Retire, Withiel and Tremore

A circular walk in the Ruthern and Tremore river valleys following the Saint's Way to Withiel where the award-winning cheese Cornish Yarg was first made from a recipe in a dusty book found in the attic, that is thought to date back to the 13th Century.

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From Retire, the route joins the Saints' Way to Withiel church. The walk passes through the village then descends into the Ruthern valley and follows along the edge of the woods from Whitehay mill. From here, the route crosses into the Tremore valley at Withielgoose Mills and follows the stream down to Tremorebridge to meet the Saint's Way and complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 3.3 miles/5.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in summer; wellies in winter

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  • Countryside views over rolling hills and river valleys
  • Pleasant riverside scenery with wildflowers in spring and early summer
  • Pretty village of Withiel and old mill at Whitehay
  • Beautifully restored organ in Withiel Church

Adjoining walks


  1. From the grass verge, with the pylons on your left, follow the road to a junction signposted to Retire.

    Retire is a small hamlet near Withiel. The place name Retire is more than 200 years old, but the origin of the name is unknown. In Magna Britannia in 1814, it was postulated the Domesday manor of Ritwore might be the origin of the name but this has since been attributed to Roseworthy Barton near Camborne.

  2. Turn right in the direction of Retire and follow the lane past Chapel House and Chapel cottage until the lane forks.

    There were two Wesleyan Methodist chapels in Retire, both of which have now been converted to houses. The first was built in 1836 and a second, larger, chapel (now known as Chapel House) was built later in the 19th century as an upgrade to accommodate a growing congregation.

  3. Turn left and follow the lane past Retire Farmhouse to a gateway with a path leading to the left.
  4. Turn left onto the path and follow it to a stone stile on the right.

    In Old Cornish, both bluebells and marigolds where known as lesengoc which translates to "flower of the cuckoo". In Modern Cornish, the marigold has remained more-or-less the same but the bluebell has been changed to bleujenn an gog ("plant of the cuckoo"). The association between bluebells and cuckoos exists in Welsh ("bells of the cuckoo") and Gaelic ("cuckoo's shoe"), and in some English folk names such as Cuckoo's Boots and Cuckoo Stockings. It is thought that the association is due to the time that bluebells flower coinciding with the time that the call of the cuckoo is first heard.

    Flowering plants have evolved a complex double-fertilisation process where one sperm fertilises the egg whilst a second sperm combines with other nuclei in the cell to create a nutrient-rich tissue. This gives the seed a head start so it can out-compete others (e.g. conifers which don't have this). This also allows flowering plants to produce viable seeds more quickly: whilst conifers take around 18 months to produce a new batch of seeds, many flowering plants produce a batch of seeds each year and some can produce seeds more than once a year.

  5. Cross the stile into a field. Bear left across the field to a stile two thirds of the way along the left hedge.

    Four iron mines operated during Victorian times along a lode running north-south past Retire, known as Wheal James, Wheal Retire, Wheal Colbiggan and Wheal Rosewarrick. Tens of thousands of tonnes of iron ore were raised from the mines. Manganese oxide as well as iron oxide was extracted from the ore.

  6. Cross the stile and cross the field to a stile in the opposite hedge.

    Dandelions are dispersed very effectively by the wind. The tiny parachute-like seeds can travel around five miles. Each plant can live for about 10 years and produces several thousand seeds each year.

  7. Cross the stile onto a track and the stile opposite into a field. Bear right very slightly across the field to a gateway on the right of the barn.

    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.

  8. Go through the gate and bear right down the field to reach a footbridge in the bottom-right corner of the field.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

    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.

  9. Cross the footbridge and stile into a field. Bear right slightly up the field to a path leading from the top hedge. Follow this path up into the field above to a waymark.

