Rosemullion Head

The walk starts at Maenporth beach and follows the coast to the edge of Falmouth Bay. The route traces the edge of Rosemullion Head overlooking colourful marine gardens and then follows the Helford River to Durgan. The return route is across the fields via Mawnan Smith.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.8 miles/9.4 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Maenporth
  • Parking: Maenporth. Follow the A39 towards Falmouth until you reach HillHead roundabout with a right turning to Budock Water. Turn right at the roundabout and then go straight ahead when you reach the two small roundabouts, then follow signs to Maenporth. Satnav: TR115HN
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Glendurgan National Trust gardens
  • Undersea gardens on Rosemullion Head
  • Sheltered sandy beach at Maenporth
  • Small beaches on the Helford River

Directions

  1. Facing the sea, make your way to the top-right-hand corner of the beach to reach a Coast Path sign. Follow along the road a few paces and then join the path on the left. Follow this to a fork just past the lifeguard hut.

    Maenporth, pronounced "main-porth" is an east-facing, crescent-shaped beach, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. Due to its proximity to Falmouth and easy parking, the beach gets fairly busy in the summer but out-of-season, or even early on summer mornings, you can have the beach to yourself.

  2. Keep left at the fork and follow the path out onto the coast. Continue on the path for just over half a mile, passing over a wooden walkway, up some steps and alongside some garden gates to reach a waymark.

    In December 1978 the Scottish trawler Ben Asdale was in Falmouth Bay unloading its catch of mackerel into a Russian Factory ship. As the trawler cast off from the factory ship, the stern rope jammed in the rudder and the trawler was unable to steer. The captain attempted to anchor the vessel but in the force 8 gale, the anchor dragged and the ship was driven ashore on Newporth Head. Three of the crew who attempted to swim ashore drowned but eight were rescued by helicopter which had to fly backwards to avoid the headland in one of the most dangerous rescues of modern times. The remains of the vessel can still be seen at low water.

  3. Follow the path through the gap ahead from the waymark and continue along the coast to descend into a valley and reach a waymark outside the Meudon Hotel.

    The castle on the other side of the bay is Pendennis.

    Pendennis Castle was built by Henry VIII to defend the coast against a possible French attack and was re-inforced during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the English Civil War, more re-inforcement took place and the castle withstood five months of siege from Parliamentary forces before it was captured. The castle was adapted for the World Wars of the 20th Century and the guardhouse has been restored to how it might have looked in the First World War. During the Second World War, underground tunnels and magazines were added which can now be visited.

  4. From the waymark, follow the path to a pedestrian gate and go through this to reach a fork in the path at a Coast Path sign.
  5. Keep left at the fork and follow the path to the beach, then bear right to a junction of paths. Keep left to follow the path along the coast, through a pedestrian gate, to emerge into a field. Follow along the left hedge of the field to reach a kissing gate on the far side.

    During the spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems and, as the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or leeks. They are at their best for culinary use from February to April. By May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to a stile into a field. Cross this and follow the path across the field to reach a gateway with a National Trust sign for Rosemullion Head.

    The first record of the name Rosemullion was in 1318 when it was written rosemylian. The name is thought to be from the Cornish words ros (meaning promontary) and mellyon (meaning clover).

  7. Go through the gateway and then bear left to follow along the left hedge and join the path around the headland. Continue following the path until you reach a fork near the end of the headland.

    Seaweeds are algae and rely on sunlight to produce energy via photosynthesis in the way terrestrial plants do; they therefore thrive in shallow water where the sunlight penetrates. On the shoreline, you're likely to see brown bladderwrack and red dulce on exposed rocks; within rockpools, green sea lettuces and red coral-like seaweeds. At very low tides, or if you wade into the water beside rocks, brown ribbon-like kelp is common, which is a favourite hiding place for many fish such as bass, pollack and wrasse.

    No seaweeds are known to be poisonous and several are eaten raw, cooked or dried. Seaweed is quite rich in iodine which is an essential mineral, but in very large doses is toxic, so excessive consumption are not recommended. A number of food additives such as alginates, agar and carrageenan are produced from seaweed and used as gelling agents and emulsifiers in many processed foods.

  8. Keep left at the fork to follow the lower path around the headland. Continue following the path to reach a stile.

    The weed-covered rocks provide a habitat for fish species such as wrasse.

