Circular walk from Week St Mary to Penhallam

Week St Mary to Penhallam

The bridge across the moat to the remains of Penhallam Manor is currently closed. This doesn't affect the route itself (which follows the path around the edge of the moat), just the distance from which the Penhallam remains can be observed.

A circular walk from the Saxon village of Week St Mary through Ashbury woods, beneath the Iron Age fort, to the remains of the mediaeval manor of Penhallam which was only rediscovered in the 1960s, returning via the church, repaired after the pinnacle above the door was severed by lightning and crashed through the roof.

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The walk heads out of the village to the hill at Ashbury which was chosen as the vantage point for a fort in the Iron Age. The route then descends through broadleaf woods to the remains of Penhallam manor. The walk follows the woods downriver and then crosses to the opposite side of the valley. The final stretch, across the fields to the church, is past an earthwork remaining from a mediaeval castle.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 2.9 miles/4.7 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots in summer, wellies after prolonged wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

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


  • Broadleaf woodland surrounding Ashbury
  • Remains of 800 year old Penhallam manor
  • Elegant Church of Week St Mary with curious carvings
  • Views over the tributary valleys of the River Neet from the fields near the church
  • Historic Old College at Week St Mary


  1. From the war memorial, head down the main road, away from the church, until you reach a junction signposted to Penhallam.

    Week St Mary is a small village in northeast Cornwall. The Anglo-Saxon name for the village was Wyke meaning "dairy farm". "St Mary" was added to distinguish it from more than one or two others in the area.

  2. Turn right in the direction signposted to Penhallam. Follow the lane to a sharp bend, with a public footpath sign on the left.

    The lane forms part of National Cycle Route 304.

    National Cycle Route 3 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.

    National Cycle Route 304 provides a more direct and less hilly alternative to the coastal section of National Cycle Route 3 between Marhamchurch and Hallworthy.

    National Cycle Route 327 runs from Trelash near Warbstow via Launceston to near Tavistock. It forms a link between cycle routes 3 (Bristol to Lands End) and 27 (Plymouth and Tavistock) hence 327.

  3. Turn left onto the footpath signposted to Week Green; go through the gate and follow the path until you reach another gate.

    Primrose seeds are quite large and therefore, due to their weight, don't travel far from the plant. This causes a clump of primroses to spread out very slowly over time and means it takes a long time for primroses to colonise new areas. This makes large carpets of primroses a very good indicator of ancient woodland where they would have had many hundreds of years to spread out.

    According to folklore, it's unlucky to bring bluebells into a house and also unlucky to walk through bluebells as it was thought that the little bells would ring and summon fairies and goblins.

    Holly grows beneath the canopy of the trees along the track.

    The association of holly with winter celebrations predates Christianity: druids were known to use holly wreaths which, it is likely with some discomfort, they wore on their heads.

    Ferns produce 2 different types of leaf (although they often look quite similar). The normal leaves are used for photosynthesis of sugars just like in other plants. Ferns also produce a special kind of spore-bearing leaf which can often be identified from the dots on the underside. In hart's tongue ferns, these are really obvious.

  4. Cross the stile next to the gate (or go through the gate if open). Follow the lane until you reach a track on the right opposite a wooden fence on the left, just after a garage.

    The Saxons had a stronghold in northeastern Cornwall, which is reflected in many of the place names (-stow, -bury, -ton, -worthy, -cott, -ham, -ford etc). As you move further west, the Celtic place names (Tre-, Pen-, Lan-) become more common.

  5. Turn right onto the track (marked with a footpath sign), and follow it towards the building where a grassy path continues to the right.
  6. Bear right onto the grassy path and follow it through the woods to a stile.

    Woods with plenty of undergrowth is the ideal habitat for blackbirds.

    Only male blackbirds are actually black. The females are brown. The difference in appearance between males and females is known as sexual dimorphism and is an evolutionary strategy by the males to get noticed more by females at the cost of decreased chances of survival.