    The Saints' Way runs for 30 miles from Padstow to Fowey, and follows one of the likely routes of early Christian travellers making their way from Wales and Ireland to the Continent during the Dark Ages. Rather than risk a premature martyring on the rocks around Land's End, they would disembark their ships on the North Devon and Cornish coast and cross the peninsula, on foot, to ports on the south coast such as Fowey. The Bush Inn at Morwenstow is thought to be one of the stopovers from the North Devon ports. The route from Padstow to Fowey was in use before the Dark Ages which is evident from Roman coins found along the route. However it is thought that it was likely to have been in use even earlier still, in the Iron Age.

  10. When you reach the waymark, follow the right hedge until it ends.

    The name Withiel derives from the Cornish name Gwydhyel, meaning "wooded place". The settlement itself dates back to before Norman times, having 25 households when it was surveyed in 1086, for the Domesday Book. Withiel also has links with 4th century Irish saint, St Uvel, which may indicate there was a settlement here in the Dark Ages.

  11. Continue ahead in the line of the hedge to reach a kissing gate mid-way between the barns and the telegraph pole to their left.

    Withiel is the birthplace of the cheese known as Cornish Yarg.

    Cornish Yarg is a soft cheese made from cows milk which varies in texture from creamy on the outside to crumbly towards the centre. The original version is wrapped in nettle leaves but it is now also available wrapped in wild garlic leaves. The name is the reverse of "Gray" as the cheese was originally made by a couple with this surname from Withiel, who discovered a recipe, thought to date from the 13th Century, in a dusty book in the attic. In the 1970s, the recipe was given to Lynher Dairies who now produce the cheese, still on a relatively small scale (from a single farm near Truro at the time of writing). Both versions of the cheese have won a number of British and International cheese awards. In order to comply with stringent US export standards, the US inspectors required an explanation of what stinging nettles were. We can assume that the introduction was gentler than it could have been, as the cheese is now on sale in the USA and growing in popularity.

  12. Turn right through the kissing gate and follow the path to some steps onto the lane.

    The church in Withiel is dedicated to St Clement and dates back to the 13th Century. The dedication (to the third Pope of Rome) is thought might be a result of one parish vicar who was previously at St Clement Danes (the RAF church on the Strand, in London). In the early 16th century, Withiel church was owned by the monastery of Bodmin but had been allowed to go to ruin. Thomas Vyvyan became rector of the church in 1523 and began to rebuild it, and it split from Bodmin monastery in 1538. Much of the main building dates from this time though by the early 19th century, the church was in a state of neglect. The church underwent a major restoration in 1819 which included the addition of the Gothic pinnacles. More recently, the church organ was restored and has its own YouTube video.

  13. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past the church and through the village to a junction with a signpost. Keep left (signposted for Wadebridge) to pass the village hall. Continue to the bottom of the hill until you pass a gate with a cattle grid on your right and reach a pedestrian gate with a Public Footpath sign.

    As you turn the corner after the junction, you pass a house on your left called The Old Pig and Whistle.

    The Old Pig and Whistle is a house near the village hall in Withiel. As the name suggests, The Old Pig and Whistle was once the village pub. Like many old pub names such as The Dog and Duck, the derivation of The Pig and Whistle is uncertain. The term "pigs and whistles" was in common usage as early as the 1600s, meaning "odds and ends". To "go to pigs and whistles" meant to fall into ruin. The pub was eventually shut down by the parish Rector, who clearly disapproved of such ruinous activity.

  14. Go through the pedestrian gate indicated by the footpath sign and follow the path to a pair of gates (which may be open) across the path in the corner of the field.

    There are reports from the Tudor period of the discovery of a prehistoric burial mound near Withiel:

    In Withiel parish one Gidly, not many years since, digged down a little hillock barrow called Boraneevas, in English cheapful, therewith to thicken his other ground; in the bottom of which he found three white stones triangle-wise as pillars, supporting another flat stone some two feet square, and in the midst between them, and, under it, an earthen pot half full of black slime, and ill savouring substance, which doubtless, was once the ashes of some notable person, there committed to that of burial.
  15. Go through the gates, keeping right in the direction waymarked to follow the path around the edge of the field. Continue to reach a path leading out of the field into the woods.

