Grazing the south end of Bodmin Moor, Liskeard is a market town that burgeoned in the 19th century during a copper mining boom.
In this Victorian slate and granite townscape are more than a hundred houses designed by one man, Henry Rice, during that frenzy of development.
There’s a medieval parish church, a spirited town museum and a heritage trail ushering you around the old centre.
Bodmin Moor is conserved as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has a timeless landscape of Neolithic monuments, granite outcrops and Cornwall’s highest peaks.
South of Liskeard the countryside softens along the wooded Looe Valley, best enjoyed on a spellbinding train ride.
1. Bodmin Moor
Many of Cornwall’s rivers rise from this rugged expanse of granite moorland a short way north of Liskeard.
Bodmin Moor has been inhabited since the Neolithic Period, and there are reminders all around, at dolmens, stone circles, cairns and hut circles.
Before the land was inhabited it was covered with woodland, which is mostly long gone and replaced by heather and rough pasture grazed by cows, sheep, horses and ponies.
Brown Willy (420m), the highest point in Cornwall is on Bodmin Moor and cherished by walkers for its accessible, rounded slopes.
Closer to Liskeard there’s much more to see on the south-eastern border of the moor, at waterfalls, ancient woodland, standing stones, dolmens and the skeletons of abandoned mines.
2. Golitha Falls
Drive into Bodmin Moor from Liskeard and in ten minutes you’ll arrive at a magical string of cascades through a designated nature reserve.
The falls are on the River Fowey, between Braynes Bridge and Treverbyn Bridge, and the river descends 90 metres in a short distance so is always babbling.
The ancient oak woodland on the riverbanks adds to the beauty of this place.
Fallen trees are coated with moss, liverwort and lichen, which also covers the many boulders in the river.
Over 120 moss species and more than 50 different kinds of liverwort grow in the reserve.
You’ll also be struck by how often the nature changes along the course of the falls, from open glades to a high-walled gorge.
Salmon and sea trout are often spotted in the Fowey River’s upper reaches and are hunted by otters.
3. Carnglaze Caverns
On the south side of the moor on the way to Bodmin is a preserved quarry where slate was gathered on the surface, but also mined underground in three sizeable caverns 150 metres into the hillside.
These have a steady temperature of 10°C and in the lowest is a lake.
If you’re a fan of British New Wave music you’ll be excited to learn that the cover photo for Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain was taken here.
The tour is generally self-guided, and on your journey you’ll find out about the role of slate in the Industrial Revolution and gain some insights about how these mines were worked.
There’s also a captivating exhibition showing the many different minerals mined and quarried in the South West of England.
Above ground younger visitors will adore then Woodland Walk, bedded with four acres of bluebells in spring and populated by Cornish faeries (mythical wood sprites).
4. Looe Valley Line
Liskeard is the northern terminus for one of the most beautiful mainline railways in the country.
The Looe Valley Line snakes through thickly wooded valleys on the River Looe, which opens up into a scenic estuary a few miles before you reach the pretty namesake resort on Cornwall’s south coast.
Just shy of nine miles long, the railway was laid down at the turn of the 20th century and was due to be decommissioned as part of the nationwide Beeching cuts in the 1960s, but was saved at the last minute.
As it is, the Looe Valley Line is run by the Great Western Railway and an off-peak return to Looe costs just £4.50. Take a window seat for a front row view of the pasture, wooded valley-sides, and you may glimpse some of the wading birds that forage in the estuary, like oystercatchers, curlews and little egrets.
5. Hurlers Stone Circles
On Bodmin Moor’s south-eastern corner there’s a set of three mysterious stone circles about five miles north of Liskeard.
The name “The Hurlers” comes from a legend about a group of men turned to stone for playing the sport Cornish Hurling on a Sunday.
Cornish Hurling is occasionally still played, and looks like an organised riot between two teams passing a small silver ball.
The Neolithic circles are up to 6,000 years old and are looked after by English Heritage.
If you get up close to the individual stones you’ll be able to see marks where the surface was hammered smooth thousands of years ago.
About 100 metres to the southwest are the Pipers, a pair of monolithic standing stones about two metres tall and mooted as a gateway to the circles.
6. Liskeard Heritage Trail
At Liskeard’s Tourist Information Centre and the historic Stuart House you can pick up a free leaflet for the Liskeard Heritage Trail, a walk around the town via its main landmarks.
The walk will take about 90 minutes and will guide you through the Medieval core to some handsome sights like the Guildhall and clock tower from 1859, the Medieval St Martin’s Church, as well as curiosities like a well, Pipewell, first mentioned in the 14th century.
If you’re enthralled by Liskeard’s Victorian townscape there’s also a Henry Rice Trail, showing you past the 100+ buildings designed by this one architect during the town’s copper boom.
7. Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary
Easy to get to by car from Liskeard, the Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary is both a fun family day out and an important refuge for exotic animals.
Many of the 250 animals here have been seized at customs or rescued from poor conditions in homes or zoos.
Among them are coatis, various lemur species, meerkats, owls, zebras, serval cats, raccoons and capybaras.