    One of the most common fish on inshore reefs is the wrasse. The name for the fish is from the Cornish word “wragh” meaning “old hag”. This is probably based on its lack of popularity for culinary consumption and is the reason why it is still quite common whereas most other species have been depleted by several centuries of fishing. Recently, wrasse has been “rediscovered” as a good eating fish if not overcooked. However, wrasse are very slow growing so are not an ideal culinary fish for conservation reasons: they cannot reproduce until they are 6-10 years old and large individuals may be over 30 years old.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path along the hedge to reach a footbridge on the far side.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include Blue Bonnets, Blue Buttons, Blue Daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as Sheep's Bit. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "Sheeps Bit Scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    The flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV, but we can't, is that the lens of the human eye blocks UV light and insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours.

  10. Cross the bridge and stile and cross the small field to the stile and gate opposite.

    Roughly two-thirds of the way along the left hedge, a small path leads down to the seashore.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  11. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the path along the left hedge of the field to reach a kissing 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.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to a kissing gate into a field beside a Mawnan Glebe sign.

    A glebe was an area of land used to support the parish priest (in addition to a residence in the form of a parsonage or rectory). Occasionally the glebe included an entire farm. It was typically donated by the lord of the manor or cobbled together from several donated pieces of land.

  13. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a kissing gate beside a bench.

    Mawnan church was originally built in 1231. It was restored in Victorian times and when the north wall was rebuilt in 1827, the remains of a former church building and fragments of carved stone were discovered. The church is dedicated to St Mawnan, about whom little is known but is thought might have been a Breton monk who landed here in the early 6th Century.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the path until you reach a gate into a field.

    In Jan 1940 after a mine sweep, the Canoni River - an oil tanker of over 7,000 tons - left Falmouth harbour to carry out engine sea trials . To everyone's surprise she hit a German mine and sank within an hour. It was quickly worked out that the mine was laid close inshore by a German submarine just after the minesweep was completed. The submarine was capable of laying 9 mines and the remaining mines were found and detonated. The Navy realised that the submarine had use the light on the Manacles buoy to navigate into the shallow water in Falmouth Bay at night and so the buoy was extinguished for the rest of the war.

  15. Go through the gate and continue straight ahead down the field to the gate at the bottom.

    In October 1940, the coaster Jersey Queen suffered an aerial attack with machine gun, cannon fire and incendiary bombs on its way though the Irish Sea. Two of the crew were injured but the incendiary bombs slipped off the hull into the sea preventing any major damage. Two days later, she struck an accoustic mine in Cornish waters and sank in Falmouth Bay with the loss of two crew. When the mine detonated, the captain was knocked unconscious but was pulled from the water before he drowned by one of the crew. Despite suffering attacks on two subsequent ships he captained, he survived the war and was awarded an MBE for his service.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the path past the hut and through the gate into the field. Then turn left and follow along the left hedge to reach a stile.
  17. Cross the stile and follow the path along the coast and the top of a beach to reach a hut on the far side.

    During the summer months, jellyfish drift across the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream and can sometimes be seen washed up on Cornish beaches.

    Jellyfish are the oldest multi-organ animal and have been around over 500 million years (more than twice as long ago as when the first dinosaurs appeared). Two of the most common jellyfish you're likely to see in Cornwall don't have a sting that is noticeable by humans:

    • Moon Jellyfish - clear jellyfish with 4 pale purple rings; very common
    • Barrel Jellyfish - large cream rubbery bell up to a metre across and 8 thick arms; usually in slightly deeper water and rarely seen on beaches

    Two to watch out for which are common and sting are:

    • Compass Jellyfish, about the size of a grapefruit with brown v-shaped markings around a brown dot in the middle of the bell. This one has a sharp sting, a bit like nettles.
    • Blue Jellyfish - a similar size and also bell-shaped, but with a blue centre. The sting is milder than nettles and doesn't last long, but still noticeable.

    Much less common, but also noteworthy for its nasty sting, is the Lion's Mane Jellyfish which is large (around 50cm across), reddish brown with thick frilled arms and a mass of hair-like tentacles.

