A very picturesque part of Cornish history
MollieDog and I went to meet Viv and Titch one sunny Sunday morning but our journey was delayed by a very special birthday – Viv’s neighbour, Alice, was 100, so we had to call in and sing Happy Birthday. Alice was more alert and sparky than the four of us put together, and on that sobering thought we set forth with our sandwiches for Lostwithiel.
On the A390, we headed east from St Austell and approaching Lostwithiel, continued past the traffic lights and turn right at the signed car park, just after the Royal Talbot pub. We went downhill past the fire station and parked round the back near to the park.
From here, we headed uphill out of the car park to cross the main road and took the first right (Duke Street) past the Royal Talbot, boasting a plume of wisteria outside. Duke Street was long, narrow and very steep – at the first junction we continued right past a house called Mount Pleasant on the right. We struggled on past bluebells, primroses, campion, and a plethora of dandelions – or dandelion clocks - which seem to be exceptionally prolific this year. Lords and Ladies (“I thought that was an Arum,” said Viv) nestled in between celandines, overhead birds sang undisturbed by traffic, and all was right with the world – except for the hill that continued up and up.
Eventually, about 100 yards up from the school, opposite Knights Court was a Public Bridleway on the left which we turned into with some relief and passed through a metal gate leading to a narrow, leafy lane. Through another wooden gate we continued along the path where a slight breeze ruffled the baby ferns, shyly unfolding their new leaves to a warm spring morning.
Viv picked a small flower that she thought was a Scarlet Pimpernel but as it was purple, decided it probably wasn’t. It survived the journey home but has so far defied categorisation. The path continued steeply downhill towards a road where we turned right and looked out for a turning ahead. The turning was a long time coming – “You can tell the person who wrote this walk hasn’t done it,” growled Viv, muttering expletives as the road continued up and up, steeper and steeper. The banks were full of the sweet lemony scent of primroses, and in an orchard nearby were a cluster of Gunnera-like nightmare rhubarb.
Eventually we found the turning on our right past a signpost to Lostwithiel, and shortly after a Public Footpath sign on the left through a wooden gate. This led to a path with the most fabulous views over the fields and woodlands, with Restormel Castle peeping out from a cluster of trees.
We vowed to learn more about birdsong, as the birds were so loud they drowned out our chatter. We continued over a ladder stile into a field with a ridged section at the top, with views over Lostwithiel golf course to the right, and Restormel Castle growing nearer. The air here is pure and clear and there is a tremendous, almost giddy-making sense of breadth and depth, of space and height. It’s a place to bring visitors from cities, turf them into the field and say, “Breathe!”
At the end of this field was a notice indicating the footpath through a gate and we turned left into another field then another ladder stile at the end that led into another field. This path, on the right hand side of a field, led through a wooden kissing gate and another very steep ladder stile into a field of sheep (put dogs on leads) - and finally below us was Restormel Castle and car park.
The wealth of Lostwithiel, once the administrative centre of Cornwall, relied on the Cornish tin trade but it was this that caused the decline of the town when the River Fowey silted up with tin waste: as the port of Lostwithiel declined, so did the importance of Restormel Castle. The 13th century circular shell-keep of the castle stands on an earlier Norman mound surrounded by a dry ditch, on top of a high spur beside the River Fowey. It was once a luxurious residence to the Earl of Cornwall and built in the largest deer park in Cornwall.
During the Civil War in 1644, on 21st August, Sir Richard Grenville took the castle from the Roundheads. After this it became ruined and is now in the care of English Heritage – the principal rooms are still in amazingly good condition.
Many thanks to Lorna Trevallion-Law who allowed us in so we could take pictures of the castle and enjoy the wonderful views over the surrounding countryside from well placed benches while we had our picnic. As usual I’d eaten mine so Viv gave me a spare hot cross bun which I felt duty bound to share with Mollie – we have an agreement. We called in to see Lorna on the way out and Mollie and Titch had a good nose round the well stocked shop where poor Lorna was recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis. We nearly succumbed to an ice cream but as we were without cash this proved a good deterrent and the dogs made do with a welcome drink at the dog bowl provided.
Having made more friends, we left the castle, walked into the car park and down a steep narrow road. By this time we had discarded jumpers as the sun was quite strong and we felt smug as we passed various walkers puffing their way up this road – we’d done our fair share of hills for the day.
At the bottom of this road was Restormel Farm and we turned right, hoping to find a footpath to take us back to Lostwithiel. We ended up having to return on the road but we had plenty to look at along the way – the wind rippled through ridges of pine trees towering in the woods up on our right, sounding like a fast running river, while water meadows full of placid sheep lay on our left. At a hole in the wall we noticed two cock pheasants, vying each other for some food. We’d hoped there might be a bit of action but they merely lunged at each other before waddling and squawking off in a huff.
This road was apparently the Royalist route from the castle back to Lostwithiel, but today the road passed Lostwithiel Bowling Club, where the first bowlers of the season enjoyed the peace of the emerald green lawns with Lostwithiel golf course as a backdrop. Soon we reached the outskirts of Lostwithiel and the road led us back to the main road near the Royal Talbot pub. We crossed the road and walked as far as the bridge over the River Fowey, where we found a path on our right which led back along the river bank. The dogs could scamper here off the lead and we basked in the afternoon sunshine, watching for any tales of the riverbank, while a train rumbled by in the distance. A perfect end to a beautiful spring walk.
OS Explorer Map 107 St Austell & Liskeard
Length: 3.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours to include visit to Restormel Castle
Grade: several very steep hills.
www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/restormel-castle - check website for opening times. Dogs and children are welcome.
Cornwall Today May 2011