Bodmin Moor – Minions, Stowe’s Hill (& the Cheesewring) and Kilmar Tor

The description of Bodmin Moor with its granite skies, howling winds and stark isolation are an appropriate background for a story that includes drunkenness, theft, smuggling, wrecking, murder and madness.
From a review of Jamaica Inn

Kilmar Tor - Bodmin Moor

Jamaica Inn is a Gothic horror adventure written by Daphne Du Maurier in 1935, based around Jamaica Inn, a famous base for smugglers, situated in the middle of Bodmin Moor between Bodmin and Launceston.

On a recent Offa’s Dyke 4 MS training weekend, and after quite a lengthy planning process, we did two Jamaica Inn themed walks across the moor.

This post covers the first walk – from the former mining village of Minions, up Stowe’s Hill (and the Cheesewring) before dropping down into a more desolote part of the moor and a climb to the summit of Kilmar Tor, which towers over Tewortha, home to Jem Merlin, the brother of the landlord of Jamaica Inn.

Minions, Stowe’s Hill & Kilmar Tor

Date 31st July 2009
Length 6.25 miles
Time Taken 3.5 hours
Average Speed 1.9 mph
Max Height 1469 ft
Min Height 800 ft
Height Gain 1896 ft

View the map on OS Explore

The walk started in Minions, on the south east edge of Bodmin Moor.  Minions is the highest village in Cornwall (according to Wikipedia) and was built as accomodation for the miners for the nearby Phoenix United Mine, which mined tin and copper.

Recently restored Houseman's Engine House near Minions

The area’s mining past is very obvious – with a number of engine houses clearly visible. Just to the north of Minions is the recently restored Houseman’s Engine House, which houses a permanent exhibition on the history and nature of the surrounding area. We didn’t actually go in, but the engineer in me couldn’t help have a read through a few websites (like the Cornish Mining World Heritage site) to find out how the engine houses worked.

Just to the west of the village are the Hurlers which, due to a tactic car park blunder (we almost parked in the Hurlers carpark, but decided to move to the car park to the east of the village), we didn’t see. The Hurlers are three bronze age stone circles:

The local legend has it that some of the local men were playing a Cornish game known as hurling on the Sabbath and were turned into stone as punishment.
Source: Cornwall Online

From either car park there are paths leading northwards towards Stowe’s Hill – avoiding the mine shafts and quarries (most are fenced off). From the east carpark, you can easily follow the route of what was presumably formerly the train track for the mine.

The Cheesewring on Stowe's Hill - Bodmin Moor

At the top of Stowe’s Hill is the Cheesewring (as it looks like a cheesewring – a press-like device that was previously used to make cheese) – an inverse tapered granite pillar 8 metres in height and made up of stone rings one on top of the other. The legend of the Cheesewring is a great example of Christian propaganda:

A local legend about this rock formation is the result of a contest between a man and a giant. When Christianity had just been introduced to the British Islands, the giants who lived at the top of the mountains were not happy about it. The Saints had invaded their land and were declaring their wells as sacred.

One of the larger giants, Uther, was given the task of ridding their land of the Saints. He confronted the frail St Tue, who proposed a rock throwing contest. If the Uther won, the Saints would leave Cornwall. If St. Tue won, then the giants would convert to Christianity.

Uther took his turn first and easily threw a small rock to the top of nearby Stowe’s Hill. St. Tue prayed for assistance, and picking up a huge slab found it was very light. One after the other, they threw their rocks, stacking them up in perfect piles. When the score was 12 stones each, Uther threw a thirteenth stone, but it rolled down the hill. St. Tue picked up this fallen stone, and as he lifted it, an angel appeared to carry it to the top of the pile of rocks. Seeing this, Uther conceded and most of the giants decided to follow Christianity after that.

Source – Wikipedia

During quarrying operations, precaution was taken to protect the Cheesewring by adding a stone support to underpin the main stem – the support doesn’t actually touch the stem, which just go to show how stable this amazing geological feature is considering the quarry is just behind it!

Cows near Wardbrook Farm

From Stowe’s Hill we worked our way down North West towards Wardbrook Farm. Here we encountered one of those annoyances (yet understandable) problems with open access. There is a footpath leading up to the farm, a tiny area of private track, which then continues back into open access land. We had hoped to be able to sneak down the private track – however we are clearly not the only ones to have thought of this, and a big “No public right of way” sign put us off!

Instead we followed the fence to the south of the farm, on the edge of Witheybrook Marsh.  There is a fairly clear, although occasionally boggy, path. By the time the fenced area had finished, we had Kilmar Tor in our sights. Well not exactly, it had started to drizzle, and visibility has rapidly decreasing – I even had to take out my compass (brushing off the cobwebs, as I don’t think I have ever used it in anger) to take a bearing for us to follow!

“Kilmar Tor reigns like some ancient monarch, its jagged grey summits stabbing into wide skies: a ridge of balancing rocks, Nature’s own marvellous sculpture. Time has hardly touched this terrain.”

Michael Williams (Unknown Cornwall) ~ 1984

Kilmar Tor - Bodmin Moor

Kilmar Tor is wonderfully desolute – the very narrow but long peak is covered in granite blocks (with hindsight, nothing compared to Rough Tor, but still impressive). Rather than taking the perhaps easier route of walking along the edge of the rocks until spotting the trig point, we instead decided to clamber over them – it took forever. The dog was in her element – who knew a rescue dog that had never even been walked had mountain goat ancestors! Finally we reached the trig point – the first trig point I have ever come across which is not at the highest point (it was infact nestled between two granite bolders!).

My photos completely fail to do Kilmar Tor justice – however I came across the PhotoFile Cornwall website, which has some awesome photos – it is definitely worth having a look!

After a brief pause to admire the view across Twelve Men’s Moor and Trewortha (home to Jem Merlin, the brother of the landlord of Jamaica Inn), we took another bearing across to Bearah Tor (I was more than a little excited to get to use the compass for a second time!).

Thanks again to the problems of open access we could either double back on ourselves, or take the direct route. Chosing the direct route made the rest of the walk, in truth, rather dull. From Bearah Tor we took the miners track down towards the local road. We then followed the local road through Henwood until finally making it back to Minions. It was only the pack of nuts and chocoate raisons that got us home!

Jamaica Inn - Bodmin Moor

The second walk is an ascent of Brown Willy, the highest point of Cornwall. The walk also takes in, as well as some interesting landmarks like King Arthurs Hall, Rough Tor – the setting for the dramatic scene at the end of the book.

The second walk is an ascent of Brown Willy, the highest point of Cornwall. The walk also takes in, as well as some interesting landmarks like King Arthurs Hall and Rough Tor – the setting for the dramatic scene at the end of Jamaica Inn. Details to be posted shortly!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *