St Mawgan to St Columb Major circular walk

St Mawgan to St Columb Major

A circular walk along the Vale of Lanherne to the mediaeval market town of St Columb Major, where Cornish Hurling is still played, through the broadleaf woodland of the Carnanton Estate along the River Menalhyl, returning to the riverside pub, church and convent at St Mawgan.

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The route follows a path alongside the river through the broadleaf woodland of the Carnanton Estate on whose land a hoard of silver coins dating back to Elizabethan times and a huge Roman ingot of tin were found. A small lane leads into the winding streets of St Columb Major. The walk passes the church of St Columb Major, rebuilt in 1676 after being blown up with gunpowder by mischievous youths. The walk follows footpaths and lanes along the edge of Vale of Lanherne to the hamlet of Lanvean. The route then descends into the valley and crosses the River Menalhyl to St Mawgan where the sanctuary light has been burning for hundreds of years in the 800-year-old cloistered convent.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 6.6 miles/10.7 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or shoes in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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


  • Pretty broadleaf woodland along the River Menalhyl
  • Mediaeval market town of St Columb Major with many historic buildings
  • Meadows rich in wildflowers and wildlife along the Vale of Lanherne
  • Tranquil riverside village of St Mawgan with a mediaeval church and convent
  • Ancient sport of Cornish Hurling played in St Columb

Pubs on or near the route

  • Tha Falcon Inn
  • The Coaching Inn
  • The Ring O' Bells
  • The Silver Ball

Adjoining walks


  1. In the car park, locate the stony path on the right (if you are facing into the car park) leading between the cottages. Follow the path a short distance between the cottages to a gate.

    The settlement now known as St Mawgan, is first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086. The village was then known as Lanherne, and the river valley is still known as "The Vale of Lanherne". The Lan part probably refers to the church; no-one is quite sure of the origin of the herne part. After the Norman Conquest, the village was "rebranded", being recorded as Villa Sancti Malgani in 1206, which evolved into the modern day St Mawgan.

  2. Go through the kissing gate and continue ahead to a junction of paths. Bear left into the woods and follow the path for about three quarters of a mile until you reach a junction of tracks in a clearing.

    Despite the pungent smell, the leaves of wild garlic are quite delicate in flavour so can be used quite large quantities in cooking or more sparingly within salads. They are at their most fiery early in the season.

    The woodland trees include chestnuts.

    To roast chestnuts, prick each of your chestnuts with a skewer or slit the shell with a knife - this is vital to stop them exploding (and disappearing into dust). Bake them in a hot oven for at least 10 minutes. Wild chestnuts are harder to shell than the shop-bought variety as the shells are much thinner and the nuts are often smaller. An easier way to separate the edible part from the shell is to simply slice the shell in half and then scoop out the contents with the point of a knife blade. Also this way, the bitter pith covering the outside of the nut is left behind in the shell. The contents of the nut should be fluffy and pale yellow; discard any that are brown. Separating the flesh from the shells is a fairly tedious process, but with a few friends armed with large cups of tea, a formidable amount of chestnut can be extracted which can be used to make stuffings, soups or whizzed into flour and added to bread recipes. It also freezes nicely so it can be stored up for Christmas recipes.

  3. At the clearing, bear left and follow the track alongside the river to reach a river crossing on your left with a "No Entry" sign on the tree behind.

    The River Menalhyl, which meets the sea at Mawgan Porth, is about 12 miles long and had a number of mills along its length. The name of the river comes from the Cornish words melyn, meaning mill, and heyl, meaning estuary.

  4. Pass this and continue following the track to keep the river on your left until you reach a crossing of tracks with a wooden footbridge visible on the left.

    In the grassy area to the right of the footbridge is the remains of Lawry's Mill.

    Lawry's Mill is located alongside the River Menalhyl between St Mawgan and St Column Major. Lawry's Mill (also known as Lowrey's Mill and Nankivell's Mill) was recorded as a tucking mill in 1809 but may date back further, to before 1659 when unspecified mills were recorded to exist along the river. The building is now derelict though appears to have been patched up with concrete blocks and corrugated iron during the 20th century. A pair of long leats were diverted from the river several hundred metres upstream, and ran down the side of the valley to power the mill. These are visible as gullies (no longer filled with water) below the footpath leading up the valley.

