Brown Willy: the hill of swallows

In midwinter, it’s too cold and bleak to take small children up big mountains, so the ice hazards (and my Christmas podge) are pinning us to the lowlands. Still, down here there are some very nice hills.

Having climbed Big Fanny (Fan y Big, apols to the whole of Wales) last summer, my kids wanted to try Brown Willy.

Of course.

Brown Willy sits near Camelford and Bodmin, on the eastern side of Cornwall. The summit (1,378 feet / 420 m) is the highest point of Cornwall.

The name comes from the Cornish “Bronn Wennili” which, according to Wiki, means “hill of swallows” – although Wiki also says, “The first part of the hill’s name is a common Brythonic element meaning “breast, pap; hill-side, slope, breast (of hill)”, which is frequent in Welsh placenames.” Legend has it that a Cornish king is buried underneath the summit cairn, although this has never been excavated.

There’s also been talk of the hill having a holy energy, and a “charging day” on 23rd November.

So Brown Willy might mean “hill of swallows”, or it might be named after a breast, and there’s a king and holy energy included? (Toponymically and historically, if you’re trying to entertain children, this is the gift that keeps on giving.)

Basically, it’s a gentle, moorland walk. It’s also a walk I wish I’d known about when my children were toddlers.

It’s easily approached across some smoothly undulating moorlands from Rough Tor (pronounced “r-ow tor”, rhymes with “cow tor”), which sits just to the north west of Brown Willy – the walk from Rough Tor car park and back covers both summits in less than 5 miles (2.5 miles each way) although there are other tors in the distance, so longer walks can be made in the area. There are tracks rather than paths: smooth, worn areas of scrub rather than formally laid stone, so you need to keep your eye out not to lose them, but it’s an easy walk.

Walking to Rough Tor and Brown Willy

We did it on a slightly misty, murky day, with a stiff wind blowing in from the west/southwest; it felt lovely to be stomping across the moors in a kind of Celtic fug.  The views came and went between clouds but the magic of being out on the open moors felt fabulous.

For us, the excitement came with the wind being so strong that it was difficult to stand up on the top of the hill. We were literally clinging to the rocks. But in summer, this would be a relaxing, pleasant walk with, I imagine, beautiful sweeping views and huge skies.

In gentler weather, it would be a gorgeous picnic spot (although possibly busy in the school holidays: we’ll probably try that at some point and check back here to report). We definitely plan to go back and enjoy this walk again.


Lovely walk. Very easy for children of all ages although you’d struggle with a buggy. Good for dogs but there are sheep and ponies, so take a lead. Slightly boggy in parts. Otherwise very straightforward. Still satisfyingly wild.

Love? Yes.

Recommend? Yup.




  1. pjlazos says:

    We had this same experience when climbing Ben Bulben in County Sligo in Ireland. It was so windy at the top it felt like we were going to blow away. Beautiful!

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