Helston and Cober Valley circular walk

Helston and Cober Valley

A circular walk from Helston along the Cober Valley to the granite quarries at Coverack Bridges where the viaduct of the Helston Railway can still be seen spanning the valley.

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The walk starts from the old cattle market below the castle and follows the River Cober through woodland to the start of the leat for the town mill. The route then follows lanes and bridleways, and passes under the Helston railway to the granite quarries at Coverack Bridges. The walk then circles through the settlement of Trenethick, passing the Tudor manor and then enters Helston through Lowertown, using tucked-away footpaths to reach the church and reaches the monument at the site of the castle via some Victorian alleyways.

Considerations

  • Good balance and agility is required as the fairly long stretch of stepping stones across the river is uneven and the river is quite fast-flowing.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: about 5.1 miles/8.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or walking shoes in very dry weather. Wellies after very heavy rain.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Woodland along the River Cober
  • Historic town of Helston

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Blue Anchor Inn
  • The Coinage Hall
  • The Red Lion

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. In the of Castle Green car park, make your way towards the machine with "Pay here" and then bear right to the corner with metal railings. Go through the pedestrian gap next to the "have you paid and displayed" sign and follow the residential road away from the main road to reach a junction.
  2. Bear left at the junction and follow the road past St John's Chapel until it ends in a T-junction.

    St John's Road was recorded in 1429 as Strete Seyntjohn. St John's Chapel is more recent than it looks, built in the 1920s.

    John Wesley began preaching in Helston in 1755. This didn't go down well and resulted in the crowd throwing vegetables. Wesley concluded that Helston was a "hard-drinking town" but nevertheless persevered and by 1773 was able to preach on the main street for the first time, noting "How changed is this town since a Methodist could not ride through it without hazard of his life."

    A little further past the chapel is Drippy Droppy - the exit from a steep, narrow path leading to the Masonic Hall. The name is probably a reference to the damp passageway but there was also a game of Drippy Droppy played with pins that was recorded in the Camborne area in Victorian times.

  3. Turn left at the junction and follow the road until you reach a path on the right beside the river, just before the road ends in a junction with the main road.

    The mediaeval chapel of St John was recorded as being located on the opposite side of the main road and some of the stones were still apparent in the 1920s. They were lost when the junction was widened, and possibly form some of the hardcore that the road is laid on. A hospital associated with the chapel was recorded in 1240 and continued until 1545. It is thought that some of the cut stone in the garden walls of nearby St John's House could be from the hospital buildings.

  4. Turn right onto the path and follow the main path to where it crosses over a gully with tree roots either side and reach a fork in the path.

    The source of the river is on Nine Maidens Downs between Hangman's Barrow and the Nine Maidens stone circle and it runs through the mining area around Porkellis and Trenear (Poldark Mine) on its way to Helston. In the 12th and 13th Centuries, the name of the river was recorded as Clohor, Coffar and Cohor before becoming Cober in 1584. The name is thought to be from the Cornish cough-ar meaning "the red one", referring to the colour of the water due to mining activity - effectively another Red River.

  5. Take either path to where they rejoin at a gap in a wall. Continue through another gap in the wall ahead and across some stepping stones. Then continue on the path until you reach a concrete footbridge with a waymarked path continuing ahead.

    Wagtails are easily recognised from the tail pumping behaviour that their name suggests. Despite being very conspicuous, the function of this curious behaviour is not well understood. It is possibly a signal to predators that the wagtail has seen them, so there's no point trying anything.

    Two of the wagtail species are easy to confuse as they are both grey and yellow.

    Grey wagtails nest close to fast-running streams as they feed on aquatic invertebrates. They have pink (skin-coloured) legs.

    Yellow wagtails are more often found in open fields and have black legs.

    The third kind of wagtail more often seen in urban environments - the pied wagtail - is easy to distinguish due to the lack of yellow: it's entirely black-and-white.

  6. Cross the concrete footbridge and walk a few paces to emerge at the end of a residential road. Turn left and continue from the tarmac onto a gravel path. Follow the main path through the woods (ignoring any leading up to the right) to reach a waymark post with four arrows (3 blue, one yellow) at a junction of paths.

