Gunnislake to Chilsworthy circular walk

Gunnislake to Chilsworthy

A circular walk in the Tamar Valley at Gunnislake where Victorian canal systems, engine houses and tramways have been recolonised by nature and kingfishers rather than barges now journey up and down the river.

Get the app to guide you around the walk

Phone showing walk for purchase
Download the (free) app then use it to purchase this walk.
Phone showing Google navigation to start of walk
The app will direct you to the start of the walk via satnav.
Hand holding a phone showing the iWalk Cornwall app
The app guides you around the walk using GPS, removing any worries about getting lost.
Phone showing walk directions page in the iWalk Cornwall app
The walk route is described with detailed, regularly-updated, hand-written directions.
Person looking a directions on phone
Each time there is a new direction to follow, the app will beep to remind you, and will warn you if you go off-route.
Phone showing walk map page in the iWalk Cornwall app
A map shows the route, where you are at all times and even which way you are facing.
Phone showing facts section in iWalk Cornwall app
Each walk is packed with information about the history and nature along the route, from over a decade of research than spans more than 3,000 topics.
Person looking at phone with cliff scenery in background
Once a walk is downloaded, the app doesn't need wifi or a phone signal during the walk.
Phone showing walk stats in the iWalk Cornwall app
The app counts down distance to the next direction and estimates time remaining based on your personal walking speed.
Person repairing footpath sign
We keep the directions continually updated for changes to the paths/landmarks - the price for a walk includes ongoing free updates.
The walk follows Calstock Road to the Tamar and passes along the canal built to reach the non-tidal quay above the weir. The walk continues along the river to Newbridge featured in Turner's painting Crossing The Brook. The walk then enters Clitters Wood and follows the woodland path and a mediaeval holloway to Chilsworthy. The return route is past the engine houses of Gunnislake Clitters Mine where the main shaft descends half a kilometre which is equivalent to half of the walk back to Gunnislake.


  • After prolonged heavy rain, the River Tamar can burst its banks and flood the path.

Buy walk

Sign in to buy this walk.

This walk is in your basket. Proceed to your basket to complete your purchase.

My Basket Remove from basket

You own this walk.

An error occurred while checking the availability of this walk:

Please retry reloading the page. If this problem persists, please contact us for assistance.

Reload page

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots. Waterproof boots after prolonged wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 108 OS Explorer 108 (laminated version)

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


  • Rich heritage including mining and canal trade
  • River wildlife including kingfishers, damselflies etc

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Bucaneer Inn
  • The Cornish Inn
  • The Rising Sun Inn
  • The White Hart


  1. Turn left out of the car park and walk a few paces downhill on the lane to reach the main road. Turn right onto the main road and follow this uphill until you reach a junction with Calstock Road (opposite the Cornish Inn) with a signpost for the Rising Sun.

    The settlement of Gunnislake dates from mediaeval times and is based on the Old English word for "stream" and a personal name.

  2. Bear left down Calstock Road and follow it for just over half a mile, passing the Rising Sun and "Hatches". Continue a little further until you reach a track on the left with a public footpath signpost immediately after the national speed limit sign.

    St Anne's Church was built by the Anglican church to compete with the Methodist chapels within Gunnislake (as previously a visit to the parish church required a walk to Calstock). It was completed in 1880 by which time Gunnislake had become a large industrial village. The site chosen was next to the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel (built in 1834) which later became used as a Sunday School.

  3. Bear left down the track to reach a parking area by a house.

    Some mosses are able to absorb 20-30 times their own weight in liquid. Moss was used in several ancient cultures as nappies: babies were carried in a moss-lined bag to prevent leaks. Moss has also traditionally been used to line hanging baskets which are very prone to drying-out. Areas of moss help to protect soil from erosion by runoff and rivers from sediment and flooding by capturing rainfall and giving it chance to soak slowly into the soil.

  4. Keep right across the parking area and follow the small path leading ahead (initially towards the limekiln) to reach a path along the river.

    Internally, a lime kiln consisted of a conical stone or brick-lined chamber which was loaded from the top with alternating layers of limestone and carbon-rich fuel such as charcoal, peat or coal. At the side of the kiln was an alcove known as an "eye" which was used to access the kiln and remove the quicklime from a hole at the bottom of the chamber. The kiln was often run continuously with more layers of fuel and limestone added to the top as the previous layers worked their way down through the kiln. Air was drawn in through the bottom of the kiln and heated up as it passed through the quicklime (also cooling the quicklime) before it reached the level where combustion was taking place.

  5. Turn left onto the riverside path and follow it through the woods past a house with a bridge and join a track to emerge beside a row of cottages at the end of a wall.

