Pelynt and the West Looe Valley circular walk

Pelynt and the West Looe Valley

A circular walk in the West Looe valley to St Nun's Well where it is said that if a bent pin is not left as an offering, clouds of piskies will accompany the visitor home and cause mischief.

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The walk descends via a lane from Pelynt and footpaths into the woods and follows a tributary of the West Looe River to its confluence with the main river. The walk then follows a footpath downriver from Sowden's Bridge through the woods of the West Looe valley to reach a river crossing. The route continues to St Nun's Well, the subject of colourful legends, and returns along country lanes.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 6.4 miles/10.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Waterproof boots (stream crosses track)

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • Broadleaf woodland along the West Looe Valley
  • Damselflies and butterflies beside the river
  • Bluebells and wild garlic in spring
  • Diverse fungi in autumn
  • St Nun's Holy Well

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Jubilee Inn


  1. Make your way to the main road and turn right. Follow the road past the Jubilee Inn to a lane on the left, opposite a signpost on the main road for Looe and Liskeard.

    The name Pelynt is thought to be from the Cornish Plu-Nent and mean "Parish of St Nonna".

  2. Turn left onto the lane and follow it for roughly half a mile until you reach a junction on the right by a gate outside a bungalow (Trelay Fields).

    An Iron Age fort known as Hall Rings was located on the spur of the hill to the left. It is thought this may have started as a relatively small twin-rampart hill fort and then been extended later with an outer enclosure. The ramparts were ploughed away during the Second World War.

    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!

  3. Head towards the gate of the bungalow (Trelay Fields) and then turn right to follow the Public Footpath along the fence to reach a stile.

    Primroses grow along the bank on the right-hand side of the path and put on an impressive display in April.

    Primroses prefer moist soils so they tend to grow either in semi-shady places which don't get dried out too much by the sun such as woodland clearings and the base of hedgerows, or in wet open ground such as near streams.

    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.

    Plants contain chlorophyll (the green stuff) which is able to use energy from sunlight to break down a water molecule. The breakdown of water is why plants release oxygen. Some photosynthetic bacteria break down hydrogen sulphide instead of water.

    The electrons and protons remaining from the water after oxygen has been formed are funnelled away by bio-molecules in the plant. These are used to drive another chemical reaction to convert a bunch of carbon dioxide and water molecules into a simple sugar molecule such as glucose.

    Sugar is effectively a store of energy, and the reaction can be run in reverse to generate energy when needed. At night, when there is no sunlight, plants run off their sugar reserves, consume oxygen and emit carbon dioxide - just like we do.

    There quite a few different simple sugars - fructose, maltose etc - but they all have the same chemical formula as glucose (they just have their bits arranged in different orders). Simple sugars are polymerised (chained together) into sucrose (glucose attached to fructose) for medium-term storage and also starches (mega-long sugar chains) for longer-term storage in a root or seed. Sugars are also used to create cellulose - the building material used by plants.

  4. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to reach another stile.

    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.

  5. Cross the stile and follow the path through the trees until you reach a waymarked stile on the left.

    Pelynt is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Sir Jonathan Trelawney - one of the seven bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1688 by James II and charged with seditious libel. However, they were acquitted. When the news reached Pelynt, the mayor fired the two town cannons and the church bells were rung in celebration.

  6. Turn left at the waymarked stile and follow the path to join a track. Follow the track downhill to a clearing.

    The Cornish Anthem known simply as "Trelawney" or "Song of the Western Men" was written by Rev. Robert Stephen Hawker. It is thought to be based on older folk songs such as "Ye jolly tinner boys" which contains the line "Why forty thousand Cornish boys shall knawa the reason why". Since Bishop Trelawney was acquitted, there was no march of Cornishmen associated with his custody. It is thought that the song mixes references to the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 led by Michael An Gof.

  7. Continue on the main track through the woods until you reach a path on the left just before it ends in a gate onto a lane.

    A fragment of a bronze dagger was found in 1834 at Pelynt when a farmer attempted to plough up a barrow and relics were unearthed. The dagger is thought to have come from Greece and was made during the Mycaenean Bronze Age era of 1600-1100 BC, which has been supported by radiocarbon dating. It is thought to have been brought by traders for tin and may be evidence that sea trade between Cornwall and the Mediterranean took place as far back as the Bronze Age.

