The Loe

The walk follows the River Cober through Coronation Park to the bridge and then joins the tree-lined bridleway through Penrose to the coast near Porthleven. The route then crosses the Loe Bar and follows the path around the Loe Pool to reach the woods. Paths through the woods and a track past the engine house of Wheal Pool complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Bridge half-way down Fairground car park
  • Parking: Fairground Car Park (next to Flora Motors). From the Helston double roundabout on the A394, follow signs to Porthleven to reach the car park beside Flora Motors Satnav: TR130SF
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Cornwall's largest natural freshwater lake
  • Historic Penrose Estate
  • Mature broadleaf woodland in the Cober valley
  • The Loe Bar - a geographical oddity with some rare wildlife

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Facing away from the road, make your way to the footbridge on the right side of the car park, located half-way along the first of the two parking areas. Cross the bridge and turn left on the other side. Follow the path until you reach another footbridge.

    Up to the end of the 19th Century, the area now occupied by Coronation Park was an area of waste ground that was often flooded and sometimes grazed by donkeys that mischievous children attempted to ride whilst the farmer wasn't looking. To commemorate the coronation of King George V in 1912, it was transformed into a swimming and boating lake.

  2. Continue ahead over the small bridge then take the left-hand path. Follow this alongside the river until it ends beside another footbridge.

    During the 1960s, the formerly meandering River Cober was canalised as part of measures to prevent flooding in Helston but this had a detrimental effect on the wetland willow woodland habitat. A series of pipes have now been installed so that when the water level rises, the river can discharge water into the woodland. This is restoring the habitat and also further improves the flood defences by allowing the river to discharge floodwater more quickly. Since the work has been done, there has been a substantial increase birdlife and otters have even been seen recolonising the area.

  3. Turn right, away from the footbridge and follow the path until it ends on a track at a waymark.

    There are nearly 400 miles of public bridleway in Cornwall, marked with blue waymarks, which are also open to horses and cyclists, although there is no obligation to make them navigable by any means other than on foot. The general public are also legally entitled to drove livestock along public bridleways, and although Cornwall has more than its share of eccentrics, this is something we've yet to see.

  4. At the waymark, turn left onto the track and follow it to a gate at a gatehouse.
  5. Go through the gate and follow the track, past a waymark, until you reach a junction with a wooden signpost.

    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".

  6. Turn left in the direction indicated for the Loe Bar and follow the track to another junction opposite the National Trust café.

    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.

  7. Turn left at the junction and follow the track a short distance to another signpost at a junction of tracks.
  8. Continue ahead in the direction signposted for the Loe Bar. Follow the track for just under a mile until you eventually reach the gate of another gatehouse at the coast.

    Amongst the species of tree growing around the Loe Pool are sweet chestnuts.

    The chestnut tree originated in Sardinia and was introduced into Britain by the Romans who planted chestnut trees on their various campaigns to provide an easily stored and transported source of food for their troops.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the wall a short distance to a waymark at the end of the wall. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path down to the beach.

    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.

  10. Continue ahead along the Loe Bar and bear left slightly to the edge of the Loe Pool. Follow along the edge of the pool to a waymark where a sandy path runs along the edge of the pool.

    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.

  11. Turn left at the waymark and follow the sandy path. Continue, passing over a small wooden footbridge, until you reach a large wooden walkway spanning the creek.

    In December 1921 the Italian cargo ship, the Tripolitania, was driven ashore on the Loe Bar in a gale. When the tide went out, the huge ship was parked upright at the top of the beach. A great effort was made to refloat her with many tons of sand and shingle being dug out by hand before the next spring tide. Tugs stood by to pull her off the bar, but another storm rose and embedded the ship even more firmly in the bar. This put an end to any chance of refloating her so she was broken up for scrap.

  12. Turn left and follow the walkway to the path on the opposite side of the creek.

    The Loe provides an ideal habitat for Herons, which can sometimes be seen flying over the lake.

