Gunwalloe Coves circular walk

Gunwalloe Coves

A circular walk from the Loe Bar to Dollar Cove passing the wrecks of treasure ships whose cargo still washes ashore, returning via the Halzephron Inn which still has a trapdoor leading to an underground network of tunnels used by smugglers.

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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.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.5 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


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

Pubs on or near the route

  • Halzephron Inn

Adjoining walks


  1. From the car park, follow the track onwards and through a gate where a path departs to the left to where the main track forks to accommodate a gateway to the right.

    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 Rogers, 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 remains as a private family home. This 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 Rogers family.

  2. Keep left at the fork to continue following the main track. Continue downhill until it ends on the beach in front of 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. Just before the sign, turn left and follow the path along the coast. 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 you reach a wooden post with a black South West Coast Path sign indicating a path leading steeply uphill.

    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. Bear left to follow the path uphill indicated by the arrow to emerge at a junction of paths with a waymark.
  7. Turn right and follow the path and continue as it widens into a track. Follow the track to a waymark beside few steps on the right where a path descends to the coast.

    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.

  8. Go down the steps on the right and follow the path down to the coast.

    The name "blackthorn" is just a general reference to the dark colour of the bark, rather than anything specific to do with the thorns which are not any darker than the rest of the wood. It's primarily a comparison with hawthorn where the bark is lighter (in fact hawthorn is also known as "white thorn" despite not having white thorns). Just to confuse things further, the flowers of blackthorn are whiter than hawthorn!

  9. Turn left onto the coast path and follow the path past the old cellars. Continue on the path to a gap in a wall leading to some winches.

    The large building known as "the cellars" was built in parts. Based on the number of windows, it is thought that the first part was built as a summer lodging house and winter equipment store for pilchard fishermen, probably in the 18th Century. In the early 19th Century, it was extended to create a fish cellar. This was further extended in the late 19th Century.

    By the Second World war, the building was redundant and was used by the Home Guard. The roof slates were removed in 1965 and it fell into ruin.

    In the early 21st Century it was restored and was used as the house of Dr Enys in the BBC's Poldark series.

    Records from the cellars indicate a pilchard industry was already established at Fishing Cove in the early 19th Century and likely dates from at least the previous century. Winches along the cliff edge were used to help bring boats up the beach to get them clear of tides and storms. During the 19th Century, capstans (similar to the one at Penberth Cove) were used to raise the boats but hardly anything remains of these. The winch remains you can see today are from the 20th Century and include the remains of a petrol engine.

  10. Continue along the coast path from the gap in the wall to join a track in front of the cottages. Continue ahead on the track to reach a junction of tracks above the beach.

    The slightly long-winded name of Gunwalloe Fishing Cove is to distinguish it from Gunwalloe Church Cove and from other Fishing Coves in Cornwall (one at Godrevy and another at Trebetherick Point next to Daymer Bay). It's also known as Halzephron Beach.

    The beach is mostly sand with some small ridges of rock. Along the top of the beach, the sand is fairly coarse and this gets finer towards the low tide line. There's not much beach at high tide but at low tide the beach runs all the way to the Loe Bar.

    It is a deceptively dangerous beach despite its innocent appearance which makes swimming very unwise. As well as strong currents around the headland, cavitation of the shingle beneath the sand caused by breaking waves makes it easy to fall or be hit by a projectile pebble, be stunned and inhale seawater. Both humans and dogs have drowned along this stretch in recent years. Local names include "Death beach".

  11. Continue ahead, past the track 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.

    In 1846, the Norwegian ship Elizabeth was carrying a cargo of salt and was driven into the cliffs at Gunwalloe by a gale. Two men and a boy drowned and are buried in Gunwalloe churchyard but the landlord of the Ship Inn - Henry Cuttance - managed rescue the remaining four members of the crew. He was awarded a silver tankard by the King of Norway. In 2017, a number of his possessions were sold at auction and the tankard fetched over £8000. Amongst the other items sold was a ledger of smuggled goods including brandy, cheese and cotton.

  12. Turn left onto the path and follow it up the cliff to reach a gateway with granite gateposts on the top.

    Betony is a grassland herb, common on the coast, with pretty purple anthers that stick out from the plant. The name is derived from the ancient Celtic words bew (meaning head) and ton (meaning good) as it was used as a cure for headaches. From Roman times onward, it was believed to be a cure for a number of things (the Romans listed 47!) including drunkenness; even as late as the 1800s, Richard E. Banks stated that you should "Eat betony or the powder thereof and you cannot be drunken that day" and John Gerard (1597) said that "It maketh a man to pisse well". Betony was also used to ward away evil spirits (hence it is planted in a number of churchyards) and also to make a dark yellow dye for wool.

    The coves here were used for smuggling as well as fishing.

    The local dialect in Cornwall included a number of words related to smuggling. For the purveyors themselves there was:

    Troacher - a hawker of smuggled goods.

    ..and a word specifically for smuggled liquor:

    Custom (pron. "coostom") - raw, smuggled spirits. "A drap o' coostom."

    ...and also the barrels to transport it:

    Anker - a small keg or cask of handy size for carrying by hand, or slung on horse-back.
  13. Go through the gateway and pass the pedestrian gate ahead. Follow the path to reach a stone stile.