    The town mill is first mentioned in 1260 and a working corn mill was recorded in 1877. By 1978, it had been converted into a house. Sections of the leat that ran parallel to the River Cober along the valley still exist.

  7. At the junction, continue ahead on the main path to reach some stepping stones across a tributary stream.

    Squirrels eyes are positioned on the sides of their head which allows them to spot predators approaching from behind them. When a squirrel spots a predator, its runs away in a zigzag pattern. This confuses many of their predators but unfortunately it doesn't work well for cars.

  8. Carefully cross the stepping stones to reach another small stream crossing.

    The (leather) "tanning" process got its name as it involved extracting the tannins from acorns or oak bark and soaking these into animal hides over 1-2 years to preserve them. From the brown oak juice containing the tannins, the colour "tan" was named and from this the expression "sun tan" arose.

  9. Cross this and at the fork take either path (they rejoin) to reach a line of stepping stones crossing the main river. Carefully cross these to reach the other side then bear right to reach a junction.

    To the right of the path is a small stream. This is the start of the leat that ran all the way to the town mill.

    Overshot wheels can achieve higher efficiencies than undershot wheels and can operate using a smaller volume of water which explains why they were generally preferred, particularly in steep-sided Cornish valleys.

    A 2004 Civil Engineering publication concluded that high energy conversion efficiencies (of around 85-90%) were possible from overshot waterwheels and that if these can be manufactured cheaply, they could provide an environmentally sound means of small-scale electricity production.

  10. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to a junction with Bal Road.

    The six arch granite viaduct carried the Helston Railway across the Cober Valley.

    The Helston Railway was completed in 1887, connecting Helston to the West Cornwall Railway from Penzance to Truro. The railway closed for passengers in 1962 and was used for goods for two further years until it closed entirely. The track was lifted within a year of it closing.

  11. Keep left to stay on the lane and follow this to where a Public Bridleway departs to the right.

    The small lane to the right (Bal Road) led to Wheal Trennack.

    Wheal Trennack operated during Victorian times, primarily as a copper mine but was worked for a short period at the end of its life for zinc. It opened and closed a few times but was disused by 1877.

    Many Cornish mines have names starting with Wheal, and it is a common misconception that Wheal meant "mine". In fact, Wheal simply meant "workplace". The word for "mine" was bal and the women who worked on the surface were known as Bal Maids.

  12. Turn right onto the bridleway and follow this to a fork where a gravel track departs to the left indicated by a Public Bridleway sign.

    The small stream beside the track is a leat that transported water to Tuckingmill and also to a corn mill near the stepping stones over the river.

    The are several hamlets and villages throughout Cornwall named "Tuckingmill". Tucking was the Cornish term for fulling - the process of cleansing woollen cloth to eliminate oils and dirt, and matting the fibres to make it thicker. In these mills, the process was automated with wooden hammers driven by a waterwheel. The technology originated in the Islamic world, came to Europe via the Moors in Spain and was introduced to Britain by the Normans. After fulling, the cloth would be dyed using natural colourants and then stretched out to dry on tenterhooks.

  13. Turn left onto the gravel track and follow this, which shrinks down to a path. Keep following the path until it ends in a junction with a track.

    The bridge that the track passes beneath was for the Helston Railway. The tracks themselves led to the granite quarries in the valley.

    In the valley beside the river was the Trelubbas Wartha (Higher Trelubbas) tailings works. Waste sediment from the mines further up the River Cober was diverted from the river via a leat into settling ponds to collect the suspended particles of tin ore. The sediment collected in the pond was then re-processed to extract the tin.

  14. Bear left onto the track and follow it to emerge in an old quarry. Continue ahead to join the track leading from the other side. Follow this (which becomes tarmacked) until it ends in a T-junction on a lane.

    The granite quarries were already large and established by the time they were recorded on the 1st Edition OS map around 1880. Boulders of granite (presumably from one of the quarries) were used to reinforce the embankments forming the settling ponds for the tailings works.

    Granite is pretty hard stuff. It ranks at 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. It's harder than normal steel but not quite as hard as hardened steel (which is 7-8). Cutting on granite worktops is therefore not a good idea as knife blades become blunt quickly.

  15. Turn right onto the lane. Follow it over the bridge and past a track to the right with a "Pascoe and Sons" sign to reach a flight of granite steps on the right.

