Inny Valleys from Altarnun

A circular walk around the valleys of the River Inny and Penpont Water to the mediaeval church at Laneast and the old bridge at Gimlett's Mill from the 15th century "Cathedral of the Moors" in Altarnun, set beside a 6th Century Celtic cross where churches and chapels had been throughout the Dark Ages.

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Starting from the church at Altarnun, the walk crosses the river valleys of the Inny and Penpont Water, with some nice views of Bodmin Moor. In spring and summer, there are spectacular wildflowers all the way around the route. The gradients are relatively gentle but there are some steep and awkward stiles which is why it is graded at moderate-strenuous.

Considerations

  • Some of the stiles on the route are pretty athletically-demanding (stone footholds over walls etc) both in terms of balance and effort. The route is graded moderate solely on its steepness. The stiles may make it more strenuous for the less gymnastically-inclined.
  • If you have secateurs, take these along to trim any brambles from stiles.

Reviews

Brilliant! Me and my husband used this iwalk app for the first time today- the directions were very clear and having the routemap is very helpful. Will definitely recommend and use more. Thanks!
Inny Valley from Altarnun, went on this lovely walk yesterday with its 35 stiles, some quite challenging and all different in their own way! Some lovely countryside and wildlife.
Superb walk as usual.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 109
  • Distance: 6.6 miles/10.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • Pretty village of Altarnun
  • Spectacular St Nonna's church known as "cathedral of the moors"
  • Pleasant winding country lanes and footpaths with wild flowers in spring and summer
  • Woodland rich in orchids and other woodland wildflowers around the river crossing at Laneast
  • Ancient church and Celtic cross at Laneast
  • Tranquil setting of Gimbletts Mill and Bridge

Directions

  1. Starting from the church at Altarnun, turn left from the churchyard onto the road and head uphill until you reach a junction by the Treween sign.

    Altarnun is a pretty village to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The name "Altarnun" is a corruption of "Altar of St Nonna" although the village was originally known by the Cornish name Penpont (hence the name of the river - Penpont Water). The Old Rectory near the church was featured by Daphne Du Maurier in "Jamaica Inn".

  2. Turn right and follow this lane for half a mile until it ends at a Y-shaped junction.

    Wild garlic grows along the lane here, which is evident in spring and early summer.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are generally used rather than the bulb, which is very small. Note that there are some lilies that look very similar and are poisonous! If it doesn't smell strongly of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic and should be avoided. A schoolboy error is to rub the leaves between fingers where the smell lingers so a subsequent poisonous lily leaf could be misidentified.

    In 1849, a Bronze Age stone mould for casting axe heads was found at the Glebe in Altarnun. An axe head found in one of the barrows at Harlyn Bay seems to fit the mould and both are displayed in the Royal Cornwall museum in Truro.

  3. At the junction, ignore the footpath ahead and turn left. Follow the lane a short distance until you reach a stile on the right marked with another Public Footpath sign. Climb the stile and cross the field to a stile in the middle of 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 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. Cross the stile and follow the path through a copse to another stile.

    Navelwort produces flower spikes with small green bells from June to September. When the flower spike is first forming it is a rather beautiful structure and is a perfect subject for macro photography.

  5. Cross the stile onto a track and cross the sequence of 2 stiles opposite. Then bear right slightly across the field to a stile in the far hedge near the corner.

    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.

    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.
  6. Cross the stile and head across the field, aiming for a stile roughly 50 metres to the right of the house.

    In farms around Cornwall, harvest was celebrated with traditions such as "crying the neck".

    Neck - a miniature sheaf of wheat with four plaited arms, intertwined with everlastings and the more durable of flowers. The stalks of wheat brought down by the last sweep of the scythe are brought home in thankful triumph, and woven as described. In the evening, the sheaf or zang is taken into the mowhay, where are assembled all the harvest party.

