Hellandbridge to St Mabyn

A circular walk from Helland's mediaeval bridge through bluebell woodland and the fields overlooked by the Iron Age rounds at Pencarrow to the Norman church at St Mabyn, dedicated to the daughter of a Celtic King, and returning via the stump of the Neolithic Long Stone which stood for millennia until it was broken up for gateposts in 1850.

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The walk starts at the ancient river crossing of Hellandbridge and climbs through woods and across fields to the Celtic settlement of St Mabyn. The route enters St Mabyn near the church and Post Office (which has a coffee shop) and leaves past the pub and chapel. The return route is across fields to Longstone - the site of a prehistoric standing stone - and Trequites where it follows a wooded valley and passes the Tudor house of Tredethy.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.7 miles/9.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: the Camel Trail car park
  • Parking: Camel Trail car park PL304QR. The car park is next to the level crossing between the bridge at Hellandbridge and the junction next to Lower Helland Cottage.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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Highlights

  • Mediaeval packhorse bridge at Hellandbridge
  • Wildflowers along the lanes in spring and summer
  • Pretty stained glass in the 15th century church at St Mabyn
  • Local food and drink at the St Mabyn Inn
  • Panoramic countryside views around Trescowe and St Mabyn
  • Pretty woodland and waterfall near Heligan Barton

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park to reach the road. Turn left and follow the lane over the bridge and past the cottages until you reach a woood gate on the left with a public footpath sign in the bushes just before it.

    There has been a bridge spanning the River Camel at Hellandbridge for many centuries (the Patent Rolls of 1381 refer to "Stephen Dyer of Hellond Brigge"). The current packhorse bridge was built in the early 15th century with relatively little alteration since then.

  2. Go through the gate on the left and follow the track ahead for roughly a couple of hundred metres until it forks.
  3. Keep right where the track forks. Continue on the track until it starts to dip downhill.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay, making it the longest river in Cornwall after the Tamar.

    The River Camel has been fished for salmon and sea trout for centuries and the first royal charter was granted in 1199. In 1750, there are records of rights available on payment of a fee to the Duke of Cornwall to take salmon by use of barbed spears. Needless to say, these rights have now been revoked although even as recently as the 1980s, there are stories of salmon poachers with barbed pitchforks beneath bridges along the Camel.

    Salmon fishing is still popular and there is a salmon hatchery, where locally-caught salmon are bred, and the resulting eggs are hatched and grown for a year, in a protected environment, before being released to boost the wild salmon population in the River Camel and Fowey.

  4. Just before the track dips downhill, take the small path to the right, towards a metal gate with a red sign, to reach a waymark just before the gate.
  5. At the waymark, turn right up the steps. Follow the path through the woods to a fence.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  6. Turn left and follow the path along the fence, to a stile.
  7. Cross the stile and follow along the fence on the left, passing the cottage (ignore the gate into the private garden), to the far corner of the field where there is a stile.
  8. Cross the stile and bear right, across the track, to another stile. Cross this into a large field and follow the left hedge to another stile in the far hedge.

    Common honeysuckle is a native plant also known as woodbine because it wraps itself around other plants and can cause distortions in their growth also called woodbines. Honeysuckle might be regarded as having plant OCD in that it only ever entwines in a clockwise direction. Flowers appear from June to August and their fragrance is due to a class of chemical compounds known as Jaminoids that occur in, as you might have guessed, Jasmine but also Ceylon tea. Honeysuckle is the food plant of the White Admiral caterpillar so keep a look for the butterflies in summer.

  9. Cross the stile and then follow the short path, which emerges onto the road at a fairly blind corner; stop short to listen for traffic before stepping out into the road. Cross the road to the gateway opposite.

    The farm to the left is Trescowe.

    The settlement of Trescowe dates from early mediaeval times and the first record is from the 13th Century. The name is thought to be based on the Cornish word scawen meaning elder trees.

  10. Cross the field, heading for the largest tree roughly in the middle of the far hedge; make your way to a stile to the left of the tree.

