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.

Reviews

This is a very popular local, scenic walk. Easy stroll by the river, meal in the pub garden and stroll back home.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.2 miles/5.2 km
  • Grade: Easy
  • Start from: Shepherdshill Wood car park
  • Parking: Shepherdshill Wood car park PL266DN. Turn left after London Apprentice signposted Retail Leisure Warehouse. Keep right when the track forks and follow the track past one car park until it ends at a second small parking area by a gate.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

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

Directions

  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 blue arrows pointing ahead.

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

    The chestnut tree originated in Sardinia and was introduced into Britain by the Romans who planted chestnut trees on their various campaigns to provide an easily stored and transported source of food for their troops.

  4. Follow the main path ahead from the waymark until you reach a clearing where you can see a walkway and footbridge to your right, waymarked with a blue arrow pointing to the right.

    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.

  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 used to colour it and was heavily modified during the Industrial Revolution so that it now resembles 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.
  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 until you reach a gate across the path with a small stile (just a pole to step over) 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. Cross over the stile 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.

    The first method to extract tin was known as "tin streaming" which reached its peak in the 12th Century, though continued until the mid 20th Century.

    Alluvial deposits occurred where a river had eroded the tiny crystals out of mineral veins. Due to tin being so heavy, the crystals had become concentrated on the bottom of the stream as the lighter rocks around them were washed away. Over time these deposits were buried in gravel and sand, and eventually soil.

    Using quite elaborate banks and channels, the river was diverted to wash away the soil and gravel, leaving the heavy tin-rich rocks behind which could be dug out once the river was diverted away.

    One side-effect of all this industry was that the topsoil, sand and gravel washed downriver caused the silting of many river estuaries and once-thriving mediaeval river ports literally dried up and were superseded by sea ports.

    Once the relatively rich alluvial deposits had been used up, mostly by the 18th Century, mineral veins were instead mined directly.

  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 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.

    Grey Squirrels were introduced to the UK from the USA in the late 19th Century and within decades they had replaced the native Red Squirrel in most parts of the country. Compared to Red Squirrels, Grey Squirrels are able to eat a wider diet (including acorns), are larger so can survive colder winters, and are better able to survive in the fragmented habitats created by urbanisation. They are also thought to be carriers of a squirrel pox virus which they usually recover from but has been fatal to Red Squirrels, although Red Squirrels are now also developing some immunity. As the Grey Squirrel is classified as an invasive species, it is illegal to release a captured animal into the wild but it is also illegal to kill it in a way that is deemed as causing "unnecessary suffering". This has resulted in members of the public being prosecuted for e.g. drowning a squirrel caught in a trap, believing they were doing the right thing. To date, culling of Grey Squirrels has not reversed their domination of woodland habitat and alternative approaches such as planting food with contraceptives are being explored as a means to control the population. The theory is that infertile squirrels can compete for food against fertile squirrels, whereas culling can create a glut of food resulting in a higher number of squirrels surviving which replace those that were exterminated.

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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