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Fantastic views from top of Cornwall's modest mountain

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: February 05, 2011

IMPOSING: A view of Brown Willy from King Arthur's Down

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BASIC HIKE: From Codda Ford taking in Brown Willy.

MAP: Ordnance Survey Explorer 109.

DISTANCE AND GOING: Six miles, can be rough and boggy in places.

THERE can be few folk in Britain who haven't heard of Jamaica Inn and most lovers of the Westcountry will know exactly where to find it way up there on the roof of Cornwall.

Given its remote location it is the source of many great hikes – and indeed the big circular stroll north up to the county's highest spot is one of my favourite wilderness walks.

This might surprise some motorists accustomed to plying up and down that marvellous highway, the A30. I say that because the big road cuts through the bleak uplands of Bodmin Moor in a way that seems to inspire strong inclinations to put one's foot down and reach Cornwall's coasts as fast as possible.

Bleak is the word. And yet… As soon as you wander away from the noisy soulless highway you begin to fall in love with the great emptiness of it all. Out among the vast hinterlands that lie beyond Jamaica Inn walkers can enjoy one of the Westcountry's greatest voids.

The great boggy prairie of northern Bodmin Moor stretches off towards the Atlantic on the other side of the A30 dual-carriageway from the celebrated smugglers' pub and is, believe me, a wonderful place in which to explore.

We start by following the bridleway that leads north east from Codda Ford. Reaching it from Jamaica Inn is simple enough – all you have to do is drive under the dual carriageway, north of the pub, and take the small lane that heads off from the feeder road. It runs a mile or so directly north under Tolborough Tor before coming to an abrupt end.

To begin the walk, simply go through the gate at the end of the lane, turn right and follow the bridleway which descends along its ancient rocky bed to eventually cross the young River Fowey. It then continues north by climbing a knoll and introducing the walker to the huge shoulder of land between Hendra Downs and Leskernick Hill. The latter is due north and, once you can see its rock clitter clearly, it's time to leave the bridleway and strike off towards the summit.

Leskernick Hill is famed among archaeologists for being the location of some of the most remarkable early dwellings in the country. And as you walk up to the summit you'll see the rocky remains of some of the 50-odd prehistoric homes which once stood here. It was undoubtedly a busy community. Nearby there are stone rows, stone circles and goodness knows what else, where these early folk could have amused themselves doing whatever they did in such places.

Just north, between Leskernick and Buttern Hills, you will discover one of the deepest grooves in the Westcountry. I can only imagine the giant rut – which is some 50 feet deep and more than 100 feet across – is what remains of the tin streaming which, I know for a fact, went on up here.

We walked around the western flank of Buttern Hill to find the source of the River Fowey before marching due west across High Tor to reach the northern buttresses of Brown Willy.

Every Cornish person should climb to the top of this modest but wonderful mountain. To live in Cornwall and say you've not been to the top of Brown Willy is something akin to a Cockney saying he's never seen Big Ben.

Brown Willy is a remarkable hill – a great big whale-back shaped ridge that stretches, with a good many rocks, from north to south. The 420m high summit is more-or-less in the middle of the long thin ridge. From it you can, on a clear day, see half the Westcountry peninsula.

Our walk now took us south down over the ridge, then left over Catshole Downs and up to Catshole Tor.

On the tor there is one singular rock and in the middle of that there is one indentation which happens to be the size and shape of a cat.

I have no idea if this has anything to do with the name – anyway, mine was not to reason why but to head off south east to Tolborough Tor.

We'd parked our car under this eminence – and sure enough there it was on the greensward just a few hundred metres downhill to our right.

The last time I did this walk I was somewhat cheekily crossing a good deal of private property where there are no obvious rights of way – but since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 came into force, much of the area mentioned is now classified as Open Access Land.

If you descend the tor by walking due east you can reach the lane legally avoiding a couple of fields which are not open to walkers.

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