Penn Beacon seems to be something of a rarity: an area of moorland which is relatively accessible, and yet seems to usually have few visitors. The highpoint can be seen for miles and offers views into Cornwall as far as Kit Hill and over Plymouth Sound past the breakwater as well as the best view on the moors of the china clay works – although a definite scar on the landscape, the moonscape of the china clay works do offer an interesting view. There is also plenty of Bronze Age archaeology and a few medieval remains if you know where to look.
The walk starts off at off-road parking by Quick Bridge in Newpark Wood at OS reference SX5919 6077. The path takes you through the woods with the china clay works on the left. Keep to the track which will take you uphill and past a couple of farms. The track comes close to the edge of the china clay works and offers some decent views. Before the track goes into open moorland there is a group of half a dozen bronze age hut circles on the right, beyond that is a fairly extensive settlement but all of the remains are in very poor condition and if you are walking between June and the end of September all the remains are likely to be completely obscured by ferns. An oval pound stands out just beyond a gap in a drystone wall, you can leave the track here and enter the open moorland or take one of several short trails which divert uphill from the main track to the moorland.
Nearby stone rows and cairns are noted on the OS map. The nearest one is almost impossible to discern, but the cairns at SX5957 6253 and SX5982 6224 are both worth investigating. The first one contains flanking end stones of the row which once led up to it. The site was excavated in 1872, and the stones likely righted at that time. According to Butler, the excavation yielded pottery and a piece of slate from a disturbed cist off-centre from the cairn. The second cairn is smaller, but of an interesting shape. From here we head North, following a very long reave which runs all the way to the summit of Penn Beacon. We will only follow it a short distance as at SX5992 6255 are the remains of a stone row of eleven stones which runs parallel to the reave. Now heading North West, we head towards a pound at SX5974 6275 which consists of a very well defined perimeter wall enclosing two hut circle remains, one of which is in fairly good condition, the other is difficult to discern. A minute or so East North East of this pound is another, this one is built against the reave and also consists of two hut circles, although both are in poor condition and are overgrown.
The path through Newpark Waste
The remains of the stone row at SX5992 6255
The rearranged cairn on Penn Beacon
The northern corner of the perimeter wall around the settlement at SX59403 63493
We now continue East North East, heading downhill in line with top of the drystone wall that runs along High House Waste on the opposite side of Ford Brook. Before we read the brook we will encounter Penn Beacon East settlement. Here a well defined wall encloses nine hut circles of varying sizes and conditions with three more outside the wall.
For a longer walk the more adventurous walker might decide to continue South East down to some poorly conditioned Bronze Age remains along Ford Brook, or even to cross into High House Waste where there is the remains of a medieval farmhouse and a Bronze Age settlement which is in quite poor condition, much of the stone likely having been robbed to build the wall around High House Waste. At the time of writing the DPA have been hard at work clearing the Bronze Age settlement at High House Waste and it is now quite accessible via the gate in the norther part of the wall. A small herd of cows reside inside High House Waste and they seem rather skittish at the sight of humans so it might be one to avoid if you have a dog in your company.
From Penn Beacon East Bronze Age settlement, we can now climb to the summit of Penn Beacon. From here you will have some of the finest views of Plymouth and the china clay works. There is a cairn here, which as is usual has been re-sculpted after being robbed. We now head more-or-less north toward Shell Top. There are a couple of cairns up here which are shown on the OS map, but the remains are in very poor condition. One shows evidence of a stone circle surrounding it but most of the stones are recumbent and hidden by long grass. The views from Shell top are amazing, with a good panorama across a portion of the Southern moors.
We now head South West, downhill toward another Bronze Age settlement. This one is quite impressive and is visible for some distance. The enclosing wall is over two metres thick in places. There are numerous hut circle remains of various sizes, including partitioned huts and double huts. Unfortunately, few of the hut circles are in particularly good shape although the door jams still remain on one.
We will now head South West to toward the gravel path which runs East-West above the china works. Not long after we join the path we should encounter the Bronze Age Tory Brookhead enclosures. The most Easterly of the two contains a rectangular building which may have been a pen or the remains of a medieval (or later) structure built inside the settlement. Numerous hut circles occupy both settlements, with three prominent hut circles between the two. Most of the huts are in poor condition, but some are quite impressive. The china clay works below have swallowed up many more earlier settlements, including not far away, the Shaugh Moor settlement which was well excavated before it was destroyed.
Once all the hut circles here have been explored the path can be followed back to where we left it when first ascending onto the open moorland and on back to the parking area. Those wishing to explore further can instead follow the path to it’s western termination point from where two stone rows with associated circles are visible in the valley. Heading toward Greater Trowlesworthy Tor there are several significant settlements that are well worth exploring, but are better to be detailed in a walk of their own.
The Penn Beacon East settlement looking toward High House Waste
The remains of a hut circle and another view of the wide wall around the settlement South West of Shell Top.
View over the China Clay works. The route gives many such panoramas. Make sure to stay on the path outside of the works