    A stout-lunged reaper proclaims: "I hav'en! I hav'en! I hav'en!"
    Another loud voice questions: "What hav'ee? What hav'ee? What hav'ee?"
    "A neck! A neck! A neck!" is the reply;
    and the crowd take up, in their lustiest tones, a chorus of "Wurrah".

    General merriment follows and the draughts of ale and cider are often deep. The neck may be seen hanging to the beam of many of our farm-houses between harvest and Christmas eve, on which night it is given to the master bullock in the chall. "Hollaing the neck" is still heard in East Cornwall, and is one of the cheerfullest of rural sounds.

    Since the 20th century, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies has been reviving this tradition; the ale part sounds good.

  7. Cross the stile and head across the field to another stile slightly to the right of the house.

    The Harvest Festival that we know today was invented in Morwenstow in 1843 by Rev. Hawker. Traditions celebrating harvest predate Christianity but Hawker revived this, centred around the church. Hawker invited his parishioners to a harvest service, as he wanted to give thanks to God for providing such plenty. The service took place on the 1 October, and bread made from the first cut of corn was taken at communion. It quickly caught on and spread throughout Cornwall and beyond. In the Port Isaac Harvest Festival celebration, fish, nets, oars and lobster pots took the place of the more conventional flowers and fruit.

  8. Cross the stile onto the lane and take the track opposite, signposted "Public Footpath". Follow the track past some houses and towards the grain silos, to a fork at a waymarked post.
  9. Bear right at the fork and follow the track to a barn where the track bends to the right.

    The farmstead at Tregunnon was first recorded in 1189 as "Gunan" and is from the Cornish word goon meaning "downs". By 1231, the settlement had split into Higher and Lower Tregunnon which in 1231 were referred to using the Middle English for "higher" and "lower": Overgunan and Nithergunan.

  10. Opposite the barn, there is a gate on the left. Go through the gate and head for the stile on the opposite side of the field, in the middle of the hedge.

    Evidence of windmills in England dates from around the 12th century and in Cornwall there are records of windmills as far back as 1296. Wind turbines may be viewed as the modern successor but actually themselves date back to Victorian times: the first large windmill to generate electricity was built in 1888 in the USA, and in Cornwall, a private house was lit using electricity generated by a wind turbine in 1890.

  11. Climb the (somewhat epic) stile. Then cross the next field to a stile roughly in the middle of the far hedge (bear left slightly as you head downhill).

    Green dock beetles can sometimes be seen on dock plants. They have a metallic shimmer which can produce colours of gold, blue, purple, violet or red in sunlight. The sheen is produced by a stacks of microscopic reflective layers which create interference patterns in light causing different colours to appear at different angles. As the beetles mature, melanin (the "sun tan" chemical produced in humans to protect skin from the sun) pigments the layers and causes them to become reflective.

  12. Cross the stile onto a track. Cross over the track to a waymark and follow the path down into the valley to reach another waymark. If you have secateurs, give any brambles starting to encroach onto the path a trim to keep it clear.

    The early purple orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

    In autumn, sloes are often plentiful and can be used to flavour gin, sherry and cider. The berries can be harvested from September until nearly Christmas although more tend to shrivel as the autumn advances. Traditionalists say that you should wait until the first frosts in late November when the sloes are less bitter. This is because freezing breaks down the bitter tannins. Therefore you can pick your sloes in September before they go too wrinkly and then pop them in the freezer to achieve the same thing.

    Blackthorn trees were planted as hedges to keep out cattle and they are still common in Cornish hedgerows today. Given the right conditions, a blackthorn tree can live 100 years and grow to about 20ft in height. In harsher environments such as by the coast the bushes may be as little as 2ft tall.

  13. From the waymark, go down the steps and follow the path past another waymark, to a stile.

    Beech trees can live up to 400 years but the normal range is 150-250 years. Beech trees respond well to pruning and the lifetime of the tree is extended when the tree is pollarded. This was once a common practice and involves cutting all the stems back to a height of about 6ft during the winter when the tree is dormant. The 6ft starting point kept the fresh new growth out of the range of grazing animals. When allowed to grow to full size, a beech tree can reach 80ft tall with a trunk diameter of around 3ft.

