West Looe Woodland

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.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.1 miles/4.9 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Kilminorth Woods entrance
  • Parking: West Looe Car Park PL132AH. If you're coming from the west, as you come down the hill into Looe, keep a lookout for the road to the car park on the left opposite a road to the right. Follow this to a roundabout and turn left. Follow the road to an opening on the right at the far end of car park - go through this and uphill to the small car park for the woods.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

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

Directions

  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".

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and is most commonly seen in or near freshwater. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - it is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! In Tudor and Elizabethan times, hunting herons with peregrine falcons was considered a royal sport which resulted in the birds being protected from peasants who might otherwise have caught and roasted them.

  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 to reach a wooden post with red and blue bands where a path rises to the left.

    Mosses reproduce with tiny spores rather than seeds. Many mosses use wind to carry their spores but Spagnum (peat) mosses use compressed air to launch theirs. To get an idea of the acceleration that the spores are launched with, an astronaut in a rocket launch experiences an acceleration g-force of about 3-g and the maximum in a fighter jet is about 9-g. Spagnum moss spores are accelerated at 36,000-g! If that caused you to spill your cider, mosses are also able to absorb around 20 times their own weight in liquid.

  5. Continue ahead on the path leading gradually downhill. Follow the path to return to the river's edge and reach a flight of steps marked with a "Blue route" sign.

    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 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.

  6. Continue along the river 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 plant 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.

  11. 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).

    To support their massive weight, trees produce a biochemical compound called lignin which has a cross-linked polymer structure that makes it very rigid. Because it's so tough, most fungi and bacteria are unable to break it down. The main fungus that has worked out a way to do it is known as white rot.

    The formation of most of the world's coal deposits from wood occurred during a single geological period suitably-named the Carboniferous. It was postulated that this might be because white rot hadn't evolved by then so dead wood just accumulated. However it's now thought more likely to be due to the formation of particularly deep swamps from the crust-buckling collisions of tectonic plates in this period which allowed wood both to accumulate in a low-oxygen environment and then be compressed into coal.

  12. 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 fruit of the beech tree is known as "mast" or, less crypically, "beechnuts". 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.

  13. 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 approach that of 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.

  14. Continue ahead on the path indicated for Looe with three coloured dots. Follow this to where a flight of steps descend 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 mis-identification. 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.

  17. 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 water and nutrients it couldn't otherwise obtain easily from the soil. In return, the plants provide the fungi with sugars produced through photosynthesis.

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

    By using their tail as a parachute, squirrels are able to survive falls from high trees. This allows them to attempt risky jumps between treetops that don't always work out. They are one of the few mammals that can (but not always) survive an impact at their terminal velocity i.e. if a squirrel jumped out of an aeroplane, it may well survive.

  19. 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.

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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