    If you are unlucky enough to be stung by a jellyfish, scrape off any stinging sacs stuck to the skin (e.g. with a shell or credit card) and apply ice and take some painkillers. There are old wives tales about urine, alcohol and baking soda being cures; avoid all of these as they are ineffective and likely to make the pain worse. Although vinegar does work in some situations, in others it can activate any unfired stinging cells; NHS advice is therefore to avoid it.

  18. Pass the hut and go through the gate and then turn left to follow the path along the coast to reach a field. Follow the left hedge of the field, keeping left where the path forks, to reach a stile on the far side of the field.

    Cornwall has the longest stretch of coastline of any county in the UK, stretching for roughly 400 miles around 80% of the county. Wherever you are in Cornwall, you are never more than 16 miles from the sea, and from the majority of hills you can see it on a clear day.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the path until it ends in a stile and gate onto a lane.
  20. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow this until you reach the steps on the right.

    If you continue on the lane past the steps to Durgan Village, there is a lower entrance to Gledurgan garden.

    Glendurgan Garden is situated in a steep south-facing valley beside the Helford river. The aspect and mild maritime climate allow frost-intolerant subtropical plants to grow here. The garden was laid out by Alfred Fox in the 1820s and 1830s and now covers 25 acres. It was given to the National Trust by the Fox family in 1962. The most well-known feature of the garden is the cherry laurel maze dating back to 1833.

  21. Turn right up the steps and follow the path parallel to the road, up the hill, until you emerge from the trees opposite a house.

    The settlement of Bosveal was first recorded in 1327 and spelt Bosvael. It is from the Cornish word bos, for dwelling. The rest is thought to be based on the name of the person who lived there.

  22. Keep left to follow the path beneath the tree and through the gap in the wall ahead. Continue until the path emerges into a National Trust car park.

    The "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was founded in 1895 when snappy names weren't in fashion. Their first coastal acquisition was Barras Nose at Tintagel in 1897. Five years later, Tintagel Old Post Office was their first house to be acquired in Cornwall. The National Trust now has over 4 million members and owns over 700 miles of British coastline.

  23. Bear right to make your way out of the car park to the lane and then turn left to walk up the lane. Continue until you reach a Public Footpath sign on the right beside a gate for Mawnan Allotment Association.
  24. Cross the stile on the right marked with the Public Footpath sign and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a stile.
  25. Cross the stile and follow the path until you reach another stile at a corner in the path.
  26. Cross the stile and follow the path between the fence and the hedge, crossing a small stile part-way along, to reach a stile into a field.
  27. Cross the stile and follow the path along the left hedge of the field to reach a gate with a kissing gate alongside.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  28. Go through the kissing gate and follow the track ahead, past Carwinion Cottage to reach a lane.

    When you reach the lane, the entrance to Carwinion Gardens is on your right.

    Carwinion House was built in the 18th Century and during Victorian times, the Rogers family were keen plant hunters, planting many exotic species in the gardens. The property was gifted to the National Trust in 1969 and the Rogers family lived there for another generation as tenants, tending the gardens and creating a nationally important bamboo collection. After Anthony Rogers died, the furnishings from the house and many horticultural items were auctioned off and the National Trust began seeking new tenants in 2014 to renovate the house and tend the gardens, in preparation to re-open the property to the public.

  29. Turn left onto the road and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign on the right for Meudon.
  30. Cross the stile on the right indicated by the footpath sign and follow the path across a stile into a field. Follow along the left hedge of the field to reach a gate.
  31. Go through the kissing gate on the right of the farm gate and follow the track to another gate.
  32. Go through the kissing gate on the left of the farm gate and follow the track to a waymark.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  33. Turn left to pass the barn to a waymarked gate. Go through this and turn left to follow the grassy area. Keep left at the gate to follow the grass downhill and into the woods. Continue through the woods until you reach a gate on the right.
  34. When you reach the gate on the right, go through this and bear left down the field to the gate in the bottom hedge.
  35. Go through the kissing gate and cross the next field towards the gate in the bottom hedge.
  36. At the gate, don't go through it but instead turn right to stay in the field. Follow along the bottom hedge until you reach a waymarked kissing gate into the woods.
  37. Go through the gate and keep left to follow the lower path. Continue to reach a waymark where a path joins from the left and continue ahead down the valley until the path eventually ends in a gate.
  38. Go through the gate and follow the drive ahead to reach the beach and complete the circular walk.

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 also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

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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