Restormel Castle and Lostwithiel circular walk

Restormel Castle and Lostwithiel

A circular walk to the mediaeval capital of Cornwall from one if its most striking Norman castles along the valley where Victoria and Albert tried their hand at mining and members of the Royal family still sometimes visit.

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The walk begins by climbing to Restormel Castle and then crosses fields where the Restormel Royal Mine once extracted iron. Some ancient paths through mediaeval farmsteads complete the route to Lostwithiel. The route winds through the old parts of the town and then follows the River Fowey up the valley to Restormel Manor.

Considerations

  • The path at direction 6 is susceptible to encroaching vegetation growth. If you have secateurs, take them along to snip back some of the brambles.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3.7 miles/5.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Restormel Castle - a circular Norman keep
  • Historic town of Lostwithiel - Cornwall's mediaeval capital

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Globe Inn
  • The King's Arms Hotel
  • The Royal Oak

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Continue on the lane past Restormel Manor to reach the gates to Restormel Farm ahead and Restormel Castle to the left.

    For many centuries, it was traditional for landowning families to create trusts from the land and assets so future generations could live off the income, but were unable to dispose of the assets so these would be available for future generations. The Duchy estate is an example of this and was created in 1337 by Edward III to provide his son (and future Princes of Wales) with an income. Consequently, unlike other Royals, the Prince of Wales and his family are not paid for by the taxpayer via the Civil List; instead their living costs and all their charitable activities (such as The Prince's Trust) are funded by income from the Duchy estate.

    Only 13% of the Duchy land is in Cornwall; the rest is dotted over 23 other counties with some in London but most is in the South West of England, with nearly half on Dartmoor.

  2. Go through the gates on the left if open, otherwise go through the gates ahead and turn immediately left to pass through another gate onto the lane to the castle. Follow the lane uphill to reach the castle car park.

    Restormel Castle is one of the four chief Norman castles in Cornwall and is notable for its perfectly circular design; the 13th century circular shell-keep still encloses the principal rooms of the castle. The mound on which it is built is the site of an earlier castle, probably originally built at the start of the 12th Century, shortly after the Norman conquest of England, as a motte and bailey castle. The castle is strategically positioned, overlooking the primary crossing point over the River Fowey and was located in the middle of a large deer park. The castle had an early form of pressurised tap water, piped into the buildings from a natural spring.

  3. Turn left and follow along the left hedge of the car park to a stile in the corner of the fence.

    The battle of Lostwithiel took place in the fields here on the hill.

    A 13 day battle took place at Lostwithiel in 1644 during the English Civil War when a large Royalist army marched from Oxford and cornered a smaller Parliamentarian army in Cornwall. 700 Parliamentarians died or were injured in battle and 6,000 were taken prisoner but around half of these died of exposure or disease on their way to Southampton. It was considered one of the worst defeats of the Parliamentarians and secured the South West for the Royalists until 1646.

  4. Cross the stile and follow along the left edge of the field to a pair of gates in the top corner.

    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. Go through the wooden gate ahead onto a stony track and follow this a short distance to reach a wooden kissing gate on the right between the two metal field gates. Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge of the field to reach another pedestrian gate onto a wooded path.

    Wheat was formed by hybridisations between wild grasses which was then spread through domestication. The cultivation of wheat is thought to have begun nearly 12,000 years ago in southeast Turkey.

    Remains of wheat from 8000 years ago have been found in Britain which indicate trade with Europe. Until around 6500 BC, it was possible to walk between Britain and the rest of Europe via an area of low lying land known as Doggerland. As sea levels rose after the last Ice Age, the North Sea flooded this, making Britain an island.

    Because each of the hybridisations that formed wheat were rare events, and because there were multiple stages of hybridisation involved, domesticated bread wheat is all from a common ancestry and therefore there is very little genetic variety. This narrow gene pool makes the risk of a catastrophic disease quite high. Since the 20th Century, work has been underway to broaden the wheat gene pool to produce disease-resistant strains through a number of techniques including crossing wheat varieties from different parts of the world, hybridising with wild grasses, and more recently through direct genetic manipulation.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path to another wooden gate.

    If you have secateurs with you, give the brambles a hack back on your way through this section to help keep the footpath clear.