  8. Bear left onto the small path just before the gate and follow it down into the woods until it eventually descends from a bank onto a lower path. Merge onto the lower path and follow this until it ends in a lane.

    This area of the woodland is planted with broad-leaf trees including beech.

    Beech bark is very delicate and does not heal easily. Consequently some graffiti carved in beech trees is still present from more than a century ago. This is a practice that should be strongly discouraged as it permanently weakens the tree, making attack by insects more likely which can prematurely end its life.

  9. Turn left onto the lane and follow it to a junction.

    Wild garlic grows along the lane beside the bridge over the river.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are generally used rather than the bulb, which is very small. Note that there are some lilies that look very similar and are poisonous! If it doesn't smell strongly of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic and should be avoided. A schoolboy error is to rub the leaves between fingers where the smell lingers so a subsequent poisonous lily leaf could be misidentified.

    Many of the smaller trees in the hedgerow are hazel.

    Hazel is one of the smaller native trees, reaching only 20ft. When allowed to mature, the tree lives for about 70 years.

  10. Continue ahead at the junction and follow the lane until you cross over a bridge and reach an old wooden gate on the left with a Public Footpath sign.
  11. Turn left to go through the gate and follow the footpath to reach a gate and stile.

    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.

  12. Cross the stile beside the gate and continue along the path to reach a stile.

    Bluebells grow in the woodland and are particularly profuse on the steep bank to the right

    According to folklore, it's unlucky to bring bluebells into a house and also unlucky to walk through bluebells as it was thought that the little bells would ring and summon fairies and goblins.

    The two most common pigeon species are the wood pigeon and feral pigeon (domesticated rock dove). Wood pigeons are larger than rock doves. Rock doves have an iridescent green/purple patch on their necks whereas adult wood pigeons have a white patch on their neck (although this is not present in young birds).

  13. Cross the stile and follow the footbridge to another stile. Cross this and turn left to follow the path between the banks to the river. Continue on the path along the riverbank to join the path leading from it. Follow the path to reach a waymark on the riverbank.

    As well as forgetting where they buried some of them, squirrels may also lose a quarter of their buried food to birds, other rodents and fellow squirrels. Squirrels therefore use dummy tactics to confuse thieves by sometimes just pretending to bury a nut.

  14. Follow the waymarked path, initially along the riverbank and then climbing slightly from the river, until you eventually reach a stile.

    Himalayan Balsam is a tall plant with very pretty pink flowers that can often be seen lining footpaths in the summer and early autumn. It was introduced as an ornamental species in 1839 and unfortunately the plant is now a major ecological problem. It can grow from a seed to 9ft high in a few months, forming dense thickets and wiping out other plant species. It is also extremely invasive as the seed pods open explosively, launching around 800 seeds per plant up to 7 metres and the seeds are also adapted to travel by water. It is a nuisance on riverbanks as its roots are shallow and allow the sediment to become easily eroded into the river. It can be identified its bright pink flowers and it has a characteristic sweet smell.

    The word "stile" is based on an Old English word stigel for ladder. This in turn came from an old Germanic word stig meaning "to climb" and the word "stair" also came from this.

    Conversely, the word "style" (now used for fashion etc. but originally for literary style or a writing tool i.e. stylus) is from French origins (naturally!). This came from an Old French word stile, derived from the Latin stilus. It's thought the "i" might have been changed to a "y" for snob value to be more like the (unrelated) Greek word stylos (for pillar).

  15. Cross the stile or go through the gate. Follow the contour of the field to where the path crosses a small stream.

    Herons hunt along this stretch of river.

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

  16. Cross over the stream and bear right slightly to follow the path leading uphill. Continue on this until it emerges into a meadow then keep right to continue parallel to the river to reach a gate and stile.

    Members of the tit family have been seen using tools such as a conifer needle to extract grubs from holes in trees and to exhibit social learning - once discovered, the behaviour of pecking through foil on milk bottle tops to reach the cream spread steadily across the country. This is quite impressive considering their brain weighs less than 1 gram.

  17. Cross the stile beside the gate and cross the stream to the gateway on the opposite side of track. Go through the gateway and follow the path across a footbridge, then bear left on the far side of the river to reach a stile.

