St Wenn to Withiel

A circular walk from St Wenn in the upper reaches of the Ruthern Valley, through Rosenannon woods and along the Saints' Way pilgrimage route to the mediaeval church at Withiel, where the Rector shut down The Pig and Whistle for being an ungodly establishment.

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The walk starts near St Wenn church and follows footpaths, tracks and lanes to reach Rosenannon. The walk then joins a path through the woods and follows the river valley to the confluence with the River Ruthern. The walk then joins the Saint's Way to Withiel to reach the church. The return route is across fields and on a country lane with some nice wildflowers during spring and early summer.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.1 miles/9.9 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: St Wenn car park
  • Parking: Village car park PL305PS. From the A30, turn off at Victoria; follow the signs to Ruthernbridge and Withiel, and then follow the signs to St Wenn. Parking is signposted just past the school.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or wellies after wet weather

OS maps for this walk

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Highlights

  • Pretty woodland at Rosenannon
  • Wildflowers along the lanes and tracks in Spring
  • Quiet countryside with lots of wildlife

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park onto the lane and turn left. Follow the lane until you reach the phone box.

    The parish church is dedicated to Saint Wenna - a 5th century saint from Wales who was one of the daughters of Brychan and aunt of St David. The church dates back at least to Mediaeval times: there are records from 12th century that the church was in the possession of the Earl of Gloucester who gave it to Tewkesbury Abbey in around 1150. Like most Cornish churches, it has been rebuilt and restored at least a couple of times since then. The tower originally had three stages but the top section was destroyed by lightning in 1663.

  2. Turn right down the track next to the phone box and follow this past Glebe Farm and down the hill to a gate into a field.

    A glebe was an area of land used to support the parish priest (in addition to a residence in the form of a parsonage or rectory). Occasionally the glebe included an entire farm. It was typically donated by the lord of the manor or cobbled together from several donated pieces of land.

  3. Climb the fence beside the waymarked gate on the left and follow the track until it ends at a gate onto a lane.

    In summer, the path can get a bit overgrown with nettles so pick up a stick to clear the way, or even better, harvest them to eat!

    The idea of eating something that can sting you seems wrong until you realise that nettles lose their sting as soon as you cook them, and they taste like spinach. Wearing gloves, strip off the young tender leaves, discarding any large coarse leaves and stems. Use lightly boiled, steamed or wilted as if it were spinach (though not raw unless you want to live dangerously!). All the usual spinach flavour combinations apply (e.g. with ricotta). Nettles are extremely nutritious, containing high levels of vitamin A and C, large amounts of iron and a significant amount of protein.

  4. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow this until you reach the cattlegrid between two stone gateposts.

    The barrel-like contraptions near the road are for feeding pheasants.

    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 gamebird 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.

  5. Cross the cattlegrid and follow the lane ahead until it ends at a T-junction.

    The settlement of Rosenannon was first recorded in 1284 as Rosenonen. The is thought to based on the Cornish words ros, meaning "hill spur", and onnen, meaning "ash tree".

  6. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane to Rosenannon. At the Rosenannon sign, keep right to stay on the lane and follow it around the corner until you reach a phonebox beside a chapel.

    Rosenannon chapel was built in 1888 as a Bible Christian chapel.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  7. Turn right onto the grassy track running alongside the phone box and follow this to where a small path departs to the left before the track goes through a gateway.

    The road continues to the Rosenannon Downs.

    The Downs to the north of Rosenannon were once called Carenza Wortha but are known simply as Rosenannon Downs today. There was once a mediaeval chapel here dedicated to Mary Magdalen but it was destroyed during the English Civil War in the 15th Century. The Downs are now a Nature Reserve, owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the area is a mix of woodland and heath. The boggy ground supports plants such as the sundew which has evolved a way to supplement the limited nutrients it gets from the acidic moorland soils, by eating insects that it catches on its sticky hairs which are the botanical equivalent of flypaper. Once it detects that an insect has landed, its folds more sticky hairs in towards the insect to ensure that its prey is completely glued down before releasing enzymes to digest it.

  8. Bear left off the track onto the small path and follow this through the woods to a bridge. Cross this and continue through the woods until the path ends beside a track.
  9. When the path emerges from the trees, make your way to the track ahead and turn right. Follow the track past some buildings and then to the telegraph pole half-way down the hill. Continue just past this then bear left to a worn stony area in the wall at the back of the verge on the left.
  10. Climb up the stony area of the bank and go through the gate into the field. Follow the right-hand hedge all the way across the field to reach a gate in the far hedge.

    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 the lambs to be stillborn. 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.

  11. Go through the gate and continue straight ahead towards the far side of the field. As you approach, pass to the right of the tree-lined hedge protruding into the field. Keep this hedge on your left to reach a gate.
  12. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow it for just under a mile until it ends at a T-junction.

    The farm at Trewollack is thought to date from early mediaeval times and was first recorded in 1284 as Trewoleck. Other than tre indicating a farmstead, the origin of the rest of the name is not known.

  13. Turn left at the junction and, after a short distance, right at the next junction, signposted to Withiel. Follow the lane past Tregolls Farm until you reach a stony track on your right, opposite a wooden fence on your left.
  14. Turn right down the stony track and follow this past one footbridge to a second which offers a less immersive river crossing than the ford.