    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.

    An impressively purple blackberry, pear and ginger chutney can be made with blackberries stashed in the freezer. Simmer 500g blackberries, a few chilli flakes, 4 chopped pears and a finely-chopped 8cm piece of fresh ginger until the liquid reduces. Add 150ml distilled or white wine vinegar, and sugar to taste (amount will depend on tartness of the blackberries). Reduce a bit longer until the desired "gloopy" consistency is achieved and finally season with a little salt to taste to balance the sweetness.

  7. Go through the gate and cross the track to the waymarked gate opposite then bear left slightly to follow the path along the top of the bank indicated by the Public Footpath sign on the wooden post. Continue on the path to reach a wooden gate.

    The wooded area to the left was once part of the workings of the Restormel Royal mine.

    A mine was worked for iron at Restormel from the 1790s originally known as Trinity Mine. A tramway was built in 1836 that connected the mine to the quays at Lostwithiel.

    In 1846 it was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and was subsequently renamed Restormel Royal. During their visit, the Queen visited the underground workings and (in the words of the mine captain) Prince Albert "took the pick, and he thrawed to like a man! and he got a bit of ore". After the visit, Queen Victoria ordered 50 gold sovereigns to be distributed among the miners.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path to another wooden gate.

    The plant with sticky green seeds is known as cleavers due to the ability to attach to clothing or animals. The use of "to cleave" meaning "to adhere" has Saxon origins but has become less common in recent years perhaps due to the confusion of having a more well-known meaning which is virtually the opposite. A Cornish dialect name, recorded as cliders in Victorian times, is likely to be a corruption of this. Other common names include sticky willy.

    Goosegrass is another common name of the plant due to its attractiveness to poultry as a nutritious food. It contains tannins which make it too bitter for humans. The plant is in the same family as coffee and the seeds have been dried and roasted to make a (lower caffeine) coffee substitute.

    From April to June, white flowers of Greater Stitchwort can be seen along hedgerows and paths. The petals are quite distinctive as each one is split almost all the way to create pairs - most of the flowers typically have 5 pairs. The name comes from alleged powers to cure an exercise-induced stitch. Other common names include Star-of-Bethlehem (due to the shape and perhaps Easter flowering time) and Poor Man's Buttonhole for budget weddings. It is also known as Wedding Cakes but that may be more due to the colour than anticipation of what a buttonhole might lead to. The seed capsules can sometimes be heard bursting open in the late spring sunshine which gives rise to another name: Popguns.

    Behind the stone wall at the end of the path are some of the opencast workings from the iron mine (hence the warning signs on the wall as there is an abyss on the other side).

  9. Go through the gate and carefully turn left onto the lane. Walk a few paces to a junction (with a few white markings) with a very tiny lane - virtually a track, with grass growing down the middle - on the right.
  10. Turn right and follow the lane until it ends in a junction with a B-road.

    The Romans used to soak bandages in daisy juice as an antiseptic for sword wounds. Other common names include bruisewort and woundwort which also imply use for treatment of injuries.

  11. Bear left across the road to reach the small lane on the opposite side next to the Lower Demesnes sign. Follow the small lane uphill to where an even smaller lane departs to the left at a bend.

    The first record of the settlement of Penquite is from 1196 as "Pencued" . The name has drifted from the original Cornish pen cos meaning "edge of the woods".

  12. Turn left onto the small lane and follow this until you reach a sharp bend to the right with a footpath departing to the left between two gateways on the bend.

    In Elizabethan times, starch made from the bulbs was used to stiffen collars and cuffs in clothing. The ruffs that were highly fashionable at the time would have needed a lots of starch to prevent them flopping. The toxins in bluebell sap might also have had the desirable property of preventing the starch encouraging the formation of mould.

    Gardeners have known for a long time that acidic soils lead to blue hydrangea flowers whereas alkaline soils lead to pink flowers. Biochemists have found that aluminium is the thing that actually turns the pigment in hydrangeas blue. Acidic soils free-up aluminium already in the soil to be absorbed by the plant. Within the plant, aluminium combines with a normally-red pigment to turn it blue. Varieties of hydrangeas have been bred with a higher concentration of the pigment and these have more vivid colours (i.e. red rather than pink). Similarly varieties with lower concentrations of the pigment have been cultivated to create pastel colours.

