Gunning for Gunnislake – 28/06/2020

I think getting outside and walking is one of life’s simple pleasures. It is pretty much free, and it gives you the opportunity to see and do things that you would have missed out on by staying indoors. As with all simple pleasures, sharing these walks with friends and family is even better than venturing out solo. That is why, after being tipped off that the Tamar Valley trains were running for free, I jumped at the opportunity to head out to Gunnislake with the family in tow. Suspension of cash payments due to Covid19 is a slim silver lining I had to take!

River views from the train

Emily had never been before, and mum and dad take a little cajoling to get out these days, so it was important to pick an easy route. After researching some of the fantastic walks by the Calstock Footpath Society, we decided to embark on the “Up the Down and Back.” A 3.7-mile jaunt with a gentle incline. Packing a small picnic and a hip flask of whisky (public transport perks!) we boarded the 11:16 train from Keyham station. Within minutes we were outside of the city, travelling through lush riverside hills and woodland. The Tamar Valley AONB is somewhere very local that I have been guilty of largely ignoring for years, probably due to the proximity of big hitters like Dartmoor National Park and the South West Coast Path. Not this year!

Emily always loves the wildflowers

Arriving at Gunnislake just after midday we were stoked at how beautiful the Tamar Valley Line is. And that was before we had even set off on our walk! As the walk describes, “Up the Down and Back” is a circular walk starting and finishing at Gunnislake station, with a local hill called Hingston Down as the midway and focal point. For 1.6 miles we traipsed through little copses, flowery fields and perfect rural farmland before reaching the hill proper. With the weather almost perfect and only a few showers along the way, we were almost by ourselves in these quiet footpaths. We were left to enjoy the trees and the lush greenery without any distractions.

Rural paths to ourselves

Reaching the summit of the hill we shared our picnic of pasties, whisky and fruit while looking into the distance.  Sat, surrounded by gorse scrubland, we were given amazing views across the Tamar Valley and south to Plymouth and the sea. It is amazing what gaining even 268m can do in an area where literally everything else is sitting at sea level! It was totally worth the climb.

Views of patchwork fields and hills for days

At the top of the Hingston Down is the remains of the mine and engine house. With parts dating back to the 1850s, this ruin is a remarkable feature of this hike. Imposing brickwork entangled with ivy and overgrowth give plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. I would have loved to have investigated it as a small child! The Battle of Hingston Down took place in 838 at the same site. Cornish and Vikings fought together against King Egbert of Wessex in what is believed to be the final conquest of west Devon. It was probably the final battle between the Cornish and West Saxons. Ending a century of warfare, it resulted in the decline of the Kingdom of Dumnonia to little more than a satellite state. A fascinating time when the borders of England were still being drawn.

The ruins of the Hingston Down Engine House

Finished at the mine, we started the walk down the hill and back to Gunnislake. Me and Emily are starting to shop for houses in earnest, and the walk quickly became an exercise in picking out which beautiful country cottage would exceed our first time buyers budget… And by how much! We can dream for the future though, right? Wandering down country lanes and past working farms, we rambled through small patches of woodland. In a Beatrix Potter moment, we were joined briefly by a tiny wood mouse. A memorable instance before we caught sight of the end of our walk; we were back in Gunnislake just shy of 4 miles later. 

Yes please!

As we reached the beautiful station we knew that we had just missed the train. With life still being largely under lockdown, there was no option to duck into one of the many country pubs and enjoy an hour with a beer. Luckily the weather was perfect and we had plenty of water. Enjoying the views, the time melted away before we got back on the train. Face-masks on we cut through the countryside heading back into the city. It was an outside of the city refresh and with the benefit being doorstep to doorstep. Bliss!

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Ivy taking over the ruins

Links: – Calstock Footpath Society, “Up the Down and Back”

Click to access WalkGuide1.pdf