Kit Hill to Kelly Bray

A circular walk in Kit Hill Country Park, given to the county by the Duchy to mark the birth of Prince William and where a midsummer bonfire is lit to celebrate the ancient Celtic Golowan festival

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The walk circles the hill to the chimney of South Kit Hill Mine before climbing to the summit where three viewing tables indicate all the places you can see from the summit stack. The walk descends past the North Engine Shaft and quarry and follows the incline of the former tramway to the bottom of the hill. The return route is on lanes and footpaths via Kelly Bray.

Reviews

Did it a few months ago, lovely walk
fab views and few people....what's not to like
Great walk I did that one last month. Sunrise was fabulous.
completed this walk last year - very interesting area with all the mining history.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 108
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Panoramic views over southeast Cornwall and the Tamar
  • Mining heritage
  • Golowan midsummer bonfire in June

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Swingletree Inn

Directions

  1. Go through the pedestrian gate leading uphill from the car park and follow the path to a crossing with granite markers to the right and ahead.

    Kit Hill Country Park, which includes the hill and surrounding area, was donated by the Duke of Cornwall to the Cornish people to mark the birth of Prince William in 1985. The hill was formed in the same way as Bodmin Moor by magma pushing up beneath the existing sedimentary rocks to form a body of granite and mineral veins in the cracks formed as the granite cooled. The name "kit" comes from the Old English word for a bird of prey, and the Country Park still has a population of buzzards and sparrowhawks.

  2. Turn left at the crossing and follow the path to reach a wooden gatepost with a "Kit Hill" waymark.

    On a clear day there are views to the southeast (on your left) of the Tamar estuary and Plymouth including the suspension bridge.

  3. Continue in the direction indicated by the waymark pointing ahead and follow the path until you approach a chimney and a path leads up to the chimney on your right.

    The mining activity on Kit Hill has been mapped and is said to contain over 1000 shafts, pits and trenches in search of mineral ore. Minerals extracted included tin, copper, lead, silver and tungsten.

  4. Turn right and follow the path uphill past the chimney to a junction of paths with a granite waymark near an information board.

    South Kit Hill Mine opened in 1856 and closed in 1874 and reached a maximum depth of over 100 metres. The chimney was for a steam engine which drove ore-crushing stamps for the adjacent dressing floors and pumped from the engine shaft via a flat rod system. Two rectangular embanked areas partly cut into the hillside were originally reservoirs providing a water supply for the processing floors which were connected by leats.

    In the 15th and 16th Centuries, surface mining took place for tin and various pits on the surface remain from this.

  5. Turn right at the junction and follow the path uphill a short distance to another granite waymark where a small path departs up the hill.

    In order to be processed, ore-bearing rock mined from mineral veins needed to be crushed to a powder. In earlier times, millstones were used to grind down lumps of ore but later it was done using a process known as "stamping" where the ore was crushed by dropping heavy granite or metal weights to pound it against another hard surface (often a piece of granite known as a mortar stone - as in "pestle and mortar"). The crushing was automated first with waterwheels and later with steam engines. The process was far from quiet and could often be heard from a number of miles away.

  6. At the granite waymark, bear left onto the small path leading uphill and follow this to a gate.

    Five hills in Cornwall are designated as Marilyn hills (coined to contrast with Munro - another geological term) which are local highest points, protruding above the surrounding land by at least 150 metres. They are: Brown Willy, Kit Hill, Watch Croft, Carnmenellis and Hensbarrow Beacon.

    Kit Hill only just qualifies as a Marilyn hill, being 171 metres above the surrounding land. The summit is 1096 feet (334 metres) above sea level.

  7. Go through the gate and follow the path uphill to reach a bank with a wide grassy path leading off left and ahead.

    The tower on the summit of Kit Hill is the remains of a chimney stack for the steam engine used by the Kit Hill United (later known as Kit Hill Great Consols) mining complex. The steam engine, installed in the early 1850s, was used both to pump water from the mine and to drive winding apparatus to lift ore from the mine. Prior to the steam engine, a windmill erected in the 1830s stood at the top of the hill to provide power for the mine. The chimney stack is now festooned with transmitters and all-important lightning conductors, being the highest point for miles.