  5. Continue ahead at the crossing to follow the track uphill slightly. Follow this to reach a junction where a path joins from below.

    Daffodils were originally called asphodels (lumped together with the other plants that are now called asphodels). A pronunciation variation was "affodell". No-one is quite sure how the initial "d" was added - perhaps "the asphodel" by someone with a cold ("d affodel").

    Bluebells are extremely poisonous, containing a number of biologically-active compounds and were used (probably with varying success) in mediaeval medicine. The sap was used as a glue for book-binding as its toxicity repelled insects. It was also used to attach the fletchings onto arrows.

    The are several hamlets and villages throughout Cornwall named "Tuckingmill". Tucking was the Cornish term for fulling - the process of cleansing woollen cloth to eliminate oils and dirt, and matting the fibres to make it thicker. In these mills, the process was automated with wooden hammers driven by a waterwheel. The technology originated in the Islamic world, came to Europe via the Moors in Spain and was introduced to Britain by the Normans. After fulling, the cloth would be dyed using natural colourants and then stretched out to dry on tenterhooks.

  6. Where the path joins from below, continue ahead until the path ends at a T-junction onto a larger path.

    Many of the trees in the woodland are beech and the nut casings often cover the path.

    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.

  7. When you reach the junction, turn left and continue a short distance to meet a track at a public footpath sign. Turn left in the direction indicated (in microscopic writing) to St Columb Major and follow the track until it forks in front of a gate and stile.

    A large find of silver coins was made on the Carnanton estate which was recorded in the New Monthly Magazine of Sep 1821:

    A short time since some persons employed in a field belonging to James WILLYAMS, esq. of Carnanton, cleared the head of a spring for the convenience of drinking, and threw up the gravel on the sides. A heavy shower falling soon after, a broken pitcher and some pieces of silver were discovered by a boy who went to the well to drink; a search immediately took place, and several hundred silver coins of Elizabeth, James I., Charles I., and a crown and half-a-crown pieces of Charles II. were found.
  8. Cross the stile on the left of the gate (or go through the gate if open) and follow the track along the right hedge to another gate and stile.

    The estate rears pheasants which can often be seen in the fields here.

    The pheasant is named after the Ancient town of Phasis (now in West Georgia) and the birds were naturalised in the UK by the 10th Century with introductions both from the Romano-British and the Normans. However, by the 17th Century they had become extinct in most of the British Isles.

    In the 1830s, the pheasant was rediscovered as a game bird and since then it has been reared extensively for shooting. The pheasant has a life expectancy of less than a year in the wild and it is only common because around 30 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates.

  9. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and bear left onto the track. Follow it until it ends at a gate and stile before a ford.

    In 1819, an ingot of tin weighing nearly 18kg was found at Nanskeval Farm, buried nearly a metre below the surface in swampy ground. It was cast in Roman times, probably using an open granite mould, and is stamped with the head of a soldier wearing a Roman helmet. It is now in the Truro Museum.

  10. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and cross the stream. Join the lane and follow this for just over a mile until it ends at a T-junction at a Victoria Street sign.

    St Column Major was a market town in the Middle Ages: in 1333, Edward III granted a market here to Sir John Arundell of Lanherne.

    The two parishes of "St Columb" are so named because their churches are both dedicated to St. Columba - a local saint with a holy well at Ruthvoes. It is not known exactly who St. Columba was, but it is known she was not Columba of Iona, who is (mistakenly) depicted in a modern west window in St Columb Major church.

    The place name, Sancta Columba, is first recorded in the 13th century. To distinguish the 2 settlements, they are now prefixed with "Major" and "Minor". Previously these were known as Higher and Lower St Columb, with "St Columb" often used to refer to St Columb Major.

  11. Turn left and left again and walk a few paces to reach the gate into the churchyard. Go through this and follow the path towards the church then turn right to reach the main church door.