  7. Cross the stile and follow the track until it ends in a gate at Ashbury farm.

    Exactly why butterflies were associated with butter is a bit of a mystery. One theory is that they were seen hovering over pails of milk and thought to be stealing or protecting the butter. Another is that the yellow brimstone was the species for which this name was first devised.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for bread ovens and kilns as it burns rapidly, very hot and with little ash. It was in such demand that there were quite strict rules about how much gorse could be cut on common land.

    In more recent times, due to reliance on fossil fuels, this is now out of balance and gorse has increased in rural areas which have been abandoned agriculturally.

  8. Go through the gate and continue ahead towards the farm. Walk straight ahead through the farm, passing the house and barns on your left and going through any gates across the yard, to reach a final waymarked gate ahead into a field.

    Since the 1960s, consumption of milk in the UK has fallen from around 5 pints per person per week to around 3. The recent rise in popularity of veganism has also contributed to a drop in demand for dairy products. However, these downward trends have been partly offset by milk solids used in processed foods including chocolate and also a growth in cheese consumption in recent years.

  9. Go through the gate and bear left to follow the track to a waymarked farm gate and kissing gate.

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  10. Go through the kissing gate and keep left to stay in the left-hand field. Follow the line of trees on your right to join a path leading into the woods.

    The summit of the hill is where Ashbury Fort was located.

    Ashbury Fort was located on the summit of a hill that forms part of Westwood Common, just west of the village of Week St Mary. Ashbury was an Iron Age (600 BC to AD 43) fort consisting of 2 concentric earth ramparts standing over 3 metres high. Typically, the central area would have contained many houses and, when being used to repel marauders, the space between the ramparts would have been used to graze livestock. Ashbury farm, just to the south-east, takes its name from the fort.

  11. Follow the path into the woods and continue, crossing any springs, to reach a waymark post.

    Holly is able to adapt to a range of conditions but prefers moist ground. It is very tolerant of shade and can grow as a thicket of bushes underneath larger trees. However, given the right conditions, holly trees can grow up to 80ft tall!

  12. Bear left slightly in the direction indicated by the waymark to follow the path downhill to a stile (possibly with a metal gate in front).

    For such a widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly inefficient at reproducing naturally. It can take 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns and even then, the overwhelming majority of the acorns that it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot on the ground. Squirrels play an important part by burying acorns and occasionally forgetting a few which have a much better chance of growing than on the surface.

  13. Cross the stile (pull back the gate if in front of the stile) then follow the path a short distance to another stile.

    The stream feeds a major tributary river of the River Neet. A number of streams in the area between the A39 and B3254 all feed into this river, contained by the ridges along which the major roads run.

  14. Cross the stile and turn right onto the track. Follow the track a short distance until you reach a stile on the right with a permissive path sign which leads to the remains of Penhallam.

    Penhallam, situated close to Week St Mary is the remains of an 800 year old moated manor house and included a Hall, bakehouse and chapel. It was abandoned in mediaeval times so the rooms were never adapted into later styles and the floor plan is a preserved snapshot of mediaeval design. It was only rediscovered in 1967 when the area was being prepared for forestry planting. Excavations took place between 1968-1973.

  15. Cross the stile, and a second, to an information board about the De Cardinhams. At this point you can cross the footbridge over the moat to explore then return here afterwards. Then follow the path anticlockwise around the moat until you reach a gate.

    In the 11th Century after the Norman Conquest, the castle at Cardinham was held by Richard Fitz Turold - an Anglo-Norman landowner who also owned the manor of Penhallam. His family - known as the de Cardinhams - also owned Restormel Castle in the 12th Century but died out by the mid-13th Century. The estates were divided amongst the female descendants.

  16. Exit through the gate onto a track. Follow the track through Harris' Wood until it eventually ends in a gate.

    There are a few different species of buttercup. One of most common is meadow buttercup (unsurprisingly found in meadows!) which is the tallest member of the family. Another common one is creeping buttercup which as the name suggests spreads through rhizomes so is more likely to be found in dense clumps in damp places. Its leaves are also more golden and glossy.