    A gravel mine was located a little further up the river.

    At Boscadjack there was a large system of tunnels to extract the sand and gravel resulting from decomposed granite. This is thought to probably be a unique example of a gravel mine in Cornwall. The sand was used beneath the granite paving slabs in Helston town to provide a bed to support and level them.

  16. Climb the steps on the right and follow the path to emerge over a coffin stile into a lay-by.

    Foxgloves are reliant on bumblebees for pollination and bumblebees are much more active when the weather is good. Partly, as an insurance policy against bad weather, foxgloves have evolved to stagger their flowering over several weeks, starting with the flowers at the base of the stalk and working up to the top, where the higher flowers protrude over other vegetation that has grown up in that time.

    The stiles in Cornwall that consist of rectangular bars of granite resembling a cattle grid are known as "coffen" (coffin) stiles. These often occur on footpaths leading to churches such as the Zennor Churchway. The mini cattle grids are fairly effective at containing livestock and were significantly easier for coffin-bearers to navigate than stiles crossing walls. They are more frequently found in West Cornwall but there are a few in East Cornwall too such as those on either side of Advent Church.

  17. Carefully cross the main road to the farm entrance (marked Entrance 2) opposite. Follow the track through the gates marked with red bridleway signs to the gate just past the barn.

    Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?

    If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.

    If the gate is ajar or swinging loose and not wedged or tied open then it's likely that the gate was left open by accident (possibly by another group of walkers). Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving lives in a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.

    If you encounter a gate doubly-secured with twine that can be untied or a chain that can be unfastened, it's normally there because naughty animals have managed to undo the gate themselves a some point (e.g. by rubbing against the bolt), so retie/fasten it afterwards.

  18. Go through the gate and continue following the track to where the concrete ends and then around a bend to the right, passing through any gates as necessary. Continue to reach a final gate with concrete steps to the left, just after the track opens out into an area in front of a house.

    There are sometimes llamas in the fields here.

    Llamas and Alpacas are both from South America and are members of the camel family. Llamas are the larger of the two with longer (banana-sized) ears and a longer face. Alpacas have a very short, blunt face and have been bred for fleece production so they have shaggy hair rather like a sheep. Llamas have been bred for transporting goods (similarly to camels) hence their larger size.

  19. Go through the gate (or climb the concrete steps on the left) and continue a few paces to where a path departs to the right into the woodland. Turn right onto this and follow the woodland path until it emerges in a field beside a fence and reach metal gates either side.

    Bluebells are very vulnerable to trampling. The reason for this is that when their leaves emerge in the early part of the year, they are powered by the stored sugars in their bulbs. Sunlight is very limited at this time of the year and even more so in the shady places where they grow. In order to survive, they then need to photosynthesise flat-out to store enough of starch in the bulb for next year's growth. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, it cannot photosynthesise and and doesn't have enough reserves left in its bulb to grow new ones. It's therefore important to stick to footpaths in bluebell woodland and best to take photos with a zoom lens from there as wandering around in the bluebells to take photos will inadvertently kill them.

    Sycamore is a member of the maple family which is why the leaves look a bit like the Canadian flag. Although sycamore doesn't have the striking red autumn colour of other maples, the young leaves and developing seeds are a vivid red colour which is caused by similar red anthrocyanin compounds.

  20. Continue ahead between the wall and fence to where the path ends in a couple of stone steps leading onto a track.

    Burdock flowers in July and August with pink flowers which look a little like thistle flowers. However burdock's soft, broad, foxglove-like leaves make it easy to distinguish.

    The "bur" in name of the plant (and also the word for the rough edges on metal) comes from the Viking word for "bristle". The "dock" is a reference to the large leaves. It was known as butterdock in East Cornwall dialect, perhaps because the leaves were used to wrap butter as with butterbur leaves.

    Burdock seeds contain small hooks which attach to passing animals or clothing. After a walk in the woods in 1941 that was followed by the lengthy process of removing these from clothing and dogs, a Swiss engineer realised that there was scope to apply this to something useful. The product inspired by nature (aka "biomimicry") was described as "the zipperless zipper". Today is it better known by the name of company he founded based on the French words for velvet (velour) and hook (crochet): Velcro.

