Luxulyan Valley circular walk

Luxulyan Valley circular

A circular walk following the leats and horse-drawn tramways through the World Heritage site of the Luxulyan Valley to the massive viaduct which carried the tramways towards Newquay and water to winch the trams up the valley with a huge waterwheel, recommended in guidebooks as early as the 1920s "as one of the most glorious walks in all Cornwall".

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The route begins at the Black Hill Luxulyan Valley car park and climbs up to the Treffry Viaduct. The route then follows the trackbed of the horse-drawn tramway to the wheelpit where a 30ft waterwheel once hauled wagons up the inclined plane, which you then walk down to follow the leat that powered the waterwheels of the Fowey Consols mine. From here the route follows a path through Carmears Wood to join the Velvet Path which it follows back to the inclined plane. The walk then descends to the bottom of the inclined plane and follows the lower path alongside the river passing Trevanny Dry and beneath the viaduct to complete the circular route.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.4 miles/5.5 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • Lush broadleaf woodland in the Luxulyan Valley
  • Victorian industrial heritage including the massive Treffry Viaduct
  • Riverside wildlife including dragonflies and damselflies


  1. From the car park, follow the path between the granite posts to the Luxulyan Valley sign and then go up the steps on the left. At the top of the steps, turn right and follow the path along the leat (watercourse) to a footbridge.

    The Luxulyan Valley is the steep-sided, wooded valley of the River Par. It was designated part of a World Heritage Site in 2006 due to its major concentration of early 19th century industrial remains, the majority of which are the result of the work of Joseph Treffry. The area has a network of permissive paths, many of which are based on the routes of horse-drawn tramways.

  2. Cross the footbridge on the left, go through the kissing gate and follow the path up the bank via the steps to reach a track.

    The viaduct was constructed between 1839 and 1842 from local granite to link Joseph Treffry's horse-drawn tramway between Molinnis (the location of the Bugle Inn) and Ponts Mill. This later became part of a larger scheme to create a horse-drawn tramway between Par and Newquay.

    It was the first stone viaduct built in Cornwall and is an engineering masterpiece consisting of 10 arches spanning 200 metres which rise 27 metres from the valley floor. The viaduct also doubled as an aqueduct - it has a water channel beneath the railway track which was precisely sloped to create a steady flow of water and feed Carmears leat.

    More information about the Treffry Viaduct from the Cornwall Heritage Trust.

  3. When you emerge onto the track, turn right and walk a short distance to a junction of tracks. Turn left and follow the track away from the viaduct for about half a mile, passing along a trackbed with granite blocks for much of the way. Continue for about 50 metres after the granite blocks end to where a path departs from the right towards a wooden fence.

    The upper leat in the Luxulyan Valley, known as Carmears Leat, was the last one constructed, in 1842. Its purpose was to supply water to the wheelpit whilst also increasing the amount of water available to the Fowey Consols mines. Water was extracted from the River Par at Cam bridges and channelled beneath the viaduct into the leat. After driving the wheel, the water drained into the lower (Fowey Consols) leat.

  4. After having a look at the wheelpit to the right, behind the fence, keep left to stay on the tramway and follow it past some ruined buildings and down the incline until you reach a junction of paths with a granite post indicating Fowey Consols Leat on the right.

    Behind the fence there is a viewing area overlooking the wheel pit and if you want to explore further there are some steps leading down the right-hand side to the area below.

    The Wheelpit was constructed in 1841 and brought into service in 1842 when the leat above it was completed. The original wheel was 30 feet in diameter and used for hauling wagons up the inclined plane until the 1870s.

    When the Cornwall Minerals Railway was built, the tramway fell into disuse and the waterwheel was repurposed to grind chunks of quarried china stone (partially decomposed granite) to yield a powder similar to china clay. The wheel was replaced with an even larger one of 40ft diameter and grinding pans were constructed beside it. The remains of the grinding pans can be seen today. Once ground, a suspension of the china stone in water was pumped down a pipeline along the side of the inclined plane to the clay driers at Ponts Mill.

