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Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bodmin Moor is Cornwall's wildest and remotest feature. It is easy to underestimate the moor as it is only several miles across and can be viewed from the comfort of a speeding car whilst travelling the A30 road which transects it. However, this is a harsh place where you are more likely to encounter sheep or grazing ponies than another person. Some might describe Bodmin Moor as bleak, personally I find it both dramatic and beautiful.
Whilst the main A30 road does little for the moor's character and appearance it does provide a convenient division for descriptive purposes. This account is by no means exhaustive and relates mainly to my travels on the moors and points of interest.
To the north of the A30 lies the high moor and the highest points in Cornwall. The neighbouring peaks of Roughtor and the amusing named Brown Willy reach 420 metres (1,375 feet) above sea level. The name is actually derived from the Cornish 'Bron Wennyly' beaning Swallow's Hill. Although marginally smaller, Roughtor (pronounced 'roe-tor') is more accessible and, arguably, of more interest. This is where the ghost of Charlotte Dymond is said to haunt. Murdered whilst out walking in her Sunday best in 1814, a memorial marks the spot.
In the lee of the high moor are some wide open commons and downs. This area is rich in ancient sites such as the Stripple Stones, the Trippet Stones and the unusual King Arthur's Hall, the purpose of which remains unknown. Consisting of 56 upright stones and mounds forming a rectangle the site dates back to the early Bronze Age and has no connection to King Arthur.
The Stripple Stones are another unusual site and actually form a henge as opposed to typical stone circle. This means they include earthworks, in this case a surrounding earth mound. The stones are arranged in such a way as to indicate they had some sort of astronomical or calendaring function.
The Trippet Stone Circle is the most accessible of the sites in this area, located just off a small road. Originally consisting of 26 stones, only 11 remain standing. These still give an impression of what it must have been like and still reflect the completely circular nature of the site - unusual in Cornwall.
The main settlements on the north of the moor are the villages of St Breward, Blisland and Altarnun. These are all pretty villages but differ greatly from the quintessential Cornish fishing villages found on the coast. Blisland is particularly unusual for Cornwall in that it is built around a village green. It has the parish church on one side and the village pub on the other, with some pretty, but by no means humble, cottages scattered around.
Nearby St Breward is a little bigger than Blisland and is the location of the highest church in Cornwall. Although largely defined by its surrounds St Breward is still worth a visit.
Altarnun is situated on the eastern fringes of the moor in the valley of Penpont Water and has a much less exposed feel about it. The main street is cottage lined with water flowing down leats at the sides of the road. At the bottom of the hill is the River Inney and church of St Nonny which is also known as 'the Cathedral of the Moor' on account of its high tower. Crossing the river is an ancient packhorse bridge,
To the South of the A30 road the moor has a slightly less rugged, but equally open feel to it. This area has no shortage of legends and ghost stories associated with it starting with Jamaica Inn in Bolventor. This was made famous by Daphne du Maurier's novel about smugglers of the same name. A few miles down the road is Dozmary Pool a small lake that oozes mystery. It is said that this is the lake where King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was thrown after his death and where the hand of the 'Lady of the Lake' caught it.
The lake is also the scene of one of Jan Tregeagle's impossible tasks to protect his soul from the Devil. In the tale Tregeagle is tasked with emptying the 'botomless' lake using only a holed limpit shell.
The downs around Dozmary Pool are the alleged hunting grounds of the Beast of Bodmin. Over the years there have been many reported sightings of a black panther-like cat and a corresponding number of mutilated livestock. Although no conclusive evidence has been gathered there was sufficient to warrant an official investigation back in 1995.
Like the northern moor there is evidence of extensive Bronze Age colonisation of the moor with the remains of many settlements. One particularly area rich in remains is Craddock Moor and Stowe's Hill near the village of Minions. Here the landscape is dotted with hut circles and a considerable arrangement of stones forming a stone row and four stone circles, collectively known as the Hurlers. As is often the case with ancient stones the legend that surrounds them is they were people turned to stone for failing to observe the sabbath. In this case the unfortunates were playing a game of hurling the ball. The site is particularly poignant, being juxtaposed with the old South Phoenix mine workings providing two milenia of history as a backdrop.
Overlooking Minions is Stowe's Hill atop of which is Stowe's Pound, a Stone Age hilltop enclosure. Part of the hillside has been gouged away by a now flooded granite quarry but by far the most arresting sight is the Cheesewring. Standing at around 12 feet (4 metres) tall, this bizarre pile of rocks is entirely natural. It is the result of eons of wind and rain erosion resulting in a stack of granite discs which apparently resemble a type of cider press of the same name.
Stowe's hill is also the location of Daniel Gumb's cave. Rather than pay rent, stone cutter Gumb decided to construct a dwelling by mining into the side of Stowe's Hill instead. The cave eventually had three rooms in which Gumb raised his 9 children with 3 different wives. Whilst there he also taught himself advanced mathematics carving the Euclid theorem into one of the stones of the house.
On the southern fringe of the moor is the village of St Neot, home to a holy well, a good pub and the church of St Anietus renowned for its fine stained glass windows. The village and church get their name from St Neot who reputedly stood at a diminutive 2 feet tall and had the Dr Doolittle like abilities of befriending animals!
St Neot is close to Carnglaze Caverns which were originally created by miners at the local slate quarry. In later years the caverns were home to smuggler's contraband but are now a popular attraction with their clear blue underground lake.
Also nearby is Colliford Lake, a 900 acre reservoir. Despite being man made the lake is still picturesque and atmospheric.
Another of Bodmin Moors popular attractions is Golitha Falls and the surrounding woodlands. Situated near the village of St Cleer the lie on the River Fowey as it winds its way of the moor and towards the coast. The falls are made up of a series of cascades stretching for around half a mile through the woods and into the gorge. The reserve is managed by English Nature and there are several woodland walks along the river side. If you are lucky you may even spot an otter.
Bodmin Moor Photos
The moor is full of strangely shaped granite outcrops, but no so weird as those on Stowe's Hill near Minions. This is just across from the fantastically odd Cheesewring.
Hawks Tor is located just to the north of the A30 and is about a 20 minute walk from the nearest road. However, it feels much remoter.
Spanning the lazy De Lank river near Blisland is Delford bridge, a sturdy clapper bridge which would once have only had to support the weight of packhorses.
Jamaica Inn has undeservedly become something of an attraction on Bodmin Moor. This fame is largely due to Daphne du Maurier's book of the same title which tells of smuggling and a band of murderous wreckers in the 1820s. At the time the book was written the inn was probably everything you would imagination and the location infinitely more remote. However, fame has not treated Jamaica Inn kindly. The last time I was there it was full of plastic junk and the owner reputedly had links to the BNP. A far cry from the coaching in off du Maurier's novel
Whilst some of the moor's ancient sites are something of a struggle to find the same can't be said for Trethevy Quoit. Also known as the Gian't Quoit it lives up to its name. It is also not too far off the beaten track residing in the town of St Cleer. The structure forms a burial chamber with the capstone on top estimated to weigh a hefty 10.5 tons.
Bodmin Moor is a harsh, desolate place as Garrow Farm is testament. I don't know the story about the farmhouse here but it was clearly abandoned some years ago. It is incredibly eerie here and I would dare anyone to spend the night here!
So ends my brief guide to Bodmin Moor. It is one of my favourite places in Cornwall and offers a rare opportunity to really get away from it all. I still have a considerable portion of the moor to visit and photograph and I imagine it is something I will relish chipping away at for years to come.