    The river along the bottom of the valley is the Ruthern.

    The River Ruthern is one of the major tributaries of the River Camel which it joins at Grogley. The name may have come from the Cornish word "rudhen" meaning "red one".

  16. At the corner of the field, follow the path ahead into the woods and over a footbridge to reach a waymark.

    The catchment area of the River Camel stretches from here to Bodmin Moor.

    The River Camel runs for 30 miles from Bodmin Moor to Padstow Bay, making it the longest river in Cornwall after the Tamar.

    The River Camel is classed as a SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive. The river is a breeding ground for otters, Atlantic salmon and bullhead (a small fish that looks a bit like a blenny but is more closely related to lionfish and scorpionfish).

  17. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path into another field. Once in the field, turn left to follow the waymarked path between the hedge and fence until you reach a corner in the fence on the right with a waymark.

    The vetches are a family of wildflowers that is a sub-group within the pea and bean family. Their pretty purple flowers are quite like mini sweetpea flowers. The leaves are also very distinctive, organised in a neat row either side of the stem. Common vetch is a wildflower but is also sown by farmers in some grazing fields to improve the nutrition for ruminants and to introduce more nitrogen into the soil.

  18. At the waymark, bear left through the opening and follow the waymarked path across the footbridge and through the woods to reach a gate into a field.

    One of the nutrients that plants need are nitrates in order to make amino acids for building proteins. Plants in the pea family (also known as legumes) are able to manufacture their own nitrates from nitrogen in the atmosphere. The nitrates are later released into the soil when the leaves die and rot. The overall process of turning atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates in the soil is known as "nitrogen fixing" and this makes legumes useful in crop rotations to replenish nitrogen removed by other crops without resorting to chemical fertilisers.

  19. Go through the gate into the field on the left. Bear left across the field to a stile in the hedge across the bottom of the field, roughly 20 metres from where the wire fence crosses the field.

    A branch line once followed the River Ruthern from Grogley Halt up to Ruthernbridge to transport stone and ore quarried in the area.

  20. Cross the stile and bear left from the walkway to pass to the left of the solar panel. Follow along the trees on your right to the bottom hedge to reach a flight of steps slightly hidden under the overhanging trees.

    Solar panels work by a particle of sunlight (photon) knocking off a charged particle (electron) from one of chemicals in the panel, leaving behind an oppositely-charged particle missing an electron. These freed electrons can be captured by an electrode and sent on a little journey before returning to the solar panel to fill in the holes where other electrons have been knocked off by sunlight. That little journey of the electrons is what we call "electricity".

  21. Descend the steps and turn right onto the track. Follow this to join a surfaced lane and continue to reach a junction with a track.
  22. Keep right to follow the lane around the bend and continue until it ends in a junction.

    Primroses grow along the lane.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  23. Turn left at the junction and follow it until you reach a T-junction at Withielgoose Mills.

    At the top of the hill ahead, behind Withielgoose Mills, was an open-cast tin mine (i.e. a quarry). It is one of the few places in the country where a large tin lode occurs right on the surface and the quarry is now a SSSI for the geological formations that occur there (which can normally only be seen deep underground).

  24. At the junction, turn right and follow the lane until it eventually also ends at a T-junction.

    A particularly attractive stone known as Tremore Elvan was quarried near Tremorebridge. Joseph Treffry used polished slabs of the blood-red stone to line the interior of Porphyry Hall and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were so impressed that they had polished slabs used in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The star-like features on the floor in King Arthur's Great Halls in Tintagel and a large tabletop in Lanlivery church are also made from it.

  25. At the junction, turn right and follow the lane to return to the start of the walk.

    The Tremore River, which the road followed to the junction, is a tributary of the River Ruthern which it joins just above Ruthernbridge. It collects water from many tiny streams on Retire Common which is the area on your left for the final leg of the walk.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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