  14. Cross the stile and turn right on the lane and follow it over a bridge and up the hill until you reach the church (on your left).

    The River Inny is a tributary of the Tamar and is approximately 20 miles long, supporting populations of trout, salmon and sea trout as well as otters and kingfishers. The name of the river was recorded in the 1600s as Heanye and may be from the Cornish word enys - for island. Penpont Water is its main tributary and has a status of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Area of Great Scientific Value and Area of Great Historical Value. The source of the Inny is very close to the Davidstow Cheese factory, from a spring in the field opposite Pendragon House.

  15. After the church, follow the lane for a short distance to a bend with a public footpath sign pointing into a farmyard on the right.

    The name Laneast is thought to mean "church to the East" (of the older one at St Clether). The church building dates from Norman times with additions in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 15th Century, the tower and south aisle were completed. The church was restored in the mid-1800s but much of the 15th Century woodwork and stained glass remains.

  16. Turn right and make your way through the farmyard (passing through any gates) to reach a stile consisting of wooden steps in the concrete wall on the right. Cross the stile and follow the path over another stile to a grassy area. Then follow along the fence on the left to reach a waymarked stile beneath a tree.
  17. Cross the stile into the field and follow the right hedge to a waymarked gateway.

    Laneast Holy Well is located on private land within the meadow to the right.

    The Holy Well, known locally as "Jordan Well" or "Wishing Well", is covered by a slate-roofed granite building dating from the 16th Century which is now Grade II listed. Water from the well was still used for baptisms until relatively recently.

  18. Go through the gateway and head to the tree in the middle of the field. Then head to the left of the tall trees to a rough stone bridge over the stream beside the holly bush.

    The berries of holly contain a chemical compound very similar to caffeine. Only in very small doses is this a stimulant; in larger doses it is toxic. It is for this reason that you see holly berries on bushes rather than being inside the nearest bird. The birds have learned to wait until after the frosts have reduced the toxicity of the berries before eating them.

  19. Cross the stream and a stile and continue ahead a few paces into the field. Then bear right along the edge of the field for about 20 metres to reach another stile.

    From Tudor times onward, the majority of farming in Cornwall was based around rearing livestock with dairy cattle being predominant. This is reflected in traditional Cornish dairy produce including clotted cream and, later, ice cream and in the North Cornwall dialect where the pejorative for "farmer" was a fairly graphical description of the act of milking before the introduction of milking machines which rhymed with "bit fuller".

  20. Cross the stile and follow the right-hand hedge of the field uphill all the way to the farm, where there is a stone stile.

    Elephant grass (Miscanthus) has been described as a "revolutionary" biofuel crop due to its rapid carbon sequestration and its high yield.

    At St Mabyn, it is used to produce an eco-fuel for wood burners (google "Burlyburn logs") which as well as being carbon-neutral are roughly the same price as coal briquettes but very low in sulphur (which corrodes the metal stove and flue when coal-based fuels are burnt).

    The elephant grass leaves are also used to produce an eco-friendly animal bedding ("Burly bed"). This rots down easily, storing some of the captured carbon in the soil in the form of humus.

    Once the crop has been planted, it lives for around 20 years, can be harvested every year and doesn't need pesticides or fertilisers once established. Also because it is a sterile hybrid, it's non-invasive.

  21. Cross the stile and turn left on the farm lane. Just before the barn, cross the stone stile on the right and follow the right hedge of the field to a stile next to a gateway at the corner with the far hedge.
  22. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) onto a track and turn left. Follow the track to a fork and keep left at the fork to where the track ends at a gate.

    The settlement of Trespearne was first recorded in around 1200 as Trespernan. The name is Cornish and means "thorn tree farm". It is thought that the settlement dates from the Dark Ages.

