North Hill to Hawks Tor

A circular walk along prehistoric trade routes in the Lynher valley from the village of North Hill where the granite was quarried to build Westminster Bridge.

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The walks starts from the village hall, passing the church, then descends into the Lynher valley. The route crosses the river then climbs up onto the slopes of the Hawkstor Downs, beneath the summit of Hawk's Tor. The route then turns back along Withey Brook and follows it through Castick Wood, past the ancient Iron Age fort of Allabury, before a crossing of the River Lynher to return to North Hill.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/5.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots; waterproof boots in winter

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  • Panoramic views across Bodmin Moor
  • Ancient church and Holy Well at North Hill
  • Pretty woodland and riverside scenery along the River Lynher
  • Local food and drink at the Racehorse Inn

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Racehorse Inn


  1. Dogs are not allowed in the playground so if you have a dog, make your way out onto the road and turn left to reach the gate into the churchyard. Otherwise, from the car park, cross the playground towards the church tower to reach a path leading to the right just before the fence. Turn right onto the path and follow it to the gate into the churchyard.

    North Hill is a small village beside the River Lynher within a large parish on the eastern edge of Bodmin Moor. The village dates back to mediaeval times and is first recorded in 1238 as "Henle"; no-one is quite sure whether that was from Cornish e.g. Hen-tre (old farm) or Old English e.g. hindle from hind (deer) and leah (woods). London's Westminster Bridge was constructed from the stone quarried from this district.

  2. Go through the gate into the churchyard then follow the path to the church door.

    The impressively large parish church in North Hill is dedicated to St Torney, whose Holy Well is situated by the River Lynher. Nothing is known about St Torney except that another church in St Germans is also dedicated to the same saint. The exact age of the church is also unknown, but it is thought to be over 600 years old. There are records relating to a church in North Hill which date back to 1238, though this is likely to have been a former building on the site.

  3. Facing out of church door, turn left and follow the path down to a gate leading to the lane.
  4. Go through the gate, turn right onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction.

    The Ring o' Bells was North Hill's main pub until the start of the 20th Century. It is said to have started trading in the 13th century as a cider farm/alehouse for the stonemasons of St Torney Church.

    The inn closed in 1918 after a man was thrown from his cart and killed. This followed an earlier fatality in 1916 when a rabbit dealer died whilst driving home, following a day spent drinking in the pub since 11 AM. For this, the landlord was charged with "permitting drunkenness".

  5. At the end of the lane, turn right and follow the road a short distance to a junction on the left.

    The Racehorse Inn is roughly 100 metres along the lane to the left.

    The Racehorse Inn in North Hill is believed to be around 300 years old, originally built as a school for the village children. It was bought from the Diocese of Truro in 1964 and converted to an inn serving local beers and food. The name arises because the money to buy it came from a bet on the horses!

  6. Turn left at the junction and follow the road past the chapel to reach a public footpath on the right, immediately after the National Speed Limit signs.

    The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. During the 18th Century in Cornwall, a rift had developed between the the elite Anglican clergy and the majority of the population who were predominantly miners, farmers and fishermen. The "down to earth" nature of the Methodists appealed greatly and is one of the reasons it was enthusiastically adopted.

  7. Bear right onto the public footpath and follow it to a kissing gate.
  8. Go through the kissing gate and head for the bottom-right corner of the field to reach a stile.

    Buzzards can often be seen circling over the valley.

    The buzzard family is quite closely related to hawks and consists of a number of different species which occupy different habitat niches (e.g. colder countries further north). The buzzard species we see in the UK is the common buzzard. This is one of the largest birds of prey in Britain with a wingspan of over 4 feet.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path to a junction. Cross over the larger path to the small path leading downhill and follow this to a footbridge over the main river.

    The main river is the Lynher, which eventually joins the River Tamar. From a rough back-of-envelope calculation of river velocity, it takes around a day for the water passing under the bridge here to reach Plymouth. The ditch that you cross before the main river was a mill leat. Hidden in the undergrowth just over a hundred metres downriver, somewhere between the mill leat and the river on private land, is a holy well. It is dedicated to St Torney and has a well-preserved granite well house.

  10. After crossing the footbridge, bear right slightly along the path, then follow the path across a stream bed and alongside the wall, keeping it on your left to reach a stile at the top of the wall.

