King's Wood and Pentewan circular walk

King's Wood and Pentewan

A circular walk through the King's Wood Woodland Trust reserve to the lost port of Pentewan, along the trackbed of horse-drawn tramway that once carried china clay to the busy port and via the system of reservoirs and sluices that were used to flush sand out of the harbour.

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The walk descends to the valley floor and follows paths along the bottom of the valley, eventually emerging beside the St Austell River and joining the Pentewan Valley Trail. The route then follows the trail along the floor of the valley to Pentewan. The return route is along the St Austell River to the King's Wood car park and then along a footpath following the meandering stream up the valley.


  • On the return route, the path along the riverbank is beginning to erode in a few places. Some new sections of path have been trodden slightly further away from the river for some areas, but some short sections require walking along the narrow the edge of the bank.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 3.2 miles/5.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: Wellies after prolonged wet weather. Trainers in a dry summer. Walking boots in between.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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


  • Broadleaf woodland and meandering streams in King's Wood
  • Wildflowers and damselfies along the St Austell River
  • Sandy beach at Pentewan

Pubs on or near the route

  • Into The Woods
  • The Ship Inn


  1. From the car park, go through the lower gate and follow the waymarked track until you reach a path descending to the right just before a waymark post as a bench ahead comes into view.

    Kings Wood is a relic of an ancient woodland dating back several hundred years. It was originally owned by the realm - hence "The King's Wood" and at some point by the Earl of Lancaster. In more recent times, the woodland was managed by the Forestry Commission who planted some of it with conifers in the 1960s, and in the late 20th Century it was used for shooting. It is now managed by the Woodland Trust who have marked trails through the woods to promote public access, and are slowly clearing the conifers to promote broadleaf species which support more diverse native wildlife. Some rare butterflies have been found here and it is also an important habitat for woodland plants.

  2. Bear right down the path leading into the valley. Continue until it meets a path at the bottom of the valley.

    The Woodland Trust was founded in 1972 and is dedicated to providing a UK rich in native woods and trees. They summarise themselves as "the RSPCA of trees" and have set themselves the ambitious target of doubling native tree cover throughout the UK over the next 50 years. They now look after more than 1,100 woods and over 110 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are committed to providing free public access wherever possible.

  3. When you reach the bottom, take the main path leading to the right and follow this a short distance to a junction with another path with a waymark inscribed with the Woodland Trust logo. Turn left and follow the path past one waymark post to a second, both with a blue arrow pointing ahead.

    In September and October, look out for the spiny casings of chestnuts on the paths.

    Since chestnuts don't need to hang around for a long time on the ground, they are nutritionally more similar to a cereal - containing principally starch and sugars - than a typical nut. They contain very little fat and are consequently much less calorific than other nuts: the kernels contain around a third of the calories of a similar weight of other nuts.

  4. Follow the main path ahead from the waymark until you reach a clearing with a memorial post and a waymark post with a blue arrow pointing to the right.

    To make blackberry wine, combine 2kg blackberries + 4 litres of boiling water in a plastic container with a lid. Once the water has cooled to lukewarm, mash blackberries and add red wine yeast and pectic enzyme (blackberries contain pectin so this is needed to stop the wine being cloudy). Cover for 4-5 days then strain through muslin.

    Transfer the liquid to a demijohn and add 1kg of sugar. Top up with a little more water to make it up to a gallon. After fermentation, the wine should clear by itself; in the unlikely event that it doesn't, use some finings. Rack off from the sediment and bottle; it's worth allowing the wine a year or two to mature as it massively improves with age. As a variation, you can add 500g of elderberries and increase the sugar content for a more port-like wine which will need a couple of years longer for the elderberry tannins to mellow out.

    Young beech leaves can be used as a salad vegetable, which are described as being similar to a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture. Older leaves are a bit chewy, as you'd expect.

    Compared to many native trees, the beech colonised Great Britain relatively recently, after the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. Beech trees have a shallow root system and are therefore often found in areas where water is plentiful such as near rivers. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, tall, stately beech trees were very fashionable in the estates of wealthy landowners and many mature beech woodlands today are the result of 18th Century parkland landscaping projects.

  5. Bear right to follow the path along the walkways and footbridges. Keep following the path until it ends at another Woodland Trust waymark, overlooking the St Austell River.

    The St Austell River is also known as the White River due to the china clay that colours it and was heavily modified during the Industrial Revolution so that the lower parts of it now resemble a canal. Habitat improvement work is being done on the river as part of the South Cornwall River Improvement Project.

    The South Cornwall River Improvement Project is a partnership programme lead by the Westcountry Rivers Trust, and is aimed at improving the river habitats around St Austell Bay. The project focuses on both reduction of river pollution and habitat improvement particularly on the lower sections of the St Austell and Par rivers which have been heavily modified and straightened. One of the major objectives of the project has been the reconnection of the St Austell River's major tributary, the Polgooth river, which was previously isolated through a series of culverts that fish such as trout and salmon would not swim through.

