Exploring the fascinating streets and the surrounding countryside of Cornwall's ancient county town.
Distance 2 miles (3.2km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Paved walkways and field paths
Landscape Townscape and grassy river valley
Suggested map Launceston Town Map
Start/finish SX 332845
Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through fields
Parking Number of car parks in Launceston
Public toilets Walk House car park
1 Start your walk in the Town Square whose fine buildings include the Georgian White Hart Hotel with its 12th-century doorway, said to have been plundered many years ago from the ruins of St Thomas's Priory. Leave the Square by its north side and go down High Street. On the right-hand corner are the slightly leaning medieval façades of Nos 11 and 13, slate-hung and painted cream, and with an overhung third storey. At the bottom of High Street turn right along Church Street, then cross over into Southgate Street, passing a number of fine buildings as you go. Part way down, on the right, is Ching's Alley, the name celebrating a family of 19th-century wine and spirit merchants. An information board, just inside the alley, records some fascinating tales. At the bottom of Southgate Street is one of Launceston's glories, Southgate Arch, a sole survivor of the old town gateways.
2 From the Southgate Street side of the arch go left down the alleyway of Blindhole, then bear round left and past the old market on the left. Ahead lies one of Launceston's finest buildings, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, (PWhile 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 elegant Eagle House, now a hotel and one of Castle Street's fine row of Georgian houses.
3 Bear right to Lawrence House, owned by the National Trust and containing Launceston's museum (PWhile You're There). A few paces further down the street, go down some steps on the left, past a row of old cottages and the Northgate Inn, to reach the bottom of Tower Street. Cross Dockacre Hill and go down St Thomas Hill, then turn left at the bottom and cross the busy main road with great care.
4 Turn right, pass the post office, then turn left along Riverside. The river is spanned here by an old packhorse bridge known as Prior's Bridge. On the left is the Church of St Thomas; behind this lie the impressive, but rather forlorn, ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian Priory of St Thomas.
5 Continue along Riverside and, on the right and just beyond the bridge, look for a plaque celebrating Launceston's great literary son, the poet Charles Causley. Keep walking on past a bowling green, cross a bridge over the Launceston Steam Railway, then 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 and on into a lane.
6 Continue into Wood Lane, then at a bend just past a row of cottages, go right and over a stile. Follow a path for about ½ mile (800m), over stiles and through fields below Launceston Castle, to reach a road.
7 Turn left and uphill to join Western Road and 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.
8 Continue up Western Road to the Town Square.
Launceston was the chief town of Cornwall during medieval times. 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 and dominate the surrounding scene. There was an important monastic settlement here also and as late as the 1830s, Launceston was still Cornwall's county town. The legacy of all this is one of the most intriguing townscapes in the county.
Make sure to visit the 16th-century Church of St Mary Magdalene, a remarkable building, not least for the wealth of carving on its generally unmanageable granite stonework. Inside the church is a famous recumbent statue of Mary Magdalene. An enduring local belief is that if you toss a pebble over your shoulder and it lands in the hollow of her back, then good fortune will follow. The Lawrence House Museum in Castle Street has a fascinating collection of memorabilia and artefacts that tell the story of the town from earliest times. Launceston Castle is an outstanding example of Norman fortification and there is an exhibition that tells the history of the site.
The history of towns and villages is often written across the upper storeys of their buildings. Take time to study façades, especially in the main streets of Launceston. Look for the painted pheonix at No 4 High Street, the old sign for a chemists. Look for the lute player and the angel opposite. At the corner of High Street and Church Street admire the twisted columns and elliptical windows of No 20 and look for 'Hayman's Pianoforte Warehouse' in Church Street.
The White Hart Hotel in Launceston's Town Square has large and comfortable bars and offers a good selection of bar meals. Just next to the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Tower Street is the long established Bell Inn where you can also get bar meals. Alongside Southgate Arch is the licensed bistro-restaurant Three Steps to Heaven serving excellent breakfasts, lunches and evening meals. There are a number of other cafés and restaurants around the town centre.