    The second part of the Latin name of red campion - dioica ("two houses") - refers to the plants' gender. Some plants are male and others are female. The male plants' flowers can be recognised from five yellow stamens sticking out from a protruding ring in the centre of the petals. The female plants' flowers have no protruding ring and instead have 5 curly white stigmas. These produce a white froth to trap pollen.

    The dandelion-like flowers along the coast are most likely to be catsear, also known as false dandelion. Catsear is very salt tolerant, not only growing along the coast but actually in sand dunes. The easiest way to recognise it is by the hairy leaves, hence the name. If you can cope with the texture, the leaves are edible and are much less bitter than dandelion leaves.

    Another way to tell them apart is when they are flowering. Although dandelion flowers over quite a long period, the most profuse flowering is in April and May whereas catsear's intense flowering period is in late June and through July. Catsear has neater flowers than dandelion with squarer edges to the petals (but still toothed). The stems supporting the flowers are also solid, in contrast with the hollow stem of the dandelion.

    The design of the Cornish Lugger was honed into a high-speed vessel for use in smuggling. The largest were up to 75 feet long with three masts of stepped height, allowing a large area of sail to be set. The fastest could average twelve knots between Cornwall and Roscoff, which is fast sailing even by modern standards. The decks were often lined with a dozen or more cannons and another dozen anti-personnel swivel guns loaded with shrapnel-like grapeshot.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the path to the end of the fences to where it forks just before the road.

    Tamarisks, also known as salt cedars, are able to withstand drought, soil salinity, and salt-water spray and therefore thrive in mild coastal areas such as the Cornish coastline. Their ability to accumulate salt and then excrete this through glands in their leaves prevents less salt-tolerant plants from growing around their base.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 post just before the way down to the beach.

    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.

  19. The walk continues to the left to reach the lane but first you may want to visit Dollar Cove (path on the right), and Church Cove is also 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.

  20. To miss a bit of road, you can walk through the car park and out of the main entrance, then bear right to follow the lane uphill. Continue until you reach a track on the left.

    Several churches in Cornwall have been dedicated to St Winwalloe (or Wynwallow) including at Gunwalloe and Landewednack on the Lizard, Tremaine near Launceston and Poundstock near Bude. Winwalloe was the son of a prince of the Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia (now known as Cornwall) born in 460. He fled to Brittany to avoid the plague, founded a monastery and died at the age of 72.

  21. Bear left onto the track and at the end, keep right to join the path parallel to the road that you used earlier. Follow this all the way back to the wooden fence.

    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.

  22. As you approach the fence, use the small path on the right to return to the lane. Continue on the lane to reach the Halzephron Inn.

    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.

  23. 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.

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

    The slightly confusing sign arises because the name for the town of Looe (at the opposite end of Cornwall) is also derived from the Cornish word logh. Most locals today would interpret "Looe Bar" as a drinking establishment in southeast Cornwall.

  25. Go up the steps beside the footpath sign and bear right across the field to a stile to the left of the small gateway in the hedge.

    There are two very similar looking members of the daisy family that are both known as "chamomile". English chamomile (also known as Roman chamomile) has hairy stems and is the one used for chamomile tea. German chamomile has smooth stems and higher levels of essential oils so this one is used for chamomile-scented pharmaceuticals (shampoos etc). Pineapple weed is related and is sometimes known as "false chamomile" or more confusingly as "wild chamomile" (even though it isn't chamomile and normal chamomile is also wild!).

    English chamomile was once common in Britain but it has declined (due to land clearance and changes to farming practices) to now being classified as Vulnerable. The Southwest is now one if its last strongholds.

    The path leads northwest which is a recipe for afternoon rainbows.

    As long as the sun is below 42 degrees from the horizon, you can see a rainbow. In the summer, the angle of the sun is too high during the middle of the day for rainbows but you can still get them in the morning and evening (you can potentially see a rainbow before about 10 am and after about 5 pm on any day in Cornwall).

  26. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a stile opposite.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

    The centre point of a rainbow is as far below the horizon as the sun is above it. The lower the sun is in the sky, the taller the rainbow.

  27. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge of the field to a gate in the corner.

    Common knapweed (also known as black knapweed) is most easily recognised by its bright purple thistle-like flowers but without spiky leaves. It's actually a member of the daisy family and is often seen along paths and roadside verges. Other names for the plant include "hardhead" (used in Cornwall in Victorian times) and "loggerhead" due to the sturdy flower heads. "knap" is from the Middle English word for "knob" and consequently another name for the plant is "knobweed".

    It is an important plant for pollinating insects and was rated in the top 5 for most nectar production in a UK plants survey. In terms of plants that produce both nectar and pollen, it is rated as the top producer overall, producing a good amount of each.

    The colours in a rainbow occur because as well as being reflected in a raindrop, the angle of the light is bent slightly (refracted) and the amount of bending depends on the wavelength of light (violet the most and red the least).

  28. Go through the gate and follow the path between the hedges until it emerges on a track.

    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". The term "flutterby" is thought to have been coined by Shakespeare.

    Double rainbows are due to light bouncing twice through some raindrops to produce the feint upper rainbow (more is lost from the 2 bounces) whereas the main bright lower rainbow is from light reflecting just once. That second bounce also flips the order of the colours around (just like a mirror reflection) which is why the upper feint rainbow has colours in the opposite order.

  29. 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.

    The settlement of Chyvarloe is first recorded in 1235 as Tywarlo. The name means "house on the pool" in Cornish.

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