  23. Go through the gate and turn right onto a lane. Follow it downhill to the bridge at Gimblett's Mill.

    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.

  24. Follow the lane over the stone bridge to a footpath signposted to the left, at a bend to the right.

    Gimblett's Mill, on the River Inny near Altarnun, dates from about 1800. The bridge over the river was built in 1847, following the great flood which swept away almost all the crossings along the river.

  25. Turn left onto the path and follow it to a stile.

    In July 1847 a large waterspout came in off the Atlantic and collapsed over Davidstow Moor where the sources of both the River Camel and River Inny rise. A wall of water 12-18 feet high swept down the Camel Valley demolishing all but two of the bridges. The solidly-built mediaeval Helland Bridge survived despite tree trunks piling against it. Wadebridge survived by being secured with ropes and chains by (brave) men in boats. Many years after the flood, pieces of hay and straw could still be seen in the trees 20 feet above the river at Dunmere.

  26. Cross the stile and follow the path ahead between the lines of trees to a gateway.

    Oak was often associated with the gods of thunder as it was often split by lightning, probably because oaks are often the tallest tree in the area. Oak was also the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid-summer sacrifice.

  27. From the gateway, bear right across the field to a ladder stile in the top corner of the far hedge.

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a "hill" in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means "breast" as well as hill.
  28. Cross the stile into the next field and bear right towards the pylon in the far hedge, beneath which is the stile.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the valley beside a small tributary valley is appropriately named Coombe.

    The Cornish language has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream
    • tenow - valley floor
  29. Cross the stile and bear right across the field to an opening beneath the tall trees in the top right corner of the field.
  30. Go through the gateway and follow the path to reach a track (if the path is inaccessible due to mud or vegetation, the field on the left has a gate at the start of the track). Follow the track until it finally emerges onto a lane.

    Staddle Stones (also known as Mushroom Stones) were originally used to raise granary barns off the ground. These had two purposes: the first was that the elevation above the ground kept out the damp which would spoil the grain. The second was that the overhanging stone cap made it an extreme rock-climbing expedition for any mice and rats wishing to enter the barn.

  31. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a T-junction.

    The small settlement is called Trethinna. The place name has changed little since the Middle Ages - it was recorded as Trethynna in 1350. Other than indicating a farm, the meaning of the name is not known.

  32. Turn left at the junction and follow it a few paces to reach a stile on your right. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to the corner of the field. Then go through a gap and continue ahead downhill a short distance to a gate.

    In summer you may need to bear left around the patch of nettles along the line of trees on the right, but the route to the gate should still be clear.

    Nettles are extremely nutritious, containing high levels of vitamin A and C, large amounts of iron and even a significant amount of protein. 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.

    Spring is the best time to harvest nettles. They should not be harvested when flowering (the flowers look like small catkins hanging down from the stems), as during flowering they produce microscopic rods of calcium carbonate (limestone) which can interfere with kidney function.

    To prepare them, 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).

    The Inny Valleys route is featured on the back of OS Explorer maps of Bodmin Moor.

    In the late 1700s, the Department of Ordnance (forerunner of the Ministry of Defence) began a mapping exercise for military purposes and the Ordnance Survey maps were born. The Ordnance Survey remains a government department but acts as a Trading Fund, raising revenue through the sale of its maps.

    The first edition OS maps were produced in the late 19th Century and were far more detailed than the previous tithe maps which were mostly concerned with land boundaries for taxation. The Ordnance Survey snapshot of the late Victorian period has been invaluable for historians to discover what was around before the 20th Century.

    The frequency with which the modern maps are updated is based on how much change there has been in a particular area together with a five-year rolling surveying programme; this means that the OS maps on sale can be out-of-date by up to approximately seven years. There is a web page on the Ordnance Survey site which gives the date when each 1:25000 raster tile was updated in their digital dataset, which will appear within the next paper map print run.

