Gunwalloe Coves

The walk descends to the Loe Bar and follows the coast to Fishing Cove, passing the old cellars which feature in the BBC's Poldark series. The route then climbs up Halzephron Cliff and descends to the beaches of Dollar Cove and Church Cove. The return route is relatively quick, along lanes and footpaths, and via the Halzephron Inn.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.5 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Chyvarloe car park
  • Parking: Chyvarloe NT car park. On the A3083 from Helston to Lizard, turn right down the small lane just before the bridge with the HMS Seahawk sign. Follow this to a junction with a triangular grassy island and turn right (marked unsuitable for Motor Vehicles!). Follow the lane, which peters out into a track, to reach the National Trust car park. Satnav: TR127PY
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • The Loe Bar - a geographical oddity with some rare wildlife
  • Cornwall's largest natural freshwater lake
  • Sandy beaches at Fishing and Church Coves
  • Buried treasure at Dollar Cove
  • Panoramic views of Mount's Bay from Halzephron Cliff

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, follow the track onwards past the Penrose sign to reach a gate across the track with a National Trust sign on the gate.

    The Penrose family owned a large estate to the south of Helston since mediaeval times which eventually extended from Gunwalloe to one side of Porthleven Harbour. In 1771, it was sold to John Rodgers, who became the new squire of the estate and it remained in the Rogers family for another two centuries. In 1974, a large part of it, covering 1,500 acres, was gifted to the National Trust. Penrose House was originally a U-shaped building created in the 17th Century by the Penrose family and remodelled a number of times in the 18th and 19th Centuries by the Rodgers family.

  2. Go through the gate with the National Trust sign and keep left along the track. Follow the track until it ends on the beach beside a red Loe Bar sign.

    The Loe was originally the estuary of the River Cober which was flooded after the last Ice Age when sea levels rose. The contours of the original valley can be traced for several miles out to sea. The estuary is now blocked by a bar of sand and shingle which has created the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. The earliest record of the name was in 1337, when it was called "La Loo", but is now pronounced "low". It is from the Cornish word logh which is equivalent to the Scottish "loch".

  3. At the sign, turn left and follow the path marked with the yellow waymark arrow on the side facing the sign. Keep right when the path passes through a bank and forks to reach the Anson memorial.

    The Loe Bar is composed mainly of shingle that is not of local origin: it is mostly chalk flint. It is thought that this was washed down from the terraces of the river which the English Channel once was, when sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. It is also thought that the bar of shingle initially formed offshore and then slowly moved towards the shore so that the bar across The Loe may not have been in place until early mediaeval times or at most a few thousand years ago. The bar was originally porous, allowing seawater into the lake but fine silt released by mining activity upriver has caused it to seal so that it is now freshwater. To prevent flooding in parts of Helston, a disused mine adit has been repurposed as an overflow from the Loe Pool into the sea. On occasions this has blocked and so the Bar has been intentionally breached to release the build-up of water, but the Bar has always resealed itself. It is thought that Longshore Drift plays an important part in the maintenance of the Bar and causes it to gradually accumulate more sediment over time.

    During violent winter storms, waves have been known to break all the way over the bar into the Loe Pool. Even under normal conditions, the sea off the beach is extremely dangerous and a number of people have been drowned, some just from paddling. It is notorious for its massive unexpected shore dumps which can appear out of nowhere even in calm weather and suck people under the water as the shingle caves in beneath their feet. Some locals have called for a skull-and-crossbones to be added to signs on the "killer beach" which is reputed to take one soul every seven years.

  4. Follow the path past the memorial to rejoin the coast path. Bear right onto the coast path and continue along the coast until you reach a fork in the path at a waymark.

    In December 1807, the Navy frigate HMS Anson hit bad weather off Mount's Bay. They attempted to head into Falmouth harbour but realised they were trapped by the wind on the wrong side of the Lizard. The captain anchored the ship but the anchor rope snapped. A second anchor was deployed and held fast but this also snapped. As a last resort, the captain attempted to sail the ship onto the beach at the centre of the Loe Bar, but hit an uncharted reef just 100 metres off the beach. The force of the collision caused the main mast to topple onto the beach. Some of the crew were able to escape across it but around 100 drowned in the huge breakers. One of the witnesses was Henry Trengrouse who was so moved by the helplessness of the onlookers that he spent much of his life and personal savings developing the rocket lifesaving apparatus which went on to save many thousands of lives. A canon salvaged from the wreck in 1964 is on display outside the Helston museum and a cross overlooks the beach, commemorating both the disaster and the life work of Henry Trengrouse. Gold coins are occasionally found which are thought to be from pockets of the officers aboard.

  5. Bear right down the waymarked path and follow this until it climbs steeply around an area of collapsed cliff and meets a path descending from above.