    Twice a year on Shrove Tuesday and the Saturday eleven days later, the mediaeval game of "hurling" is played in St Columb Major. The game vaguely resembles rugby though there are no written rules or even a referee. The town is divided into two teams of several hundred people (known as "townsmen" and "countrymen") and the objective is to carry a silver ball to the opposing team's goal. The goals are situated 2 miles apart and the "pitch" is the 25 square miles of the parish; the largest of any game in the world (and appears in the Guinness Records). Although the game takes place mainly on the streets of the town, it sometimes ventures into private gardens, through houses and into pubs. The game can stop at any time so members of the watching crowd can handle the ball which is said to bring good health and fertility.

  12. Continue alongside the church keeping it on your left to a junction of paths at the corner of the church. Turn left to follow alongside the church to the next corner, then bear right to follow the path out of the churchyard via some steps and a short alleyway to reach the road.

    As with many Cornish churches, the parish church of St Columb Major is likely to be an ancient pagan site where Celtic missionaries would have later erected the first Christian place of worship, most probably a wooden building which would have been replaced a number of times.

    In about 1100 A.D., a Norman stone church was built. Part of the original Norman foundations can still be seen at the base of the pillars.

    For most of the Middle Ages, the church belonged to the Arundells of Lanherne and was lavishly endowed. The 80ft tower is a fine example of a fifteenth-century building, consisting of four stages with battlements and pinnacles. It contains eight bells which were re-hung in 1950.

    In the year 1676, the greatest part of the church was blown up with gunpowder by three youths of the town, and subsequently rebuilt.

    A college for six priests, that stood adjacent to the church, survived this incident but only 15 years later was destroyed by a (this time accidental) fire.

  13. Turn left and follow the road downhill until it forks.

    The legend of St. Columba is preserved in a manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge. This states that she was the daughter of an Irish King, and that, in order to escape marriage with a pagan prince, she took a ship to Cornwall. She arrived at Trevelgue head but unluckily, she had been followed by the Prince. He chased her through the forest (which is now Porth beach). The princess fled up the valley, past Rialton and Treloy until she was captured at Ruthvoes. The Prince cut off her head and where blood fell, a spring gushed forth and the water following the course of her flight, formed the river that runs across the beach.

  14. At the fork, turn left and follow the road downhill over a bridge to a track on the left, just past the postbox on the end of the bridge.

    The river passing beneath the bridge is the Menalhyl, and the tall building on the right just before the bridge was a watermill known as "Town Mills". The wooden protrusion was a hoist for unloading sacks of flour.

    Grain for animal feed was ground using millstones made from readily-available Cornish granite which tended to shed pieces of grit that would make flour unfit for human consumption. Fine flour used for baking was milled using millstones made of imported French quartz or limestone.

  15. Turn left onto the track and follow it until the path forks.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  16. Keep right at the fork (indicated by a Public Footpath sign), continuing straight ahead along the wooded path until you reach a gate.

    In a small food processor, whizz approx 20g of Italian-style hard cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino). Optionally whizz in about the same amount of any toasted nuts (nice but not vital). Next whizz in 50g of wild garlic leaves. You can also add 10g lemon balm leaves if you have it growing in your garden. Add zest of a lemon, juice of half the lemon and whizz in a couple of glugs of olive oil to the desired consistency. Finally whizz in salt and pepper to taste.

    Make your own super-quick fresh pasta with 200g plain flour, 4g salt, 1 egg and enough water to form a smooth dough. Use a good dusting of flour and roll out thin. Dust again, roll up into a Swiss roll and cut across at 1cm intervals to form spirals. Unravel each and drop the squiggles into boiling water. Done when it floats (about 2 min).

    Ivy is a creeping vine which is well-known for being able to climb up almost anything. With good support, an ivy plant can climb as high as 90ft. A plant can live over 400 years and on mature plants, stems can reach a diameter of over 10cm.

  17. Go through the gate or cross the stile next to it and continue until you reach a fork in the path in front of the remains of a building.

