Kilminorth Woods and the Giant's Hedge circular walk

Kilminorth Woods and the Giant's Hedge

A woodland walk alongside the West Looe River where the Giant's Hedge once divided kingdoms of the Dark Ages, centuries before the ancient trees that now tower above it were even seedlings.

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The walk begins by following the riverside path from Looe to Watergate. The walk then turns up the valley to climb to the ridgeway track entering the woods. The walk then follows the Giant's Hedge nearly all the way through the woods, before a final zig-zag through another area of woods to return the the riverside.


  • The woodland paths can be slippery after wet weather.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.1 miles/4.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • River wildlife including egrets and kingfishers
  • Mature broadleaf woodland with squirrels and chestnuts
  • Views over the West Looe River
  • 6th Century Giant's Hedge


  1. Make your way to the furthest end of the car park (towards the woods) to reach a gate behind the Kilminorth Woods sign. Go through the gate and follow the tarmacked path until the tarmac ends near another Kilminorth Woods sign.

    Kilminorth Wood is the largest area of sessile oak woodland in this part of Cornwall. A Local Nature Reserve was created in 1993 and is owned by Cornwall Council. A local group, known as the Friends of Kilminorth Woods, promote the conservation and improvement of the woods and its use for education and recreation. The woodland is classified as ancient and contains other broadleaf species including beech and chestnut. The woodland bordering the West Looe River provides a habitat for an array of wildlife including birds and mammals.

  2. Cross the sleeper bridge and follow the path alongside the river until you reach a wooden signpost at a flight of steps indicated as "Alternative Return Route".

    Herons can sometimes be seen beside the river.

    The English surnames Earnshaw and Hernshaw originally meant "heron wood" and the surname Herne is also a corruption of Heron.

  3. If the tide is low you can follow the path along the water's edge until you reach a path leading back into the woods and then follow this. Alternatively, if the tide is in, climb the steps to the top and then turn right. Continue to reach a signpost with red and blue dots where the two paths rejoin.

    The little egret - a white member of the heron family - can be seen on many of the creeks in Cornwall and yet is only a very recent settler in Britain. The birds first appeared in Britain in any number in 1989 and the first to breed was in 1996 in Dorset.

  4. Continue on the path alongside the river signposted to Watergate. Keep following the main path to reach a flight of steps marked with a "Blue route" sign and a Watergate sign pointing ahead.

    Mosses don't have roots but instead have little rootlets known as rhizoids. Since there is no need to root into soil, mosses can grow on stones, tree trunks, buildings etc. This together with their wind-carried spores makes them excellent colonisers of barren land. The buildup of organic material from dead moss then provides an environment that other small plants can start to colonise.

  5. Continue along the river (signposted for Watergate) to reach a pedestrian gate across the path.

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish, as their name implies, but they also eat many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

    The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead, past the Kilminorth Woods sign. Continue following the path to emerge onto a lane.

    The West Looe river rises near Dobwalls and runs for roughly 8 miles through Herodsfoot and Churchbridge before entering the creeks of the flooded river valley just below Milcombe with a final mile along the creek to its confluence with the East Looe river. The sedimentary rocks surrounding the river form an aquifer reserve which results in the river levels being topped up by groundwater during periods of low rainfall.

  7. Turn left onto the lane and follow it uphill until you pass a stone wall on the left and reach a track supported by this with a wooden signpost for Kilminorth Woods.

    Yellow Archangel is a native plant and member of the dead nettle family (and it's also known as the Golden Dead Nettle). The flowers are pale yellow, hence the first part of the name. The second part of the name (including the angelic association) is because it looks quite like a nettle but doesn't sting.

    A garden variety of yellow archangel known as "aluminium plant" (due to silvery metallic areas on its leaves) has escaped into the wild where it is spreading rapidly. It has been deemed so invasive that it is illegal to plant in the wild.

  8. Turn left onto the track to reach the gate. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left and follow the path to reach a signpost with red dots.

    The stone wall on the right is the Giant's Hedge.

    The Giant's Hedge is the remains of a wall from the Dark Ages which runs for ten miles from Looe to Lerryn. In some places it is still twelve feet high and it was recorded as being 16 feet high in Victorian times. Where it is best preserved, it is stone-faced and has a ditch running alongside. It is thought that it marked and defended the border of a Cornish Kingdom, which was otherwise surrounded by water from the River Fowey to the West Looe River.

  9. Continue ahead on the path signposted for Looe until you reach a wooden post with a red band just before a path rises to the right.

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval medicine. The sap was used as a glue for book-binding as its toxicity repelled insects. It was also used to attach the fletchings onto arrows.

    A mature tree can absorb tens of kilograms of carbon dioxide each year adding up to a tonne over a number of decades. However, burning one litre of petrol produces just over 2kg of carbon dioxide so it takes about half an acre of trees to absorb the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by one car in a year. When trees die and decompose, the majority of the carbon is gradually released back into the atmosphere depending on how fast the various bits of tree rot (the woody parts take longer).

  10. Bear right up the steps and follow the path to reach a junction of paths with a wooden signpost indicating an Alternative return route (blue dot).

    There are several species of Woodrush in the UK that all look fairly similar. They are most noticeable in woodland where they often form dense mats - hence the name.