    In fields with crops where the footpath doesn't run along the edge, if there is a well-trodden path then follow this to avoid trampling any more of the crops. If there appears to be no path through the crops then follow around the edge of the field if possible to avoid damaging the crop.

  11. Cross the stile and carefully skirt along the right-hand side of the water directly ahead, the cross the stile into the field. Follow the right hedge to the first of two gateways, roughly three-quarters of the way along the hedge.

    Since prehistoric times, a year of fallow was used to allow soil nutrients to recover before planting a crop the following year. By the end of the Middle Ages, a three-year scheme was in use with alternating crops allowing production two out of three years. In the 18th Century a four-crop rotation was introduced (wheat, turnips, barley, and clover) which not only resulted in continuous production but included a grazing crop and a winter fodder crop, providing food for livestock throughout the year. Crops used in the rotation had different nutrient demands, giving the soil chance to recover. In particular, bean crops and clover impart nitrogen into the soil and are therefore a key part of modern rotation schemes. As well as balancing the use of soil nutrients between years, by staggering the rotation in adjacent fields, the spread of pests and diseases is reduced.

  12. Cross the stile, or go through the gateway if open, and follow the left hedge to the corner of the field, where there is a stile.

    A crop of oil seed rape has been traditionally used in crop rotation schemes as a "break" between cereal crops to suppress weeds and improve soil quality, but the increasing demand for rapeseed oil is making it profitable enough to be grown as a primary crop. Rape seeds are 45% oil and the remaining 55% can be used as a high protein animal feed. Originally rapeseed oil contained bitter-tasting and harmful chemical compounds that meant it was not used for human or even animal consumption and instead used to lubricate steam engines. Varieties have now been bred with very little of these chemicals and rapeseed oil is now one of the highest quality vegetable oils, low in saturated fat and high in omega-3. Consequently cold-pressed rapeseed oil is becoming increasingly popular in gourmet food. The plant requires quite a lot of nitrogen from the soil so is sometimes rotated with a nitrogen-fixing crop such as clover.

  13. Cross the stile in the corner of the field onto a track. Then either cross the stile ahead or go through the gateway to its left into a field. Bear left across the field to a stile roughly half way down the left hedge.
  14. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow the right hedge to a footbridge at the bottom of the valley.

    In the distance you can see the tower of St Mabyn church.

    The village of St Mabyn takes its name from St Mabena to whom the church is dedicated. She was daughter of the 5th Century Celtic king, Brychan and is depicted on the sign of the St Mabyn Inn as well as in the stained glass in the church.

  15. Cross the footbridge and a stile. Then follow the right hedge to a stone stile in the wall at the far end of the field.

    Brychan was a legendary Celtic king (originally born in Ireland) who ruled over Breconshire in South Wales and was viewed as the father of the Celtic saints.

    Most of his children were reported to have evangelised Cornwall and North Devon, with many of the churches dedicated to them. Consequently, many of the place names in North Cornwall (St Teath, St Mabyn, St Endellion, St Minver, St Clether, Egloshale, Egloskerry, Advent, Morwenstow, Lelant etc) are associated with the names of his children.

  16. Cross the stile and turn left. Follow the left hedge to reach a bridge over the stream. Cross the bridge and bear right into a field. Follow the right hedge uphill to the top-right corner.

    The large fields here are used for arable crops.

    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.

  17. Cross the stile, to the left of the two gateways, into the field ahead. Head to the right of the 2 houses ahead. As you cross the brow of the hill, make for a waymark at the bottom of the valley.

    Wheat is the neatest of the grains with grains arranged on alternate sides of the tip of the stem, so that the seed head looks like giant, fat grass seed. Barley is similar but each grain has a long whisker protruding from the end. The hairyness of barley makes amazing patterns and rustling sounds as the wind moves through the crop. Oats are much more loosely arranged than wheat and barley, with individual grains hanging off short threads like a Christmas decoration. Wheat is amazingly easy to turn into flour: once ripe, wheat grains easily pop out from the husk and a handful of these in a pestle and mortar results in lovely wholemeal flour. In contrast, the husk is very much more firmly stuck to barley grains and specialist mechanical processing is required to de-hull it, producing pearl barley.

