Stage 5: Minions to Jamaica Inn
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
The walk from Minions to Jamaica Inn crosses what is now the most remote and sparsely populated part of Bodmin Moor, but it hasn't always been that way. There are many remains of prehistoric human activity and of the 19th-century quarrying and mining industries. With no signposts or well-worn paths to guide the way until the very end, this walk is also a test of one's navigation skills and, at one point, one's ability to walk on water. But more on that shortly.
There was a thick morning mist over the moor as I started walking up the hill from Upton Cross to Minions, but it seemed to be gradually dissipating and visibility was improving when I rejoined the Smugglers' Way by the Cheesewring Hotel. Opposite the pub is the Hurlers Halt Cafe (picture 1) and the Way goes up a gravel track to the left of the cafe, passing the public conveniences and a row of stone cottages before the track bends slightly left to head for the Minions Heritage Centre. About half way there, the Way turns left on a much fainter track across the moor (picture 2).
This track soon vanishes but the Way keeps going in the same direction and after a couple of minutes the three stone circles of The Hurlers come into view (picture 3). A local legend has it that the stones are men who were turned to granite as punishment for playing a game of hurling on the sabbath. The circles are no longer complete; about half of the original stones are missing and smaller stones mark their positions (picture 4).
From The Hurlers, the Smugglers' Way heads just slightly west of due north, climbing across rough, pathless moorland peppered with colourful gorse bushes. The mound of Stowe's Hill soon appears ahead, still cloaked in mist when I first saw it (picture 5), but this had cleared by the time I crossed a rough track at the foot of the boulder-strewn hill about fifteen minutes later. On top of the hill above is a prominent stack of granite slabs, called the Cheesewring (picture 6), after which the pub in Minions is named.
A grassy track, cleared of rocks, climbs part of the way up the hill before a narrow path snakes along the lip of the large Cheesewring Quarry (picture 7), which removed most of the south-eastern side of the hill between the 1840s and the 1930s. Some of the high-quality granite from the quarry was used to clad London's Tower Bridge.
At the top of the path is the Cheesewring itself, just as impressive close-up as it is from a distance (picture 8). This top-heavy, ten-metre tall stack of granite slabs is not a folly left behind by the quarrymen but rather is a completely natural formation created by the elements weathering the granite tor over millions of years.
Behind the Cheesewring, the summit of Stowe's Hill is crowned by a granite tor and surrounded by a substantial teardrop-shaped stone bank (picture 9). The ridge stretching northward from the summit is surrounded by a similar but less well-preserved stone wall forming a much larger enclosure (picture 10). Together, these enclosures are known as Stowe's Pound and archaeologists believe they were built in the Neolithic period or early Bronze Age. The larger enclosure contains the remains of around a hundred round-house platforms and hut circles, so this was probably quite a substantial settlement.
The Smugglers' Way goes just to the right of the tor, climbs over the bank of the smaller enclosure and heads across the middle of the larger enclosure, aiming a little left of the prominent peak of Sharp Tor in the distance. After crossing the stone bank at the far end, the Way descends the rocky hillside into the next valley (picture 11) and makes for a broad, stone-walled track that leaves the lane in the valley floor to climb diagonally up the slope towards Sharp Tor (picture 12).
When the track ends, the Way turns left and climbs steeply beside a stone wall and through a small gate, then continues to climb over the col between a small tor on the left (picture 13) and the much larger outcrop of Sharp Tor on the right (picture 14).
Northward, across the sloping Langstone Downs, is the ridge of Bearah Tor (picture 15), where the buildings and machinery of an active granite quarrying operation were visible just in front of the ridge. The Smugglers' Way goes north-west across Langstone Downs, however, heading past the western end of Bearah Tor towards the middle of the higher and longer ridge of Kilmar Tor (picture 16).
Nearing the foot of the ridge, the Way crosses the bed of a dismantled 19th-century mining tramway (picture 17), which is a good point at which to pause and double-check the route. The Way climbs up the steep side of the ridge, aiming for a gap in the granite stacks a little to the right of the middle of the ridge. An Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar is visible further along the ridge to the right, but that looks like a more difficult climb. The top of the ridge isn't visible once you start climbing the steep slope (picture 18), so you have to be careful to stay on course.
