Friday, July 23, 2010


A walk through a wooded valley, then climb up for wonderful views over Bodmin Moor

On a very cold Wednesday morning, Mollie Dog and I picked up Viv and her dog Titch to head for the wilds of Bodmin Moor. We'd been planning this walk for months – literally - but the winter was plagued by rain, ice, snow and more rain. Then Viv had the flu. So we set forth, desperate for a good walk and a catch up. Ditto the dogs.

Heading up the A390 we turned left onto the B3360 to Doublebois (“do you pronounce it Dooble bwah?” asked Viv), crossed over the A38 and continued until we reached the hamlet of Redgate. We took the lane on the left and a quarter of a mile crossed over Draynes Bridge. Beyond that is the Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve and opposite a large car park with some public toilets that were closed because of snow (though the snow was long gone). Crossing the road we followed a man with two boxers and set off through the woods towards Golitha Falls.

There are various footpaths leading through these woods along the banks of the River Fowey. For the first time in months, the sky was a clear blue and sun dappled the ivy clad trees, but there was an icy wind that had us huddling into our scarves and coats, walking fast to keep warm. Mollie and Titch, having been cooped up in the van for over an hour, burst forth like rockets and powered up and down the river bank, in and out of the trees, greeting other dogs as they ran.
The beech trees are all covered in a thick green moss, like hot water bottle covers (very useful given the recent winter) – though the moss is apparently lichen which I've been told is a sign of pure air. The trees are protected by a Tree Preservation Order and are a relic of the ancient woodland that once covered much of the surrounding area. There are several abandoned mine workings here, some of which are home to bats such as the noctule, brown long-eared and lesser horseshoe. Many varieties of birds have been recorded here, including buzzard, dipper, nuthatch and treecreeper. And if you visit in warmer times, you can see all kinds of moths and butterflies, including the silver-washed fritillary.
As we walked, we noticed a large pipe suspended over the river on mini pylons. This made the dramatic surroundings look like a James Bond set and I quite expected Judi Dench to pop out of the hillside saying, “Oh, James!” Sadly there was no sign of Daniel Craig or the esteemed Dame, so we wound our way over a succession of small wooden bridges back and forth over the river. At this point the dogs realised they'd got stuck on the other side and Titch panicked and decided to swim back to us. Not a good idea in mini-rapids. Viv plunged into the freezing water to retrieve him while I coaxed Mollie back along the river bank and, nerves frazzled, we decided to head up into the trees, away from the fast running water.
Looking down, you get a much better view of how the Fowey River passes over a series of cascades for over eight hundred yards. Golitha is actually pronounced 'Goleetha', from the old Cornish word for obstruction, and the falls looked magical with the sun sparkling on the pounding waterfalls against a backdrop of moss covered boulders. As we climbed up we noticed an extraordinary tree, again covered in lichen, with clumps of little twigs sprouting from it like baby hedgehogs.
We joined a higher path which wound through abandoned mine workings and eventually back to the car park. We had intended to walk up to Siblyback Dam, but the instructions were too confusing so we set off for King Doniert's Stones instead. Leaving the car park, we noticed a sudden drop in temperature as we walked back over Draynes Bridge, which was built for pack horses in the 15th century. “Do you think something terrible happened there?” said Viv, her voice wavering.
I consulted my book. “Yes, King Doniert drowned somewhere along here.” We looked at each other and hurried along the road where suddenly the temperature rose – and not just because the sun had come out. “Spooky,” muttered Viv darkly as we turned right over the bridge.
At the end of this road we turned left at a T junction and climbed up the steep road until we reached King Doniert's Stones which have been set in a walled off area on the right of the road. The Doniert stones are parts of early mediaeval crosses made from local granite, richly carved and dating back to the 9th century. The shorter stone carries a Latin inscription which translates as “Doniert ordered this cross for the good of his soul”. It's thought that King Dumgarth (Doniert) died in AD875.
There are incredible views over the moors from the stones – the village of St Cleer snuggled to our left, the church spire dominating the clutch of houses, and Viv recommended The Crows Nest pub at nearby Darite. We sat on some granite slabs to eat Viv's home made rock cakes which lived up to their name, and, rising with very cold bottoms, we headed left, back the way we'd come.
According to our OS map, a series of public footpaths led back across the fields to the car park. We found the first through a gate a few yards down the road on our right and confidently headed down through very rough moorland, pockmarked with hoof, paw and footprints. The lichen here was even more dramatic, dripping from the branches like ghostly grey beards. On our right was a quarry, into which whole trees had fallen, and a pond on our left, covered in thick emerald weed.
Ahead of us, through the hawthorn trees, lay a discarded sign, trampelled into the mud, a yellow waymark sign pointing to heaven. Viv was undeterred, and crashed through the gorse, map to hand. “We go down here, then turn left at a junction,” she called.
Sure enough, we found a path on the left which led back to several large fields – but the footpath disappeared, and the only route back was through a gate leading back to the road. Poring over the map in freezing wind conditions for another 5 minutes was enough: we retraced our steps back along the road, passing shy clumps of snowdrops, rhododendrons and camellias in bud. The first cheering signs of spring – mixed with a few flakes of snow.
With visions of being snowed in, we hurried back to the car park (and experienced the same dip in temperature) and as we climbed back into our van, saw the same man with his boxers, once more setting off towards Golitha Falls. We blinked, but yes, it was his blue van parked next to ours. This time, though, he had three dogs with him. Had two hours really passed? Or were we dreaming? There really is something in this moorland air.

OS Map Explorer 109 Bodmin Moor
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Grade: Walking near the falls is uneven with lots of tree roots, though the first part is suitable for wheelchairs. The walk up through the woods is steep in places, and can be very muddy.
Be careful near the river with dogs and young children.
There are public toilets at Golitha Falls car-park and information panels are provided for visitor information
King Doniet's Stones mark the believed burial site of a Cornish King who drowned in the River Fowey in the 9th century.
Nearby Siblyback Lake is one of Cornwall's main reservoirs and a popular watersports and recreation centre.

Cornwall Today September 2010