    Baby blackbirds usually leave the nest before they can actually fly then hop and scramble through the bushes. Their parents watch over them so don't attempt to rescue them.

  18. Bear right at the fork, to meet the fence on the right and continue to reach a footbridge.

    This stretch of the Menalhyl valley runs approximately east to west towards the coast.

    The salt-laden breeze coming off the sea dries out leaf buds and inhibits growth so the plants end up growing most vigorously in the lee of the wind. In the direction facing the prevailing wind, the growth is therefore more compact and stunted whereas in the lee of the wind, the branches are much more straggly. The result is that the trees appear to point away from the prevailing wind. Where there are no obstacles interfering with the wind direction, the shape of the trees can be used as a compass. Prevailing winds come from the southwest, so in general, trees in Cornwall point northeast.

    Notice how the trees on the hill on the right increase in size from southwest (ahead) to northeast as the neighbouring trees provide increasing amounts of shelter from the prevailing wind.

  19. Cross the footbridge and stile and bear right slightly across the field to a waymarked opening in the far hedge where there is a stone stile.

    Grazing animals very quickly learn to avoid electric fences so that the fences can even act as effective barriers when not powered. Some animals have gone further in their learning and developed crafty techniques for breaking through electric fences. One is to push another animal through the fence so that it gets the electric shocks instead!

  20. Cross the stile and stream and bear right slightly to a waymarked opening beneath a tree.

    The flowers and leaves of red clover can be dried to make a sweet tasting herbal tea. In order to get a good flavour, this needs to be infused for quite a long time (around half an hour) until a deep amber colour develops. Fresh clover doesn’t work so well as the drying process breaks down the cell walls of the plant.

  21. Cross the footbridge and follow the hedge on the right until you reach a waymarked opening about two-thirds of the way along the hedge, just after a wooded area.
  22. Climb the stile into the field above and turn left. Follow the left hedge to a waymarked stile near the corner of the field.

    The top of the stile into the field above is formed from an old stone roller. Rollers were used to flatten the loose soil created by ploughing and harrowing.

  23. Cross the stile and go through the pedestrian gate on the other side of the wall. Bear right towards the caravan and join the track leading along the right-hand side of the caravan. Follow this to reach a gateway in front of a barn.

    The farm here is called Trenowth which is from the Cornish for "new farm". Since the name is in Cornish, it implies it was "new" a very long time ago - probably in the early mediaeval period. The first record of it is from 1294 as Trenewith.

  24. Go through the gate and follow the track past the barn and into a field. Follow along the left hedge to a gap in the far hedge leading into the next field.

    The farmland here provides a habitat for birds in the crow family, including jackdaws.

    Birds of the crow family are considered to be among the world's most intelligent animals, displaying a high learning ability and are able to use logic for solving problems. Researchers have found some crow species capable of not only tool use but also tool construction. Crows have also demonstrated the ability to distinguish individual humans apart by recognising facial features. If a crow encounters a cruel human, it can also teach other crows how to identify that individual.

  25. Go through the gap and continue following the left hedge to a gateway in the far corner of the field with metal gates, and a stile on the left.
  26. Cross the stile to the left of the gates and turn right then follow the right hedge to reach a stone stile in the corner of the far hedge.

    If you see low-flying aeroplanes, these are likely to be from RAF St Mawgan (aka Newquay Airport) on the top of the hill on your left.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  27. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge past a pair of wooden gates to a metal gate in the right fence which is waymarked.

    The large house and surrounding grounds on the opposite side of the valley are part of the Carnanton Estate.

    The Carnanton Estate covers an area upriver of St Mawgan in the Vale of Lanherne. The Carnanton Estate included the ancient Nanskeval House which was recorded in 1277 as Nanscuvel but this was pulled down in the 1970s. It's likely that the cost of maintenance work required, particularly if the house had received heritage recognition, would have been been crippling, and this together with inheritance tax had made it a liability. Nanskivel cottage still survives on the estate.