    Nettles are the theme of German and Dutch colloquial expressions for a troublesome situation. The German equivalent of "having a bit of a nightmare" is to be "sat in the nettles". The Dutch have abbreviated this further, so you'd be having a bit of a "nettle situation".

  21. Descend to the track and turn right. Follow this past the manor house until it eventually ends in a junction with the main road.

    The first record of Trenethick is from 1320 as Trevenedyk. The meaning of the name is thought to be "hilly farm".

    Trenethick House dates from the 16th Century and has mostly survived from the Tudor period apart from some 18th Century alterations to the sides of the house.

  22. Carefully cross the road (using the island to the left) to reach the grass verge on the opposite side and turn left. Walk a short distance to the junction leading from the roundabout.
  23. Turn right onto the lane leading away from the roundabout and then keep a lookout for Goose Mill on the right (with red garage doors) and a gravel track departing to the left beside a paved driveway to a garage.

    The bridge over the lane is where the Helston Railway approached the town. The original plan was to extend the railway all the way to The Lizard so Helston Station was built in the design of a "through station" rather than one at the end of a line.

  24. Turn left onto the track and follow the path leading from it to emerge on a residential road.
  25. Cross the road to the path with railings opposite and follow this until it emerges on a residential road roughly opposite a T-junction.

    The plant with sticky green seeds is known as cleavers due to the ability to attach to clothing or animals. The use of "to cleave" meaning "to adhere" has Saxon origins but has become less common in recent years perhaps due to the confusion of having a more well-known meaning which is virtually the opposite. A Cornish dialect name recorded as cliders in Victorian times is likely to be a corruption of this.

    Goosegrass is another common name of the plant due to its attractiveness to poultry as a nutritious food. It contains tannins which make it too bitter for humans. Other common names include sticky willy.

  26. Bear right slightly to cross the road to the road leading ahead and get onto the pavement on the right-hand side of this (to save crossing a roundabout when this road ends). Follow the right-hand pavement to reach the roundabout.

    The area of Helston to the left was just fields with a railway line for much of the 20th Century. After the railway closed, this was eventually developed into an industrial estate. At some point, the area gained the curious name "Water-Ma-Trout" and the line of the railway is now recorded as Water-Ma-Trout Road. Various theories exist for the origin of the wacky name. One is that it's based on a miner named Trout (from a dialect expression "Welter-ma" for miner, based on "wheal" and "man"). Another suggestion is a Cornish dialect expression for "wet my throat" which certainly deserves to be used to add some entertainment to future pub visits.

  27. At the roundabout, cross via the bollards to the right then take the tarmac path opposite, leading towards the houses. Keep left to follow the tarmac path between the fences and continue to reach a stone stile.

    Spanish bluebells have been planted in gardens and these have hybridised with native bluebells producing fertile seeds. This has produced hybrid swarms around sites of introductions and, since the hybrids are able to thrive in a wider range of environmental conditions, the hybrids are frequently out-competing the native English bluebells. Sir Francis Drake would not be impressed! The Spanish form can be fairly easily recognised by the flowers on either side of the stem. In the English form, they are all on one side. In general, the English bluebells also have longer, less-flared flowers and are often a deeper colour. However, the easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells is to look at the colour of the pollen: if it is creamy-white then the bluebell is native; if it is any other colour such as pale green or blue then it's not native.

    Hawthorn's red berries, also known as haws, are abundant in September and October. These are an important winter food for birds such as thrushes and small mammals such as dormice and wood mice.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the path until it passes under some large conifers and you reach a gap between the garages on the right.

    Like most trees, conifers produce resin to heal wounds. However, conifers also have resin ducts which routinely release it to reduce insect and fungal attacks. As well as including insecticide and fungicide compounds, the resins can also chemically disguise the tree from insects, attract their predators and even emulate hormones to disrupt insect development.

  29. Turn right and follow the tarmac path down to the road. Turn left onto the pavement and follow the road until it ends in a T-junction.
  30. Turn left at the junction and walk a short distance uphill to reach Osborne Parc on the right.
  31. Cross the road to Osborne Parc and follow this until you reach a pair of black bollards on either side of the road with a tarmac path departing from some railings on the left.

