Circular walk around Warbstow Bury

Warbstow Cross and Bury

A fairly short and easy circular walk around Warbstow, crossing ramparts of the massive Iron Age hillfort, through fields and along country lanes lined with wildflowers, returning via the mediaeval church which is dedicated to the daughter of a Saxon King who was tutored by the Celtic Saint Morwenna.

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The walk starts at Warbstow Bury car park and crosses the ramparts through the central area of the Iron Age hill fort. The route then circles along paths through fields and small lanes through some of the nearby hamlets, passing Warbstow church on the return route.

Reviews

An easy walk encompassing fields and lanes. Iron age hill fort very impressive with several banks and ditches. Wear waterproof trousers and boots as long grasses. Foxgloves everywhere. Parish church worth going inside. The flower festival was on so I was rewarded with refreshments.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 2.6 miles/4.2 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: waterproof boots (crosses a marsh)

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Warbstow Bury - remains of a huge Iron Age hillfort
  • Panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from the Bury
  • Historic church at Warbstow
  • Winding country lanes and tracks, lined with wildflowers in spring and summer

Directions

  1. From the car park go through the gate to reach the hill fort and continue ahead through the gaps in the ramparts to reach a level area at the top. Cross this to the opening opposite.

    Warbstow Bury is the second largest and best-preserved Iron Age fort in Cornwall with massive ramparts. It was built approximately 2500 years ago as a tribal stronghold and residence of the local aristocracy, and was probably abandoned in the first century AD after the Roman conquest. There are panoramic views over the surrounding countryside on a clear day. It was once the venue for an annual gathering of Methodists from the circuits of Camelford, Holsworthy and Launceston who assembled here on Whit Tuesday for an open air service.

    More about Warbstow Bury.

  2. As you come through the opening out of the central area, bear right through a larger opening in the outer circle (rather than straight ahead to a small one) to a gate.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandinavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  3. Go through the gate and continue ahead across the field to a gate in the fence opposite.

    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.

  4. Go through the gate and continue ahead to the gate to the right of the wooden fence in the corner of the field.

    There are several quite common plants (catsear, hawkbit and hawksbeard) which all have yellow flowers similar to dandelion. Their main flowering period is later in the summer (late June and through July) than dandelion which itself peaks in April-May. If you want to have a crack and figuring out exactly which you are looking at, the leaves offer a good clue.

    Catsear is the most common, especially along the coast, and is the easiest one to tell apart as the leaves are hairy (hence the name).

    Hawkbit and hawksbeard both have non-hairy, deeply toothed leaves like dandelion but the leaves are narrower than dandelion. Hawksbeard has very well-defined "shark teeth" along most of the stem leading to the solid patch of leaf on the tip that all three have - these teeth are as wide as the widest part of the leaf. In hawkbit, these teeth are so tiny that the stem is nearly bare for about half its length.

    One other plant with flowers similar to the dandelion is the sow thistle but this is easily recognised by its spiky thistle-like leaves.

    Sheep were one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans thought to be roughly around 12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The first sheep weren't woolly and were used for meat, milk and their (woolless) hides which were sometimes tanned to make leather. Woolly sheep were bred about 4,000 years later in Iran.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path between the hedge and fence to another gate.

    The hedgerows of the field have a good diversity of tree species including hazel, holly, hawthorn and blackthorn.

    Less active woodland management has led to a decline in hazel as larger woodland trees gradually form a dense canopy that blocks out the light, out-competing the hazel. Grey squirrels have also contributed to the decline by eating so many of the nuts that fewer now successfully germinate.

  6. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right of the main gate and bear right onto the lane. Follow the lane a short distance to a junction.

    Common honeysuckle is a native plant also known as woodbine because it wraps itself around other plants and can cause distortions in their growth also called woodbines. Honeysuckle might be regarded as having plant OCD in that it only ever entwines in a clockwise direction. Flowers appear from June to August and their fragrance is due to a class of chemical compounds known as jasminoids that occur in, as you might have guessed, jasmine but also Ceylon tea. Honeysuckle is the food plant of the White Admiral caterpillar so keep a look for the butterflies in summer.

    The parish of Warbstow is one of the few left in England to still have an exclave (an "island" of the parish contained within another). The main body of the parish includes the villages of Warbstow, Warbstow Cross and Trelash and a number of hamlets. The exclave, separated from the main part by about 150m, includes the hamlet of Canworthy Water.

  7. Turn right onto the lane signposted Week St Mary. Follow the lane for about a quarter of a mile, to Hendra Cottage.

    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.

    Rosebay willowherb is known as fireweed in USA as it's found on burnt sites after forest fires. For similar reasons it was known as London's Ruin after the Great Fire. In the Second World War it was also known as bombweed due to its rapid colonisation of bomb craters.

    Hendra Cottage was recorded on the first OS map of 1888.

    Hendra is a common Cornish place name meaning "home farm" (from the Cornish word hendre which itself is based on the words hen meaning old, and dre is equivalent to tre). Hendra was also used as a boy's first name with the meaning literally "from the family farm".