    In January 1527, the San Antonio was sailing from Lisbon to Antwerp with a cargo including copper and silver ingots, cloth, candlesticks and musical instruments. The cargo was extremely valuable, with an equivalent value in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds today. The vessel encountered bad weather and anchored in Mount's Bay, hoping for it it pass before rounding the Lizard. However her anchor cable snapped and she was driven towards the shore. The captain attempted to beach the vessel on the shingle of the Loe Bar but instead struck the reef just off the beach near Fishing Cove. The ship was destroyed and nearly half the crew drowned. Much salvage took place from the wreckage and the survivors accused some prominent local gentry of robbery with violence. The King of Portugal pressed charges and a court case followed but the outcome is unknown, however, there is evidence that the estates of the three accused landowners grew substantially afterwards, presumably assisted by the value of goods salvaged. In the 1970s, a copper ingot was recovered by a shellfish diver, but the significance of this was not understood and the location of the wreck was not known until 1981 when a holidaymaker discovered a copper ingot washed up on the beach. A local diver then found a melon-sized ball of silver weighing nearly 9kg lying on the reef. The wreck is now protected and no diving is allowed within 75 metres of its position.

  6. Continue ahead through the gap in the wall and follow the path around the bottom of the mound. Continue to reach a small stone stile before a large old building.
  7. Cross the stile and follow the path diversion around the collapsed cliff to the front of the old cellars. Follow the path between the remains of winches to a gap in a wall.

    A pilchard industry was established at Fishing Cove in the early 19th Century. The large building known as "the cellars" was derelict for most of the 20th Century but was restored in the 21st. Even when derelict, it had many more windows than a typical pilchard cellar which may indicate it had a dual use. The winches along the cliff edge were used to raise boats from the beach to protect them from storms. These were still in use into the 20th Century as evidenced by the remains of a petrol engine.

  8. Go through the gap in the wall and follow the path to join a track in front of the cottages. Continue ahead on the track to reach a junction of tracks above the beach.
  9. Continue ahead, past the ramp to the beach, and turn right onto the upper track. Follow this to where a path departs from the left, just before the gate to a house.
  10. Turn left onto the path and follow it up the cliff to reach a stile on the top.

    In December 1918, the Norwegian cargo ship Heidrun was on its way from Swansea to Rouen with a cargo of anthracite to support the war in France. On the day after Boxing Day, they rounded Land's End and encountered a violent storm in Mount's Bay. The ship disappeared without trace and all the crew were lost.

    A wreck off Gunwalloe was thought to be a ship known as the Ibis for many years as a life ring from the Ibis had been found floating at this location. However a local diver recovered a plate from the engine block from which the ship was identified as the Heidrun. The discovery was the first news that relatives of the crew in Norway had received of what had happened and a party of them flew over to talk to the divers. As a result, the relatives arranged for a memorial to be placed in Gunwalloe church.

  11. Cross the stile and go through (or around) the gate ahead. Follow the path to reach a second gate.
  12. Go through the gate and cross the stile. Follow the path around the fences to emerge next to a road.
  13. At the end of the fence, bear right to follow the path parallel to the road. Continue along the path which eventually turns away from the road and crosses a small area of tarmac beside a fence to reach a junction of paths.

    In November 1872, a sailing vessel called "The Lochleven's Flower", carrying a cargo of grain, was caught in a south westerly gale as it crossed Mounts Bay. It was obvious that she would not be able to escape the bay and must run for the shore. Local people gathered along the beach and the Porthleven lifeboat was launched. To the surprise of all, the crew disembarked into small boats and rowed to the shore. An account was published in the Western Morning News:

    Breaker after breaker was surmounted. The features of the poor fellows were plainly seen, and it was hoped some at least would reach the shore. But a few seconds dispelled all hope. No sooner was the last roller passed than the boat fell into the truck, a huge mass of water rose like a wall, and all were engulphed. The boat was smashed into splinters, and the seamen were seen struggling for a short time in the white seething waters, and in sight of unavailable assistance and pitying friends they perished. An attempt was made by joining hands to rescue some, but the sea claimed its victims and all were soon lost to sight.

    Meanwhile, the unmanned ship was driven against Halzephron Cliffs and smashed to pieces. It was thought that if the crew had stayed aboard the ship, that they could have been rescued.

  14. Keep right between the gateposts to take the path along the coast, marked with a Halzephron Cliff sign. Follow this until it emerges into a field.

    The name "Halzephron" is well documented as being derived from "Hell's cliff" in Cornish, but note that the "Hal" at the start does not mean "hell"; the words in Cornish are the other way around: als (meaning cliff) and yfarn (meaning hell). The cliffs were given their name due to the many ships that were driven ashore and wrecked here. Some of the bodies that washed ashore are buried on the cliffs as there was no legal requirement to bury the bodies of shipwrecked sailors in churchyards until the start of the 19th Century.