  8. Turn left and follow the path along the bank then cross over via the granite steps on the right. Cross the enclosure to the tower and climb the steps to this.

    Until the end of the 19th Century it was traditional to celebrate St John's Eve on 23rd June in a bonfire festival known as Golowan from the Cornish word golow, meaning light. During the 20th Century, the tradition faded amid concerns over insurance claims from the fire torches and flaming tar barrels associated with the festivities. It has subsequently been revived by Old Cornwall societies, albeit in a slightly lower-risk form, involving midsummer bonfires from the 23-29th June.

  9. From the base of the tower, bear left down the grassy path before the building then keep right to pass the building on your right and take the right hand path leading gradually down the hill (marked by granite waymarks). Follow this to pass between two fenced-off mineshafts and emerge onto a wider gravel path.

    As you descend from the summit, you pass a rock channel crossed at intervals by granite slabs. This was a flue which carried arsenic vapour, an impurity which was removed from the ore by roasting it in a furnace. Little remains of the calciner furnace at the far end apart from a little stone walling.

  10. Turn left onto the gravel path and follow this to a pedestrian gate.

    The largest of the shafts here is the North Engine Shaft (also known as "Old Crumbly") which was the principal shaft of the summit mine and is over 200 metres deep. The smaller shafts were used for ventilation and prospecting. Mining on Kit Hill ceased in 1884 due to the high cost of cutting through the hard granite bedrock.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the main path to reach another gate.

    In 1877 work began on a tunnel from Deerpark Wood in the area of Excelsior Mine towards the North Engine Shaft of Kit Hill mine. The intention was to create a deep adit that could be used to drain water from the mine and run a 2 mile tunnel all the way beneath Kit Hill. However, due to the tough bedrock, progress was slow and the work ceased after a year. In 1881, work recommenced when a new company took over the mine but by 1885 it was once again abandoned as being too costly. Tunnelling recommenced a third time in the 1930s but ceased by 1938 resulting in a tunnel that ran roughly half way to the North Engine Shaft.

    In 1959, the tunnel was taken over for an altogether different purpose by the Atomic Energy Authority: detection of underground explosions as part of an effort to determine whether the Russians were secretly carrying out nuclear tests underground and how large the explosions were. In the Excelsior tunnel, small TNT charges were detonated to investigate an effect known as "decoupling" where a chamber of the right size can attenuate the pressure wave from an explosion that travels through the surrounding rocks.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path, keeping right at any junctions, until it emerges beside Kit Hill Quarry.

    The quarry at Kit Hill was for high quality granite. Large-scale quarrying began in the 1880s and the granite was used for sea defences in Plymouth, London and even Singapore! The stone was shaped and finished in the quarry before being shipped as completed pieces via the railway.

    The lake now occupying the quarry pit is rich in wildlife including dragonflies and damselflies. The trees growing within the quarry provide perches for songbirds for which the surrounding stone cliff provides a nice acoustic.

  13. At the quarry, turn left and walk through the level gravel area with boulders alongside to reach the incline. Walk down the incline to reach a gate.

    Granite from the quarry was lowered on trucks down the incline to sidings which connected to the East Cornwall Mineral Railway. The incline worked on a balance system where a load of granite from the quarry descended as another load (e.g. coal for the steam engine) was raised.

  14. Go through the kissing gate to the left of the farm gate and when you reach the car park, bear right to reach the road.

    Granite is pretty hard stuff. It ranks at 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. It's harder than normal steel but not quite as hard as hardened steel (which is 7-8). Cutting on granite worktops is therefore not a good idea as knife blades become blunt quickly.

  15. Cross the road to the lane opposite signposted to Downgate and Stoke Climsland. Follow the lane into Higher Downgate until you pass Parkhill House and reach a public bridleway sign on the right opposite a lane to the left.

    The proximity to the Devon border is reflected in the place names being in the English rather than Cornish language. The River Tamar was a significant part of the trade network in mediaeval times so there would have been Saxon traders around in these parts speaking (Old) English in early mediaeval times and then after the Norman Conquest there were even closer links with Devon under a common ruling class.

