Porthallow to Gillan

The walk follows the coast from Porthallow to Nare Point on the mouth of the Helford River, and then follows Gillan Creek to the beaches of Gillan and Flushing. From Gillan Beach, the walk joins bridleways and small lanes to Treglossick and then a final footpath through the woods and fields completes the circular route to Porthallow.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Porthallow
  • Parking: Porthallow. Follow the B3293 to St Keverne. Turn left at the square and follow signs to Porthallow. Satnav: TR126PW
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Views along the coast and across Gillan Creek
  • Wildflowers throughout the spring and early summer

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. With your back to the sea, make your way to the coast path sign at the top of the beach and turn right to follow the track along the front of the houses to reach a footpath signpost on the steps.

    As the name of the pub - the Five Pilchards - suggests, the port flourished during the heyday of pilchard fishing and a number of the buildings are relics of this. During mediaeval times, it was a major fishery, initially owned by an Abbey, and the pilchard fishery continued into Victorian times. In more recent times, Porthallow was largely owned by the Trelowarren Estate and the beach was still owned by the estate until the 1970s when it was purchased by the village. The placename is pronounced locally as "pralla".

  2. Climb the steps, passing the footpath signpost, and follow the path to reach a kissing gate in the field at the top of the cliff.

    In 1917 a convoy of cargo ships from Montreal successfully crossed the Atlantic to British waters and the Volnay sailed from Wales around Land's End on a course for Plymouth. The ship zig-zagged along the mineswept area in The Channel but one mine had been missed and this exploded against the cargo hold. The cargo hold that exploded was loaded with 18 pounder shrapnel shells, but remarkably these didn't detonate. The ship's engines weren't harmed and so the captain made a run for Falmouth. As he neared Porthallow, he realised that the ship would not make it to Falmouth and changed course for the nearest land, but the ship sank just half a mile from the shore. All the crew managed to abandon the ship and reach safety. The heavy shells sank, but a storm the next day brought much of the lighter cargo ashore. Much to the delight of the residents of the Lizard, Porthallow beach was 6 feet deep in cases of cigarettes, tea, coffee, meat, butter, jam and even potato crisps.

  3. Keep right to pass the gate on your left and continue on the path along the coast to reach a kissing gate.

    On the opposite side of the bay, in a disused quarry at Porthkerris, is the Cornish Sea Salt Factory.

    The Iron Age saltworks on The Lizard inspired the idea for the Cornish Sea Salt Company in 2004 which, after three years of development work, began trading in Jan 2008. The salt is harvested from the sea in a purpose-built building on the Lizard coast. Only a fraction of the salt is extracted from the seawater, which is then allowed to trickle back into the sea through a fault in the rocks, ensuring that the local salinity levels are not greatly disturbed. Roughly 90-95% of the sea salt is sodium chloride; the remaining fraction contains a range of other minerals which are generally thought to make it more healthy than the more pure sodium chloride and anti-caking agents present in standard table salt.

  4. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the coast to reach a stone stile over a wall at a waymark.
  5. Cross over the wall and continue ahead across the top section of the field, passing to the left of the hedge rising from the bottom of the field. After passing the hedge, make your way to the far-right corner of the field to reach a stone stile.

    In March 1891, the Bay of Panama - a four-masted steel ship of over 2000 tons - was wrecked at Penare Point near the Helford River in a blizzard. A farmer searching for his animals came across the wreck and found figures hanging in the rigging, some dead and some still alive. The West Briton newspaper reported:

    The lifesaving rockets were brought into requisition, and by their aid, 17 sailors were brought ashore, but the Captain, his wife and 18 seamen were drowned. Several of the bodies were washed ashore yesterday, including the Captain's wife.
  6. Cross the stile in the corner of the field and follow the path to reach a waymarked stile over a wall.

    Gannets can sometimes be seen off the headland, circling and diving for fish.

    Gannets are the largest sea birds in the North Atlantic with a wingspan of up to 2 metres and are easily recognisable by their long white wings with black tips. Gannets can dive from up to 30 metres, achieving speeds of up to 100kph as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most seabirds. To achieve this they have air sacs in their face and chest, which act as cushioning when they hit the water. Also they have no external nostrils, instead they are situated inside the mouth.

  7. Cross the stile and keep right along the fence towards the coastguard lookout. Continue to reach a gate on the track leading to the coastguard lookout.

    The lookout station at Nare Point was originally part of a torpedo testing range in Falmouth Bay. It was one of two control centres that tracked the position of dummy torpedos dropped by aeroplanes and helicopters and was in use until 1993. After this is was used as a potato store until it was leased by the National Trust to the National Coastwatch Institution in 2005.

  8. Turn left from the gate and follow the track away from the coastguard lookout. Follow it to a hedge where it passes through a gate beside a kissing gate.

    The National Coastwatch Institution was set up to restore visual watches along the UK coastline after two Cornish fishermen lost their lives within sight of an empty Coastguard lookout in 1994. The first station - at Bass Point on The Lizard, where the fishermen had died - opened in December 1994. The organisation, staffed by volunteers, now runs 50 lookout stations around England and Wales.

