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Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor: a land of megaliths, ghosts, solitude – and literature | Cornwall holidays



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Forget satnav, the easiest way to seek out your means across the wild granite uplands of Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor is to spend money on an old school Ordnance Survey map. That’s precisely what author Louis de Bernières did when he was exploring the setting for his new novel Mild Over Liskeard, a “heartwarming” dystopian fantasy wherein the hero (a quantum cryptographer known as Q) seeks refuge and self-sufficiency in a distant moorland farmhouse whereas ready for the collapse of civilisation.

Bodmin map for Liskeard

The writer of the best-selling Captain Corelli’s Mandolin selected Bodmin Moor, he says, as a result of “it’s one of many furthest locations from any centres of inhabitants”. The moor is ringed by small cities (together with Liskeard) and scattered with tiny huddled villages, however there aren’t any cities for miles, no helpful motorways and never a lot in the best way of dependable telephone reception (the notion of life off-grid appears very actual up right here among the many craggy tors of the Excessive Moor). And in certainly one of Cornwall’s least-visited areas, it’s simple to seek out your self utterly alone.

On a latest return to my moorland roots (I used to be born in Liskeard), I walked to the highest of abandoned Leskernick Hill. Standing amongst sheep and gorse and the littered remnants of historical hut circles, I watched clouds darken over the rocky summit of Brown Willy (Cornwall’s highest level, at 419 metres). There was a brief sharp bathe– then a rainbow. I used to be a good distance from the Cornwall most of us assume we all know.

The Hurlers near Minions on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK.
The Hurlers close to Minions on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK. {Photograph}: Marc Hill/Alamy

Like lots of the county’s guests, Louis de Bernières had his first introduction to Bodmin Moor in glimpses of bewitching surroundings from the A30. Then, a number of years in the past, he attended the Bodmin Moor Poetry Competition. “I took some walks across the moor,” he advised me. “I discovered it bleak and mysterious, a land of ghosts and ruins – filled with deserted mines and quarries – a spooky, atmospheric and really unusual place to set a narrative in. It was nearly like being overseas.”

An Space of Excellent Pure Magnificence, Bodmin Moor bristles with tales of its personal: the place is awash with tumuli, bronze age standing stones, cairns and quoits (the Cornish phrase for megalithic tombs). On craggy granite tors, relics of prehistoric settlements rub shoulders with the remnants of Nineteenth-century engine homes and damaged mineral railways, mapping the passage of the area’s tin and copper mining booms (the world kinds a part of the Cornish Mining world heritage website). The rivers Looe, Lynher, Fowey and Camel all rise on the moor.

Based on legend, the stack of granite plates often known as the Cheesewring is the work of giants. And in close by Minions, the three rings of standing stones they name the Hurlers (in all probability the most effective examples of ceremonial circles within the south west, say English Heritage) are males turned to stone for enjoying the sport on a Sunday.


De Bernières was notably drawn to the moor’s connections with King Arthur – which is why certainly one of his characters is an “anachronistic Arthurian knight who’s ready for the return of the king”. Readers will discover Bedwyr Bedryant on horseback on the shores of Dozmary Pool – the serene, fairly ghostly lake in whose depth, the legend says, Arthur’s sword Excalibur lies within the deep.

Double rainbow on Caradon Hill.
Double rainbow on Caradon Hill. {Photograph}: Christopher Barnard/Alamy

De Bernières writes lyrically about moorland mists (“a quiet ocean of vapour”), its wild, whinnying ponies, the peaks of the Excessive Moor, its “exhilarating magnificence”, however is his model of this rugged Cornish panorama sufficient to draw extra guests – will Mild Over Liskeard do for Bodmin Moor what Captain Corelli did for Kefalonia?

Maybe not, or not in the identical means. The moor’s ravishing magnificence is all about nature within the uncooked. Those that love the place embrace its bleak landscapes and unpredictable climate – in meteorological language, they name it “peninsular convergence”. Caradon Hill, which looms over Liskeard, is the soggiest place in Cornwall. Climbing throughout damp heathland in stout boots and waterproofs is rarely going to have fairly the identical attraction as a seashore on a Greek island. And the novel provides no apparent Mild Over Liskeard trails.

Sheep graze near Houseman’s engine house at Minions.
Sheep graze close to Houseman’s engine home at Minions. {Photograph}: Mark Webster/Getty Photographs

The ebook has many totally fictional parts – marinated mouse kebabs, aurochs, tame lynxes – however he has name-checked a number of actual locations. Leskernick Hill and Bray Down, in Excessive Moor territory to the north, are seen from a distance; the novel is extra rooted within the south round Brown Gelly or Stowe’s Hill (dwelling of the Cheesewring Quarry) and the villages of St Neot, St Cleer and Upton Cross. That is the place tough granite tors soften into grassy heathland or slip into deep valleys, inexperienced with temperate rainforest, oak timber clad in velvety moss and bearded with lichen. Sheep and shaggy brown cows wander on roadside verges, confined solely by cattle grids and low drystone partitions.

