Gwennap Pit to Carn Marth short circular walk

Gwennap Pit to Carn Marth (short version)

A circular walk at Carn Marth with panoramic views right across mid Cornwall to Falmouth and the Roseland, the Cornish Alps and Bodmin Moor, and St Agnes and Trevose Head

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From Gwennap Pit the route circles Carn Marth before climbing to the top via Pennance Mine, Figgy Dowdy's Well and the amphitheatre.

Considerations

  • The final path on the route gets quite muddy in winter which is not excessively deep and certainly fine in wellies but you can alternatively bypass this by staying on the lane and skipping the last 2 directions.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 2.7 miles/4.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • The infamous Gwennap Pit
  • Panoramic views from Carn Marth
  • Mining Heritage

Directions

  1. Go through the entrance gates to Gwennap Pit and climb the steps to reach the pit. Cross the pit to the steps leading down the other side and go through the gate, then bear right to reach a lane.

    Gwennap Pit originated as either a mine collapse (reputed to have been formed from subsidence of part of Cathedral Mine) or possibly from an open-cast working. It became famous as it was used in its unimproved form by John Wesley for preaching on 17 occasions from 1776-89. In memory to Wesley, in 1806, local miners further excavated the pit into a neater oval shape and added terraces to create 13 rows of seats, creating the elegant structure that is visible today.

    Somewhat at odds with preaching a religion based around modesty and restraint, Wesley greatly exaggerated the size of the pit. His estimate of an audience of 32,000 also seems unlikely as the current pit can accommodate around 1,800 people. Moreover, in the mid-late 1700s, the entire population of Cornwall was only around 150,000 and due to quite high infant mortality at the time, a large percentage of the population were babies and young children. Audience size would also have been limited by transport: most poor people didn't possess a horse and would need to walk from their homes. In fact, the long walk from fishing villages to Anglican parish churches (often on high ground, nearer God) was one of the reasons that Methodism (which could be practised within the village) became so popular.

    More about Gwennap Pit.

  2. Turn left onto the lane and follow it for just under half a mile to reach a junction to the left.

    In most of the UK, thatch was the only roofing material available to the bulk of the population until Victorian times when slate became more widely available. At this point, thatch became regarded as a mark of poverty and therefore socially undesirable. In Cornwall, the transition from thatch to slate began earlier due to the local availability of roofing slate, particularly from Delabole.

    During the 20th Century, availability of good quality thatching straw declined after the introduction of the combine harvester and the release of short-stemmed wheat varieties. In 1964, heavy fines were introduced for growing an unregulated variety of wheat and all the traditional, tall-stemmed varieties that were used for thatching became illegal.

  3. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to where a track marked with a Public Bridleway sign departs to the right, just before the large green tank.

    The style of the remodelled Gwennap Pit was copied in 1850 at Indian Queens, and a couple of years later at St Newlyn East. A quarter-circle version also exists near St Austell at Whitemoor, first documented in 1871. An old quarry on Tregonning Hill was also used in its unimproved form for Sunday School meetings from the late 1800s which is also likely inspired by Gwennap Pit's fame.

  4. Turn right and follow the track to where a driveway to a house splits off to the left.

    The spike at the very top of the hill ahead is the Basset Monument on Carn Brea.

    The 90ft high Celtic cross on the top of Carn Brea was erected as a monument to Francis Basset and is inscribed "The County of Cornwall to the memory of Francis Lord de Dunstanville and Basset A.D. 1836."

    Basset gained the title of Baron for defending Plymouth from the combined fleet of the French and Spanish in 1779, and calming a miners' food riot in 1785. Towards the end of his life, he was part of the group who petitioned the House of Lords against slavery in 1828.

  5. Continue ahead on the main track to where a small path departs to the left, opposite a waymark post on the right.

    To the right of the Basset Monument is Carn Brea castle.

    Carn Brea Castle is on the site of a 14th Century chapel dedicated to St Michael. In the 18th Century it was rebuilt as a hunting lodge for the Basset family in the style of a castle. During the 1950s to the 1970s the building fell into disrepair but was renovated from 1975-1980 and is now in use as a restaurant. There are panoramic views which include St Ives Bay and the coast around Portreath. Consequently, from the sea, the building is a clear landmark and formed an important beacon for shipping: a lease from 1898 stipulates that the tenant must maintain a light in a north-facing window.

    More about Carn Brea Castle

  6. Turn left onto the path and follow this to a junction of paths and tracks in a clearing a few paces after passing a garage 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.

  7. Turn left and follow the track until it emerges onto another (concrete) track.

    Bracken has been used as a fuel for centuries but is of interest as a modern biofuel due to its very high calorific value. Normal firewood produces around 15-19 gigajoules of heat per tonne of material (depending on moisture content - drier is more efficient hence kiln-dried logs). Elephant grass can produce around 18 GJ/t and bracken can deliver 21 GJ/t. At least one company has piloted creating compressed fuel briquettes from bracken in a similar way to elephant grass.

  8. Bear right and follow the track to where a path marked with a Public Bridleway sign departs to the left a few metres before the track ends at a main road.

    Robins are one of the birds that you're likely to see in an area such as this close to human habitation.

    Robins are able to hover like kingfishers and hummingbirds and use this skill when feeding from bird feeders, which they are unable to cling to.

  9. Turn left and follow the path uphill until it ends on a track.

    Navelwort grows on the shady wall beside the path.

    Navelwort produces flower spikes with small green bells from June to September. When the flower spike is first forming it is a rather beautiful structure and is a perfect subject for macro photography.