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and is most commonly seen in or near freshwater. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - it is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! In Tudor and Elizabethan times, hunting herons with peregrine falcons was considered a royal sport which resulted in the birds being protected from peasants who might otherwise have caught and roasted them.

  13. Turn left onto the path and follow it until it ends at a waymark on a track, just after passing along the edge of a walled courtyard.

    Swans can often be seen on the lake. Some of the shallower areas contain weed which swans can reach with their long necks.

    Swans usually mate for life, although "divorce" can sometimes occur if there is a nesting failure. The birds can live for over 20 years but in the 20th Century many swans were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. This was tracked down to the tiny "lead shot" weights used for fishing that swans would hoover up with weed and roots from the bottom of rivers and lakes. Since the introduction of non-toxic metals for making fishing weights, incidents of poisoning have disappeared and the swan population is now even growing very slightly.

  14. Bear left onto the track and follow it until you reach a tall tree with a path below it, departing to the left.
  15. Turn left down the path and follow it to a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path along the left hedge. Continue on the path around the field to reach a pedestrian gate leading into the woods.
  16. Go through the gate and follow the path a short distance to a fork at a waymark.
  17. Take the left path marked with the yellow arrow and follow this to a junction of paths at a waymark.

    Squirrels live in the woods. You're most likely to encounter them at times when there are not many dogs being walked.

    Grey Squirrels were introduced to the UK from the USA in the late 19th Century and within decades they had replaced the native Red Squirrel in most parts of the country. Compared to Red Squirrels, Grey Squirrels are able to eat a wider diet (including acorns), are larger so can survive colder winters, and are better able to survive in the fragmented habitats created by urbanisation. They are also thought to be carriers of a squirrel pox virus which they usually recover from but has been fatal to Red Squirrels, although Red Squirrels are now also developing some immunity. As the Grey Squirrel is classified as an invasive species, it is illegal to release a captured animal into the wild but it is also illegal to kill it in a way that is deemed as causing "unnecessary suffering". This has resulted in members of the public being prosecuted for e.g. drowning a squirrel caught in a trap, believing they were doing the right thing. To date, culling of Grey Squirrels has not reversed their domination of woodland habitat and alternative approaches such as planting food with contraceptives are being explored as a means to control the population. The theory is that infertile squirrels can compete for food against fertile squirrels, whereas culling can create a glut of food resulting in a higher number of squirrels surviving which replace those that were exterminated.

  18. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path until it passes around a large bend and there is a fork where a path departs to the left.
  19. Keep right to stay on the main path and follow it to another waymark.
  20. Bear right in the direction of the blue arrow at the waymark and then keep left down the steps. Follow the path to a junction of paths in front of a bench; keep left as you approach to reach the bench.
  21. Turn left at the bench and follow the path to reach a gateway with granite gateposts in front of a small stream.
  22. Go through the gateway and cross the stream then continue along the bridleway to reach a gate into a meadow.
  23. Go through the gate (or the passageway next to it) and follow the path along the right hedge to a stony path on the right of the gateway ahead.
  24. Join the path on the right of the gateway and follow this until it ends at a waymark beside a track.

    On the hill to the right is the manor of Nansloe, from the Cornish word nans, for valley. The two neighbouring farms also take their name from this (Higher and Lower Nansloe).

    The Cornish language has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream
    • tenow - valley floor
  25. Turn left onto the track and follow it for just over half a mile back to the car park. Just after you pass a Penrose National Trust sign, there is a small path on the left leading into the car park; a little further along the track there is also another opening into the car park.

    The chimney beside the track is one of the remnants of the Wheal Pool mine.

    Wheal Pool was a lead and silver mine that was worked since at least the 16th Century. Initially, open-cast mining was used to reach the ore close to the surface and this was extended to underground mining at the start of the 19th Century. In order to prevent the Loe Pool from flooding the mine, a drainage adit was bored through the cliffs next to the Loe Bar at the end of the 18th Century so that the water level in the pool could be regulated.

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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