  9. Go through the kissing gate (or the main gate, if open) and follow the track to another gate.

    During World War 2, a decoy site was constructed at Nare Point which was built by Ealing Film Studios and manned from a bunker above Men-Aver beach. A sister site existed on Nare Head on the other side of Falmouth Bay, so whichever direction bombers approached from, they could be intercepted before they reached Falmouth. A mark in the grass alongside the coast path is the remains of a fake railway with red and green lights on posts to simulate signals. The site consisted of a range of fire-making devices that were designed to emulate a town that was in blackout where bombs had hit their targets. These included exploding sand bags, tanks with tar and 15 foot long fire-trays which could be filled with different mixtures to emulate the effect of a hit on a ship or a train. During Falmouth's most destructive bombing raid of 1944, the decoy site managed to lure 9 heavy bombs away from Falmouth.

  10. Go through the kissing gate (or the main gate, if open) and bear right down the path leading off the track. Follow the path over a bridge and along the coast to reach a kissing gate beside a metal gate.

    The Helford creeks are formed from an ancient river valley that has been flooded by rising sea levels. In total, seven creeks (Ponsontuel Creek, Mawgan Creek, Polpenwith Creek, Polwheveral Creek, Frenchman's Creek, Port Navas Creek, and Gillan Creek) connect to the main Helford River inlet between the headlands of Nare Point and Rosemullion Head. The creeks are an important area of marine conservation and contain eelgrass which provides a habitat for a variety of wildlife including seahorses.

  11. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the hedge on the right. Keep following along the hedge to reach a stone stile over a wall.
  12. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a concrete wall. Follow the path down the steps and continue downhill to reach a beach.

    The protruding tongue of land is known as The Herra. The larger of the two mounds is thought to have been a Bronze Age barrow, as an urn was found in the eroding cliff and another urn was found nearby in Gillan Cove which is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Also found in the cove was a bronze socketed axe head and three bronze ingots. The other mound has been greatly disturbed but may have originally been a barrow that was later re-used for fortification.

  13. At the bottom of the steps beside the beach, bear left and follow the path past a bench and waymark to the wooden boat shed. The walk continues on the bridleway behind the boatshed; you can optionally follow the coast a short distance further to Flushing Cove and the crossing to St Anthony, and then return here to complete the walk.

    At low tide it is possible to cross Gillan Creek between Halamana (on the Flushing side) and St Anthony. Although there is a line of stepping stones, these are sometimes covered with slippery seaweed, in which case it is safer to wade across in the ankle-deep water, avoiding a narrow stretch of deeper water leading towards some old gypsy caravans. A ferry runs at high tide during the summer.

  14. Walk along the left side of the boat shed to join the bridleway. Continue until you reach a gate across the track just before it emerges on a farm track.
  15. Go through the gate and join the concrete track ahead. Follow the track through the farm, going through any gates across the track as necessary. Keep following the track until it ends at a junction of lanes.

    The settlement of Trewarnevas was first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Treurnivet having one acre of land and owned by Alwin. The name is the Cornish for "farm on the sacred place", based on the word neved meaning sacred pagan place or grove.

  16. At the junction, cross over the small lane to join the road ahead. Follow the road to a junction on the left signposted to Porthallow.
  17. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a track leading down to a gate on the right, opposite the large metal gates on the left just after the houses.

    There are some nice displays of violets along the lane in early spring.

    The purple flowers resembling a miniature pansy that you see along the footpaths from March to May are almost certainly dog violets, so-called because they are unscented (rather than scented of dog) to distinguish them from the sweet violet. The plants are able to thrive both in shade and full sun, so are found in grassland and hedgerows as well as woodland. Sweet violets prefer shade, so if you do encounter these it will most likely be in woodland, but the dog violets are more common even in this habitat.

  18. Turn right down the track leading from the back of the parking area and make your way to the stile on the right of the gate. Cross the stile and then keep left to join a grassy track. Follow it to where it forks to go through a gate.

    The track seems to be a popular flight path for butterflies searching for nectar-bearing flowers along the hedges.

    A popular misconception is that a butterfly was originally called flutterby. In fact, the name stems from the Old English word buttorfleoge which literally means "butterfly". Exactly why they were associated with butter is a bit of a mystery. One theory is that they were seen hovering over pails of milk and thought to be stealing or protecting the butter. Another is that the Yellow Brimstone was the species for which this name was first devised. The term "flutterby" is thought to have been coined by Shakespeare.

  19. Keep right just before the gate to follow the grassy path down the valley until a path forks off the track to the right, leading to a footbridge.
  20. Bear right down the path and follow it over the footbridge and wooden walkways to reach a stile. Cross the stile and keep left to follow the path ahead, winding between the trees, to emerge into a field.

    Bluebells grow in the woodland and usually begin flowering towards the end of April.

    In folklore, the bluebell is a symbol of constancy, presumably based on the fact that they flower in the same place every year. It was said that anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. This is probably the origin of the '…something blue…' that a bride should wear on her wedding day.

    bar
  21. Follow along the top of the field to the far side.
  22. Follow the path leading from the field to reach a wooden kissing gate. Go through this and follow the path until it ends on a track in front of some cottages.
  23. Turn left onto the track and follow it along the row of cottages to reach a lane.
  24. Turn left onto the lane and follow it back to the beach.

    Porthallow is now probably best known for being the midpoint of the South West Coast Path.

    The South West Coast Path stretches for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. It was created as a route between lighthouses for use by the Coastguard so they could overlook the bays and coves to catch smugglers.

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.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?