Brown Willy and Rough Tor Circular

Image courtesy of trewena.com

In Brief

Name: Brown Willy and Rough Tor Circular
Distance: 4.5 miles
Expected duration: 2 hours
Starting point: Rough Tor Car Park, Roughtor Road, near Camelford and Tintagel
Finishing point: Rough Tor Car Park (this is a circular walk)
Difficulty: 4/5. Despite climbing Cornwall’s two highest peaks, this is not the most difficult walk. But it is nevertheless pretty darn challenging with boulders to clamber around near the tors, plus the well-worn paths can get slippy in wet weather
Wildlife to discover: The famous Bodmin Moor ponies! These mongrel cuties are largely of mixed Dartmoor and Exmoor pony stock but with other bits and pieces thrown in too
Best Insta-worthy spot: Showery Tor, just to the north of Rough Tor. This stack of rocks looks like it could topple at any moment. The tor, set against the rolling hills, makes for a fine shot
Random fact: Rough Tor is the setting for the dramatic and violent climax of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, ‘Jamaica Inn’, based on the real Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor

If you want to see all of Cornwall, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. And the rough – quite literally – lies deep in the heart of the county. Rough Tor is high up on the windswept Bodmin Moor, that beautiful and practically unspoilt terrain between Bodmin and Launceston that’s as famous for its granite tors as it is for its Jamaica Inn attraction. The tor is near Brown Willy, Cornwall’s most amusingly named hotspot, and hiking over these two giants – the Duchy’s highest two peaks, no less – in one big moorland walk is one of the best things you’ll ever do.

Cornwall’s best walks normally follow its dramatic coastline. But this Brown Willy and Rough Tor Circular walk on Bodmin Moor is all about the hills and countryside and it’s no less dramatic when it comes to the views. It’s a challenging hike due to the steep rises – Brown Willy is 420m above sea level and Rough Tor (actually pronounced ‘rowtor’) is just under 400m – but it makes for an almost mystical journey as you traverse ancient Bronze Age landscapes, taking in the neolithic sites, majestic granite peaks, wonderful wildlife and magical coast-to-coast vistas along the way. 

Before you start, make sure you have some sturdy boots on as some of this walk is off the beaten path and across moorland terrain. And make sure it’s a clear day. Some of the biggest rewards you’ll be given are the views, plus you’ll need to see some points in the distance when you off-road it for navigation. Do not go up in fog. Finally, be aware that sheep and ponies both graze on the open moor, so if you’re taking your dogs, keep them on a lead. Other than that, prepare to enjoy a walk like no other.

Map created with © OpenStreetMap contributors, available under the Open Database License

Begin the trek at the Rough Tor Car Park at the end of Roughtor Road, which is on the edge of Bodmin Moor near Camelford, itself a little way inland from Tintagel. From the car park, the path on this Brown Willy walk leads over a small stream and you can see the land gently rise up to the summit of Rough Tor. But don’t just go charging straight up there just yet. Instead, keep left on the well-trodden path that heads towards the smaller outcrop called Showery Tor.

Showery Tor looks like a precariously balanced stack of rocks created by some playful local giants in some sort of game but rest assured, it’s pretty sturdy and makes for fine photos when your friend or family member climbs on top and you shoot from the ground. There are magical views across to Rough Tor from here, with Stannon Lake in the background, plus ace vistas towards the north coast too.

The path then continues southeast from Showery Tor towards Brown Willy. It descends down to and over the De Lank River, a tributary of the River Camel, before ascending again to the summit of Cornwall’s highest peak. Obviously, the views are magical from here, especially out towards the ‘Cornish Alps’ near St Austell. These white mounds aren’t actual mountains. They’re cone-shaped spoil heaps that have been made during china clay works and they now pickle the landscape. Learn about them another time at Wheal Martyn, a china clay attraction not too far from those white hills.

After taking in the view from the highest point and enjoying the feeling that you conquered a mountain, take the path back to Showery Tor. From there, head towards Rough Tor along a relatively flat path that goes south. Those with a wee bit of the mountain goat in them will enjoy clambering over the rocks along the way, although you can just keep to the path and avoid the scrabbling fun. Those who adore history will also admire the neolithic enclosure that encircles Rough Tor when you reach it.

Ancient history surrounds Rough Tor. The remains of Bronze Age huts are scattered across its southern slopes. Cairns, burial chambers, village ruins and even an old well can also be found around this hill. There are rough stone walls that join some of the rocky outcrops on top of the tor to form what were once sturdy defences. When you take in the views from Cornwall’s second-highest peak, make sure you take in all this ancient history too, which dates back up to 6,000 years.

Next, head due south along a path down to a massive circle of stones. Welcome to the Fernacre Stone Circle, one of the biggest ancient stone circles in Cornwall. It’s also one of the oldest. Many of the stones are only just visible above the ground but some of them would have stood up to a metre tall. Allow yourself a little extra time to explore the hut circles and ancient enclosures in the area before off-roading (kind of, as there are some paths around you can follow) and walking around to the other side of Rough Tor, where you will see the car park and the last leg of the journey. Reward yourself with a pint and pasty in one of the pubs in Camelford at the end of your adventure.

Why we love this walk: Although this landscape is as Cornish as gig rowing and yarg cheese, it also feels somewhat otherworldly. There’s a serenity to this area of Bodmin Moor but also a rugged harshness which is best demonstrated by the majesty of the landmarks that are met on this Rough Tor and Brown Willy walk. This is a hike for serious contemplation. For getting away from it all. For heading to a mystical ancient place and bagging some stunning photos along the way. For bragging later that you conquered Cornwall’s two highest peaks. Easily. Of course.