    Since Victorian times, it's been common practice for gardeners to use aluminium sulphate to turn their hydrangeas blue (without necessarily knowing why) but this has become less popular in recent years as aluminium sulphate is extremely harmful to aquatic life. Twenty tonnes was accidentally deposited into Camelford's drinking water supply in 1988 which was hastily flushed into the Camel river system, killing many fish.

    The roots of red campion contain saponins (soapy compounds) which protect the plants against microbes and fungi. These compounds make it easier for large molecules such as proteins to enter cell membranes. This has the potential to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy against cancer by allowing immunotoxins to enter the cancer cells more easily.

  13. Bear left onto the stony path between the two gateways and walk just a couple of paces, then immediately bear right onto the path leading to a pedestrian gate into the field on the right. Go through the gate and bear left to walk downhill between the hedge and fence for a short distance to reach a wooden stile on the right just before the gate at the bottom.

    The term "thistle" is not biologically precise and covers quite a broad range of different plant species from the daisy family. The common thistle (also known as bull thistle or spear thistle) is appropriately the commonest in the UK. The flowers open as a green spiny ball with a purple tuft (often depicted within Scottish emblems). The creeping thistle is also common in agricultural fields and has lighter pink flowers.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a metal gate in the corner of the field.

    Due to their flocking behaviour, sheep have gained a reputation for not being intelligent but actually this is more about being nervous of being eaten. In a study, their intelligence was found to be on a par with cows: they can recognise human faces, learn a name given to them etc. This may even extend to problem-solving: in Cornwall we've seen them escape into a neighbouring field by operating a kissing gate and in West Yorkshire there are reports of sheep that have worked out that they can cross a cattle grid by rolling on their backs with their feet in the air.

  15. Go through the gate and immediately through the gateway into the field on the right. Once in the field, bear left and head for the small tree near the left hedge. Continue past this to the gateway in the middle of the other hedge.

    Once domesticated sheep had become woolly, individuals with white fleeces were selected for breeding as this was the easiest colour to dye. This was made easier by the genes giving rise to a white fleece being dominant. The recessive genes still do sometimes come together to produce a black lamb in an otherwise white flock. The expression "black sheep of the family" arises from this and its negative connotation was based on the economic undesirability of their fleeces.

  16. Go through the gate and head uphill to meet the right hedge then follow this to a gateway roughly two-thirds of the way up the right hedge just after a kink in the hedge.

    The first record of Penknight is from 1221. The name is nothing to do with suits of armour and jousting - it is from the Cornish pen cnegh meaning "top of the hillock".

  17. Go through the gate and turn left to follow the left hedge downhill. Continue to a gate in a fence.

    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.

  18. Go through the gate and walk along the top of the bank to skirt around the dip, then follow the left hedge of the field downhill to a gateway into the field on the right.
  19. Go through the gateway and then bear right to follow alongside the hedge downhill. Continue to reach a wooden stile.

    Nettle fibres have been used to make clothing since at least the Bronze Age (textiles made from nettle fibre were found at a Bronze Age site in Denmark). During the First World War, almost all German army uniforms were made from nettles to avoid a shortage of cotton. In more recent years, some European countries have started modern commercial production of nettle-based textiles. A textiles student who produced "nettle knickers" for her university project commented that the fibres are coarser than cotton so it is probably more suited to workwear than underwear.

  20. Cross the stile and follow the path downhill until it ends on a lane.

    Fern fronds form in a coil (known as a crozier or fiddlehead) with the delicate tip protected in the centre. As the outer parts begin to photosynthesise, the sugars they produce cause more water to be drawn into the leaf, causing it to expand and gradually unfurl.

  21. Follow the lane downhill to a junction with the main road.

    Crocosmia (also known as Montbretia) is a garden plant in the iris family with bright orange flowers in summer. It has South African origins and was bred in France as a garden plant, then introduced into the UK in the 1880s.

    It has spread into the wild, particularly along the west coast of Britain and is extremely invasive. It is now a criminal offence to cause it to grow in the wild.