    Woodrush has green pointed leaves which can be mistaken for bluebell leaves when there are no flowers to provide an obvious difference (woodrush flowers are unexciting small brown things that look a bit like grass seed). To tell the leaves apart, woodrush leaves taper steadily to a sharp point whereas bluebell leaves are relatively straight for most of their length and only taper near the end (like a broadsword). Bluebell leaves are also slightly blue-green whereas woodrush is a glossy vibrant green.

  11. When you reach the signpost, keep right to follow the narrow path gradually uphill, signposted to Looe (with a red and blue dot). Continue on the path until you pass a post with red and blue bands and reach a crossing of paths.

    The word "beech" is thought to have the same origins as "book" as beech (most probably the bark) was used as a writing material in which to carve runes by Germanic societies before the development of paper. This is still apparent in modern German where the word for "book" is buch and "beech tree" is buche.

  12. Continue ahead on the path with a post with red and blue dots. Follow this to another crossing of paths with a signpost.

    Chestnut trees grow along this stretch of path.

    The size of the nuts from wild British chestnut trees is quite variable but the largest rival the nuts sold in supermarkets. Nuts that are very flat or less than the girth of your little finger are not worth harvesting; anything bigger is viable. A painless way to extract the nuts is to grip the husk between your feet and rub it between your boots or against the ground. This saves having to handle the spiky husks as the spikes are very sharp and tend to break off under the skin to leave behind splinters. Often the husks contain one (fairly round) large nut surrounded by several small, flat nuts, so it's worth squeezing out quite a few husks to get the larger nuts. Discard any nuts with holes in (as they will contain maggots) or that are very dark in colour - the fresher ones will be "chestnut" brown rather than dark brown.

    In England, the chestnut was originally known as the chesten nut. Both this and the modern French word châtaigne descend from the Old French word chastain.

  13. Continue ahead on the path indicated for Looe with three coloured dots. Follow this to where a flight of steps descends to the left and a footbridge marked with red dots leads ahead.

    Wood from the oak has a lower density than water (so it floats) but has a great strength and hardness, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. This made it perfect for shipbuilding.

  14. Continue ahead over the footbridge to reach a wooden post with three coloured dots beside another flight of steps. Continue ahead on the upper path to reach a fork in the path either side of a tree with another wooden post with three dots to the right.

    The broadleaf deciduous trees in the woodland reach their pinnacle of autumn colours roughly in the first week of November.

    Autumn colours are the result of two processes. The first is that a normal healthy leaf contains chemicals which are both green (chlorophyll) and yellow (carotene). If chlorophyll stops being produced, leaves turn yellow. This happens when sunlight is reduced either temporarily (e.g. accidentally leaving something on the lawn) or in autumn when there is less sunlight overall and when cold temperatures also speed up the breakdown of chlorophyll. When a tree prepares to shed a leaf, it creates a barrier of cells to close the leaf off. Sugars produced from photosynthesis which normally flow back into the plant instead build up in the leaf and react with proteins in sap to form red anthrocyanin compounds. Sunny autumn days produce more sugars and result in more red leaves. Frost causes the leaves to drop off quickly so mild, sunny autumns produce the best colours.

    Sycamore timber was traditionally used for milk pails as it does not impart any flavour or colour. It is still used today for kitchenware and is recognisable by the light colour and fine grain.

  15. Keep right to pass the wooden post and continue to reach a bench at a crossing of paths.

    The common earthball is a woodland fungus that looks a bit like a scaly white or pale yellow potato and its external appearance could be confused with a small puffball fungus.

    Earthballs have a slightly different approach to release their spores than puffballs. When mature, puffballs have a central opening in the top through which the spores puff out. With the earthball, the surface of the cap ruptures when the spores are ready to release.

    Since puffballs are edible and earthballs are poisonous, it is a common offender for stomach upsets arising from misidentification. This might seem strange as puffball flesh is pure white whereas the internal earthball flesh is dark (purple/brown/black) when mature. The potential for confusion arises because when very young, the earthball flesh is pale.

  16. Turn right after the bench to follow the path uphill to a crossing of paths. Turn left and follow the path downhill, then continue until you reach a fork.

    95% of all plant life on Earth, including trees, relies on a symbiotic relationship with fungi. It is thought that without fungi, land plants could not have developed at all. Fungal mycelium often grows around or actually within the roots of plants and give the plant access to water and nutrients it couldn't otherwise obtain easily from the soil. In return, the plants provide the fungi with sugars produced through photosynthesis.

    The rate at which a tree grows varies through the year depending on the amount of light and moisture available. This is visible in a sawn tree trunk as a ring where the wider lighter area wood is laid down more quickly in spring-early summer and then the narrow darker area more slowly in late summer-autumn. Each ring corresponds to a year and so the age of the tree can be worked out by counting the rings.

  17. Bear left at the fork to follow the path downhill. Continue to reach a gate.

    In urban areas in cold countries such as Canada, a black form of the grey squirrel is more common which is able to withstand the cold better both by retaining more heat and also having a slower metabolism. In wilderness areas where predators are more common, the black squirrels don't seem to do so well, perhaps because they are less camouflaged against trees than the grey ones.

  18. Pass around the gate and continue to reach a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow this back to the car park.

    The name Looe is from the Cornish word logh (meaning sea lake, similar to the Scottish word) and on 17th Century maps the name still appears as "Low" or "Lowe". East Looe and West Looe originated as separate towns. East Looe is the older of the two and by 1310, Looe had five ships in the wine trade with Bordeaux. There are still a number of mediaeval buildings in the old town.

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