Truro and the old Newham railway

A circular walk at Truro along the river, trackbed of the Newham railway and through the historic city centre.

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The route begins by following the river to the Newham quays where dynamite was once exported. The walk then joins the path along the trackbed of the Newham railway which has been recolonised by wildlife. The railway eventually emerges beside County Hall and the walk enters the city centre via Chapel Hill and Victoria Gardens. The walk passes the Royal Cornwall Museum and cathedral before ending via the piazza.

Reviews

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7.1 km
  • Grade: Easy
  • Start from: Garras Wharf car park
  • Parking: Garras Wharf car park TR12TN. Follow the A39 into the centre of Truro to the Tesco roundabout. Turn off the roundabout towards Tesco then immediately turn left to reach the car park.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • An exploration of Truro's history as a river port
  • Wildflowers and wildlife along the old Newham railway
  • Truro's Victorian architecture including the cathedral
  • Colourful gardens in spring and summer
  • A plethora of bars and cafés near the end of the route

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Barley Sheaf Inn
  • The Old Ale House
  • The Wig and Pen
  • William IV

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park towards the river, passing the entrance to the subway to reach a wooden fence beside the river with a Cycle Route 3 sign. Turn right and follow the riverside path to reach the Tesco Car park where a path continues alongside the river.

    A Norman castle was built near the confluence of the Rivers Allen and Kenwyn and the small town of Truro grew beside this. By the beginning of the 14th Century, Truro was an important river port until trade collapsed due to a recession brought about by the Black Death and this resulted in the town being largely abandoned. During the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, trade returned and the town grew. During the mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries the town prospered and was known as the "London of Cornwall" in Victorian times. Following the building of the cathedral, it was granted city status in 1877 by Queen Victoria and is the only city in Cornwall.

  2. Keep left to continue on the riverside path and follow it to emerge alongside the entrance road to Tesco. Follow the pavement to where a path departs to the left, immediately before the junction.

    The Truro River is the name given to the creek that stretches from the confluence of the Kenwyn and Allen rivers in Truro down to the confluence with the River Fal. The river system has a catchment area extending to the A390 and A39 roundabouts on the A30, bounded by the three main roads.

    Originally it was possible to reach Truro by river at all states of the tide. Even as recently as Victorian times, 200 ton vessels would dock along the quays. Mine waste running into rivers has accumulated in the creeks as silt so that Malpas is now the highest navigable point at low tide on the Truro river. Therefore the ferry services to Truro terminate at Malpas when the tide is low.

  3. Turn left onto the riverside path and follow this along the edge of the river. Where the path splits, keep left on the waterfront path and keep following this until it eventually ends in a wall ahead. Keep following the path around the side of the building to emerge on the pavement beside the road.

    The stone walls along the quay have a nice example of seaweed and black and yellow lichens marking the high tide line.

    Barnacles and lichens can be used to gauge the position of the high-tide line on rocks and therefore a dry place to leave your possessions whilst you go swimming if the tide is coming in.

    Barnacles need to be covered with seawater each day so they grow below the high-water mark for neap tides.

    Black tar lichen occurs just above the barnacle zone. It is quite tolerant of spray and short periods of immersion in seawater so it typically grows in areas which are out of the water at neap tides but may get briefly immersed during spring tides.

    Orange marine lichen is less tolerant of immersion in seawater but can otherwise often out-compete black tar lichen so this usually grows just above the high water mark for spring tides where it may get an occasional splash.

  4. Turn left onto the pavement and follow this until it ends just before Gas Hill.

    At the start of 18th Century, a tin smelting works was built at Newham and the ingots were exported from the docks. The works closed within a decade but another smelting works was built at Garras Wharf at the start of the 19th Century. During the 19th Century, coal and timber were imported for the mines and the timber was seasoned in ponds along the wharfs. Dynamite produced at Nobel's factory on Cligga Head near Perranporth was also exported from here: what is now Lighterage Quay was known as Dynamite Quay.

  5. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left to follow this a few paces to Gas Hill. Join the pavement leading up the left side of Gas Hill and follow this uphill until you reach a small car park on the left opposite a Cycle Route 3 sign.