    It is thought that the surname of Nankivell and its variants derives from here. Nans means "valley" in Cornish. It has been proposed that Kivell may derive from an extinct Celtic word for "horse" (as there is a similar word in Welsh, though margh is the Cornish word for horse). Alternatively, the Cornish word kevelek for Woodcock has been suggested, which would be highly compatible with the wooded river valley in which pheasants thrive today. It's also possible that "Cuval" or "Kevall" was simply someone's name.

    In Victorian times, Nanskeval House was the home of Edward Brydges Willyams, Liberal MP and High Sheriff of Cornwall, who was a keen supporter of Cornish Hurling. The Estate is still owned by descendants of the same family.

  28. Go through the gate into the field above, turn left and head to the waymarked wooden pedestrian gate with a white sign.

    The reason moles create tunnels is that these act as worm traps. When a worm drops in, the mole dashes to it and gives it a nip. Mole saliva contains a toxin that paralyses earthworms and the immobilised live worms are stored in an underground larder for later consumption. Researchers have discovered some very well-stocked larders with over a thousand earthworms in them! To prepare their meal, moles pull the worms between their paws to force the earth out of the worm's gut.

  29. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a metal gate in the far hedge.

    One in five of all known fungi form lichens. Studies suggest that many species of fungi that form lichens started out from ancestors that lived on organic waste. Fossils have also revealed that the symbiosis between algae and fungi dates back more than 400 million years roughly to the time when plants first evolved from green algae.

  30. Go through the gate and turn right onto the concrete track. Follow it uphill until it ends on a lane.

    Navelwort is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. In dry conditions, the plant takes emergency measures to conserve water, producing fewer green chloroplasts (so it goes red) and loses it succulent fleshiness. Leaves with red tinges are therefore not the ones to forage.

  31. Turn left onto the lane and follow it for just over a mile, past the junction to Higher Tolcarne, until you reach a junction at Trevenna Cross.

    There are nice views over St Mawgan Church through some of the gateways on the left side of the lane.

    The church in St Mawgan dates from the 13th Century and was enlarged in the 15th Century, which included raising the tower to 70ft in height. It is dedicated to the Celtic saint Mauganus who crops up elsewhere in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. By the top of the steps near the porch is a mediaeval cross in the shape of a lantern which dates from 1420.

  32. Turn left and follow the lane until you pass the Old Rectory and reach a track on your left beside a "Hellings" sign.

    The settlement on this side of the river is known as Lanvean.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the river to St Mawgan is known as Lanvean. The name Lanvean may refer to a former chapel: Lan typically refers to a churchyard and Vean means "small" in Cornish and survived for a long time in the local dialect, even when English replaced Cornish as the spoken language (e.g. "E'm only a vean child").

  33. Turn left and follow the track past the driveway to Langweath House and downhill to the river crossing.

    Rooks can be distinguished from other members of the crow family by their pale, hairless, pointy beak (other members of the crow family have black beaks and also a moustache on the top of their beak).

  34. Cross the river and continue ahead until you reach a lane into a car park, just past the Stores and Tea Room.

    St Mawgan School are participating in the Great British Elm Experiment.

    Dutch elm disease wiped out over 25 million elms in Britain but a small number of trees survived. Cuttings taken from mature trees that have survived Dutch elm disease for over 60 years (mostly wych and field elm) have been micro-propagated. The resulting saplings have been distributed to schools, community groups, local authorities and private landowners who have signed up to take part in The Great British Elm Experiment. It is hoped that a proportion of these trees may prove resistant to the disease. It's also likely that amongst the millions of small elms in the hedgerows, disease-resistant mutations will eventually occur.

  35. Turn left past the Tea Room and follow the lane into the car park to complete the circular walk.

    The Falcon Inn in St Mawgan dates back to, at least, the 16th Century. In 1780, the pub was known as the Gardeners Arms and was later renamed The Falcon due to its association with the Willyams family of the Carnanton estate whose coat of arms features a falcon.

    Records of an Inn in the village have been found as far back as 1758, and in 1779 there were records of a pub called "The New Inn". It is known that from the 14th century, the village had a number of breweries and cider houses which is presumably why it was seen as a "New Inn" in the 16th Century.

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