    The waterwheel ran until 1908 and remained derelict until it was demolished during the Second World War.

  5. Walk ahead a couple more paces to the far side of the junction to take the second (more major) of the 2 paths on the left. Follow this path, keeping the leat on your left, until you reach another junction of paths with a crossing over the leat.

    China Stone is a term used to describe granite which has partially decomposed, but not all the way to china clay. Porcelain can made by mixing china clay (kaolin) with ground china stone and then melting these together in a kiln to form the ceramic. The china stone lowers the melting point and forms a less crumbly and more glass-like structure. In fact, pure kaolin alone is pretty much useless for making ceramics.

    After much trial and error in finding suitable sources of china stone in Cornwall, a patent was filed in 1768 for the manufacture of porcelain using entirely Cornish materials; previously this was only available from China. China stone is consequently also known in some parts of the world as "Cornish Stone".

  6. Turn left over the bridge across the leat and follow the main well-worn path gradually uphill to reach a hairpin bend in the path beside a fallen tree.

    Joseph Treffry had the 2 mile long watercourse constructed in the 1820s to supply water to his Fowey Consols copper mines on Penpillick Hill in order to drive water wheels to pump out the mine. The water is taken from the Gatty's Stream using a sluice gate near Gatty's Bridge. The leat passes through a tunnel, bored through a granite outcrop which blocks its path. Before the tunnel was constructed, the leat was run around the outcrop, through channels on a wooden gallery which was hung off the granite.

  7. Keep right to follow the path around the bend and continue through the woods until it eventually crosses a leat.

    After the Second World War, an electricity generator powered by a water turbine was installed into the leat system and this fed the National Grid until 2001. In 2007, a local group restored it and it once again supplies power to the National Grid, creating revenue to fund local projects.

  8. Follow the path ahead leading downhill from the leat and continue until you reach a bend in front of a mineshaft fenced with green metal railings.

    The mineshaft is part of Prideaux Wood mine which stretched across to the other side of the valley. The main complex of mines that the leat fed, known as the Fowey Consols, lie on the other side of the A390 on the side of Penpillack hill.

    Three mines on Penpillick hill - Wheals Chance, Treasure and Fortune - opened in 1813 and Joseph Treffry bought shares in these. He consolidated these with Lancescot and Polharmon in 1819 to create the group of 5 mines known as Fowey Consols which was one of the deepest, richest and most important of the Cornish copper mines. At its peak it was worked by six steam engines and 17 water wheels, and employed 1680 people. It continue until the collapse of the copper market in 1867.

  9. At the bend in front of the mineshaft, keep right to follow the path downhill. Continue to reach a flight of steps departing to the left.

    The bridge over the incline was constructed in the 1840s by Nicholas Kendall as part of an 8 mile carriage drive to Luxulyan Church from his estate at Pelyn near Lostwithiel (not to be confused with Pelynt near Looe), that took 20 years to complete. It was known appropriately as Long Drive. When it fell into disuse, the carriageway became known as the Velvet Path due to the moss covering it.

  10. Keep right at the steps to stay on the main path and continue following it to reach a fork in the path. Keep left at the fork to cross the railway bridge and reach a path departing to the left, immediately after the bridge.

    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. Turn left after the bridge, onto the path leading downhill and follow it to the tramway. Bear right onto the tramway and follow it downhill to a kissing gate.

    The inclined plane was part of the horse-drawn tramway which originally ran from the canal at Ponts Mill to Molinnis (near Bugle). The incline was originally nearly 900 metres long and rose around 100 metres. Wagons coming downwards contained granite and china clay whilst traffic upwards consisted of imported lime and coal, landed at Par docks. The wagons were hauled up and down the incline using water power.

  12. Go through the gate and down the steps to the track. Turn right and follow the track under a railway bridge to reach a bridge over the river.

    The River Par rises on Criggan Moor near Roche and flows through the China Clay areas around Bugle before descending through the Luxulyan valley and meeting the sea at Par. The river is fast-flowing and once ran white from the suspended china clay; it now supports a healthy fish population.