  18. Cross the stream and the stile into the field. Turn right and follow the fence until a track leaves the field. Keep left to stay in the field and continue following the right hedge to a pedestrian gate, just past a gateway.

    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. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  19. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow the right hedge of the next field, in the direction of the church, to a gate.

    The current church building in St Mabyn dates from the 15th Century. Before this, there was another church on the same site. It's possible that the churchyard dates back to Celtic times as is of an approximately circular shape that is typical of Celtic churchyards.

  20. Go through the gate onto the village green. Bear left across the green, in the direction of the church, to a gate.

    Unlike St Mabena, Cecilia (also celebrated in St Mabyn church) is not a Celtic saint. She is celebrated with a feast day in many branches of the Christian church including both Roman Catholic and Anglican and thought to be of Roman origin. She is patroness of church music because she is supposed to have sung to god when dying.

  21. Go through the gate and keep right. Follow the path around the edge of the churchyard to emerge in the village at the pub.

    St Mabyn Inn was built in the 17th century originally as a farmhouse. It later became a church alehouse and then finally an inn. The pub sign depicts St Mabena.

  22. Cross the road and head along Chapel Lane (opposite the pub) to reach a waymarked stile at the end of the lane.

    Church Ales were celebrations held within the church calendar, particularly at Whitsuntide and May Day, when ales were brewed and sold in order to raise funds for the Church or for good causes in the parish. With the growth of Puritanism in the late 17th century, drinking was seen as sinful. Church Ales were considered to be nothing but drunken disorders and were suppressed. Church houses were gradually abandoned, demolished or put to other uses.

  23. Cross the waymarked stile into a field and follow the right hedge to a gateway in the far hedge.

    Oats were originally a grassy weed that occurred amongst wheat and barley crops. They were eventually domesticated as a crop in their own right in Bronze Age Europe as they are more tolerant of cool, wet summers than wheat and barley. This is also likely to be the origin of their popularity in Scottish cuisine. Nowadays, the highest levels of oat production take place in southern Britain and at similar latitudes including Canada, Poland and Russia.

  24. Go through the gateway into the next field and either continue ahead, or if there is a crop in the field, follow all the way along the right hedge to reach a gate in the far hedge.

    During mediaeval times, young boys were employed as bird shooers, patrolling wheat fields with bags of stones to scare away birds. The Great Plague of 1348 wiped out so much of the population that there weren't sufficient children to patrol the fields and so human figures fashioned out of straw began to be used to bolster the numbers. There was still a human workforce of bird scarers until the early 1800s when children could be found better paid jobs in factories or mines.

  25. Go through the gate ahead and follow the right hedge to a stile.

    Barley is a fundamental part of the rural culture - the word "barn" literally means "barley house". During mediaeval times, only the ruling classes had bread made from wheat; the peasants' bread was made from barley and rye.

  26. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a stile just past a gateway.

    The top of the stile is an old stone roller. Rollers were used to flatten the loose soil created by ploughing and harrowing. This suggests that the fields nearby have been used for arable crops for some time.

  27. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to another stile.

    Dragonflies are named after the way they hunt, as both the larvae and adults are carnivorous predators. Their two sets of wings beat out of phase, and the frequency, amplitude and the angles of each set of wings can be controlled. This allows dragonflies to hover in a completely stationary position for over a minute, perform extravagant aerobatic manoeuvres and even fly backwards.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a gate in the far hedge.

    On a clear day, there are views ahead of Brown Willy.

    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.

  29. Go through the gate ahead and bear right across the field to a gate in the bottom-right corner.
  30. Go through the gate and bear left onto a track; follow it until you reach a lane.

    Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?