  15. Follow along the right edge of the field to reach a corner where a path leads to the end of the headland.

    There are panoramic views of Mount's Bay from the end of the headland.

    In November 1807, the army transport ship "James and Rebecca" was homeward bound with a squadron of the 9th Light Dragoons including their wives and children. At midnight, she ran aground at Halzephron Cliff due to a navigation error compounded by the dark night. The ship's guns were fired and many local people came to the ship's assistance. Over half the people onboard were rescued using a rope chair, but about 80 were still onboard when the ship broke up. Roughly half of these were rescued from the water but 10 sailors, 28 soldiers and 3 children died.

  16. At the corner, keep left to stay in the field and follow the path along the right edge of the field. Continue on the path to reach a waymark marked Mullion Cove, overlooking Dollar Cove.

    Dollar Cove is named after the silver Spanish dollars that have occasionally been found from the wreck of a 18th century Spanish Galleon, which is now thought might have been a lost vessel known as the Rio Nova and not the San Salvador which was also wrecked nearby. The ship wrecked in Dollar Cove was carrying two and a half tons of the coins from Spain to the Bank of England for safe keeping during their war with France. In January 1787, she was driven ashore at Dollar Cove in a violent storm. The ship broke in two and spilled the coins into a gully in the bay. The silver dollars found so far are dated from 1765 to 1777.

  17. The path to the right leads to Dollar Cove and Church Cove is at the bottom of the track that runs along the wall ahead. When you've finished exploring, follow the lane uphill past the farm to reach a pedestrian entrance into a large car park.

    The church giving Church Cove its name is said to be on the site of the monastery of St Winwaloe - a 6th Century Breton, and appears as the manor of Winnianton appears in the Doomsday book. It's also possible that the saint was matched to a similar-sounding name, as beside Gunwalloe is Chyvarloe, from the Cornish, chy war logh meaning "house on the lake". Gunwalloe could have similar origins such as goon war logh which would be along the lines of "downs by the lake".

    The current church was restored in 1870 but dates from the Middle Ages. The detached tower is thought to be the oldest part, dating from early mediaeval times. The church was extended in the 15th Century and the bedrock next to the church was excavated in preparation to add a tower to the church itself, but this was never carried out.

  18. Walk through the car park to the main entrance, and bear right to follow the lane uphill. Continue on the lane for about a mile to reach the Halzephon Inn. This is the lane that the path ran alongside earlier on the walk, so you can use the path parallel to the lane for part of the way.

    The Schiedam was a Dutch ship in the East India service. It was captured in 1863 by French privateers on the way back from northern Spain with a cargo of timber, but was soon re-captured by an English galley frigate and then served in the English Navy fleet. In 1684, on a return voyage from the military evacuation of Tangiers, the vessel was driven ashore at Gunwalloe Church Cove in a gale. The ship was carrying navy miners, horses and machinery as well as guns and stores which had been captured in the assault. It is reported that the Gunwalloe locals plundered the stores from the wreck together with the ship's sails and cables. The remains of the wreck were rediscovered in 1971, the surviving objects being mainly those of metal such as pewter spoons, brass candlesticks and copper cooking kettles. It is now a designated historic wreck site.

  19. From the Inn, continue past a junction on the left until you reach a signpost for Helston, Gweek etc. beside another junction to the left.

    The Halzephron Inn was built in 1468, making use of the timber from shipwrecks. Many features of the pub are centuries old, including the bar counter. Within the thick wall between the lounge and "Fishermen's Bar" is a shaft leading to a tunnel. It is thought this connected the Inn to a nearby monastery and is also said that it connected to a passage from Fishing Cove, used by smugglers.

  20. Bear left down the small lane signposted to the Loe Bar and follow this until you reach a public footpath sign on the left.

    In October 1910, the French schooner Olympe was on her way to Swansea with a cargo of wood for use in the coal mines when she was driven ashore at Gunwalloe Church Cove in a gale. The crew were saved by workers from a nearby hotel who formed a human chain to get the men ashore. Along the high-tide line, the beach was strewn with the cargo.

  21. Cross the stile beside the footpath sign and bear right across the field to a stile to the left of the small gateway in the hedge.
  22. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a stile opposite.
  23. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge of the field to a gate in the corner.
  24. Go through the gate and follow the path between the hedges until it emerges on a track.
  25. Continue ahead on the track to reach a waymark. Bear right along the track from the waymark (to avoid the drop directly ahead on the far side of the grass) and turn left at the junction to return to the car park.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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