Circular walk from North Petherwin to Winsdon

North Petherwin to Winsdon

The fields at directions 12 and 13 are reported as overgrown with tangled stems making progress difficult until the field is cut or vegetation dies down.

A circular walk from North Petherwin in the river valleys of the Bolsbridge Water.

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The walk starts and the church and follows the footpath alongside the Barton Millenium Wood to the Holy Well. The route then follows footpaths and tracks across the tributary valleys to reach Winsdon. From here the route follows small lanes to pick up the footpath to the ancient farmstead of Bodgate. The return route is across fields towards the church, through the Millenium Wood and finally via the churchyard itself.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 4.1 miles/6.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or wellies after prolonged wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

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


  • Barton Millenium Wood
  • North Petherwin Church and Holy Well


  1. With the church on your right, walk to the Barton Millennium Wood sign to reach a grassy track marked with a public footpath sign. Turn right down this and follow it to a kissing gate.

    The parish of North Petherwin has been shuffled between Cornwall and Devon over the centuries but is currently occupied by the Cornish. The church is dedicated to St Padarn - an early 6th Century abbot from Ireland who also founded churches in Wales and Brittany. Padarn is documented as having a run-in with King Arthur who apparently attempted to steal his coat. The north aisle of the church is Norman and the south is Perpendicular Gothic. Many of the windows are 13th century in style.

  2. Go through the gate and bear left into the field and then follow the line of trees downhill, keeping them on your right, to reach a water trough. Then bear left to a pair of posts marked with yellow tops and go through the tiny gate between these onto the track. Turn right onto the track and follow it to a pair of gates.

    As you cross the field, the Holy Well is on the opposite side of the hedge, next to the water trough.

    The Holy Well of St Paternus taps a spring quite close to its source but is nevertheless one of the deeper holy wells in Cornwall. It is thought it may date to the 6th Century. Its location in a hedge meant that it became overgrown and was lost for a number of years until being rediscovered and finally restored in 1999. The land on which it is situated was once Glebe land, belonging to the Vicar of North Petherwin.

  3. Go through the gate on the left and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a waymarked pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  4. Go through the gate, cross the footbridge and go through another pedestrian gate to reach a track. Turn left onto the track to reach a junction then follow the track uphill to a lane.

    It is thought that St Paternus, to whom the well and church are dedicated, might have been the father of St Constantine - a Cornish King who have up his throne to become a monk.

  5. Turn left onto the lane, then turn almost immediately right onto a track. Follow this (unclipping and re-clipping any fences across the track, as necessary), keeping ahead past the farmyard on the right, to a fork in the track beside a metal gate on the right.

    The trees along the lane are beech; there is a big one which drops a lot of nuts in autumn just where the track departs.

    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.

    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.

  6. Continue ahead down the rough track and through the metal gate directly ahead into the field below. Then follow the right hedge of the field to reach a gate in front of a footbridge at the bottom of the valley.

    Cow pats can often be spotted (and therefore avoided) by the tuft of ungrazed grass surrounding the cow pat know as the "ring of repugnance". If it is left undisturbed, cows will avoid the area around a cow pat for a couple of years, allowing a bright green (well-fertilised) hummock of grass to form.

    The biological reason that the repulsion exists is to prevent cows from ingesting parasites from other cows. The reason that we find it repulsive too is due to our biological "wiring" to protect us from parasites.

  7. Go through the gate, cross the footbridge and go through the gateway on the other side. Follow the path uphill to reach a farm gate with a pedestrian gate alongside.

    The streams on the route are all tributaries of the Bolsbridge Water which itself is a tributary of the River Ottery.

    The River Ottery is a tributary of the Tamar and stretches about 20 miles across the northeast of the county. Its basin spans a Carboniferous geological formation known as the Culm Measures which contains a soft-sooty form of coal and supports grassland that is very rich in species, some rare such as the Marsh Fritillary.

    The river once formed a northern boundary between Celtic Dumnonia and Anglo-Saxon Wessex and consequently the place names to the north are predominantly Saxon and those to the south are Celtic. The name of the river itself has Anglo-Saxon roots from the Old English oter (after the creatures that thrived along it) and ea (meaning stream).

  8. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a gate at the top of the right hedge.

