting the approach. The first boards went on sale during the 1960s and the sport of windsurfing was popularised in the 1970s.

  28. Cross the tarmac path and follow the Round Lake path past the shed. Continue on this, passing most of the way around the lake, to reach the dam.

    During the 1960s, possible schemes were explored for creating a reservoir in the upper reaches of the Fowey valley above Golitha Falls. Initially the plan was to dam the main Fowey valley which would have created a large lake but obliterated a number of farms. Therefore plan B was chosen - to dam a tributary valley and the result is Siblyback lake. The dam was completed in 1968 and at full capacity the lake holds over 3 billion litres of water. The reservoir is used to buffer the water levels in the River Fowey in the summer. The water is collected downriver for domestic drinking water at the Restormel treatment works. Siblyback is now managed by the South West Lakes Trust.

  29. Cross the top of the dam to reach a circular gravel area at the far end.

    Geese migrate to warmer climates for the winter and fly in a V-shaped formation known as a skein or wedge (on the ground, a collection of geese is known as a gaggle). The V-formation allows birds behind the leader to fly more efficiently as the rising air from flapping wings of the bird ahead helps to support the weight of the one behind. This can increase the range that the bird can fly by over 70%. The birds each take it in turns to do the harder job of flying at the front.

  30. Go through the kissing gate on the right beside the gate with a cattle grid and follow the track downhill to emerge onto another track.

    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.

  31. Bear left onto the track and follow this to where a stony track departs to the right just before the main track reaches a cattle grid.

    Tarmac's name has Scottish origins. In around 1820, engineer John McAdam pioneered a road building technique using stone chippings. Roads made from such chippings were then known as "macadam" surfaces (rather than McAdam) which is the origin of the "mac".

  32. Bear right onto the stony track and follow this to a gate.

    Bracken releases toxins into the soil which inhibit the growth of other plants, and the shade created by its large leaves and its thick leaf litter also makes it hard for other plants to compete. This and avoidance by grazing animals makes it quite difficult to control, particularly in steep areas where mechanised cutting or ploughing is difficult. Treading by livestock can reduce bracken's competitive advantage, particularly during winter when frost can attack the roots.

  33. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane for roughly three quarters of a mile to return to the junction with the Golitha Falls sign.
  34. Turn right across the bridge to complete the circular walk.

    Inkies started in 2014, initially catering at events and won the southern heat of the British Street Food awards in 2015. In 2016, Inkies moved to the Golitha Falls car park after acquiring a lease from Cornwall Council and refurbishing the toilets which had been closed for 5 years. Initially the smokehouse was just a converted horsebox in the car park. A crowdfunding project raised money to build the log cabin.

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