    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".

  15. Cross the bridge and follow the track uphill from the other side of the ford until it forks just before some buildings.

    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. Compared to Red Squirrels, Grey Squirrels are able to eat a wider diet (including acorns), are larger so can survive colder winters, and are better able to survive in the fragmented habitats created by urbanisation. They are also thought to be carriers of a squirrel pox virus which they usually recover from but has been fatal to Red Squirrels, although Red Squirrels are now also developing some immunity. As the Grey Squirrel is classified as an invasive species, it is illegal to release a captured animal into the wild but it is also illegal to kill it in a way that is deemed as causing "unnecessary suffering". This has resulted in members of the public being prosecuted for e.g. drowning a squirrel caught in a trap, believing they were doing the right thing. To date, culling of Grey Squirrels has not reversed their domination of woodland habitat and alternative approaches such as planting food with contraceptives are being explored as a means to control the population. The theory is that infertile squirrels can compete for food against fertile squirrels, whereas culling can create a glut of food resulting in a higher number of squirrels surviving which replace those that were exterminated.

  16. Turn left at the fork and follow the track past one waymark at a gate to reach another waymark at a junction of tracks further up the hill.

    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.

  17. When you reach the waymark, bear left to join the track and follow it to a junction with a lane around the Withiel churchyard.

    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.

  18. Turn right at the church and follow the lane, which becomes a track, until it ends at a gate and a grassy track departs ahead.

    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.

  19. Follow the grassy track to a gate where a path departs to the left.

    Grasses have evolved to grow new leaves from the base of the stem which makes them able to withstand grazing (and mowing). Until 2005 it was thought that grasses evolved around 10 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct, based on the earliest fossil of a grass-like plant. Consequently the BBC went to great effort to find filming locations with no grass for its ground-breaking computer animation series "Walking with Dinosaurs". Since then, fragments of a grass plant related to rice and bamboo have been found in fossilised dinosaur dung. Also the fossil remains of a rodent-like creature which appears to have grass-eating adaptations suggests that grasses could have been around as far back as 120 million years ago.

  20. Turn left onto the path and follow it until you reach a gate.

    A well-known country remedy for the stings of nettles is to rub the sore area with the leaf of a dock plant. A common misconception is that dock leaves are alkaline and neutralise the acids in the nettle sting but, in reality, docks contain a mild (oxalic) acid. Also the formic acid in nettle venom is at a concentration that is too low to cause a sting, and it is instead a combination of neurotransmitters (histamine, serotonin and acetlycholine) in the venom which causes skin irritation. Although dock is claimed by some to contain a natural antihistamine, no scientific evidence has been found for this. It is thought that it is simply the rubbing and moisture in the leaf which provides a short-term relief/distraction whilst the sting itself is diminishing over time. The most effective relief is likely to be from an antihistamine cream but only if applied quickly enough. Alternatively, almost any moist leaf should provide a little relief, with the exception of another nettle leaf!

  21. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead until it emerges into a field.
  22. Continue straight ahead across the field to meet the right hedge. Follow all the way along the right hedge to reach metal gate in the corner of the field.

    Buzzards breed once they reach 2-3 years old. During their breeding season in spring, male buzzards create spectacular aerial displays to impress females by soaring high into the air and dropping suddenly towards the ground. The birds then pair for life.

  23. Go through the gate and turn right onto the track. Follow the track until it ends at a gate near a farm.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the latin name Digitalis (fingerlike) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is likely that it is a corruption of another word; possibly "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

  24. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the track to the farmhouse and keep right to pass the farmyard on your right. Continue around a bend to the left to reach an unsurfaced track departing from the right.

    The settlement of Lanjew was first recorded in 1290 as Lenthu and is thought originally to have been from the Cornish words lyn and dhu meaning "black pool". Once the Cornish language became spoken less, many place name drifted towards an English-sounding word - jew in this case.

  25. Turn right down the grassy track and follow it to a gate.
  26. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the left hedge to a gate, crossing the small stream just before the gate.

    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.

  27. Go through the gate and follow all the way along the left hedge to reach another 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. 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! Fortunately the toxin is quite unstable and drying of the plant in haymaking leads to polymerisation into non-toxic anemonin.

  28. Go through the gate and turn right onto the lane. Follow it for about a quarter of a mile, past Prince's Park Farm and Prince's Park, to reach a junction on the left to Demelza.
  29. Continue ahead on the lane for roughly the same distance again until you reach a passing place on the road with two metal gates on the left and a stone stile on the right beneath the trees.

    Demelza Castle was situated at the top of the hill to the left of the lane.

    Demelza Castle was an Iron Age hillfort which was reported in the 18th Century as having three ramparts but only the remains of two are now visible. Earlier reports suggested that a third rampart much further out could have enclosed a settlement from which the fort with the inner two ramparts could have formed a retreat. However, no evidence for the third rampart or a settlement has so far been discovered.

  30. Cross the stile on the right. Cross the field towards the buildings to reach a stone stile in the opposite corner.
  31. Cross the stile and follow along the left hedge until you reach the gate into the car park.

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 contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, 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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