    Crocosmia means "saffron scent" and alludes to the smell of the dried leaves (the crocuses which produce saffron are also members of the iris family).

  22. Turn left and follow the tarmac path, then continue on the pavement to the left of the escape lane crash barrier. Join the tarmac path on the other side and follow this to a junction with Tanhouse Road.

    Green alkanet is a member of the forget-me-not family and has small but striking blue 5 petal flowers with white centres. The plants are often around 2ft tall by the time they are flowering, making them one of the taller plants around in April and they also have hairy leaves that can cause skin irritation in some people.

    Green alkanet is native to the western part of the Mediterranean region and prefers sunny spots. It was introduced to the UK around the start of the 18th Century and fairly quickly escaped into the wild where it has become naturalised. As a garden weed, its brittle tap roots make it tricky to eradicate.

    The name "alkanet" derives from the old Arabic word for Henna. The "green" in the name is to distinguish it from dyer's alkanet (hence the Henna), to which it is related but minus the dye. The scientific name for green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) is based on the Greek for "five tongues" (a reference to the flowers) and Latin for "evergreen" (as the plant often over-winters as a rosette of leaves).

    Something you may have noticed is that all A and B road numbers in Cornwall start with the number 3. For A and B road numbering, England and Wales are divided up into 6 segments a bit like an orange, radiating out from London. Zone 3 covers the South West.

  23. Cross over Tanhouse Road and continue on the pavement to reach a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights.

    The (leather) "tanning" process got its name as it involved extracting the tannins from acorns or oak bark and soaking these into animal hides over 1-2 years to preserve them. From the brown oak juice containing the tannins, the colour "tan" was named and from this the expression "sun tan" arose.

  24. Cross the road at the lights and bear left on the other side towards the Kings Arms, then turn right onto Fore Street. Follow Fore Street for a few paces until you reach an alleyway on the left opposite the museum.

    Lostwithiel is from the Cornish word lost (meaning "tail") and as with Withiel near Wadebridge, the word for "wooded place". The gist is likely to be that the town was situated on the edge of the woods during early mediaeval times. During the later mediaeval period it grew into an important river trading hub referred to as the "The Port of Fawi" and was considered the capital of the county at this point.

  25. Turn left into the alleyway and follow this until it ends on a road.
  26. Turn right and follow the road to the churchyard.

    As you emerge from the alleyway, the house to the left on the opposite side of the road has a mediaeval window built into the wall which is thought likely to be from a chapel. It is not known whether the chapel was originally at the same location or whether a it was reused from a derelict one nearby.

  27. Go through the gate into the churchyard and bear left across the grass to pass around the church, keeping it on your right, and reach another churchyard gate.

    Lostwithiel church began as a chapel which was an offshoot of Lanlivery church. It is mentioned in a record from 1202 and 1286 but no traces of a Norman building now remain.

    The current church building was built in the 14th Century and the font also dates from this period. As the layout of the church is similar to Fowey church, it's thought that it might be by the same builders. The church was restored in the late 19th Century.

  28. Exit the churchyard, and turn left to reach a junction. Bear left across the road to Church Lane roughly opposite and follow this to a crossroads.
  29. Turn left at the crossroads and follow the street to where it emerges through an arch onto a road by the river.
  30. Turn left and follow the road until it ends in a T-junction beside an old church.

    Lostwithiel's mediaeval quays are thought to have been located somewhere near the upper end of Quay Street. There are records of land including a quay being sold in 1291. A tithe map from Victorian times also records a wharf. By the 1880s, a tramway ran along Quay Street to bring ore from Restormel Mine to a series of sidings beside the river just on the other side of the railway bridge. A limekiln was also located beside Quay Street.

  31. Turn right and follow the road until it ends in a junction next to an old bridge.

    A complex of buildings was created for the Earl of Cornwall in 1289, known as the Duchy Palace which housed the Duchy Parliament. This included administrative buildings such as a coinage hall for valuing ore, and a prison. The buildings were gutted in 1644 during the Civil War. During Victorian times, the remains of the coinage hall were converted into a masonic lodge which still survives. Other remaining fragments such as the arch at the end of South Street give an idea of how far the original buildings stretched.