    Evidence of windmills in England dates from around the 12th century and in Cornwall there are records of windmills as far back as 1296. Wind turbines may be viewed as the modern successor but actually themselves date back to Victorian times: the first large windmill to generate electricity was built in 1888 in the USA, and in Cornwall, a private house was lit using electricity generated by a wind turbine in 1890.

  9. Go through the gate and turn left onto the track. Follow it to a gate onto a concrete track opposite some barns.

    Nettles are often found near human habitation, much to the displeasure of many humans. Humans generally remove dense vegetation such as tree cover, leaving open ground that fast-growing nettles can rapidly colonise. Food waste from humans and droppings from livestock boost phosphate levels in the soil which nettles require to thrive. Grazing animals also leave nettles alone, munching away competing vegetation instead.

  10. Go through the gate, turn left onto the track then immediately right after the barn (through the double gates if closed). Follow the track past all the buildings to reach a waymarked opening into field ahead, to the right of the field gate.

    Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?

    If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.

    If the gate is ajar or swinging loose and not wedged or tied open then it's likely that the gate was left open by accident (possibly by another group of walkers). Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving lives in a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.

    If you encounter a gate doubly-secured with twine that can be untied or a chain that can be unfastened, it's normally there because naughty animals have managed to undo the gate themselves at some point (e.g. by rubbing against the bolt), so retie/fasten it afterwards.

  11. Go through the opening (or through the field gate if overgrown) and follow the right hedge to reach a waymarked gate in the far hedge.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  12. Go through the sequence of two gates and follow the right hedge to reach two gates in the corner of the field.

    Gorse is also known (particularly in the Westcountry) as furze from the Middle English word furs. This itself is from the Old English word fyres, closely related to the Old English word for fire.

  13. Go through the gate and continue ahead across the field to meet the left hedge. Follow this to the far corner to reach a gate.

    In fields with crops where the footpath doesn't run along the edge, if there is a well-trodden path then follow this to avoid trampling any more of the crops. If there appears to be no path through the crops then you do have a right to walk through the crop but stick as close as possible to the line of the path to avoid damaging any more of the crop than strictly necessary. Alternatively, you can follow around the edges of the field to avoid trudging though the crop.

    Solar panels absorb visible light so provided it's not dark, they are able to generate power even when it's cloudy. Solar panels are more efficient in cooler temperatures than warmer ones, so cold, sunny winter days generate a comparable level of electricity to hot summer days despite the sun being weaker.

  14. Go through the gate and bear right to reach the lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to reach a junction to the right with a sign for Winsdon and Avalon Lodges.
  15. Continue on the lane for about one third of a mile passing Godcott Cottage and onwards until you reach a gateway on the right, opposite a pair of oak trees on the left.

    Despite their native habitat being woodland, wood pigeons are able to thrive wherever there is food. They have fared better than most birds with intensively-farmed crops and are particularly fond of oil seed rape. They are able hoover up food quickly (up to 100 peck per minute) and stuff large amounts into their crop (e.g. around 150 acorns!). They then digest this overnight.

  16. Go through the gateway on the right and follow the left hedge of the field to reach a footbridge, just after the gate on the left.

    The reason that you can cut yourself on a blade of grass is that grass leaves contain minute particles of silica (glass). As well as deterring some animals from grazing, these particles also help to give the stems more rigidity.

  17. Cross the bridge and go through the gate. Follow the track through the trees then continue along the right hedge of the field to reach a gate onto a track.

    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.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the track until you pass a cottage and reach a T-junction with a duck pond to the right.

    Water pepper grows either side of the track as you emerge from the woodland.

    Water pepper, as the name implies, grows on wet ground such as on the margins of lakes. The plant has a number of common names including "smartarse". As Emma Gunn points out in her foraging book "Never Mind the Burdocks", this is nothing to do with being clever: in the past, the dried leaves were added to bedding to drive away fleas etc. and the name comes from rolling over on a leaf in the wrong way. The leaves can be used as a herb and have have a lemony flavour similar to sorrel followed by heat which is a little like chilli.

    A flower is effectively an advert to insects that nectar is available and the reason that flowers are coloured and scented is so these adverts get noticed. The basic idea with most flowers is to lure the insect in with a bribe of nectar and then whilst they are there, unload pollen they are carrying from another flower, stick some pollen to them from this flower, and send them on their way.

  19. Keep right at the junction and follow the track uphill to Bodgate Farm. Continue ahead past all the buildings until you reach a waymark on the right, just before the track passes through a gate.