After a rather strenuous climb up over the many boulders, where I began to question whether I'm getting too old for this kind of thing, I finally made it to the little col on top of the ridge. At 396 metres above sea level, this is the highest point of the day's walk. I sat down on the grass beside a large granite outcrop (picture 19) to regain my breath and admired the view back across Langstone Downs to Bearah Tor, Sharp Tor and Caradon Hill (picture 20). From this vantage point the two masts on Caradon Hill are the only signs of modern civilization and one can imagine that aside from those the view would have looked just the same when ancient humans inhabited Stowe's Pound.
In the opposite direction, Kilmar Tor was an excellent viewpoint to watch the shadows of clouds sweeping across Twelve Men's Moor and the more distant East Moor (picture 21). There are a few more signs of modern human activity here, with the buildings of Trewortha Farm down to the left and both moors bounded to the west by large conifer plantations.
The north side of the ridge isn't quite as steep as the south side, so the descent to Twelve Men's Moor isn't as difficult as the climb, though some care is still required. Back on flatter ground (picture 22), the Way aims for the eastern end of the low ridge of Trewortha Tor (picture 23), passing close to a distinctive formation of three large boulders perched on a granite slab (picture 24).
Having crested the ridge of Trewortha Tor, the Way descends a rocky slope into the next valley, aiming towards a little square pump house below a waterworks on the far side of Withey Brook (picture 25). The last 200 metres to the brook is occupied by the Tresellern Marsh (picture 26), and some navigational skill is needed here as the pump house is hidden by the trees lining the brook.
This is where the ability to walk on water would have come in handy. I got most of the way across by stepping from one large tuft of grass to the next, but a misstep just before the trees gave me a boot full of icy-cold water. I imagine that the marsh would be more difficult to cross after heavy rain.
At least I reached Withey Brook close to the footbridge (picture 27) and did my best to ignore my cold, wet foot as I trudged up the short tarmac lane to the gate of the waterworks. From there one must turn left and skirt around the perimeter fence to rejoin the lane on the other side of the waterworks (picture 28) and follow it over a couple of cattle grids to a junction, turning left to follow a farm track past the Bowhayland farm.
The track eventually fords a tiny stream and then snakes into Tresellern Farm (picture 29). The track ends at the farm buildings but the Way continues ahead, following a stone wall westwards along the edge of East Moor, where boulders litter the grass (picture 30). When the wall eventually turns away, the Way crosses another small stream and climbs a low ridge, which has views back to Trewortha Tor and a couple of other nearby peaks (picture 31).
The Way now bears slightly right, heading across the open moor towards Halvana Plantation, almost two kilometres away (picture 32). A metal tower on the far side of the plantation gives roughly the correct direction, though I managed to reach the edge of the plantation about a hundred metres too far to the right and had to walk alongside the fence to find the metal gate into the plantation.
Just before I entered the plantation, a pair of military helicopters (picture 33) appeared from the east and hovered low over East Moor for about ten minutes, performing various manoeuvres before disappearing over the horizon.
The main forestry track through the plantation (picture 34) emerges on the other side at a junction of tracks, just before the tower seen earlier. The Way forks right off the main track and along a narrower sunken track between fields, though this turned out to be quite muddy and both tracks end up converging at the end of a lane beside the A30 (picture 35).
A public footpath sign (the first of the day) by a stile points across a series of rough, pathless fields that slope down towards the River Fowey (picture 36). The footpath is marked on the OS map, so it was easy to follow despite the lack of a well-worn path. The stiles between the first three fields were all in a very poor state and it felt safer to put my jacket on top of the barbed-wire fences and step over them.
On reaching the River Fowey, there is a choice of a ford or a footbridge (picture 37) before the Way follows a stone-walled path up to a gate and then a wire fence along the edge of a field to a stile by the buildings of Dryworks Farm (picture 38). At the end of the farm's driveway, a quiet lane climbs the last kilometre to Bolventor, where the village's war memorial (picture 39) stands opposite Jamaica Inn (picture 40). In the pub, a hearty dinner, a few pints of excellent Cornish ale and a warm bed awaited me at the end of this 16.4 kilometre walk.