All are accepted and given a home, no matter their age or what they look like.
Another way the sanctuary differs from many others is in the amount of close encounters you can have with these animals, feeding goats or taking part in a “Lemur Experience” when you’ll get to have lunch with a group of mischievous ring-tailed lemurs.
8. Liskeard Museum
The stately Foresters Hall, a late-Victorian neo-Gothic building, is the venue for Liskeard’s Tourist Information Office and the Liskeard Museum.
This attraction belongs to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site, chronicling the history of the local lead, tin and silver mining industries, while there’s a dazzling array of minerals.
The Liskeard Museum also displays the largest collection of historic toys in Cornwall, among which are some real curiosities like a toy gun based on Christopher Lee’s weapon from The Man with the Golden Gun and a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car.
Keep your smartphone handy as the museum uses lots of augmented reality.
9. Stuart House Arts and Heritage Centre
This late-Medieval townhouse is Grade II* listed and has been open to the public for more than 30 years now.
In 1644 the Stuart House hosted King Charles I during his Cornish Campaign in the Civil War, and there’s a permanent display about the Civil War in Cornwall, with information boards, weapons, furniture and period costume.
This building is also used as a temporary exhibition space for regional artists and photographers, so there should be something new to see whenever you visit.
The cafe is a much-loved local amenity and outside is a garden in the 17th-century style, with boxwood hedges and topiaries.
10. Minions Village
This village on the eastern cusp of Bodmin Moor has hit the news in the last few years as it shares a name with the cheeky characters from Despicable Me.
Minions is fascinating enough without this connection though.
Not least because of its tin and copper mining heritage, with the spectral remnants of this industry strewn across the moorland.
There’s also a lot of prehistory, at the Hurlers Stone Circles, which we’ve already covered, but also the early-Bronze Age Rillaton Barrow, which yielded a stunning treasure when it was excavated in 1837. Among the bounty was the Rillaton Gold Cup, which is now on show at the British Museum.
A natural monument that needs to be seen near Minions is the Cheesewring, a freestanding granite outcrop caused by weathering and looking like numerous slabs piled on top of each other.
11. Trethevy Quoit
As soon as you see it you’ll understand why this astounding megalithic tomb is known locally as the Giant’s House.
Dating back more than 5,500 years, Trethevy Quoit is a Neolithic dolmen (portal tomb), standing 2.7 metres high and made up of five standing stones topped with a sloping 3.7-metre-long capstone.
Originally the capstone would have been level, and supported by the front stone and the rear walls, but these have partially collapsed, creating the jaunty angle.
At the base of the monument are the remnants of an earthwork that once completely covered the tomb.
12. Parish Church of St Martin
Liskeard hosts the second largest parish church in Cornwall, worth a peek if you’re close by.
The building is remarkable for its many chantry chapels established by Liskeard’s various guilds.
St Martin’s Church has Norman origins, and there are traces remaining from this time in the lower portions of the tower and the stoup (for holy water). The remainder of the building is mostly 15th and 16th-century and in the Perpendicular Gothic style, with lots of beautiful stonework in the piscinas on the north and south aisles and the 16th-century baptismal font.
There’s a fine octagonal oak pulpit from 1636 and an array of funerary monuments from the 17th, 18th and 19th century.
13. Siblyback Lake
Just inside the Bodmin Moor AONB is a reservoir that was dammed in the 1960s and now a watersports destination wrapped in wild countryside.
To the east rises the imposing form of Trearrick Tor, which is crowned with granite outcrops and more megalithic monuments.
Back by the shore is the Siblyback Lake Activity Centre, which has the wherewithal for canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing and rainbow trout angling.
If you’re up for some angling you can get hold of a permit online or on site.
Around the lake is roughly three miles of flat path for walks and bike rides, while there are also bird hides, a high ropes course, a play area for kids and a cafe surveying the reservoir and countryside.
14. Looe Valley Vineyard
While the South of England is an emerging force in the wine stakes, the South West has a few drawbacks due to the damper climate and acidic soil.
But this vineyard, founded in 2008 on the west side of the bucolic Looe Valley has soils that can be compared to Alsace.
So as you’d imagine, grapes with Riesling parentage, like Bacchus and Solaris have done well at the Looe Valley Vineyard, as has Schönburger, a grape developed in Germany and rarely grown in the UK. Friendly and informative tours and tasting sessions are given by the owner, Charles on Thursdays in the summer, lasting up to two hours.
15. Adrenalin Quarry
One old quarry ten minutes from Liskeard has been put to use as an action-packed activity centre primed for all sorts of craziness.
At the Adrenalin Quarry you can ride a zip-line almost half a kilometre long, test your nerve on the vertigo-inducing Giant Swing or scale sheer cliffs and leap into the water on a coasteering adventure.
There’s an 800-metre all-weather karting track, while the new inflatable Aquapark is open to all-comers, including children aged 6-8 on a special 10:00 session during the summer.
One activity you’ve always secretly wanted to try but probably never had the chance is axe throwing, and you can fling these blades at tree-trunk cross-sections like a dartboard.