The River Tamar seems to take its ease at Calstock and Cotehele, where it coils lazily through the lush countryside of the Devon–Cornwall border. Today all is rural peace and quiet. Yet a century ago Calstock was a bustling river port, and had been since Saxon times. Victorian copper and tin mining turned Calstock into an even busier port at which all manner of trades developed, including shipbuilding. The coming of the railway brought an end to Calstock’s importance. The mighty rail viaduct of 1906 that spans the river here is an enduring memorial to progress and to later decline, yet the Calstock of today retains the compact charm of its steep riverside location. The viaduct was built from specially cast concrete blocks – 11,000 of them were made on the Devon shore – and it is a tribute to its design that such thoroughly industrial architecture should seem so elegant today and should have become such an acceptable element in the Tamar scene.
The area’s finest architectural gem is the Tudor manor house of Cotehele, the focus of this walk. Cotehele dates mainly from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In the 17th century the Edgcumbe family, who owned the estate, transferred their seat to Mount Edgcumbe House overlooking Plymouth Sound. Cotehele ceased to be the family’s main home and the house was spared too much overt modernisation. Soon the Edgcumbes came to appreciate the value of the house’s Tudor integrity, and Cotehele seems to have been preserved for its own sake from the 18th century onwards. The Edgcumbes gave the house to the National Trust in 1947 and Cotehele survives as one of the finest Tudor buildings in England. The medieval plan of the house is intact; the fascinating complex of rooms, unlit by artificial light, creates an authentic atmosphere that transcends any suggestion of ‘theme park’ history. Cotehele was built with privacy and even defence in mind, and the materials used are splendidly rustic.
The Danescombe Valley
The early part of the walk leads beneath an arch of the Calstock Viaduct and on along the banks of the river, past residential properties where busy quays and shipbuilding yards once stood. Most of the walk leads through the deeply wooded Danescombe Valley, whose trees crowd round Cotehele in a seamless merging with the splendid estate gardens. The gardens support azaleas and rhododendrons and a profusion of broad-leaved trees, interspersed with terraces and a lily pond, a medieval dovecote and a Victorian summerhouse. Below the house, at Cotehele Quay, the preserved sailing barge, the Shamrock, and the displays in the National Trust’s Discovery Centre commemorate the great days of Tamar trade. As you walk back to Calstock, along an old carriageway and through the deeper recesses of the Danescombe Valley, it is easy to imagine the remote, yet vibrant life of this once great estate and of the busy river that gave it substance.
From the car park walk to the left of the Tamar Inn, then turn left into Commercial Road. In a few paces take the second turning left along Lower Kelly and beneath Calstock Viaduct.
Keep left at a fork just past Danescombe Valley House. Beyond a row of cottages branch left, signposted ‘Cotehele House’, and follow a broad track uphill and beneath trees.
Keep right (upper path) at a junction. Look out for a dovecote (left) in the gardens and then bear left. Go through a gate and turn right for the visitor reception at Cotehele House.
Pass through the open gateway ahead and turn left (Cotehele House is on right) on the road, soon branching left downhill to Cotehele Quay. (For the Mill keep ahead down the road from the Quay, then follow signs for 900yds/820m.) Turn left through the quay buildings.
Follow a path that starts beside the car park. Pass the Chapel of St George and Thomas à Becket, then a superb viewpoint over towards Calstock. At a junction, go right, signposted to Calstock. In a few paces branch left up a rising path that ascends the Danescombe Valley, bearing right at the first junction.
Just past a seat, bear right and descend to a wooden footbridge over a stream. At a T-junction with another track, turn left and walk up the track for about 55yds (50m).
Turn sharply right and go up a rising track along the side of a stone wall. Pass below a house and a junction with a path coming in left. Join the surfaced lane just before Danescombe Valley House, passed earlier. Retrace your steps to Calstock Quay.
Excellent woodland tracks, can be muddy in places
Dogs should be kept under control in Cotehele environs
OS Explorer 108 Lower Tamar Valley & Plymouth
Calstock Quay car park (free), bear right at junction at bottom of steep descent into village
Calstock Quay; Cotehele House; Cotehele Quay
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
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.