    The River Lynher (pronounced "liner", as in ocean) is just over 20 miles long, rising on Bodmin Moor and joining the Tamar in its estuary near Saltash. The name dates back to mediaeval times, being recorded as "Lyner" in 1318. It is also known as the St Germans River at the point where it widens into a broad, tidal channel, close to its mouth.

    During Victorian times, the river was polluted by copper mining waste and during the late 20th century, runoff from intensive dairy farming and an increase in arable farming were found to be affecting water quality and silting the gravel beds needed by spawning salmon. In the early 21st century, a number of these issues were addressed under the Cornwall Rivers Project.

    The river is now a haven for wildlife with several stretches being designated as Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSIs). The river's resident species include otters, brown trout and Atlantic salmon which breed in its major tributary, the Tiddy.

  11. Cross the stile and follow along the fence on the right to a stile in the top-right corner of the field, to the right of the gate.

    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.

    Unlike many nuts which are designed to last through the winter and then germinate in the spring, chestnuts germinate in the autumn and waste no time putting down some roots. The leaves and stem follow in the spring and their established root system gives these a head start.

  12. Cross the stile onto a track and cross the wooden stile opposite. Follow the path uphill through the woods until it emerges into a field.

    Badgers are most closely related to otters and weasels, but are omnivores and often catch their food by burrowing after it. Up until the 1950s, somewhat prior to the Gastro-pub revolution, many Westcountry pubs had Badger Ham on the bar!

    Due to their relatively large body size, badgers are susceptible to the same pathogens as domestic livestock, and so badgers and cattle can catch tuberculosis from each other. In recent years, there has been controversy over badger culling as an attempted means to control the spread of bovine TB. The conclusions of the scientific trials of 2007 were that badger culling was not effective. One reason is that culling creates vacant territories and causes other badgers to roam more widely, continuing a spread. In 2010, a TB vaccine was produced which is hoped will prove more effective than culling, as a band of vaccinated badgers will act like a firewall, blocking a spread.

  13. Follow the right hedge to a metal kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a lane.

    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.

  14. Turn right and follow the lane uphill until you see a public bridleway signposted to the right.

    The lane, known as Nodden Lane, is thought to derive from a mediaeval trackway. It was documented in the 17th Century as dating back to the 12th Century and is mentioned elsewhere as existing in the 13th Century.

  15. Go through the gate on the right and continue ahead along the track. Follow this until you cross a stream and reach a fork in the track.
  16. Keep right at the fork and follow the track through a gateway into a field. Follow parallel to the left hedge to a rocky opening in the far hedge roughly 10 metres down from the left-hand corner of the field.
  17. Go through the gap and cross the field to reach two wooden gates in the far hedge.

    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. Go through the smaller pedestrian gate to the right and bear right onto the track. Follow this for roughly a quarter of a mile until a tor on the left comes into view and shortly after a grassy path leads ahead where the stony track turns a corner to go downhill into a field.

    Rhododendron is a member of the Ericaceae family to which heathers also belong and like its cousins, it is tolerant of acid soils. The word rhododendron is from the Ancient Greek for "rose tree" due to their spectacular flowers. As a result of these, rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the common rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age. Being a vigorous plant, common rhododendron was often used as a root stock onto which more fragile but exotically-coloured hybrids were grafted.

  19. Depart from the corner of the track onto the grassy path ahead and make your way along the contour of the hill using the network of paths between the bracken. Pass the tor on your left and as another tor in the distance comes into view, work your way down to follow along the wall on your right to reach a gateway in the corner of the wall.

    There are two hills called Hawk's Tor on Bodmin Moor, one near North Hill and the other near Blisland. The one at North Hill is occasionally spelt Hawke's Tor, but usually they are spelt identically.

    Near the top of the tor are the circular remains of a large (8 metre diameter) prehistoric hut. It seems incomprehensible such a barren location would be chosen as a residence, but during this period, all of the low-lying land would have been under forest so this would have been an elevated forest clearing rather than a barren moor.

    On Hawks Tor Downs, on the slopes of the hill, are the remains of a mediaeval field system based on ridges and furrows and with cairns created from clearing lumps of granite from the fields.

  20. Turn right through the gateway into the field. Bear right into the grassy area of the field and work your way up to the top-right corner, back on yourself, to reach a gateway in the corner.

