A short and gentle stroll through the richly diverse woodlands of a forestry estate near Truro.
Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Forest tracks and paths. Can be very muddy after rain
Landscape Mixed woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey
Start/finish SW 820477
Dog friendliness Dogs are welcomed throughout the woods. The authorities ask that owners clear up their dog's mess in the car park and first sections of forest tracks
Parking Forestry car park, north of Idless, near Truro
Public toilets None on route
Notes Car park gates are closed at sunset. Working woodland, please take note of notices advising work in progress
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1 Leave the top end of the car park via the wooden barrier and go along a broad track. In a few paces at a fork, keep to the right fork and follow the track above Woodpark and along the inside edge of the wood. This track can be very muddy after rain.
2 Keep on the main track, parallel to the river, ignoring branch tracks leading off to the left.
3 Just before the northern end of the wood reach a fork. Keep to the main track as it bends left and uphill. The track levels off and at an open area merges with a broad forestry ride. Keep ahead along this ride.
4 At a forestry notice indicating the site of the remains of an Iron Age encampment, go left along a path beneath conifer trees to reach the bank and ditch of the encampment. Return to the main track and turn left.
5 At a bend beside a wooden bench, where tracks lead off to left and right, go right and follow a public footpath uphill. At a path crossing turn left and follow the path through scrubland and young pine trees.
6 Re-enter mature woodland and follow a track downhill. Keep right at a junction, then go left at the next junction. Reach a T-junction with a broad track. Turn right and follow the track to the car park.
Going down to the woods in Cornwall is always a delightful antidote to the county's surfeit of sea. Coastal woodlands do not always offer such an escape; views of the sea, the sound of the sea, and even the smell of the sea keep intruding. At leafy enclaves such as Bishop's Wood near Truro, however, you can safely bury the anchor deep inland. Bishop's Wood is a part of the much larger St Clement Woods that lie a few miles north of Truro and just north of the village of Idless. It acquired its name from the time it was owned by the Bishop of Exeter during the late medieval period. Long before this, probably when the ancient woodland of the area had already been stripped bare by the early farmers, the highest point of the wood was crowned by a fortified Iron Age settlement from which the surrounding countryside could be easily viewed.
Today, the substantial banks of the settlement survive, muffled by dense woodland cover. In later centuries, when tree cover was re-established here, the area would have been a typical working woodland. The mix of broad-leaved trees that makes up much of the area indicates long-established forestry. The Iron Age site is densely covered with coppiced oaks. You can identify them by their multiple trunks at the base. When the woods were actively managed for coppicing, the trunks would be cut so that new growth started in several places at once. They would be allowed to grow like this for up to 20 years or so before being harvested for charcoal making, basket making or a host of other wood products. Up to the beginning of the 20th century many woods were managed in this way. The practice is being re-introduced in some areas in Cornwall, because of its beneficial effects on wildlife habitats.
The walk starts from the forestry car park at the south end of the woods and leads along its eastern edge through Lady's Wood, on a track that is wonderfully eerie and enclosed. A robust little stream runs below the track. Beech trees dominate the cover here and further into the wood, oak, hazel, birch, Japanese larch and holly lie to either side of the track. In spring the trees are bright with fresh leaves; the soft yellow and cream hazel and willow catkins are dusted with pollen and the rich earth beneath the trees supports a wealth of plants, ferns and mosses. Look particularly for wood sorrel, bluebells, three-cornered leeks, and the feathery fronds of male ferns.
The track leads on to the top end of the wood just before Lanner Mill. Here you turn uphill and onto a broad forestry ride that leads back south along the higher ridge of the woods. Halfway along you can divert left from the track to visit the site of the Iron Age settlement. The large bank and ditch that encircled the site is still visible. The rigid upper branches of the numerous coppiced oak trees enclose the central trunks of the trees like cages. This is a well-preserved site although the tree growth and associated scrub blur the full impact of the very large bank and ditch construction. Such hilltop sites date from the transition between the Bronze Age and Iron Age and reflect a growing territorialism amongst early Britons.
These were not forts in the narrow sense of being built purely for defence. They were defensible sites, certainly, but they were commercial and cultural centres as much as anything else, being the focus of a large territory of scattered farmsteads and settlements from which the unforested hilltop site would be easily seen. The hilltop 'fort' or 'castle' represented a central refuge in times of trouble, but served also as a place to bring livestock to market and to exchange household goods and to socialise and celebrate. From the Iron Age site, the last part of the walk takes you onto even higher ground and through newly planted conifers; the young trees are still low enough to afford a distant glimpse of the elegant spires of Truro's cathedral, a fitting view from a Bishop's Wood.
There are no food and drink outlets on the walk and the immediate area is quite isolated; but Truro is only a few miles (km) away and there is a pub at Shortlanesend about 1 mile (1.6km) to the west of Idless.
Old woods are often rich in fungi. Look for the trunks of dead trees and you may find the great plate-like layers of various bracket fungi. Other fungi to look for among the rich humus of the woodland underlayer are stinkhorn fungus, the rudely unmistakable Phallus impudicus. On oak trees you may find little round wood-like growths known popularly as 'oak apples'. These are produced by gall wasps laying their eggs on oak leaves. The oak apple grows round the egg to protect it during incubation. Look closely and you may see a tiny hole where the adult insect has emerged.