Section 1 - Looe to Jamaica Inn (Bolventor)
20 miles - one or two days walking Grade - Easy start then moderate with some strenuous moorland climb - what these grades mean.
If you are regular and fit walkers, this day will be a long but rewarding 20 mile trek. For those wanting a shorter day you can opt to split the section into 2 days, overnighting at the idyllic moorland village of St Neot OR the little visited Cornish market town of Liskeard where there are good overnight facilities – see below for more information.
The Smugglers Way leaves the South West Coast Path at the south Cornish coastal port of Looe, a bustling harbour with a seafaring past enlivened by smuggling and piracy that stretches back to the 12th century. A fleet of fishing boats still operates daily from here so for those staying overnight the bonus is that this is one of the best places in Cornwall to sample truly “locally caught fresh fish” in one of the quayside restaurants.
Starting from the end of the bizarre, rounded Banjo, you will be accompanied (at high tide) on the first section by the fishing fleet arriving back with the overnight catch as they enter the narrow rocky estuary entrance beside you. Passing the old fish market at Buller Quay on your way out of town you leave the tiny streets to cross the estuary at the impressive Looe Bridge before you head to the interior.
The contrast from the bustle of the town could not be greater as you now enter the Kilminorth Woods nature reserve. This section of ancient creek and woodland is idyllic, guiding you alongside the calm tidal waters and climbing above forested hidden inlets accompanied by kingfishers and egrets. Before long, the salt waters recede from their wide millpond like expanse to become the narrow surging freshwater of the West Looe River. Look carefully here and you can still pinpoint occasional remains of an 8 mile defensive dyke from the dark ages –the Giants Hedge – the local legend being that “One day The Devil with nothing to do, he built a hedge from Lerryn to Looe.”
The next 5 miles is a delightful mixture of river pasture and forest track, following the river inland with barely a house or another walker to disturb you – it is absolute peace. No surprise then that this is deer and otter territory, whilst buzzard and kite circle high above you. The only breaks from the serenity are at Churchbridge, a Hansel and Gretel hamlet almost lost in the river and forest and a few miles further down, an ancient forest trail at the slightly larger hamlet of Herodsfoot, where the local Giant 'Herod' is said to have planted his foot making the deep valley that you enter today.
Those breaking today's walk into two days and those taking the "Ten Tors" wild moorland route to Jamaica Inn will now drop through a deep valley on tiny back lanes to reach the overnight stop in the market town of Liskeard.
For those on the long day to Jamaica Inn, or heading for an overnight at St Neot, after leaving the West Looe Valley a section of road is required to reach Dobwalls and The Highwayman, the first and only pub on the route today. Then a sharp descent brings you to the infant river Fowey Valley crossing the crystal clear waters by the 15th century bridge at Treverbyn.
Walkers splitting the long walk at the village of St Neot will finish here today.
For those heading onto Jamaica Inn, the Smugglers Way now enters a stunning hidden riverside path alongside the charging Fowey River as it tumbles off the moor before starting the climb to the high ground up an ancient twisting forest trail part of The Two Valleys Walk.
Emerging from the woodland you finally hit dramatic Bodmin Moor and cross through the gorse and open ground on lonely Berry Down with its dramatic Iron Age Hill fort. A section of open and unfenced moorland backroad then takes you past the southern moors lakes and reservoirs before reaching the last habitation at Lords Park Farm. You now start the days open moorland section as you scale the gentle slopes of Brown Gelly (342m) with its offset tor. The summit reveals 5 desolate tumuli (burial mounds) and some of the most outstanding and far-reaching views in this part of Cornwall, with the wilderness stretching to Dartmoor one way, the ‘St Austell Alps’ in the other, whilst the deep waters of Colliford and Sibleyback lakes glisten just below you.
The final section of today’s Smugglers Way drops from the Brown Gelly summit to round Dozmary Pool, a circular high ground peaty pool said to be the location of the death of King Arthur and the resting place of Excalibur which was plunged back into the brown waters here. Legend abounds at this desolate and locally feared spot - after a Faustian bargain with the Devil, the ghost of Jan Tregeagle still pays penance for the money and power he enjoyed, damned to this ‘bottomless; Pool, where he is tormented to this day by trying to empty the freezing waters with a leaking limpet shell. The howling winds that can rise around the shores are said to be his cries of endless despair!
A mile or two further along the expanse of moor and you finally reach the isolated coaching house of Daphne du Maurier’s infamous Jamaica Inn. Ahead now, looming on the horizon, are Brown Willy and Rough Tor, Cornwall’s two highest peaks - but for now head for the roaring fire at the Jamaica Inn in this ancient and windswept travellers haunt - wild and remote, there is no higher place to rest in Cornwall.