    In 1852, the West Cornwall Railway was created between Penzance and Truro Road on the western edge of Truro. The railway was extended in 1855 by adding the Newham branch to connect it to Truro docks. The Newham branch was reduced to a goods-only station in 1963 and closed altogether in 1971. The trackbed now forms one of Cornwall Council's multi-use trails.

  6. Bear left into the small car park and walk through this to the cycle track departing through the gap in the fence at the far end. Follow the cycle track until it ends in a junction with a small road.

    National Cycle Route 3 is part of the National Cycle Network and runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

    Between Bude and Land's End, the National Cycle Routes 3 and 32 (which is an alternative North Coast route from Bodmin to Truro) are collectively known as the Cornish Way, stretching for 123 miles. Together they comprise of 175 miles of route.

  7. Cross over the road to the path opposite and follow this until it eventually ends at a gate onto a road.

    By using their tail as a parachute, squirrels are able to survive falls from high trees. This allows them to attempt risky jumps between treetops that don't always work out. They are one of the few mammals that can (but not always) survive an impact at their terminal velocity i.e. if a squirrel jumped out of an aeroplane, it may well survive.

  8. Go through the gate and cross the road to the gate opposite. Go through this and follow the path until it eventually ends on track via a wooden fence.

    Celandine flowers close each night and open each morning. This is controlled by a circadian rhythm, so they really are 'going to sleep' at night and 'waking up in the morning'. It is likely that this has arisen to protect the internals of the flowers from any frost during the night as they begin flowering in March when frosts are still common.

  9. Turn left onto the track and follow it past the gate into the Nature Reserve. Continue until it emerges on a tarmac path beside a path with a black metal bollard and continue a little further to reach the road.

    Cornwall Wildlife Trust was founded in 1962 as the Cornwall Naturalists' Trust and was run entirely by volunteers until 1974. It was renamed in 1994 as part of a national initiative to unify the names of wildlife trusts across the country. It now manages over 50 nature reserves and has over 17,000 members with over 1,000 active volunteers.

    Fox Corner is one of the smallest reserves at just one acre. There is only one gate in/out - it's not possible to walk through it.

  10. Turn right and follow the pavement past the Register Office to a pedestrian crossing where the metal fence ends.

    Cornwall County Council was established in 1889. In 2009, Cornwall's six district councils and the County Council were merged into one single body known as Cornwall Council. In 2012, the highways (and countryside) department within the council was split into a separate limited company known as CORMAC. In 2015, a larger group of private companies was created known as CORSERV which also includes Cornwall Housing, Newquay Airport and The Cornwall Development Company. The group is still wholly owned by Cornwall Council.

  11. Cross over the entrance road to the County Hall sign and then continue following the pavement along the railings to a crossing.

    As the design and materials suggest, County Hall was built in the 1960s and the courtyard contains a contemporary sculpture by Barbara Hepworth. It was initially known as New County Hall and the former County Hall (now known as Old County Hall) also continued to be used as Council offices until the early 21st Century.

  12. Cross at the crossing towards Sainsbury's and turn right. Follow the pavement until you reach a junction.

    In 1869, John Sainsbury and his wife opened a grocery shop in Drury Lane, London. Sainbury's trading ethos was "Quality perfect, prices lower" (stated on their Islington shop in 1882) and this proved immensely popular - by 1922 it had become the UK's largest retailer of groceries. The trading ethos also led to Sainbury's pioneering the concept of supermarket "own brand" products, undercutting established brands on price. When J. Sainbury died in 1928, his dying words were "keep the shops well lit".

  13. Cross over the small road and take the path opposite which merges onto the pavement of Chapel Hill. Continue down Chapel Hill, crossing over any junctions, until it ends in a T-junction with 30mph signs.
  14. Turn left and walk past the round bollards to a junction. Cross over this to follow along George Street terrace on your left and reach the roundabout.
  15. At the roundabout, carefully cross via the plastic bollards on the left to the residential street opposite with four metal bollards. Follow this a short distance to reach a crossroads and turn right onto John Street to reach the main road.