  32. Cross the road to the "Single Traffic Bridge" sign and go through the gate into the playing field, then climb the concrete steps on the right and follow the riverside path. As you approach the bridge at the far end, keep right to a gate leading onto a walkway beneath the bridge.

    There are records of a bridge in Lostwithiel from the 12th Century and there is also record of a mediaeval chapel and toll house on the town side of Lostwithiel bridge. The current bridge dates from the 15th Century - the 5 pointed arches nearest the town are from this period. The parapets were added in the 17th Century and the bridge was extended in the 18th Century with the round arches on the far side from the town.

  33. Go through the gate, and follow the path under the bridge to another gate. Go through this to reach a junction of paths.

    The bridge is at the normal tidal limit of the river.

    In tidal rivers, the discharge of freshwater and friction with the riverbed effectively "holds back" the rising tide. The further up the tidal region of the river, the shorter the interval between low and high tide and the faster the rising tide comes in when it eventually does.

  34. Turn right at the junction and follow the path to where it bends to the left. Continue around the bend to reach a junction of paths with "Lostwithiel 2000" on a rock on the left.

    The upper reaches of the Fowey river system run through 2 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the Fowey valley is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The river has populations of sea trout and salmon as well as brown trout which make it popular with fly fishermen.

  35. At the junction of paths, bear right to follow the path to a gate.

    Buttercups produce a toxin called protoanemonin, which is at its highest concentration when flowering. It is thought that buttercups may be partly responsible for Equine Grass Sickness. Fortunately the toxin is quite unstable and drying of the plant in haymaking leads to polymerisation into non-toxic anemonin. Buttercups are also toxic to dogs, cats and humans. They have a bitter taste which puts dogs off eating the plants but pollen can collect on fur and be ingested, particularly by cats when they clean themselves. A man in France who drank a glass of juice made from buttercups suffered severe colic after four hours and was dead the next day!

  36. Pass the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow this to a gate on the left opposite the bowling club.

    The game of bowls dates from mediaeval times and was first clearly documented in the 13th Century. From the 14th Century, it was banned along with several other sports for being a distraction from archery practice. However bans on bowling continued long after guns had replaced the longbow due to the disreputable nature of bowling alleys which were often attached to taverns. Until 1845, labourers, apprentices and servants were forbidden from playing bowls except at Christmas under the supervision of their masters!

  37. Pass around the gate opposite the bowling club and turn right to follow the woodland path parallel to the road. Continue to emerge on another path leading from a gate and follow this uphill to a fork.

    Rosebay willowherb is a tall plant with a spike of pink flowers in late summer which can often be seen beside paths and tracks. Their long leaves have a distinctive thin, white vein along the centre.

    It is a pioneer species which is good at colonising disturbed ground as its seeds travel long distances in the wind and remain viable in the soil for many years. It was considered a rare species in Britain in the 18th century but spread along the corridors cleared for railways in Victorian times.

    Robins are able to hover like kingfishers and hummingbirds and use this skill when feeding from bird feeders, which they are unable to cling to.

  38. Bear right at the fork to follow the lower path around a bend and return to the edge of the road. Continue alongside the road until you reach a small wooden-fenced pedestrian gap.

    Blobs of resin from conifers can fossilise along with the trees themselves in low oxygen environments to form amber. Over time, the volatile organic compounds that make the resin sticky are lost as the molecules left behind join up into polymers. After a few million years, the result is something very similar to a hard piece of clear plastic. Amber's ability to survive for hundreds of millions of years also suggests that man-made plastics created from organic polymers could persist in the environment a very long time.

  39. Go through the gap on the right and follow the path down to the lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow this back to your car to complete the circular walk.

    Restormel Manor was built in the 1760s and replaced an earlier building documented on the site in 1649 as Trinity House. It is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and sometimes used by the Royal Family on visits to Cornwall.

    A 12th Century chapel known as the hermitage of the Holy Trinity was recorded as being near a river crossing below the castle, although exactly where is unknown. One possibility is that if the bridge across the river was located more-or-less where the current one is then it could have been on the site of Restormel House. So far, no evidence on the ground has been found to confirm if this was the origin of the previous name of the house.

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