  6. Turn left and follow the path downriver a short distance to reach a wooden signpost (labelled with Pentewan Valley Trail on the opposite side).

    The Pentewan Valley Trail runs along the trackbed of an old railway. This was originally built as a horse-drawn tramway to transport china clay from St Austell to the new port at Pentewan which was completed in 1826. The line opened in 1829 and used gravity to transport the loaded wagons down the incline from St Austell and then horses to pull them along the flat section to Pentewan, and to return the empty wagons.

    In 1874, plans were made to upgrade the line to a railway with steam locomotives. Although the track strengthening had been implemented, shortly after this, a strategic decision was taken by Great Western Railway to direct its china clay traffic to Fowey. By 1877, the shipments were dwindling and by 1880 the operation became unprofitable. However a boom followed only two years later and the line continued until the First World War. The track was the same gauge as that used to service the trenches in France and both the track and locomotives were acquired by the War Department.

  7. Follow the track indicated by the wooden signpost for the Pentewan Valley Trail into the woods to reach a ford and bridge.

    One of the birds you may see, or hear singing, in the trees is the robin.

    Robins are also able to see magnetic fields. Receptors in their eyes make magnetic fields appear as patterns of light or colour which allows them to use the Earth's magnetic field for navigation. They only seem to use their right eye for this as the left half of their brain (linked to the right eye) does the processing.

  8. Cross the bridge and follow the trail until, just after the path emerges from between the fences and the cycle hire hut comes into view, you reach a tree and piece of granite (with a Trail sign on the opposite side) in the middle of path where a path leads off to the right.

    The lakes beside the wooden railings are the remains of 4 reservoirs.

    The series of 4 reservoirs above Pentewan were used to collect water both from the stream running along the back of the valley and the St Austell River. These were controlled with numerous sluice gates at the entrance to the reservoirs and between them. The body of water was periodically released to flush sediment out of the harbour and the shipping channels approaching it. The sequence of reservoirs and sluices allowed the water to be collected from whichever was the cleaner of the two sources to ensure that the water being released into the harbour was itself free from sediment.

  9. If you want to explore Pentewan before continuing, follow the track ahead to reach the road and turn left to pass the Ship Inn to reach the village and beach. To continue the walk, take the path currently on your right to reach the river.

    Pentewan dates back to mediaeval times when it was mainly a fishing village with a harbour. The harbour was rebuilt in the 1820s both for the pilchard fishery and to create a china clay port. At its peak, a third of Cornwall's china clay was shipped from Pentewan. However the harbour had continual silting problems which meant that it was eventually overtaken by Charlestown and Par. As well as longshore drift carrying sand east across Mevagissey Bay, there was also silt being washed down the river from china clay works and tin streaming. Consequently, the harbour gradually silted up with the last trading ship leaving in 1940 and World War II literally sealing its fate. By the 1960s, the harbour was only accessible to small boats and today the harbour basin is entirely cut off from the sea.

  10. Follow the path upriver (using sections of path away from the edge of the riverbank where possible) until you reach a gate across the path with a gap on the right of it.

    The buildings on the opposite side of the river were originally a bone mill.

    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.

  11. Go through the gap and follow the track ahead alongside the river to reach a footbridge to Heligan. Keep ahead alongside the river to where a path departs to the right, just before the gate into a car park.

    If you happen to notice several hundred yellow rubber ducks on the river, you are likely witnessing St Austell's version of the National Lottery. During the summer, usually on Friday evenings, rubber duck races are held to raise money for local charities. Ducks can be hired for a modest fee and there is a cash prize for the winning duck.

  12. Bear right onto the path running along the car park fence. When you reach the National Cycle Network post, bear right between the wooden fences onto the path into the woods. Follow this to reach a fork in the path at a Woodland Trust waymark.

    During the 18th and 19th Centuries, there were two tin streaming works in the Pentewan Valley. The one towards the bottom of the valley was known as Happy-Union and one further upstream was known as Wheal Virgin. During these excavation processes, they found human remains with charcoal and ash, possibly from Bronze Age burials and bones of animals "of a different description from any now known in Britain". At Wheal Virgin, a tankard was also found from late Roman times made from yew wood and metal bands of a copper alloy. This is now on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

  13. At the waymark, take the left-hand path. When the path climbs onto a bank, follow along the top of the bank until the path descends to a meandering stream, then follow alongside this upstream until you emerge onto a more well-defined path.

    The mix of broadleaf trees in the woodland includes oak.

    For such a widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly inefficient at reproducing naturally. It can take 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns and even then, the overwhelming majority of the acorns that it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot on the ground. Squirrels play an important part by burying acorns and occasionally forgetting a few which have a much better chance of growing than on the surface.

  14. When you reach the path, turn right onto it to reach a tarmacked track. Turn right onto this to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    Squirrels eyes are positioned on the sides of their head which allows them to spot predators approaching from behind them. When a squirrel spots a predator, its runs away in a zigzag pattern. This confuses many of their predators but unfortunately it doesn't work well for cars.

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