    In 1859, the Cornwall Railway from Plymouth reached the eastern side of Truro and the final link with the West Cornwall Railway to Penzance was put in place during 1860. This would have created a continuous line from Penzance to London except that the railway gauges were different either side of Truro so passengers and cargo had to change trains. In 1866 the West Cornwall Railway was re-laid as broad gauge, creating a continuous track from London. Only 34 years later, the entire railway from London to Penzance was converted again - this time to standard gauge.

  16. Turn left and follow the pavement towards the viaduct until you reach a gateway opposite just after Rose Court leading into a park.

    The viaduct through Truro carries the main railway line from Paddington to Penzance. The original viaduct was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, but was replaced with the larger granite structure you see today in the early 1900s. Five piers from the Brunel's original viaduct still stand beneath it.

  17. Cross the road carefully and follow the path around the back of the park to reach a black wrought iron gate.

    The main line railway through Cornwall was originally conceived as a means to link the port of Falmouth to London. However, whilst funds were being raised for the railway, much of Falmouth's Packet trade was transferred to Southampton. The line was built to Truro instead but initially failed to make money and was bought up by Great Western. Once established, the new railway allowed rapid exports of perishables to London including fresh flowers and fish. It also made large-scale tourism possible and the term "Cornish Riviera" was coined.

  18. Go through the gate and cross the bridge over the river. Continue to reach a bridge on the left over the leat into Victoria Gardens.
  19. Cross the bridge into the gardens and bear right at the top of the steps to a junction. The route continues to the right along the bottom of the gardens but you may wish to wander around the gardens first and return to the path at the bottom. Continue along the bottom path to reach a junction with the downhill path leading to some metal railings.

    Victoria Gardens were created to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1898. The fountain was originally in Boscawen Street and was moved to the gardens shortly after they opened. A Victorian hydraulic ram raises water from the leats to the top of Victoria gardens which is used to supply the fish pond and cascades though the gardens back into the leat.

  20. Bear right onto the downhill path to exit the gardens and cross the leat. Turn left and follow the path a short distance to a road.

    The open leat system running through the streets of Truro was created by the Victorians to supply drinking water for horses and for washing down the streets. Along many sections of the leat are steel eyes set into the granite using lead, which are thought to be where horses were tied up when people visited the shops. The leats were originally fed by the weir gate system below Victoria gardens. Water is now extracted without a gate to minimise the risk of flooding.

  21. Cross over the road and follow the path between the river and leat to where the path ends on a road opposite a junction.

    The River Kenwyn rises just south of the A30 near Four Burrows and takes its name from the parish through which it flows on its way to Truro. In 1259 the name was recorded as Keynwen and is from the Cornish words keyn (meaning ridge) and gwen (meaning white).

  22. Cross to the opposite side of the road then turn right and follow the pavement downhill to a junction.

    The entrance and lawn area of Truro Crown Court is recorded as being built on the site of the Norman castle. In 1540, the remains of the castle were documented as already being reused as a plain-an-gwarry: "Ther is a castelle a querter of a mile by west out of Truru . . . now clene down. The site therof is now usid for a shoting and playing place". The main Court building that protrudes in to Victoria Gardens is on the site of the Cattle Market.

  23. Turn left and follow the road past the museum. Continue to where the loading area ends and the tarmac narrows to reach an alleyway on the left before the no left turn sign.

    The Royal Cornwall Museum was originally built as a bank in 1845. The Royal Institution of Cornwall acquired the bank in 1919. The neighbouring baptist chapel was also acquired by RIC and added to the museum in 1986.

  24. Turn left into the alleyway and follow this until you reach a junction opposite a signpost with various black signs.

    River Street, on which the Museum is located, gets its name because the River Kenwyn is channelled beneath it (and also the Museum). The alleyway is known as Tippets Backlet. The leat that the walk followed near Victoria Gardens used to continue through the tarmac area where the signpost is located.

  25. Bear left to cross over the tarmac to the cobbled alleyway (Nalders Court) to the left of the rounded building and follow this until it ends on a cobbled street.

    From the 18th Century, Truro was criss-crossed by opeways (pronounced "opways") - a dialect term for passageways. Some of these still exist, others have been lost through redevelopment and one was rediscovered after being covered up for 60 years. When you reach the cathedral at the end of the next direction, there is a map with many of the names shown although "Squeeze Guts Alley" has been censored by obscuring it with an "i" symbol!

