Porth Reservoir and Colan church circular walk

Porth Reservoir and Colan church

A circular walk through the wildlife reserve around the reservoir lake, past crumbling ruins of Fir Hill Manor and via farmland, a mill and wooded vales that were also once part of the great estate.

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The walk starts along the edge of the reservoir, passing bird hides and following the Nature Trail through the wildlife reserve and woodland path to reach a track which was once the main driveway through the Nanswhyden estate. The walk passes the ruins of Nanswhyden House and Fir Hill Manor which fell into ruin when its heir never claimed it. The route then follows lanes towards Nanswhyden Farm via the ford at Trengoose and Colan Church where each member of the congregation would cast a palm cross into the Holy Well to determine if they would live another year. The walk then follows a footpath the the field and woods to return to the reservoir.


  • The stream crossing to returning to Porth Reservoir is across uneven stepping-stones without any hand-holds. A walking pole may help with balancing. Alternatively, the stream is normally shallow enough to walk through in wellies.
  • The path leading out of the nature reserve to join the Public Footpath and the area after the stream crossing is susceptible to bramble growth. If you have secateurs, take them along to snip away brambles from the path.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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


  • Pretty woodland and lakeside scenery
  • Wildlife including birdlife, deer and badgers
  • Crumbling ruins of the great manor houses of the Nanswhyden estate
  • Panoramic views over the lake and valley from Nanswhyden farm


  1. Follow the surfaced path from beside the Fishing Regulations sign near the entrance to the car park. Follow the curving main path to reach the water's edge.

    Porth Reservoir is managed by the South West Lakes Trust as a mature coarse fishery with carp, pike, bream, tench and roach. Some of the carp weigh up to 32lb and the pike can weigh up to 24lb. The dam was built in 1960 and the lake contains around 500 million litres of water available to quench the hangovers in Newquay. The area around the lake is a designated bird sanctuary with bird hides and the surrounding woodland is used for the teaching of woodland crafts.

  2. Follow the path along the edge of the reservoir to the bird hide.

    Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! They are quite brave birds and will venture into gardens and parks to eat the ornamental fish. They have also been known to visit zoos to steal fish during penguin and seal feeding.

  3. Follow the path up the steps to a junction. Turn left and follow the path through the woods to emerge beside the lake. Continue on the lakeside path to reach the last of the fishing platforms immediately before another bird hide.

    Many of the trees along the path are oak.

    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.

  4. Turn right onto the small path through the undergrowth leading uphill and follow this around a bend to the left to follow along the fence. Continue to reach a wooden pedestrian gate in the corner of the fence.

    The mature trees around the reservoir provide a habitat for Green Woodpeckers.

    Green woodpeckers are the largest and most colourful of the woodpeckers native to Britain and have a distinctive laughing "yaffle" call. The two species of spotted woodpecker are smaller and usually noticed from the drumming sound they make on trees although they can sometimes be heard making a short "cheep" sound.

    All of the woodpeckers bore holes in trees in which they nest, but only the spotted woodpeckers drill into trees in search of food, spending most of their time perched on a tree.

    Conversely, green woodpeckers spend most of their time on the ground, hunting for ants. The ants nests are excavated using their strong beak, and then ants are caught on the barbed end of their long tongue. In fact, their tongue is so long that it needs to be curled around their skull to fit inside their head.

  5. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path uphill between the fences (ignore the paths leading off from gates either side) until you reach a gate at the top which opens onto a track.

    As this is a permissive path, it isn't cut by the council so it's reliant on walkers to keep it clear. If you have secateurs, use them to snip away some of the brambles encroaching into the path as you pass along this section. Over the last couple of years, the bramble situation has improved considerably due to regular snipping - it's definitely working.

    The woods also provide cover for deer to hide during the day.

    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.

  6. Go through the gate onto the track. Turn right and follow the track until it merges with another beside a Real Glamping sign.

    Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK from the USA in the late 19th Century and within decades they had replaced the native red squirrel in most parts of the country.

  7. Bear right to join the track and follow it until ends at a pair of gates in front of a lane.

    The ruins half-way along on the right-hand side of the track are of Fir Hill Manor.

    Much of the valley surrounding Porth Reservoir was part of the large estate of the Hoblyn family known as Nanswhyden (meaning "Valley of the trees"). This once surrounded the elegant Nanswhyden House built in 1740s which was gutted by a fire in 1803. A new manor house, known as Fir Hill house, was built in the 1850s. In the 1960s, its owner died but his heir never accepted the claim, instead living in an RV in California with his sister. This created a 40 year legal impasse where his cousin - the next male family member - was unable to inherit the estate and restore the house, and so the house fell into ruin. Despite never taking his claim, the heir did change the will so that the majority of the estate went to his two sisters on his death, rather than to his cousin. When the heir died in 2011, the legal dispute was settled and the estate was sold so the proceeds could be split between his elderly sisters in the US and used to pay their medical bills.

  8. Continue ahead through the gates, and bear slightly left onto the lane (ignoring the track on the far left). Follow the lane to a gate into the churchyard.

    Blackbirds begin singing from around the end of January but it is normally the overkeen young males initially - the older, wiser males wait until March, pacing themselves for the singing period which continues into the early summer. Blackbirds have been shown to sing more during and after rain but exactly why is not yet known.

  9. Go through the gate into the churchyard and at the church door, bear right onto the path to another gate.

    Colan Church is situated close to Porth Reservoir, near Newquay. The first church known to be built on the site was in 1250 and the present church dates from 1360, initially built to a cruciform plan and expanded during the 15th century. It was dedicated to a 7th-century Welsh saint known as Collen or Colanus, who like many of the Celtic saints, settled in Cornwall before moving on to Brittany. In 1876, the church was in a dilapidated state, but thanks to the vicar and the Hoblyn family of Fir Hall Manor, the main tower was rebuilt in 1879 and by 1887, the church had been completely restored. It became the Hoblyn family church and some of the Hoblyns are buried there.

  10. Bear left onto the lane and follow it for about half a mile until you reach a junction to the right with a white signpost on the left.

    There are two holy wells associated with Colan church. One is directly opposite the churchyard gate and may have been the original sacred spring around which the churchyard grew. The other, beside the lane to Lady Nance was visited in a Palm Sunday tradition where members of the congregation would throw their palm crosses into the well. The superstition was that if the cross floated, the thrower would live for another year, but if it sank, the thrower's life expectancy was less than 12 months!

  11. Continue ahead at the junction in the direction signposted to St Columb and follow the lane for half a mile until you reach a junction on the left, signposted to Tregoose.

    Before Christianity, the Pagan Celtic people of Cornwall worshipped wonders of the natural world. Where clean, drinkable water welled up from the ground in a spring, this was seen as pretty awesome. The sites were seen as portals to another world, and is why fairies are often associated with springs. Where the springwater dissolved minerals, for specific conditions (e.g. deficiency in a mineral) or where the minerals present had antibacterial/fungal properties, the water appeared to have healing powers.

  12. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane for a third of a mile until you reach a ford.

    The first records of Tregoose Mill are from 1562 and the mill was recorded as still in use in 1830. The name is likely to derive from the Cornish word for woodland.

  13. Cross the bridge to the right of the ford, then bear left to rejoin the lane on the other side of the ford. Continue on the lane until it ends at a T-junction.

    In early spring, the bank on the opposite side of the bridge is covered in snowdrops.

    Snowdrop bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants to reduce the use of pesticides.

    The river rises in the marshes on the opposite side of the A30 from Goss Moor. Below Porth Reservoir, it has cut a deep valley beside St Columb Minor. The river enters the sea on Porth beach and the slot-shaped beach with headlands either side are effectively all part of this valley. Despite this and a legend about the river being created by blood spilled when St Columba's head was cut off, the river has no name.

