A stroll through Launceston

Exploring the fascinating streets and the surrounding countryside of Cornwall's ancient country town.




2 miles (3.2kms)

131ft (40m)
1hr 30min

About the walk

Launceston – easily bypassed today by those driving along the A30, is well worth detailed exploration – was the chief town of Cornwall during medieval times, and the county capital until 1835. The high hill at the heart of the town was probably fortified as early as the Bronze Age, but today, the striking remains of a Norman castle survive (now in the care of English Heritage) and dominate the surrounding scene. There was also an important monastic settlement here, and Launceston is the only walled town in the county. The legacy of this fascinating history is one of the most intriguing and varied townscapes in the county.

A rich history

The town square – where the walk starts – has several fine buildings, including the Georgian White Hart Hotel with its 12th-century doorway, said to have been plundered many years ago from the ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian Priory of St Thomas. Other fine Georgian buildings can be seen at the bottom of Castle Street in the shape of elegant Eagle House, now a hotel, and Lawrence House a little further along the street. On the High Street evidence of the town's earlier history can be seen in the slightly leaning medieval facades of Nos. 11 and 13, slate-hung and painted cream, and with an overhung third storey. Part way down Southgate Street – in view of one of Launceston's glories, Southgate Arch – a sole survivor of the medieval town's gateways ––is Ching's Alley. The name celebrates a family of 19th-century wine and spirit merchants. An information board, just inside the alley, records some fascinating tales. The birthplace of Launceston's great literary son, the poet Charles Causley (1917–2003), is passed at the start of Riverside.

Literally towering over these layers of history is Launceston's striking castle, a round tower built on a natural mound, inside an earlier shell keep. Most of what remains today dates from the 13th century, when the Norman building was remodelled under Richard, Earl of Cornwall. The castle has never seen active service, but is an outstanding example of medieval fortification. An exhibition in the entrance building details the history of the site. Launceston is linked to the ruins of one of Devon's largest castles at Okehampton by the 24-mile (38km) Two Castles Trail.

Walk directions

Start your walk by the war memorial in the town square. Leave the square by its north side (alongside the Coop) and go down the High Street. At the bottom, turn right along Church Street, then cross over into Southgate Street and walk towards Southgate Arch, passing a number of interesting buildings as you go.

From the Southgate Street side of the arch go left down the alleyway of Blindhole, then follow the lane as it bears round left and passes the old market (Market House Arcade) on the left. Bear right to pass one of Launceston's finest buildings, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, (see While You're There).

Follow Northgate Street as it curves left and downhill into Castle Street. At the bottom of the hill, on the left, is the Eagle House Hotel, but bear right to pass the National Trust's Lawrence House (see While You're There). Around 20yds (18m) further down the street, go down steps on the left, between old cottages and a new development, to reach the bottom of Tower Street. Cross Dockacre Road and go down St Thomas Hill, then turn left at the bottom and cross the busy main road with great care.

Turn right, keep ahead over the traffic lights, then turn left along Riverside. On the left is the Church of St Thomas; behind this lie the impressive ruins of the Priory of St Thomas. Nearby, spanning the River Kensey, is a medieval packhorse bridge known as Prior's Bridge. Just beyond the bridge, look for a plaque on the right, celebrating the poet Charles Causley. Keep walking on past a bowling green, and cross a bridge over the Launceston Steam Railway, which runs along the Kensey Valley to New Mills. The track originally continued to Padstow, but closed in 1962.

Turn left at a T-junction. Go past a row of cottages, then, at the corner of Tredydan Road, keep straight ahead along a surfaced track, through a gate into a lane. Continue into Wooda Lane.

At a bend opposite cottages, go right and through a gate. Follow a path in almost a straight line for about 0.5 miles (800m), over stiles and through fields below Launceston Castle, without crossing the stream, to reach a stile and gate by a bungalow. Turn left to cross the stream and go over a stile. Turn left again and go uphill to join Western Road.

Continue to the busy junction with St Thomas Road. On the right is the handsome Gothic Guildhall with its wooden Black Jacks that strike a quarterly bell. Opposite is the entrance to the town's ultimate glory, its Norman castle. Continue up Western Road to the town square.

Additional information

Paved walkways and field paths, several stiles

Townscape and grassy river valley

Dogs on lead through fields

OS Explorer 112 Launceston & Holsworthy

Several car parks in Launceston

Cattle Market car park, Westgate Street car park

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About the area

Discover Cornwall and Isles of Scilly

Cornwall has just about everything – wild moorland landscapes, glorious river valley scenery, picturesque villages and miles of breathtaking coastline. With more than 80 surfing spots, there are plenty of sporting enthusiasts who also make their way here to enjoy wave-surfing, kite surfing and blokarting.

In recent years, new or restored visitor attractions have attracted even more visitors to the region; the Eden Project is famous for its giant geodesic domes housing exotic plants from different parts of the globe, while nearby the Lost Gardens of Heligan has impressive kitchen gardens and a wildlife hide.