    Conifers can produce an economic yield of timber up to 6 times faster than broadleaf trees. Imported species such as Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce are amongst the more common used for timber production.

  17. Go through the two sets of gates to reach a lane. Turn right on the lane and follow it to a T-junction.

    There is a large elder tree near the gate on the exit from Harris' Wood.

    Elderflowers appear in late May and are easily recognisable as large white umbels on the shrubby green trees. If you are harvesting the flowers to make cordial or wine, avoid picking umbels where the flowers are going brown or haven't opened yet; they should be bright white with a yellow centre.

    Researchers at the University of Sydney studying influenza found that the pigments in elderberries have antiviral properties. A small effect was found in inhibiting a virus from attacking a cell but a more more significant effect was found in preventing viruses from propagating once they had infected a cell. The elderberry chemicals were also found to stimulate the cell's own chemical messaging system used to trigger an immune response.

    During the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a surge in demand for elderberry-derived herbal remedies. However, there are concerns that compounds in elderberry could have the potential to trigger an immune over-reaction (known as a "cytokine storm") seen in some severe COVID-19 infections.

  18. At the T-junction, bear right to the footpath opposite, signposted to Week St Mary. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a wooden walkway in the corner of the field.

    A group of grazing animals known as "ruminants" (which includes cows) have evolved a "pre-stomach" called a rumen where microbes break down cellulose into digestible materials. These microbes produce methane as a by-product. Cows emit around 250 to 500 litres of methane per day but contrary to urban myths, the vast majority is by burping rather than from the other end.

  19. Descend the stile from the walkway, cross the footbridge and the stile into the next field. Follow the right hedge to a protruding corner with a tree, just before an earthwork.

    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.

  20. From the corner of the hedge, bear left to follow along the bank to reach the stile.

    The earthwork on your right is the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle.

    A bailey was essentially a fortified settlement, typically on the top of an embankment and surrounded by wooden pallisades. If breached, the motte provided an even more fortified position for retreat and defence during a siege.

  21. Pass the stile and bear right slightly around the mound, towards the church, to a stile into the churchyard.

    On the tower of Week St Mary Church, there are some fine carvings. If you look high up on the west side of the tower you can see hounds chasing a hare. The tall tower has been struck by lightning several times. In 1935, the southwest pinnacle was hit during a hailstorm and fell into the church.

  22. Cross the stile and bear right to pass around the church and reach the church door. Follow the path away from the church to return to the square.

    The Old College is a short distance along the road to the left near the Lower Square.

    Behind a piece of castellated wall in Week St Mary, hides one of the most historic buildings - The Old College. The Old College was restored by the Landmark Trust who now let it as a holiday cottage. Originally, the house would have been set in a square courtyard, and approached from a courtyard door opposite the front door - where the mainly 19th century house called "New College" now stands (look out for the odd bit of Old College masonry in New College's wall). The windows either side of the door would have been Gothic. If you peek around the back of the Old College, you can see examples of these. The far, west, side of the building would have been much longer, and would have joined to further buildings, filling the west side of the courtyard where there is now just a farm gate.

    The story began with the birth of the remarkable Thomasine Bonaventure in Week St Mary in 1450. She married three times, each marriage gaining her more money and status, until she was finally left as the widow of Sir John Percival, the Lord Mayor of London. At this point, Lady Percival returned to Week St Mary and began charity work. In 1506, she founded a school - Week St Mary College, with an endowment to pay for a schoolmaster, graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, who would also pray for her soul in the parish church. 40 years later, it was written about in glowing terms, but then suddenly something mysteriously caused the school's collapse and decay and the children were moved to a school in Launceston.

    The Lower Square area was a market place in mediaeval times and a market house was located in the area in front of Red Lion house. Around the edges of the square, houses were built each with a long strip of land of about an acre stretching behind it. These cultivatable back gardens were known as "burgage" plots. Red Lion House and New Inn House were - as the names suggest - formerly pubs associated with the market square.

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