    Biologically, there is no clear distinction between ducks, geese and swans (geese and swans are one lanky subfamily of ducks). Dark-coloured ducks get the equivalent of "grey hairs" with age - their feathers gradually turn white.

  20. Turn left at the waymark and follow the track a few pace to the gate beside Grandpa's Garden. Go through the gate onto the unsurfaced track and follow this to a metal gate on the right.

    The cottages and farm buildings form the hamlet of Bodgate.

    The settlement of Bodgate was first recorded in 1286. It is thought that the name may be Cornish, containing the old Cornish word bod meaning "dwelling" (which became bos in later years). It is the only Cornish name in this area and may be a relic from the Early Mediaeval period before the parish became part of Devon.

  21. Go through the gate on the right and head straight across the field. When the church tower comes into view, initially make for this; then bear left of the church to an opening in the bottom hedge.

    There are detailed records from the late 15th and early 16th Centuries of the building of North Petherwin church which consisted of intense fundraising followed by building in several cycles. Initially the stone masons cut their granite at Hingston Down quarry on Kit Hill but switched to Roughtor Quarry part-way through construction. The two different sources of granite can be seen as a colour change half-way along the south aisle.

  22. Follow the stony track leading from the field to a stream. Cross over this via the stepping stones on the left and go through the gate. Head straight up the field, to the left end of the line of trees on the skyline. As you near the top, head to the far right-hand corner to a metal field gate with a wooden pedestrian gate to the right.

    The farmland in this area is located on the Culm Measures, resulting in acidic clay soils. Lime-rich sand was brought up the Bude Canal to improve the soil for farming.

    The geological formation known as the Culm Measures stretches from Dartmoor to north Devon and across northeast Cornwall as far west as Bodmin Moor. It is a 2-3 mile deep sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down during the Carboniferous period and named after a soft sooty coal known as culm which is found occasionally within it. The heavy clay soils result in wet grassland and heath which is unlike any other in England and supports a wide diversity of species including rare orchids and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Over 90% of the culm grassland was lost during the 20th Century, and a number of wildlife organisations are now working together to protect what remains.

  23. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right and follow the path ahead to a waymark.

    Just after the gate, the stile on the right leads into the Millennium Wood.

    Barton Millennium Wood in North Petherwin was formerly an area of farmland with heavy clay soils. The wood was planted in 1999 and is being managed to encourage wildlife but also includes a maze and an open area for barbeques etc. Depending on the types of trees planted, new woodlands can take 20-30 years for trees to reach a reasonable height and to start to feel like mature woodland, but this one is already well on the way. The woods are encircled and crossed by a network of paths which connect to the public footpaths either side.

  24. Turn left onto the track at the waymark and follow it to an area with gates where a waymarked path departs along a fence to the right.

    The churchyard at North Petherwin dates back to Celtic times when the church would have been a wooden structure. The current church building dates from Norman times with some additions in the 14th and 15th century and a 19th Century restoration. The church also contains some mediaeval and Tudor woodwork. The base of the rood screen was carved by three Bretons in the 16th Century and it is thought that they might have been immigrant workers undercutting the local carvers as there are records of the carvers at Stratton working for 40 shillings per foot, whereas the Bretons here only charged 24. The magnificent mediaeval pulpit from North Petherwin church is now in Launceston's St Mary Magdalene church, and survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Tudor times by being concealed under thick black paint.

  25. Keep right along the waymarked path between the fences and go through the gate. Continue into the churchyard and follow the path past the church door to return to the car park.

    Britain lost most of its wild Yew trees due to longbow production in the Middle Ages. Once the national supplies had been exhausted, Britain began importing yew wood from just about any European country that had any, rendering yew trees extinct or rare in many parts of Europe. Ironically, Britain now has possibly the world's greatest collection of yews and the majority of these are in churchyards where it was deemed inappropriate to fell them for longbows.

    These are some of the oldest Yew trees found anywhere in the world and Yews can live for thousands of years: the Forestry Commission described them as "the toughest, most indestructible and longest lived tree we have". It is therefore possible that some of the ancient yews are older than the adjacent church buildings as Christianity took over many sacred places from the previous religious traditions: in AD 601, Pope Gregory advised his followers not to destroy places of Pagan worship but to convert them into Christian Churches.

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