  10. Bear right onto the track and follow this to where it forks either side of a grassy triangle with a waymark post.

    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.

  11. Keep left at the fork to join the mining trail and follow this past the engine house to where 4 tracks depart.

    Pennance mine (originally known as Wheal Amelia) was a small mine which produced copper, and later tin. It was renamed "Pennance Consols" in order to make it sound larger and attract money from investors "upcountry", ignorant of its small size. It closed in 1874. Its unofficial local name was Wheal Bloody Nose which has been attributed to a fight between miners but could also have been a reference to the outcome for unwary investors.

  12. Bear left onto the concrete track with the "No public right of way for vehicles" sign (immediately to the left of the Mining Trail) and follow it uphill to where it widens with two gates into quarries either side of a Carn Marth information board.

    Roughly half-way between the gate and the end of the concrete wall and where the track widens to the quarry entrance is a small gap in the wall on the right leading to some steps which lead down to Figgy Dowdy's well.

    The well is associated with a woman known either Figgy Dowdy or Margery Daw (as in the see-saw nursery rhyme). This may have its origins in a Celtic saint or possibly a pre-Christian fertility goddess. In the 19th Century, there was a custom to bring dolls here to be Christened.

    The see-saw nursery rhyme is thought to have originated as a sawyers' work song, used to keep rhythm on a two person saw. It is thought that the name "Margery Daw" was simply invented to rhyme with "see-saw", whilst the part about living on a penny a day for slow work was encouragement to keep sawing!

    More about Figgy Dowdy's Well.

  13. Continue on the track to where it ends in a junction with another track beside a lake.

    In 1877, four large granite quarries on Carn Marth were recorded on the 1st Edition OS map. Two of these later merged to form the lake at the top of the hill. The other two are overgrown pits at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the track from the lake. The one now converted to create the amphitheatre opened a little later in the 1880s and was worked for around 100 years until the 1980s.

  14. At the junction by the lake, turn right and follow the track downhill to a crossing of paths beside a derelict building.

    Carn Marth is 235 metres high and like Carn Brea is formed from an outcrop of granite which pushed up through the original rocks to form a hill. From the top, the hills of Bodmin Moor can be seen and a topograph (being restored at the time of writing) near the lake indicates the locations of surrounding landmarks. Carn Marth has therefore been used as a site for a beacon for many centuries, including as part of the Tudor early warning system where a chain of hilltop fire beacons was used to warn of an invasion. The remains of 3 barrows suggest that it has been important since prehistoric times and an urn with a Roman coin suggests this continued into the Dark Ages.

  15. Turn left and follow the track past the building. Continue to reach another crossing with a path continuing ahead.

    There are several different reasons why passing walkers should never feed horses. A range of plants can make horses ill and many human foods such as chocolate also contain cumulative poisons that build up over time. The horse could also have allergies to a normally safe plant or have an underlying medical condition such as blood sugar issues. A horse may have behavioural problems that feeding it can make worse, and singling a horse out for "special" attention can also cause it to be attacked by jealous herd members. Some horses may also accidentally bite a hand containing food even when held flat.

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

  16. Continue ahead and follow the path until it emerges on a track at another junction.

    Hawthorn's red berries, also known as haws, are abundant in September and October. These are an important winter food for birds such as thrushes and small mammals such as dormice and wood mice.

    The genus name for campions - Silene from the often-drunk Greek woodland god Silenus whose name derives from the Greek word for saliva. The name is thought to be based on the froth on the female flowers used to trap pollen although its habitat preference including semi-shade within woodland also fits fairly well.

  17. Continue ahead and follow the track until it ends at a lane.

    Blackbirds are quite fond of walled paths such as this, particularly where there a bushes nearby.

    Only male blackbirds are actually black. The females are brown. The difference in appearance between males and females is known as sexual dimorphism and is an evolutionary strategy by the males to get noticed more by females at the cost of decreased chances of survival.

  18. Turn left onto the lane and follow this a short distance to a public footpath marked with a sign on the right.

    The first record of the settlement of Trevethan is from 1302 as Trefudon. The tre- part of the name implies it dates from at least the early mediaeval period when Cornish was spoken by landowning families. In 1516, it was recorded more faithfully as Trefuthyn which is from the Cornish for "meadow farm" (tre vuthyn). By Victorian times it had spread into Higher and Lower Trevethan.

  19. Turn right onto the path and follow this between the walls until it eventually ends on a lane beside the driveway to Wheal Hope.

    Many Cornish mines have names starting with Wheal, and it is a common misconception that Wheal meant "mine". In fact, Wheal simply meant "workplace". The word for "mine" was bal and the women who worked on the surface were known as Bal Maids.

  20. Turn left onto the lane and follow it a short distance to a junction with a Gwennap Pit sign.

    Busveal was recorded in 1356 as Bosveal. It's from the Cornish word for "dwelling" and the rest is thought to be the name of the occupant, possibly "Mael" due to the Celtic language quirk of mutating the initial consonant of a word depending on what's placed before it.

  21. Turn left at the junction to return to Gwennap Pit and complete the circular walk.

    During the 18th Century in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers due to their methodical practices. John Wesley began open-air preaching to recruit followers to his movement and formed small classes for each community where followers would receive ongoing religious guidance. Wesley always advocated the practise of Methodism as an extension of the Anglican faith and encouraged his followers to attend the parish church regularly. Nevertheless, senior figures within the Church of England feared the effects (or perhaps popularity) of Methodist practices, suggesting that an overdose of the Holy Spirit might be unhealthy for weak minds.

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