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 is an attractive town with a rich Cornish identity and is worth exploring, not least for the fine Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the likes 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 the days when the town was an important 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 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. This walk begins at the public car park beside the Penrose Amenity Area to the south west of Helston. The route passes the ruin of the engine house of the old Castle Wary mine from which silver and lead were extracted during the late 18th century.
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. The Loe is as deep as 30ft (9m) at its seaward end. 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, while the Bar makes a dramatic flourish between peaceful lake and restless Atlantic.
The Loe lies within the Penrose Estate, ancestral home from the late 12th to the late 18th century of the Penrose family and then of the Rogers family, who gave the estate to the National Trust in 1974. The Trust now maintains the landscaping and carriageways established in the 18th century and has created a network of paths for the enjoyment of the public. The latter part of the walk follows the coast to Porthleven, a classic Cornish fishing village with a fine harbour and lively atmosphere.
Start from the large car park on the B3304 Porthleven road just outside Helston. At the far, southern, end of the car park go through a gap to the left of the 'Penrose Amenity Area' sign and then turn right along a concrete drive, past a National Trust sign, 'Penrose'. In about 0.5 miles (800m) pass an old chimney stack, the remains of the 18th-century Castle Wary lead and silver mine.
In a few yards (metres), turn right down some steps, cross a bridge over the River Cober and continue ahead across a sturdy causeway that was built in 1987. Dogs must be kept on the lead 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 cafe and offices. Due to a major landslip, the path that follows the shore of the Loe along an old carriageway through Bar Walk Plantation to Bar Lodge above Loe Bar is closed at time of going to print. An alternative coastal route is being planned. In the meantime
In the meantime, follow the diversion to the right soon after passing the Stables Cafe. Continue along this broad track over the gentle rises and farmland of the Penrose Estate following the clear diversions signs to Porthleven, enjoying fine views of The Loe below. The section of the route from Point 5 along The Loe to Loe Bar is still open, so for a longer walk it's still possible to visit the sandbar and return to Point 5 to continue onwards to Porthleven.
On the main route, turn left when the diversion signs eventually lead you to a road. Then bear right at a hairpin bend to walk along the coast into Porthleven Harbour and village.
Excellent paths and estate tracks
Densely vegetated river valley, poolside woods, and open farmland
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.
AA Walker's Map 10 Land's End & The Lizard
Penrose Amenity Area free car park, Helston. Turn off the A394 on to the B3304 at the large roundabouts on the outskirts of Helston. Car park is 200yds (183m) along the road on the left, opposite a boating pool and next to a garage
Buses 2, 2A, 2B Porthleven–Helston, about 20 per day; www.travelinesw.com
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.