Quay to a great autumn walk
BASIC HIKE: Around the edge of the National Trust's Cotehele estate in a clockwise direction from Cotehele Quay.
RECOMMENDED MAP: The Trust has leaflets but Ordnance Survey Explorer 108 is the local map.
DISTANCE AND GOING: About three miles easy going with one short steep climb.
COTEHELE is an excellent venue for walking in autumn as it is both wooded and riverine.
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All those gorgeous changing woodland colours are doubled after they've been reflected in the still waters of the Tamar.
I've been to the old estate before, but there are always variations on a theme at any big Trust property – partly because staff do so much work in opening up and developing new walking routes.
This time I had the best guide possible – Cotehele's head ranger Joe Lawrence, who took great pride and delight in showing me the further reaches of this East Cornish estate.
For the few readers who do not know wonderful, dreamy Cotehele, the basic facts are these: the whole caboodle is based on an amazing old Tudor house which houses tapestries, textiles, arms and armour, pewter, brass and ancient oak furniture. Needless to say, the place is rich in stories and legends.
Outdoors you can explore the formally planted terraces, and delve into the magical Valley Garden, which includes a medieval stew-pond and dovecote.
Stew-pond? Sounds odd, but was actually a fantastic idea… Long before supermarkets were invented people still liked to eat exotic fresh things – and moreover fish soup was high on every discerning person's list of favourite dishes. But how to keep various forms of aquatic life fresh before introducing them to the pot? Simple: dig a pond and fatten your fish up in it, before turning them into a toothsome stew.
But our walk began down to the riverside. A lane leads down from the house to Cotehele Quay, which is one of the most beautiful corners in all the Tamar Valley. There's plenty of room to park here and to begin a jolly good hike around the estate, turn right from the wharf (as you face the river) and head the few yards to Cotehele Bridge.
This crosses the Morden Stream as it meanders through an area of reed-beds before entering the Tamar. What you may not notice is how a huge tree has grown its way into the very fabric of the bridge. It has recently been pollarded and you'd think there would be a temptation to get rid of it altogether, but Joe Lawrence told me the mighty old thing is an iconic part of the estate and he intends that it should carry on enveloping the ramparts of the bridge for as long as he dare leave it.
Just across the stream under the trees there are the remains of extensive lime-kilns typical of the kind found up and down the great river which was once bounded on all sides by market-gardens and orchards. The area's acid soils have always needed the sweetening addition of lime and the results certainly paid off.
Just above the kilns a path veers off through the trees and we follow it up to the Bohetherick lane, which we cross to find the track that ascends through the wood.
This runs along the southerly flanks of the Morden Valley – and eventually our rather muddy track drops us back down to the stream at a point where there's an impressive weir.
If you are after just a quick stroll you can meander back down the track which runs along the northern bank of this picturesque Tamar tributary – or you can go on a much longer and more satisfying walk by continuing up the valley to cross the lane at Newhouses and enter reassuringly named Comfort Wood.
Again, the path takes us alongside a stream – a tiny rivulet – until the route swings right to climb out of the trees and up over the fields to the hamlet of Newton.
From here there are several routes down to the valley which lies to the north-east. One allows you to drop into Danescombe to see the ruined paper-mill which has been renovated by the National Trust.
A few years ago you would have seen nothing of the three-storey ruin but the undergrowth which covered it. So today it is interesting to view what remains of a mill in which brown paper was being manufactured more than 200 years ago.
Further down the valley and there's evidence of a good deal more industry as you pass disused mine shafts and the remains of the Cotehele Consoles and the Danescombe Valley Mines. Copper ore, its by-product arsenic and 'mispickel' (unrefined arsenopyrite) were all hauled out of here, but now there are only bats and the odd holiday-maker who's rented one of the converted buildings from the Landmark Trust.
If all that industrial archaeology isn't enough for just one wooded valley, there's still the saw-mill to come. Once the described as the 'most complete' water-powered mills in the West Country, this venerable industrial unit was linked to the river by its own tramway – remains of which can still be seen.
Now it's simply a case of going up the path which leads back to Cotehele Quay, and on the way passing a fantastic viewpoint where you can enjoy a vista of Calstock and its viaduct, before descending past the Chapel in the Wood which marks the spot where a swashbuckling member of the Edgcumbe family fooled pursuers into believing he had leapt into the river in a desperate attempt to shake them off.
On an autumnal day over the next few weeks you are unlikely to witness such goings on. You will simply see reeds rustling and hear trees soughing and the soft quackings of wading birds.