    The low stone walls remaining as hut circles were once the foundations of a round house. The granite foundations were likely to have been set into cob (mud and straw) walls which provided insulation and draft exclusion over bare-stone walls. A conical thatched roof on a timber frame rested on top of the walls. Heating was via a central fire which required some care with the thatched roof - presumably roof fires were not unheard of! These buildings varied in size from a just over a metre in diameter up to 10 metres. Some had walled enclosures attached and a few also had internal partitions.

  21. Go through the gateway, turn left and follow the wall a short distance until it ends then continue in the same direction, following a rough grassy track across the field to reach a gateway.
  22. Go through the gateway and follow the left wall of the field to another gateway.

    The fields lie along along a tributary valley of the Lynher. The tributary river, known as Withey Brook, has its source on the moor at Minions near the Cheesewring in an area appropriately known as Withey Marsh.

  23. Go through a gateway and follow the rocky track ahead through another gateway to where the track bends and there is a metal gate ahead.

    A salmon hatchery is run by volunteers on the River Lynher to offset the effects of salmon being caught commercially in nets at sea on the river's population.

    Salmon spawn in winter in the tributary streams of rivers, where the gravel is suitable. The young fish (known as "parr") grow by feeding on aquatic insects for one to three years. They then undergo a physiological preadaptation to life in seawater known as "smolting". In spring, large numbers of "smolts" swim downriver and migrate to the rich feeding grounds of the Norwegian Sea where they feed on fish such as herring and sandeels.

    Salmon exhibit remarkable homing instinct, locating their river of origin using the earth's magnetic field and smell which includes pheromones released by other salmon in the river. Some salmon reach maturity after only one year at sea; these are known as "grise" and return in summer, weighing between 1 and 4kg. Larger fish, that take two or more years at sea to mature, usually return considerably earlier in the year.

    Salmon cease to feed on entering freshwater and having spawned, the fish (referred to as "kelts") are susceptible to disease and predators. However some do survive to repeat their epic journey again and there are records of some salmon spawning three times.

  24. Depart from the track and go through the metal gate ahead leading onto a grassy path. Follow the path until you reach another metal gate.

    The Lynher also has a population of otters.

    The otter's semi-aquatic nature has been well known since ancient times, in fact the words "otter" and "water" both derive from the same original word. It has been reported that Bodmin Moor acts as an interchange for commuting otters as the rivers Camel, Delank, Fowey and Inny all have sources or tributaries in a quite a small area.

    During the 1960s, the otter population crashed in the UK due to the widespread use of pesticides such as DDT which leached into the waterways and poisoned the otters. However, due to predominance of dairy farming in Cornwall during this period rather than the more pesticide-reliant arable, the county remained an otter stronghold. The Tamar Otter Sanctuary near the Devon border was a key part of the otter conservation movement which has been a remarkable success. It is thought that otters have now re-colonised all the areas in the UK that they were wiped out from during the 20th Century.

  25. Go through the gate and continue to follow the track until it forks.

    In the fields to your right are the remains of Allabury Camp.

    Allabury Camp is located on the north-east side of Hawks Tor, close the village on North Hill on the east edge of Bodmin Moor. The site was an Iron Age hillfort consisting of a single line of ramparts encircling a settlement. The location was strategically positioned near the confluence of the Lynher with Withey Brook. Little now remains of the fort except a ring of trees along the bank which was formerly the ramparts.

  26. Where the track forks, keep left and follow the track downhill to a crossing of tracks.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandinavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  27. At the crossing of tracks, continue straight ahead downhill until you reach a wooden gate.

    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.

  28. Go through the gate and down onto a concrete track. Turn right along the track (marked with a public footpath sign) and follow this until it ends in a gate.

    On the left of the track are spoil heaps from Wheal Luskey, an exploratory excavation for copper which initially looked promising but was soon abandoned when little ore was found.

  29. Go through the gate and into a farmyard. Keep left across the farmyard and join a concrete track. Follow this ahead through any gates until you reach a pair of gateways at the far end of the concrete with a waymark between them.

    The settlement of Castick was first recorded in 1284 as Keluystok so the name may have had a similar origin to Callestick near Truro (which itself was recorded in 1086 as Callestoch). Given the amount of garbling of place names that took place during the mediaeval period, it's possible this was based on a Celtic word with an -ack type of ending rather than a Saxon -stock ending.

  30. At a double gateway, go through the right-hand gate then follow the track ahead along the left hedge to reach a metal gate in the far hedge.

    In English we often add a -y ending to a noun to turn it into an adjective; for example "rock" becomes "rocky". For many of the nouns imported from French, we add "-ic" (acidic, magnetic, artistic...). The equivalent in Cornish is to add -ack or -ek to the end of the word. Thus meynek is "stony" (men is stone), stennack means "tinny" (sten is tin).

  31. Go through the gate then head straight across the field towards the rightmost of two gateways ahead.
  32. Go through the waymarked gate, then turn left and follow the hedge downhill to a metal gate at the bottom of the field.

    The granite gatepost at the bottom of the field is thought to date from early mediaeval times. This period, after the Romans had left Britain, was formerly known as The Dark Ages because not much was known about it. In Cornwall this was a period of Celtic culture before the Norman Conquest.

  33. Go through the gate then bear right downhill to a footbridge about 50 metres to the left of the bottom-right corner of the field.

    If you look carefully in some of the slower-moving sections of the river, you may see fish slowly swimming against the current to remain stationary.

    Trout are members of Salmon family who all have an extra tiny (adipose) fin on their back towards their tail, that most other fish don't have. No-one is quite sure what the purpose is of this fin but a neural network in the fin indicates that it has some kind of sensory function.

    The native trout in the UK is not the trout that supermarkets and trout farms stock (the Rainbow Trout, which has red flush along its side and is native to North America), but the Brown Trout which has well-defined dark red spots along its sides. You can often make out the spots when you see them lying in pools. Rainbow Trout are often stocked in fishing lakes so do sometimes escape into the wild.

    Small trout typically feed on invertebrates whereas larger trout generally feed on other fish but have been known to eat anything of a suitable size unlucky enough to fall into a river. In fact in New Zealand, mouse-shaped lures are sold for trout fishing!

  34. Cross the bridge and head to the right of the large tree directly ahead just to the left of a patch of brambles. Climb the bank to reach the path running along the top and turn right onto this to reach to a waymark at the junction of paths.

    The River Lynher also has a population of Sea Trout.

    Sea Trout have a very similar life-cycle to Salmon, being born in a river, migrating to the ocean to feed and then returning to the river to spawn. As with Salmon, they do not feed once they enter freshwater and after spawning they are susceptible to disease. It is not unusual to see them with fungal growths in early winter, but as long as these infections aren't too major, the trout return to the sea where they recover and return to spawn again.

    What is intriguing is that Sea Trout are exactly the same species as Brown Trout, which live all their lives in a river. It seems to be that if there isn't enough food, young trout undergo "the change" (known as smoulting) in which their physiology permanently alters for an existence in saltwater, they change colour to silver, and they head off to live in the sea.

  35. At the waymark, bear left to follow the path uphill through the trees to reach a wooden stile.

    The woodland here provides some ideal hiding places for deer, which you are most likely to encounter if you are walking very early in the morning.

    Red and Roe deer are the two truly native species of the six found in the UK and both have pointy, branching (rugose) antlers. The Red deer is the largest of the species and has a characteristic large white V on its backside whereas the Roe deer just has a small white patch.

    The fallow deer was introduced by the Normans and has flat, elk-like (palmate) antlers and an inverted black horseshoe surrounding a white patch on its rear end.

    In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, three "exotic" Asian species (munjac, sika and Chinese water deer) were introduced. These all have quite rounded ears whereas the European species all have pointy "elf-like" ears.

    Roe deer, Fallow deer and Red deer are all present in Cornwall and the populations of all three species has increased substantially over the past decade, possibly by as much as a factor of ten. There are also a small number of munjac deer, but far fewer than in the rest of England.

  36. Cross the stile and head straight up the field to the gate opposite.

    The Roe Deer is unusual among hoofed animals as the egg is fertilised at the time of mating but then goes into suspended animation for several months - a process known as delayed implantation. This mechanism means that instead of being born in late winter, the young are born in early summer when food is more plentiful.

    In most species with delayed implantation, the mother sends out a hormonal signal to tell the embryo to wake up. However in the case of the Roe Deer, the embryo has a built-in egg timer which sends a chemical message back to the mother that it's time to resume the pregnancy.

  37. Go through the gate onto a lane and turn right. Follow the lane back to the village car park.

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