    If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.

    If the gate is ajar or swinging loose and not wedged or tied open then it's likely that the gate was left open by accident (possibly by another group of walkers). Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving lives in a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.

  31. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction.

    The settlement of Tregaddock was documented in 1201 as Tregadek and is thought to date from the early mediaeval period. It's thought that the name might be based on a personal name from Celtic times i.e. "Gadek's farm".

  32. Turn left at the T-junction and follow the lane to a crossroads.
  33. Carefully cross the main road at the Longstone crossroads onto the lane opposite. Follow the lane until you reach a track with a public footpath sign just past the last house on the right.

    Longstone is a small settlement around a crossroads on the Camelford to Bodmin road. Longstone was named after St Mabyn's standing stone that stood for centuries until it was broken up in 1850 to be used as gateposts. Only the shattered stump now stands at the crossroads near the ancient Penwine wayside cross.

  34. Turn right onto the track and follow it through a gate into a field. Follow the left hedge to a gate in the far hedge.

    Large upright standing stones are known as menhirs due to the celtic words men meaning stone and hir meaning long. The reason for their construction is unknown; currently the most popular theories are ceremonial or calendrical. Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people who inhabited Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze age (4-5 thousand years ago) but recent research suggests an older origin (perhaps 6-7 thousand years ago, at the very start of the Neolithic period in Britain).

  35. Go through the gate and bear left across the field to the gate in the far left corner.

    The fields in this area undergo crop rotation between different arable crops and pasture to maintain the fertility of the soil. If there is a crop in the field and no path to the gate then follow along the hedges.

  36. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge past one gate to reach the gate in the corner with the far hedge.
  37. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the track until you reach a building on your right.

    The buildings are part of the tiny settlement of Trequites.

    Trequites was recorded in 1329 as Tregoed which is thought to be from the Cornish word cos, meaning wood, with the "c" mutated to a harder "g" sound. A farmhouse, recorded as a mansion, existed here from the 17th Century but fell into ruin during the 20th Century.

  38. Go straight ahead through the waymarked gate and bear right to another gate. Go through this and follow the track down into the woods until you reach a waymark.
  39. From the waymark, bear left to a stile and cross it into a field. Turn right in the field and follow the edge of the field, along the stream, until you reach a pedestrian gate just before the far hedge.

    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.

  40. Go through the pedestrian gate and down the steps. Follow the path through a gate to emerge on a surfaced track.
  41. Turn right onto the track and follow it past a small waterfall to a waymarked gate on the right where an unsurfaced path leads uphill.
  42. Go through the waymarked gate and follow the path uphill until it meets a lane.

    Some of the Public Rights of Way originating from mediaeval times appear as sunken paths, also known as holloways from the Old English hola weg, a sunken road. There are different reasons for the lane being lower than the surrounding land. In some cases it was simply erosion caused by horses, carts and rainwater over hundreds of years. There are also examples where ditches formed between banks as a boundary between estates and then later adopted as a convenient location for travel or droving animals.

  43. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until it ends in a T-junction.

    Tredethy House together with farm and cottages make up the small settlement of Tredethy.

    Tredethy is thought to date from early mediaeval times; the first record is from 1350. The present house was built in 1868 but is reported as being an extension of a 17th Century house. Sections of mediaeval window tracery and carved stone window frames were found during digging to create a swimming pool; these may either be from an earlier house or chapel on the site.

  44. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane down the hill to Hellandbridge, and back to the Camel Trail car park.

    Prince Chula Chakrabongse was born in 1908 at the palace in Bangkok and was sent to England for his education. In 1932, a revolution ended the Siamese monarchy and the country was renamed as Thailand in 1939. Chula returned to England and married an English woman. They lived at Tredethy near Hellandbridge during the 1940s and 50s. The prince was a generous benefactor in the Bodmin area but perhaps his most well-known donation is the granite dog drinking bowl at the entrance to Priory Park given to Bodmin town in memory of his dogs.

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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