    The footpath crosses over the remains of a tailrace from a mill which was situated at the end of the row of cottages where the path passes along a wall. The mill was used to manufacture paper in the early 1850s and after this as a bone mill to manufacture fertiliser.

    Bone mills used the power from a waterwheel to crush animal bones and produce bonemeal. The bonemeal was primarily used as a fertiliser to release phosphorus into the soil, which is a vital mineral for healthy crops. In the 20th century, fertilisers based on phosphate minerals, which could be mined cheaply, made bone mills uneconomical. However, the known phosphate reserves are expected to run out within a few decades and so organic phosphorus sources such as animal bones, and even urine, may become increasingly important for farmers.

  6. Continue to follow the track past the row of cottages to reach a pair of cottages on the right numbered 1 and 2.

    The lock that the footpath passes was the sea lock for the Tamar Manure Navigation Canal. The cottage beside the lock was originally occupied by the lock-keeper.

    The Tamar Manure Navigation Canal was originally intended to connect with the Bude Canal to bring beach sand and lime (known at the time as "manure") up to the Tamar Valley. However only 500 yards of canal were ever completed - just the section with a sea-lock which bypassed the weir at Weir Head and allowed barges to move from the tidal area below the weir to the quay in the non-tidal area above. Despite its modest length, the canal outlasted all others in Cornwall and was in use for nearly 120 years.

  7. Bear right along the front of the two cottages to reach a small waymarked path. Follow the path along a fence and then alongside the canal to reach a building beside the weir.

    A weir at Weir Head was originally built as a fish weir during mediaeval times by the monks of Tavistock Abbey and a waterside settlement of "Ware" was documented in the 14th Century. The weir consists of 2 metre wall with two fish ladders and was designed to help salmon break through the strong river and tidal currents to be able to swim upstream to spawn.

    The weir was rebuilt in around 1800 as part of the Tamar Manure Navigation project in order to create a barrier between the tidal and non-tidal regions of the river and maintain a navigable depth of water up to New Bridge.

  8. From the weir, continue on the path to reach a junction of paths near a small building (pumping station).

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish, as their name implies, but they also eat many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

    The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  9. Keep following the path alongside the river to reach a metal barrier crossing the path.

    One of the birds you might be surprised to encounter this far from the sea is a cormorant, but they are often seen here fishing in the river.

    The large black birds nesting on offshore rocks, known colloquially as the cormorant and shag, are two birds of the same family and to the untrained eye look pretty similar. The origin of the name "shag" is a crest that this species has on top of its head and the cormorant doesn't. The cormorant is the larger of the two birds with a whiter throat. The shag's throat is yellow, and mature shags have a metallic green sheen on their feathers which cormorants lack.

  10. Continue ahead from the barrier and follow the path alongside the river until it ends on the road beside a bridge.

    Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, around 300 million years ago in the "age of amphibians" before the dinosaurs. Fossils of early dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet across.

    We are so used to seeing sediment in rivers that we've come to accept it as normal but no river should be brown. Sediment is often a product of human activity including eroded river banks, runoff from ploughed farmland and even cattle poaching. It can smother riverbed gravels that are essential for fish spawning. It can also act as a carrier for other pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides. As well as being toxic, the smell of these chemicals can prevent salmon from detecting their home spawning grounds. That may all sound a bit doom and gloom but the good news is that this damage can be reversed. Pilot schemes of washing and returning gravel to the rivers have had spectacularly promising results, with breeding salmon becoming re-established within just a few years. The Westcountry Rivers Trust are also working with farmers on improving drainage systems to steadily reduce the amount of new sediment and chemicals entering rivers.

  11. Cross the road carefully to the track opposite and follow it uphill, sticking to the main track and ignoring Public Footpath signs and forks until you reach a point where the track forks 3 ways with a shed in the middle and a post in front of this with a blue waymark.

    Newbridge was built in around 1520 by Sir Piers Edgcumbe - the owner of the Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe estates. It is constructed from rectangular granite blocks and its seven arch span is 182 feet long. The bridge formed the main route into southeast Cornwall and was the site of a civil war battle in 1644. It is featured in J.M.W. Turner's famous painting "Crossing the Brook" which was exhibited in 1815. Turner said of the Tamar Valley: "I have never seen so many natural beauties in such a limited spot as I have seen here."

  12. Approach the shed and take the small path immediately to the left of this indicated by the blue arrow. Follow the path parallel to the river and then continue following the main path uphill until it eventually emerges onto a lane.

    The path passes some of the remains of Gunnislake Clitters Mine, now mostly hidden by the trees.