    During the summer, black-and-yellow dragonflies can often be seen.

    The golden-ringed dragonfly is one of Britain's largest dragonflies and the one we see the most often in Cornwall as it seems to like quiet lanes and footpaths. As the name implies, its black body has yellow rings at intervals along its length. The male's abdomen is slightly fatter near the tip resulting in a shape a bit like a baseball bat. The female has a straighter and longer abdomen, in fact the longest of any dragonfly in the UK. It is a formidable predator of the insect world and will eat bees, wasps, damselflies and even other dragonflies.

    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.

  18. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a stile emerging onto a track.

    Iridescent blue-green damselflies are quite common in summer.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

    A thick outer bark on a tree helps to protect it from frost damage during the winter. The bark, which is often textured to trap air, and forms an insulating "buffer zone" that shields the living part of the tree, keeping this above freezing when there are sub-zero temperatures outside. The mass of dense wood inside the tree also acts as night store heater, absorbing heat during the day which is gradually released at night.

    The growing conditions for trees varies from year to year (e.g. there might be a drought one summer). The "bad years" and "good years" are reflected in the widths of the rings. The pattern of good and bad summers is the same (more-or-less, depending of the location) for every tree so this forms a calendar - the known sequence of wide and narrow rings can be used to assign an exact year to each ring. This can also be done with dead and even fossil trees both to date them and get an idea of what the climate was doing at the time.

  19. Cross the stile and the one opposite. Bear left into the lower section of the field then follow along the bottom of the bank on your right to reach a stile.

    The Pisky was a figure of folklore associated with mischief. Piskies were also known under the name "Jack-o-lantern" and this is thought to have similar origins as will-o'-the-wisp - the mythical marsh gas flares that were mistaken for the lights of settlements. Consequently the local dialect for becoming lost was "pisky-led".

    It was believed that milk was turned sour by piskies dancing on the roofs of barns. As a preventative measure, farmers would nail lumps of lead known as "piskie paws" to trip up the pesky piskies.

  20. Cross the stile and follow the track uphill past the cottages to a cattle grid where it merges with another track. Continue uphill past St Nun's Well, until it passes through a pair of wooden gates and meets a lane.

    St Nun's (or St Nonna's) Well dates from mediaeval times and was rebuilt in the 19th Century; the stone basin inside is thought to date from Norman times. The well is associated with many superstitions: the well is guarded by an elf, and visitors failing to leave a bent pin as an offering will be followed home by clouds of piskies disguised as moths. The following old story was also recorded in Victorian times:

    An old farmer once set his eyes upon the granite basin, and coveted it; for it was not wrong in his regard to convert the holy font to the base uses of the pigsty. One day he drove his oxen and wain to the gateway above, with intent to remove it. Taking his beasts to the entrance of the well, and fixing his chains around the sculptured trough, he tried to drag it from its ancient bed. For a long time it resisted the tugs of the oxen, but at length they started it and pulled it laboriously up-hill to where the wain was standing. When nearly up it burst away from the chains, rolled down towards the well, and, making a sharp turn, rolled into its own old place. No one will again venture to displace it, seeing that ... a man thriving and well-to-do in the world never prospered from that day forward. Indeed, retribution overtook him on the spot, the oxen falling dead, and their owner being struck lame and speechless. No one since has been hardy enough to try the removal of the font.

    More about St Nonna's Well

  21. Follow the lane uphill and continue on the lane for roughly half a mile to Muchlarnick Farm.

    On the hill spur behind the bend in the lane is the remains of St Non's Camp - an Iron Age hill fort. It is built in a figure-of-8 form to enclose a natural hollow and make use of a natural oval platform. It is thought that it might have been built to defend the river crossing between Pelynt and Duloe.

  22. Keep right to follow the lane around the bend. Continue following the lane for roughly another mile until it eventually ends in a T-junction
  23. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left. Follow the lane down the hill to return to Pelynt church and complete the circular route.

    The churchyard at Pelynt is thought to date from the Dark Ages and the Celtic preaching cross in the wall of the north aisle of the church is a relic from this period. The church tower was built in the 14th Century and the rest of the current church a little later, in Perpendicular Gothic style.

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