  14. Turn left and follow the lane a short distance, to a gate for Nanswhyden.

    The first record of the settlement of Nanswhyden is from 1262 (as Nanswhidden) but the Cornish language name implies it dates from the early medieval period. The name is derived from the Cornish words for valley and trees. Amongst the farm buildings there is the remains of a dovecote which is unusual for being heated. It had a fireplace and chimney to keep the birds warm.

  15. Go through the gate and follow the track around a bend until it straightens out and you reach a low embankment running towards the bottom of the field.

    The male and female parts of a foxglove flower mature at different times to help avoid self-fertilisation. This also ties in with the flowers maturing at the bottom of the spike first as pollinators often start at the lowest flower and then work upwards. They land on the mature female flowers first with a cargo of pollen from another plant, and then leave via the mature male flowers with a new load of pollen.

    If you're doing this walk in the morning, you may notice a layer of fog above the reservoir which then begins to clear during the walk.

    The layer of fog which forms above the land or water during the night is known as "Radiation Fog" as it is caused by the surface cooling (by radiating away energy as infra-red) during the night. This in turn cools the air close to the surface which reduces its ability to hold moisture and this condenses out as a fog of tiny droplets. Once the sun rises and the ground begins to warm up, the fog usually dissipates relatively quickly.

  16. Bear left down the field, initially following the embankment and then bear right from this slightly towards the telegraph pole. As you reach the bottom of the field, head to a path running along the bottom fence and turn left to keep the fence on your right and cross over the trunk of a fallen tree to reach a small stream.

    Meadow buttercups spread across a field relatively slowly as most seeds fall quite close to the parent and although it has a creeping root system capable of propagating new plants, this only extends a fairly short distance from each plant (unlike creeping buttercup which has a much more extensive root system). Because grazing animals avoid buttercups due to their acrid taste, this allows them to accumulate over time. The combination of these factors allows the number of meadow buttercups in a field to be used an indicator of how long it's been used for grazing.

    An acre is a unit of area dating back to mediaeval times, based on the amount of land that could be ploughed with a yoke of oxen in one day. It was standardised in 1824 as a rectangle of 4 rods (66 feet) by one furlong (660 feet). The 10:1 "letterbox" aspect ratio comes from the long, thin field shapes in mediaeval times to minimise the awkward process of turning the oxen around. In fact the name "furlong" comes from the Old English for "one furrow long". The acre has since lost its prescribed shape and now just means 43,560 square feet.

  17. Cross the stream and follow the path through a gate to reach a footbridge. Follow the path across the bridge and a short distance further until you reach a smaller path departing to the right opposite a large wooden gate on the left.

    As all the public footpaths in this area are graded as "silver", they don't get cut regularly. The area around the gate/stile and around the footbridge is prone to getting overgrown so if you have secateurs, give the vegetation here (especially any brambles) a good snip on your way through. The next walkers will then be able to cut it back a bit further and slowly, but surely, it will get pruned into shape.

    Bramble roots are perennial but its shoots last just two years. In the first year, the shoots grow vigorously (up to 8cm in one day!). In the second year, the shoots mature and send out side-shoots with flowers.

  18. Bear right onto the small path and follow this to reach a pedestrian gate. Go through this and continue a short distance further to reach a gate onto a path with another gate opposite.
  19. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path a short distance to a gate. Go through this and bear left to follow the path back to the reservoir. Then turn left and keep following the path alongside the reservoir for just over half a mile to return to the car park.

    In the 1990s, a process was put in place to transfer the leisure activities managed by South West Water to a new charity. The South West Lakes Trust was formed in 2000 and looks after the following lakes in Cornwall: Argal, College, Crowdy, Porth, Siblyback, Stithians and Tamar. The trust now also includes the Wheal Martin china clay museum.

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