  33. Go through the gate to reach a waymark. Walk a couple of paces further past the gate on the right to reach a grassy track on the right running between two hedges. Turn right onto this and follow the track until it ends in a gate.

    The settlement here, now known as Trerithick, was recorded in 1350 as Treydock. It is thought to be based on a personal name, i.e. "Ydock's farm" and date from the early Middle Ages.

  34. Go through the gate into a field. Bear right across the field to a stone stile roughly 20 metres to the left of the gateway.
  35. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a gate leading to a ladder stile.

    Cow pats can often be spotted (and therefore avoided) by the tuft of ungrazed grass surrounding the cow pat know as the "ring of repugnance". If it is left undisturbed, cows will avoid the area around a cow pat for a couple of years, allowing a bright green (well-fertilised) hummock of grass to form.

    The biological reason that the repulsion exists is to prevent cows from ingesting parasites from other cows. The reason that we find it repulsive too is due to our biological "wiring" to protect us from parasites.

  36. Cross the stile and cross the field to another gate in front of a ladder stile opposite.
  37. Cross the stile and cross the field to a gateway, to the right of the telegraph poles. Unclip the electric fence handle in the corner to pass through.

    Where an electric fence crosses a footpath, it should either be covered by an insulating sheath (e.g. on stiles) or there should be a section that unclips with insulating plastic handles to allow access through. Ensure you re-clip this on passing through so animals cannot escape. The connecting cord/spring between the handles is often conducting so avoid touching this and be aware of any dangling rucksack straps.

  38. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge to another gate.
  39. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a gate onto a track.

    Some species of grasshopper (known as locusts) can undergo a transformation in behaviour and colour.

    Normally these are solitary and behave just like any other grasshopper. We occasionally get some hopping alongside the more common meadow grasshoppers in the UK.

    However, if their hind legs are touched frequently (several times per minute over the course of a few hours), which in the wild occurs when the number of grasshoppers starts to increase, a hormone is released. This causes a major change in behaviour: the grasshoppers eat much more, reproduce faster and swarm.

  40. Go through the gate and follow the track until it ends in a gate.

    The Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady and Tortoiseshell butterflies are all quite closely related and specialised for overwinter hibernation. Their wings, when closed, have a jagged outline and camouflaged colours that allows them to blend in with dead leaves. Their feet contain chemoreceptors (taste buds) which allows them to detect nectar-bearing flowers when they land.

  41. At the end of the track, go through the gate keep right to follow the track uphill to T-junction beside a telegraph pole.

    Penpont Brewery was established in 2008, in a converted farm building at Trenarrett near Altarnun. They use their own spring water (from a spring that feeds Penpont Water) to make their beer, using locally produced ingredients where possible. Their beers are available at the Rising Sun Inn, near Treween.

  42. Turn left at the junction and follow the track past the house to a waymarked junction.

    The settlement of Trenarrett is likely to date from the early mediaeval period. It was recorded in 1363 as Tregnaret and is thought to be based on a personal name, i.e. "Naret's farm".

  43. At the junction, turn left and follow the track downhill until it ends at some gates into a house. Then follow the path leading downhill from this until it ends in a 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.

  44. Go through the gate on the left. Follow the fence on the left downhill to a gate at the bottom of the field.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles.

    Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry.

    The word "bramble" comes from bræmaz - a word of Germanic origin meaning "prickly". The study of brambles is involved enough to be considered a discipline of its own and is known as batology (from baton - the Ancient Greek word for blackberry).

  45. Go through the gate and head to the bottom-right corner of the field, to a footbridge over the river.

    Bullaces are a member of the plum family, related to sloes and may originally be native to Great Britain. The name is from the Old French for sloe - beloce. The fruits are larger than sloes and the trees are not thorny.

    The taste is astringent like sloes when unripe but when fully ripe (quite late in the autumn) some are just about sweet enough to eat raw. As with sloes, freezing them (traditionally the first frost in the days before freezers) makes them less bitter. They are typically used in cooking to make jams or for fruit wines where their tannin content makes the wines age well.