One among 4 outdated mining cities that body the perimeter of the moors (alongside Callington, Bodmin and Launceston), Liskeard earns its place within the novel as a result of, says the writer, “I realised, once I checked out my OS map, that in case you climbed the tor the place I’ve put my individuals, Liskeard is the one city of any measurement you’d be capable of see.”

Yelland Tor, the place he put his individuals, is a fiction, and he gained’t say which of the actual tors it’s primarily based on (“I don’t need everybody to know!”). There are many choices, however having pored over the gradients alone OS map (Landranger, quantity 201), I’m going for someplace round Berry Down, a newbie’s-level tor between the reservoirs at Colliford and Siblyback. From the highest, throughout a panorama of moorland, vibrant with vivid autumn color, I might nearly see Liskeard (pronounced Liskard, by the best way, not Liskeerd).


The novel doesn’t truly say a lot in regards to the place. The Everest Tandoori in Pike Road will get a point out (although personally I want Himalayan Spice on Fort Road). However I’m hoping the title alone will shine a bit of sunshine on my dwelling city.

Light Over Liskeard cover

Liskeard is unusual, bypassed, roofed in Delabole slate, and a little bit run-down (the livestock market closed in 2017). From the station (on the Paddington-to- Penzance route), the scenic Looe Valley Line, a former mineral railway, trundles all the way down to the ocean at Looe, eight miles to the south. There’s a restricted rural bus service (for the moors, there’s the 78 to Upton Cross). The retailers on pedestrianised Fore Road are neglected by a powerful Italianate clock tower (inbuilt 1859 and nonetheless wound by hand twice per week).

The granite Guildhall, the decorative fountain on the Parade, the previous Webb’s Lodge (now an workplace for the Cornish Instances) are among the many many good-looking architectural legacies of the city’s Nineteenth-century mining growth. The Outdated Cornwall Society hangs out within the late-medieval Stuart Home (featured on the free Liskeard Heritage Path leaflet).

Liskeard is a “good little city”, says de Bernières. By moorland-village requirements, it’s a hub of civilisation, however those that, like his characters, want to move for the wild can attain the sting of the moor on foot in simply over an hour.


The place to remain

Mennabroom Farm

Old stone building surrounded by trees

This edge-of-the-moorland guesthouse is greatest discovered by counting the variety of cattle grids between St Neot and Warleggan. The Thirteenth-century farmhouse – stated to be the oldest on the moor – is all low beams, granite lintels and thick-stone partitions; mullioned home windows overlook apple and plum timber, there are woodpeckers within the backyard, two-friendly labradoodles, a wooden burner in a visitor lounge and do-it-yourself marmalade for breakfast. Ian and Deborah Wheatley’s 15 acres encompasses a valley of temperate rainforest, a beaver dam on a stream and three self-catering cottages.
Doubles from £105 B&B,

Leskernick Cottage

Leskernick, a fabulous off-grid cottage situated literally in the middle of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.
{Photograph}: PR

Entry to this remoted off-grid retreat entails a bone-shaking journey alongside a mile and a half of open moorland (the house owners advocate a 4×4 or a automobile with good floor clearance). The closest cottage to Brown Willy, it sits on the foot of Leskernick Hill, surrounded by sheep and wild ponies. It has three bedrooms, solar-power, woodburning stoves, a bore-hole water provide and rugged moorland views.
From £795 per week (brief breaks from £150 an evening),

Diddlylake Shepherd’s Hut

Two rustic cabins made of wood and corrugated metal

This middle-of-nowhere small-holding near Brown Gelly and Dozmary Pool provides an “escape from civilisation” in a pair of homely off-grid huts with a compost rest room, solar energy, spring water and inky evening skies (this space of the moorland is a delegated darkish sky reserve).
Sleeps two from £65 an evening, two-night minimal,

Wheal Tor Lodge
Claiming to be the best licensed premises in Cornwall, this tor-side lodge (the previous dwelling of copper mine supervisor Captain Seccombe) is within the Caradon Hill mining district and provides fundamental rooms, “Hobbit Home” glamping and a restaurant with splendid moorland views.
B&B from £120 an evening:

Mild Over Liskeard is printed on 12 October by Harvill Secker, £20. To assist the Guardian and Observer, order your copy from Louis de Bernières is presently on tour and seems at Liskeard Library on 30 October

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