  26. Turn right and follow the street a short distance to where it ends. Turn left towards the cathedral and keep left on the pavement along the left side of the cobbled area to reach the cathedral shop.

    Since at least 1259, and probably before this, there has been a Parish Church of St Mary located on the site of the cathedral. The cathedral architect, John Loughborough Pearson, cleverly incorporated the South Aisle of the 16th-century church into his design. Construction began in 1880 and the cathedral was consecrated and in use by 1887. John died in 1897 and the cathedral was finally completed in 1910 under the supervision of his son Frank who also went on to create a smaller version of the cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand.

  27. Turn left to follow the path with a metal bollard past the Chantry and reach a junction of paths by a stone feature. Continue ahead to follow the path past the Old Cathedral School to reach a junction of paths in a small area of tarmac.
  28. Bear right to keep the river on your left. Follow the path until it ends in a junction with a road.

    The River Allen rises between Zelah and St Allen (hence the name) and flows through the Idless Valley to Truro. Confusingly, there are 2 River Allens in Cornwall - the other one being a tributary of the River Camel running through the well-known Allen Valley near Wadebridge.

  29. Turn right and follow the road a short distance to a junction.

    Cornish Fairings are a thin, crisp biscuit flavoured with ginger. Given Cornwall's long trading history, you may be lulled into thinking this was another ancient link with spice merchants but in this case it isn't. The name "fairing" was a word in use throughout England meaning "edible goods bought at a fair" and these included gingerbread as far back as mediaeval times. During Victorian times, biscuits became a popular gift that working class men would buy for their sweethearts, and a number of manufacturers produced ginger biscuits known as "fairings". The Truro baker John Furniss began baking and selling ginger biscuits in his tea room in the late 1800s and these were so popular that they were soon sold by mail order all over the country, establishing the "traditional" Cornish Fairing that we know today. John Furniss' recipe originates from a country fair, possibly from the Launceston New Year "maid hiring" fair.

  30. Turn right and walk a few paces beside the cathedral to the end of the black bollards then turn left onto Cathedral Lane. Follow Cathedral Lane until it ends in a T-junction.

    The part of the cathedral behind the bollards (the South Aisle) is the most historic part, incorporating the remains of St Mary's church from the late mediaeval period. Hence the road is named St Mary's Street.

  31. Use the pedestrian crossing on the right to cross the cobbled area and then bear left for a few paces to the junction with Lemon Street. Follow Lemon Street until you reach the piazza on the left opposite four red phone boxes on the right.

    The "coinage" in the names of buildings and streets comes from an early method of measuring the purity of metal ore (assaying). Before ingots of tin were sold, a corner of the ingot (known as a "coign") was broken off. The coign was weighed and then reduced with carbon (e.g. anthracite powder) in a furnace and the amount of metal produced was also weighed. The building where the measurement was carried out became known as a Coinage Hall. A tax on refined tin was introduced in mediaeval times that was known as Coinage Tax as it was charged based on the purity of the coign.

  32. Turn left and walk along the length of the piazza to a pedestrian subway at the far end.

    Until the 1920s, the area now covered by the Piazza was open water between two quays - Back Quay and Lemon Quay - where ships docked to unload goods (the road bridge wasn't there then, so this was all open to the river below). Back Quay is the more ancient of the two and was formerly used for building wooden sailing ships and as a fish market. Lemon Quay (and Lemon Street) is named after the 18th Century mine owner John Lemon and was still referred to as the "new quay" in 1818.

  33. Walk through the subway and climb the steps to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    Tesco began in 1919 as a group of market stalls selling war-surplus groceries. After a shipment of tea arrived from T.E.Stockwell, the stall owner formed the name TESCO by adding the first two letters of his surname (Cohen) to these initials. The first Tesco shop opened in 1931 and by 1939 there were over 100. In 1995, Tesco overtook Sainsbury's as the market leader in the UK which Sainsbury's had been since 1922. In 2018, Tesco rebranded some of its own-brand products as "T.E. Stockwell and Co since 1924" where the 1924 refers to the year when the first shipment of tea was received.

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