    The two most common pigeon species are the wood pigeon and feral pigeon (domesticated rock dove). Wood pigeons are larger than rock doves. Rock doves have an iridescent green/purple patch on their necks whereas adult wood pigeons have a white patch on their neck (although this is not present in young birds).

  46. Cross the bridge and follow the right hedge to a waymarked stone stile at the top of the field, just to the right of the gate.

    Sycamores like moist soil and the young trees need a lot of water (equivalent to an inch of rain per week) to get established. For this reason, sycamores are very often found along streams or in low-lying meadows that collect water. Once their roots grow deep enough, the mature trees can withstand drought by tapping into underground moisture.

  47. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge uphill, passing to the right of the pieces of granite once they come into view. Continue uphill past the farmhouse to reach a gate at the top of the field.

    The row of granite blocks in the field below Oldhay are the remains of a water power system. At the bottom of the field in the bushes is a pit which contained a water wheel. Water was brought to this via a leat which channelled water from further up the stream. Mechanical power from the wheel was then transported up the field via a series of metal rods suspended on the granite blocks. At the top, these drove a belt around the wheel that can be seen protruding from the wall. This could then turn cogs to drive machinery inside the building.

    The outbuildings including stables, a cart shed and the smithy (where the belt wheel is located) are all thought to be from the early 19th Century so it seems likely that the water wheel mechanism dates from the same period.

  48. Go through the gate and turn right, following the right-hand hedge to an opening into the next field.

    Unlike many of the place names along the walk which date from the early Middle Ages and are based on the Cornish language, Oldhay is an English name. The first record of it is slightly later than many of the surrounding farms, in 1436, when it was spelt Oldheye. This was Middle English for "old enclosure". The farmhouse is thought to date from the 17th Century.

  49. Go through the gap in the hedge and follow the right hedge to a pedestrian gate near the right corner of the field.

    In mediaeval times, the Anglo-Saxon "stitch meal" technique was adopted in some parts of Cornwall. This involved dividing arable and meadow land into long strips called "stitches". Villagers would be allocated a (usually disconnected) set of strips so that the "best" fields were shared around as evenly as possible. The long, thin shape was ideal for ploughing with oxen. A typical stitch was one furlong in length and one acre in area, which could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day.

    A similar, but not identical, system of strip fields known as "burgage" plots was also used in mediaeval times but these were associated with a row of houses along a road in a settlement. The burgage plots were effectively very long, thin back gardens that also contained about an acre of cultivatable land.

  50. Go through the gate and cross the field to a gap in the hedge near the right-hand corner.

    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.

  51. Go through the gap into the next field and bear left slightly to cross the field diagonally towards an area of protruding hedge. As you approach, head to the stone steps over the wall leading from a gateway on the left.
  52. Climb the steps over the wall and follow the right-hand hedge to the large opening into the field ahead.

    Grasses have evolved to grow new leaves from the base of the stem which makes them able to withstand grazing (and mowing). However too much grazing, particularly when grasses are in the process of producing seed, or too much trampling can damage the grass. In the wild, predator species play an important role by chasing herbivores to a new location which gives the grass a chance to recover.

  53. Go through the opening and follow the right hedge to a stone stile.
  54. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to the corner, then bear left to the leftmost of the two gates in the far corner of the field.
  55. Go through the gate (the chain will lift over the post) and turn right down the track, then immediately left to follow the track towards the house. Continue until the track emerges in a parking area by the houses.
  56. Take the concrete track from the opposite side of the parking area and follow this a short distance between the houses to reach a public footpath signpost.

    The settlement here, now called Tresmaine, was known during mediaeval times as Rosmaen, from the Cornish word ros, meaning "moor" or "hill-spur", and men, meaning "stone".