    Gunnislake Clitters Mine began in 1820 using an adit dug next to the river to drain the mine and a waterwheel for pumping out the water. In the 1860s, steam engines were installed allowing deeper mining below the level of the adit. The mine reached its heyday in the early 1880s when it employed almost 200 people and raised an average of over 2,500 tonnes of ore each year. Ores raised from the mine included copper, tin, arsenic and wolfram (tungsten). The mine was re-opened at the time of the First World War specifically for tungsten needed for armaments and finally closed in 1920.

  13. Turn right onto the lane and follow it downhill past one waymark to a sharp bend with another waymark.

    The mine now known as South Devon Mine (despite being located in Cornwall) was originally called Wheal Bramble and was first worked for copper ore some time before 1853 by driving a horizontal tunnel (adit) into the hillside to drain the mine. In 1854 a second adit was created and ventilated using a machine driven by a 20ft waterwheel. A beam engine drained the workings below the level of the adit and an engine house, boiler house and partly collapsed chimney still remain. The mine was active during the 1850s and was renamed the River Tamar Copper Mine in 1857. Work continued into the 1860s then the mine closed and was re-opened in 1896 for arsenic ore (mispickel). The cottage called Wheal Bramble is thought to have originally been the count house (administrative office) for the mine and garages etc. at the property are converted from some of the mine outbuildings.

  14. Keep left to follow the tarmacked lane around the bend and uphill to a concrete path marked "Unsuitable for motors".

    More than 7000 people were employed in the mines of the Tamar Valley during Victorian times and Gunnislake was amongst the wealthiest mining areas in Europe. Arsenic continued to be produced from the mine at Greenhill in Gunnislake until at least 1930.

  15. Keep left to follow the path leading uphill until it ends where a lane meets a driveway.

    The path is the remains of a mediaeval hollow way linking the settlements of Bitthams and Chilsworthy. It is thought that the flat bottom is an indication that it was used by horses and carts. The ruins of a mediaeval cottage are also located on a bend part-way along the path.

  16. Continue ahead onto the lane and follow it uphill until it ends in a T-junction with another lane.

    The house to the left is on the site of Chilsworthy mine. This was one of several unsuccessful attempts to sink mines to tap into the lucrative copper lode that was being worked on the opposite side of the Tamar by the Devon Great Consols mine which was one of the largest copper producers in Europe and chief arsenic producers in the world. This was the largest unbroken copper sulphide lode in Southwest England and the ore was also unusually rich.

  17. Turn left onto the lane and follow it through Chilsworthy until you reach a small lane departing to the right, opposite the pub.

    Chilsworthy was first recorded in 1337 spelt Chillesworthy. The name is Old English and means "Chilles' farmstead" (it is assumed that the first part is a personal name).

  18. Bear right onto the lane (with the disabled parking space) and follow this a short distance to a bend with a pair of footpath signs and a grassy path leading ahead.
  19. Follow the grassy path ahead, past the house. Continue following the path to reach an old railway line and climb up the side of the bridge to reach a lane.

    The railway was part of the branch line between Bere Alston and Callington built in 1908. Much of this railway now forms part of the Tamar Valley Line but Callington Station closed in 1966 and so the Tamar Valley Line now terminates in Gunnislake.

  20. Turn left onto the lane and follow it downhill, signposted to Gunnislake, until it eventually ends in a T-junction.

    The area with the engine houses by the road was known as Skinners and was part of the Gunnislake Clitters Mine. Three engine houses were built: one for pumping, one for hauling items up from the main, and one for crushing ore. There was also a boiler house connected to the three engine houses by steam flues. The mineshaft next to the pumping engine, known as Skinners shaft, is half a kilometre deep - one of the deepest in the area.

  21. Turn left, then immediately right onto Chapel Street and follow this until you reach Hoopers Lane (marked with a school sign) on the left.

    The ferns with solid leaves are appropriately called hart's tongue as the leaf resembles the tongue of a deer. It's an evergreen so leaves can be seen all year round but there's usually a flurry of new growth in mid March when new leaves can be seen gradually unfurling over a number of days. The Latin name for the species means "centipede" as the underside of the leaves have rows of brown spore cases that form a pattern resembling centipede legs. The plants thrive in shady places and are tolerant of the lime used in mortar so are sometimes found growing in old walls.

  22. Turn left onto Hoopers Lane and follow this to a corner beside the school.
  23. Keep right at the corner to stay on the lane and follow it back to the village car park.

    Gunnislake lies within 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.

either as a GPS-guided walk with our app (£2.99) or a PDF (£1.99)

Please recycle your ink cartridges to help prevent plastic fragments being ingested by seabirds. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.