    The Cornish palm is neither originally from Cornwall nor a palm! It is from New Zealand where it is known as the cabbage tree, being neither related to or tasting anything like cabbage. The top of the stem from which the leaves shoot was harvested by the Maori, resulting in something resembling an artichoke. It is bitter so it was traditionally eaten with fatty meats such as eel to make it palatable. The largest specimen of the plant is thought to be around 500 years old and has a circumference of nine metres at the base! It was introduced to Britain after being collected on Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

  32. Turn left onto the path and follow it until it eventually emerges onto a driveway just before a road.

    During late winter or early 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. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    All plants in the onion family including three-cornered leeks are poisonous to dogs. Keep dogs away from the plant and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    The red campion produces a blaze of pink flowers along hedgerows in the spring with the most intense flowering period occurring between late April and the end of June. A scattering of flowers continue throughout the rest of the summer. In the mild Cornish climate, a few plants can often be seen flowering during winter months.

  33. Bear right to follow the road downhill. Continue to a bend with a junction.
  34. At the bend, carefully cross to the other side of the road and turn right onto the pavement. Follow this between the buildings and railings until the railings end.
  35. After the railings, carefully cross the road to the steps opposite into the churchyard. Once in the churchyard, follow the path ahead (keeping the church on your left) to reach a junction of paths at the far end of the church.

    The parish church in Helston - dedicated to St Michael - is relatively modern by Cornish standards, built in the mid-Georgian period, which initially seems quite odd when Helston was well-established in mediaeval times. The reason is that there was previously a 12th Century chapel here which had been extended into a church in a way similar to many others in Cornwall but this burned down in 1729. The replacement church was completed in 1761 and restored in the 1830s.

  36. At the junction of paths, continue ahead onto the path alongside the stone inscribed "PENBERTHY" and follow this to reach some steps leading down to a track.

    The memorial near the other exit from the churchyard (i.e. if you keep the church on your left) is to the inventor of the marine rocket.

    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.

  37. Go down the steps from the churchyard and turn left onto the track. Follow this downhill until it ends on a road.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves.

    From mid November to January, the plants produce spikes with pale pink scented flowers. The scent resembles marzipan i.e. almond and vanilla.

    Rooks can be distinguished from other members of the crow family by their pale, hairless, pointy beak (other members of the crow family have black beaks and also a moustache on the top of their beak).

  38. Turn right, then almost immediately left down the small passageway signposted "Tanyard Lane". Follow this downhill until it emerges on a road.

    Lismore House was built between 1810 and 1820 by demolishing several other properties and amalgamating a number of existing gardens. During the Victorian period, the house was extended and a summerhouse was added to the gardens. The house and gardens have always been private but it has been a tradition passed down to each new owner that the gardens are opened to the public during the dances on Flora Day and forms the most famous part of the dance route.

  39. Turn right and follow the road a short distance to a junction.
  40. Turn left and follow the road to reach a monument.

    The monument is dedicated to Humphry Grylls - a banker and mayor who acted during the 1820 recession to keep the Wheal Vor mine from closing, protecting 1200 jobs. When he died, the funeral procession is said to have stretched for two miles and over 2,000 local people contributed to build the moment.

  41. Turn right between the bollards just before the monument and keep right to head towards the shelter in the corner to reach the steps immediately to the left of the shelter.

    The shelter is decorated with a a depiction of the Furry Dance.

    Helston Flora Day is normally held on May 8th and stems from an ancient pre-Christian tradition celebrating the arrival of spring.

    The most famous element of the celebration is the "Furry Dance". It is thought "furry" - which pronounced to rhyme with "curry" - is probably a corruption of the Cornish word fer meaning "fair".

    The celebration also includes a traditional (Mummers') play known as Hal-An-Tow. The Victorians deemed that the Hal-An-Tow play had become "a drunken revelry" and so the play part of the celebrations was suspended during the late Victorian era. The dances still continued as these appealed to Victorian sensibilities, particularly the mid-day dance which was reserved for gentry.

    The well-known "floral dance" song was written in 1911 by a composer from London after she had visited the Helston Flora Day.

  42. Go down the steps and follow the path to return to the car park and complete the circular walk.

    Helston Castle (which may have been more along the lines of a fortified manor house) was built some time between 1272 and 1300. By 1478 it had been destroyed and no trace now remains. The location is thought to be where the bowling green is situated now.

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