One of the original Cornish market towns, Helston is famed worldwide for its old-world charm and…
This undemanding walk leads from the attractive town of Helston to the fishing village of Porthleven, via the valley of the River Cober and the remarkable Loe, the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall. Helston has a rich Cornish identity and is worth exploring, not least for the fine Victorian and Edwardian architecture of Cross Street and Church Street to the north of the main road, and Coinagehall Street. The name of the latter is a clue to Helston’s history from when it was a Stannary town where ingots of tin were checked for their quality by having a small corner, or coign, cut from them. Helston is also famous for its annual ‘Furry Dance’, staged in early May and known also as the Helston Flora. The main feature of the day is a series of processional dances in which women wear brightly patterned dresses and splendid bonnets, while men wear morning coats and top hats. The dancers pass through the main streets and also in and out of selected houses.
The exceptional Loe
What makes the Loe exceptional is that its southern end is separated from the sea by a sand bar, known as Loe Bar. The Loe’s name derives simply from the Cornish word logh, meaning ‘pool’. The Loe evolved in medieval times from its origins as the estuary of the River Cober because of a build-up of silt washed down from the countless tin and copper mines inland. The silt added its weight to encroaching shingle spits at the seaward end of the estuary and by the 13th century, a formidable dam, or ‘bar’, of sand and shingle separated the pool from the sea. Until the middle of the 19th century Loe Bar was regularly breached by gangs of diggers to ease flooding in the Cober Valley below Helston. The rush of water out of the pool is said to have left a thin yellow stain for miles offshore. Today, modern flood release systems alleviate the problem of flooding and the Loe has become a splendid reserve for wildlife.
The Loe lies within the Penrose Estate, ancestral home of the Penrose family and then the Rogers family, who gave the estate to the National Trust in 1974. The Trust now maintains the landscaping and carriageways and has created a network of public paths. The latter part of the walk, which begins at the car park to the Southwest of Helston; follows the coast to Porthleven, a classic Cornish fishing village with a fine harbour.
Leave the car park via the footbridge, near the road end of the car park, after crossing the river bear left into ‘Penrose Amenity Area’ and follow the path alongside the river.
After about 0.5 miles (850m) right turn and continue ahead across a sturdy causeway that was built in 1987. Dogs must be kept on leads here. You are now at the heart of Loe Marsh, the choked gut of the River Cober, dense with alder and willow trees and moisture-loving plants. On the other side of the causeway, turn left along a wide drive through the Oak Grove.
In about 550yds (500m) look for a short path on the left. It leads to a bird hide in a fine location for viewing the reedy shores of the Loe. Continue along the main drive to Helston Lodge, go through a gate, and then follow the drive to where it forks.
Take the left fork. There is a fine view of Penrose House from here; the house is a private dwelling. Continue past the old stable block, now a National Trust café and offices.
The old carriageway that you are following leads through Bar Walk Plantation to Bar Lodge above Loe Bar. You can reach the Bar from here, but although you may feel tempted to swim from the sandy shore, or from the long stretch of beach, Porthleven Sands, that runs all the way to Porthleven, take heed of the warning notices; the ground shelves steeply close to shore here and there are dangerous tidal currents. At Bar Lodge, turn right up the slope, and follow the higher track above the sea for just under a mile (1.5km) to reach Porthleven, a traditional Cornish harbour of great character.
Excellent paths and estate tracks
Densely vegetated river valley, poolside woods, and sandy coast
Dogs strictly on the lead within Penrose Park area; dogs banned on Porthleven Beach Easter to 1 October, from the Harbour Wall to the Blue Buoy steps. Rest of Porthleven has no restrictions.
OS Explorer 103 The Lizard
Penrose Amenity Area free car park, Helston. Turn off the A394 on to the B3304 at the large roundabout on the outskirts of Helston. Car park is 200yds (183m) along the road on the left
Helston and Porthleven
<p>Buses 2, 2A, 2B Porthleven–Helston, about 20 per day; www.travelinesw.com</p>
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Cornwall has just about everything – wild moorland landscapes, glorious river valley scenery, picturesque villages and miles of breathtaking coastline. With more than 80 surfing spots, there are plenty of sporting enthusiasts who also make their way here to enjoy wave-surfing, kite surfing and blokarting.
In recent years, new or restored visitor attractions have attracted even more visitors to the region; the Eden Project is famous for its giant geodesic domes housing exotic plants from different parts of the globe, while nearby the Lost Gardens of Heligan has impressive kitchen gardens and a wildlife hide.
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