  8. Turn right onto the track in front of the cottage, and follow this to the farmyard.

    The settlement of Hendra dates from early mediaeval times and was first recorded in 1284.

  9. At the end of the track, bear right past the metal gates to the barn to the last gate on the right, leading onto a concrete track (not the gate ahead). Go through this and follow the track downhill to a cattle grid, through the gate on the left and continue downhill a little further to a gate leading onto a grassy track.

    Whilst it's fairly obvious why cows are reluctant to cross a cattle grid, you might be surprised to learn that cows will also not cross a "virtual" cattle grid composed of dark and light lines painted on a completely solid surface. This even works with wild cattle who have never encountered a "real" cattle grid before and so is unlikely to be learned behaviour. It is thought that the reason is due to the limitations of cows' vision, specifically their limited depth perception means that they cannot discriminate between bars over a pit and a series of light and dark lines.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the grassy track downhill. Continue on the track until it eventually ends in a metal gate.

    Water pepper, as the name implies, grows on wet ground such as on the margins of lakes. The plant has a number of common names including "smartarse". As Emma Gunn points out in her foraging book "Never Mind the Burdocks", this is nothing to do with being clever: in the past, the dried leaves were added to bedding to drive away fleas etc. and the name comes from rolling over on a leaf in the wrong way. The leaves can be used as a herb and have have a lemony flavour similar to sorrel followed by heat which is a little like chilli.

    The name for the parish of Warbstow is taken from the nun, St Waerburgha, who was daughter of a 7th century Anglo-Saxon king. Her relics, at Chester, were an object of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. The church has been dedicated to St Waerburgha for at least 1000 years, presumably by the Saxon settlers.

  11. Go through the gate then bear left to the gate into the field. Go through the pedestrian gate beside it and follow the right hedge to the top of the field to reach a gate leading to a barn.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  12. Go through the gate and the one ahead then keep left at the barn. Follow the track between the buildings and through a pair of wooden gates. Continue on the track until it eventually emerges onto a road at Warbstow Cross.

    The farm pond beside the track is an ideal habitat for damselflies and newts.

    The name "newt" is actually from a mistake. The Old English word was ewt and so it should be "an ewt" but because this sounds the same as "a newt", ewts accidentally gained the "n" from "an".

    The farm, known as Tredown, sounds like it might be Cornish but is actually an English name meaning "at the downs". The first mention of the settlement was in the 16th Century.

    The word "downs" may seem strange for hilly moorland areas which are, if anything, "up". The reason is that it's derived from the Old English word dun meaning hill or moor which itself stems from the Celtic word din for hillfort (e.g. Castle-an-dinas and London). The word "dune" applied to sand is from similar origins but may have come from the original Celtic via Dutch and French where the meaning is "sand hill" rather than "moorland".

  13. Bear right, across the road to a lane opposite, signposted "Parish Church". Follow this past the school, to a junction by the Community Centre.

    In the past, Warbstow parish had no principal village: it essentially consisted of scattered farms and smallholdings, plus a number of small hamlets such as that near the Church and at Warbstow Cross, Downinney, Trelash and Canworthy Water. Treswen, near Warbstow Cross, was one of the most important farms in the parish, farmed since the early 1800s by the Gynn family.

  14. At the junction, bear left to stay on the lane and follow it to a junction with a narrow lane on the right.

    Warbstow is a parish in north-east Cornwall alongside the River Ottery. Warburghstow was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. The original manor house of Downinney stood at one end of the village green, but only the Norman door, porch, and an upstairs window have survived.

  15. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane to the church.

    Beech trees are planted along the hedge and drop beechnuts onto the road.

    The fruit of the beech tree is known as "mast" or, less cryptically, "beechnuts" and these are not produced until the tree is 40-60 years old. The small triangular nuts are encased in spiky husks which split and drop from the trees from late August to early October. The kernels of these are edible and are similar to hazelnuts. They were once used as a source of flour, which was ground after the tannins had been leached out by soaking them in water. If you find them too bitter, you might want to try this trick, although toasting them in a hot pan is also a good option.

    Bracken has been used as a fuel for centuries but is of interest as a modern biofuel due to its very high calorific value. Normal firewood produces around 15-19 gigajoules of heat per tonne of material (depending on moisture content - drier is more efficient hence kiln-dried logs). Elephant grass can produce around 18 GJ/t and bracken can deliver 21 GJ/t. At least one company has piloted creating compressed fuel briquettes from bracken in a similar way to elephant grass.

  16. From the church, follow the lane downhill to a bend where a lane departs ahead.

    The parish church in Warbstow was originally Norman, but largely rebuilt in the 15th century. However its site on a small hill, surrounded by a circular bank, strongly suggests that the churchyard is Celtic in origin.

  17. At the bend, bear left onto the narrow lane leading uphill. Continue, as this turns into a track, to a gate opposite the Warbstow Bury car park, and carefully cross the road to complete the circular route.

    The earthworks that remain of Iron Age settlements would usually have been topped by a wooden perimeter fence along top of ramparts to provide defence from attack or thieves. Within the ramparts, families lived in thatched timber-framed roundhouses and livestock were also kept in the enclosure to prevent them escaping or being stolen.

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