  16. Turn left down the lane opposite the Public Bridleway sign. Follow the lane until you pass through national speed limit signs at a bend in the lane with a Public Bridleway departing to the right.

    During the 21st Century, wood pigeons have been migrating into urban areas where garden feeding has attracted them. There has also been an exodus from the rural environment where changing farming practices have made fields less attractive.

  17. Bear right onto the Public Bridleway and follow this until it ends on another lane.

    There are nearly 400 miles of public bridleway in Cornwall, marked with blue waymarks, which are also open to horses and cyclists, although there is no obligation to make them navigable by any means other than on foot. The general public are also legally entitled to drove livestock along public bridleways, and although Cornwall has more than its share of eccentrics, this is something we've yet to see.

  18. Turn left onto the lane and follow it until you reach a gravel track on the right just past a wooden farm gate.

    Hazel and oak trees overhang the lane

    The older an oak tree becomes, the more acorns it produces. A 70-80 year old tree can produce thousands. Acorns are high in carbohydrates and as well as being a staple food for squirrels, they are also a really important food for deer and make up a quarter of their diet in the autumn.

  19. Turn right down the track and follow it between some houses until it ends in a junction with another track.

    Ferns evolved a long time before flowering plants and dominated the planet during the Carboniferous period. The bark from tree ferns during this period is thought to have been the main source of the planet's coal reserves.

    Ferns lack seeds as well as flowers and reproduce via tiny spores which are most commonly distributed by the wind. This allows them to colonise some quite random places.

  20. Bear left onto the track and follow it until it ends at a junction of tracks.

    The cluster of mines around Holmbush (Holmbush, Redmoor, Kelly Bray, West Holmbush, East Holmbush and South Kelly Bray) were thought to have been started in the early 1600s, working on a lode of lead ore, with a resurgence of activity in the late 1700s. During Victorian times, industrial-scale deep mining took place for copper ore in addition to the lead ore which also contained silver. The mines were worked worked from at least 1845 under various names, finally closing in 1893. During the early 20th Century (from 1919-21), the dumps of waste material were worked with newer technology to recover more of the minerals.

  21. Turn right at the junction and follow the track uphill past an engine house. At the top of the hill where the track forks around a triangular grassy area, keep left to reach the road.

    The lead ore found in Cornwall is a form of lead sulphide known as galena which often contains an appreciable amount of silver. This was first smelted to produce "argentiferous lead" and then the silver was separated by a process known as "cupellation". The molten alloy of the 2 metals was placed in an oxygen rich furnace which caused the lead, but not the silver, to oxidise. The lead oxide was then absorbed into a calcium-rich material such as the ash from bones or seashells, leaving the liquid metal silver on the surface of the "cake". The lead oxide could later be converted back into lead by smelting it with charcoal.

  22. Turn left onto the road and follow it to a junction.

    Kelly Bray was first recorded in around 1286 as Kellibregh as is Cornish for "dappled grove" as agriculture was the main industry until the 19th Century. In the 1820s this changed when the area was developed for mining, with a mining workforce of over 250 people recorded in 1843. Mining continued into the 20th Century with the last mine closing in 1946.

  23. Turn left at the junction and follow the pavement to Station Road. Cross over this and continue on the pavement to reach Florence Road.

    A swingletree is a bar of wood or metal used to balance the pull from an animal towing a cart as this alternates between the animal's shoulders. This is particularly important when the animal is wearing a breast-collar harness which can rub on its shoulders if the pull is uneven.

  24. Turn left onto Florence Road and follow this a short distance past the garage on the left to a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it through the industrial estate to a fork in front of Black Magic Performance Centre.
  25. Bear right at the fork and follow the track along the fence until the fence ends.
  26. At the end of the fence, bear right off the track and walk across the grass alongside the line of trees to pass the barn on your left and reach a stile.

    Lesser celandines flower along the path in the spring.