  13. Cross the river and follow the track to where a path departs to same clay driers on the left.

    The china clay driers known as Trevanny Dry or Central Cornwall Dry were built in the 1920s and ran until the 1960s. Clay was pumped as a slurry down a pipeline from Starrick Moor near Trethurgy and was allowed to settle in tanks at the rear before being spread out on the coal-fired drying floor. A branch line ran to Pontsmill, resurrecting part of one of Treffry's old tramways and a petrol-powered locomotive shuttled up and down the short line to get the clay trucks onto the line to Par. The chimney was originally slightly taller until it was hit by lightning.

  14. Bear left off the path and climb the steps with metal railings to reach the drying floor. Turn right and walk along the length of the building to reach another flight of steps descending from the far side.

    Up until about 1850 china clay was dried in open-sided sheds known as air drys. This was a slow process: in winter, it could take as long as eight months.

    From 1845, pan kilns were developed and became standard in the 1860s and 70s. Flues led beneath a floor of porous tiles on which the cream-like clay slurry was dried. The moisture was drawn down into the hot fumes and vented from a chimney.

  15. Descend the steps and bear left to rejoin the track. Continue until you reach another bridge over the river.

    Buddleia are originally from northwest China and Japan where they grow in forest clearings, on riverbanks and on limestone outcrops where they are able to survive with minimal nutrients. They were introduced into the UK as an ornamental plant in the late 19th Century and can found in many gardens. Some have escaped and established a niche on industrial land which resembles their native limestone outcrops.

    The shrub is commonly known as the Butterfly Bush as the flowers are profuse, rich in nectar and are in the shape of champagne flutes; butterflies and bees have sufficiently long drinking apparatus to reach the bottom.

    The plant has two types of leaf; the broad green leaves are replaced with shorter hairy grey leaves during the winter which are more resistant to frost and the drying effect of cold winds.

    Foam on the surface of a river can look like pollution but, as with sea foam, it's normally a natural phenomenon. When water plants such as algae die and decompose, organic matter is released into the water. If the water is agitated, proteins in the water can form a froth, just like whisking egg whites. Plant nutrients entering the water will increase the amount of algae, making foam more likely or prolific so a very foamy river can be an indicator of nitrate or phosphate pollution.

  16. Cross the river and follow the track alongside the river to eventually reach a fork in the path before another bridge over the river.

    In 1873, Treffry's tramways were taken over by the Cornwall Minerals Railway (CMR) and converted for use by steam locomotives. The project also involved building an extra section of line to link the tramways in the Newquay area with those in the Par/Bugle area. The section through the Luxulyan Valley was bypassed as this involved an inclined plane driven by a waterwheel. The railway originally extended to Fowey but the section of line from Par to Fowey was closed in the 1960s and converted to a private road haul route for china clay.

    Collapses in mineral prices caused financial difficulties and lead to attempts to encourage passenger traffic associated with tourism. The struggling CMR was eventually purchased by Great Western Railway in 1896. The section between Par and Newquay remains as a branch line of the national rail network.

  17. At the fork, bear right and follow the path uphill to a junction of paths. Bear left at the junction and follow the path beneath the viaduct and back to the car park.

    By 1934, the whole of the Luxulyan Valley had been acquired by English Clays, Lovering, Pochin & Co. which was later renamed to English China Clay. After the site was redundant for industrial purposes, English China Clay decided to dedicate it as a public park. Initially they approached the National Trust, who declined it, and so instead offered it to the Council. In 1992 the viaduct was given to the Cornwall Heritage Trust and the surrounding land to Cornwall Council.

    The valley is now looked after by The Luxulyan Valley Partnership which includes The Friends of Luxulyan Valley - a conservation group established in 1997. They are always happy to have new members. They can also be supported via Amazon shopping via Amazon Smile (search for "luxulyan valley" in the list of charities).

either as a GPS-guided walk with our app (£2.99) or a PDF (£1.99)

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