  57. Keep right, in the direction indicated by the sign for "Altarnun 1/2", and follow the track to a gate into an area with several gates. Cross this to the stile next to the wooden gate.
  58. Cross the stile next to the wooden gate, and follow the right hedge to a waymarked stile.

    Rabbits thrive on the agricultural land.

    During mediaeval times, rabbit was decreed by Pope Gregory I as "not meat" so it could be eaten during Lent. This accelerated the spread of rabbits through European monasteries in the middle ages. In fact there are no barriers in the world's major religions to eating rabbit which is also considered both halal and kosher. From Elizabethan times, rabbit farming became common practice in Britain and it was not until the 1950s (when rabbits were associated with myxomatosis) that its popularity as a food declined sharply.

    In the 21st Century, as the number of people in food crisis continues to grow rapidly above 100 million, rabbits may once again become an important source of protein. Whilst rabbits are undeniably cute and fluffy, they are also one of the most sustainable sources of meat. Unlike many domestic animals, rabbits do not require grain in their diet which very good for biodiversity.

  59. Cross the stile and bear left, crossing the field to a stile in the middle of the far hedge.

    The small ridges in steeply-sloping fields are known as terracettes and are caused by soil creep and their formation is accelerated by animals using them as tracks.

    When the soil gets wet, it expands and particles are lifted up at right angles to the slope. When the soil dries out, it contracts, but the particles fall vertically under gravity, landing a millimetres further downhill from where they started. Over a long period of time, the soil gradually creeps downhill.

  60. Cross the stile and head towards the corrugated iron barn in bottom left corner of the field, to reach a stile to the left of the barn.

    Whereas many plants rely mainly on bitter chemicals to avoid being eaten by herbivores, thistles have gone one step further and evolved spikes. Despite this, the plants are still eaten by the caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly as they are rich in nutrients. The non-spiky areas of the plant such as the stem and leaf ribs can be eaten (with extreme care to avoid ingesting any harmful spikes) by people too: the ribs from the middle of the leaves are still harvested and sold in markets in some parts of the world. The flowers are rich in nectar and provide an important food source for bees and butterflies.

    Cornish kilts and tartans were an invention of the 20th Century. Carvings depicting men wearing garments resembling kilts (such as in Altarnun church), which may have given rise to the notion, are now thought to be typical mediaeval tunics. The "official" Cornish tartan was created in 1963. The pattern is based on St Piran's flag with the surrounding gold of the ancient Cornish kings, red to symbolise the legs of the Cornish chough and blue to represent the sea.

  61. Cross the stile and go through the gate. Follow the concrete path to another gate and go through this to reach the road.

    Altarnun church is located beside Penpont Water - a tributary of the River Inny - in the centre of the small village of Altarnun which is just to the north-east of Bodmin Moor. The 15th century church, dedicated to St Nonna, has an amazing collection of carved pew-ends from about 1520 (including one that mentions the artist - Robert Daye), a striking Norman font with the original colour still visible, and 15th century Rood screen. The church is known as "Cathedral of the moors" due to its impressive 109ft tall tower on which you can still see the deep padlocks that once held its scaffolding in place. A 6th century Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard, from the time before the Celtic Cornwall had been conquered by the Anglo Saxons.

  62. Turn right onto the road and follow it to return to the church.

    St Nonna's well is recorded as being used to cure the insane.

    The reputation of holy wells to cure madness stems from the mediaeval practice of "bowsenning" the "insane". This consisted of, without any warning, shoving the unfortunate person who was in a state of psychosis (and therefore already highly distressed) into the cold water. In many cases, this only increased the level of distress but the fatigue resulting from trying not to drown was mistaken for improvement. It is also possible that in a few cases that the shock caused a mental reboot which did bring a sufferer out of a mild psychotic episode, and these occasional successes fuelled enthusiasm for the practice. It is also possible that "insanity" was occasionally alcoholically-induced and similar improvement was noticed. For the very unfortunate sufferers that did not recover on first round of "treatment", the practice was repeated regularly.

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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