    Another name for celandine is pilewort as the tubers of the plant are said to resemble piles. Based on the "doctrine of signatures" (i.e. a plant that looks a bit like something must be a cure for it), the resemblance suggested to mediaeval herbalists that celandines could be used to cure haemorrhoids. This was done by applying an ointment containing crushed celandine leaves to the relevant area. Since celandine contains a poisonous compound, some attempts to ingest celandine in an effort to cure piles have not gone too well.

    The huge trees growing along the wall are beech.

    The fruit of the beech tree is known as "mast" or, less cryptically, "beechnuts" and these are not produced until the tree is 40-60 years old. The small triangular nuts are encased in spiky husks which split and drop from the trees from late August to early October. The kernels of these are edible and are similar to hazelnuts. They were once used as a source of flour, which was ground after the tannins had been leached out by soaking them in water. If you find them too bitter, you might want to try this trick, although toasting them in a hot pan is also a good option.

  27. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to join a track leading from a gateway on the right. Continue on the track along the right hedge to a gateway ahead.

    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. The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access team:

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  28. Go through the gateway and continue ahead until you reach a kissing gate on the right with a waymark.

    Kit Hill lies on the western side of the Tamar Valley AONB. The fields mark the beginning of this.

    The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a similar conservation status to a National Park and encompasses a region 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. It was first suggested in 1963 that the Tamar valley area should be designated but this was only eventually granted in 1995.

  29. At the kissing gate, turn left away from the gate and head up the hill to another kissing gate.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  30. Go through the gate and continue ahead to reach another kissing gate.

    At least 18 burial mounds occur on the slopes of Kit Hill, including one beneath the chimney on the summit, and traces of early field systems can be seen on aerial photographs. Prehistoric people left their mark with a line of barrows along Hingston Down which include a Neolithic long barrow (approx. 3000 BC) on the lower eastern slope and round barrows from the Bronze Age (2000-1500 BC).

  31. Go through the gate and turn right to go through the gate beside it. Follow the path to a fork just after a granite marker.

    During the spring and summer you are likely to hear the distinctive call of the cuckoo as you walk around the hill.

    Cuckoos are migratory birds that overwinter in Africa and are first seen, or more often heard, in Cornwall during the spring. The cuckoo is well-known for laying its eggs in the nests of other bird species. The adult cuckoo is a mimic of a sparrowhawk - a predator; this causes other birds to abandon their nests, allowing the female lay her eggs. Although cuckoo eggs are larger than those already in the nest, cuckoos produce eggs in several different colour schemes to match those of several species of bird. Since the cuckoo chick is a much larger than even the full-grown foster parents (which they seem not to notice, assuming their offspring is just a bit portly), it needs to monopolise the food supply. It therefore methodically evicts all other eggs and chicks from the nest.

    Barrows are megalithic tombs constructed with stone supports and covered with a mound of earth. Archaeology has revealed that the ancient tribes of Cornwall practised burial of their dead. Important individuals, such as kings or tribal chiefs, were often buried in monumental tombs to indicate their significance. Valuable items such as weapons and jewellery were often buried along with the dead. However, many barrows have been subject to grave robbers over the ages, meaning much of this treasure has been lost.

  32. Bear left at the fork to the chimney.

    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.

    Another bird often heard in Kit Hill Country Park is the buzzard and can usually be seen gliding overhead whilst calling.

    Buzzards breed once they reach 2-3 years old. During their breeding season in spring, male buzzards create spectacular aerial displays to impress females by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground. The birds then pair for life.

  33. Continue ahead from the chimney to pass the information board and follow the main path uphill to the granite waymarks that you encountered earlier on the walk. This time keep right to pass between the granite waymarks and continue following the path until it eventually ends at the car park.

    The moorland surrounding Kit Hill is known as Hingston Down, made famous by the battle that took place there.

    The Celtic stronghold of Dumnonia held off conquest by the Saxons until the early 8th Century, when Devon was conquered. The Celts in Cornwall managed to repel the Saxons for another century. Although they allied themselves with the Vikings, it is implied that they were defeated in 838 at Hengestdun ("Stallion Hill") in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It has been suggested, based on the name, this might be Hingston Down although it is debated by historians whether a site on the Devon side of the Tamar is more likely. The Saxon victory has also been questioned given the very limited Saxon influence in Cornwall.

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

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