Helston circular walk

Helston

A circular walk at Helston along the wooded valley of the River Cober and through the town via the church.

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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 walk then crosses to Lowertown and re-enters Helston using tucked-away footpaths to reach the church and 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.
  • After prolonged heavy rain, the resulting rise in river level can occasionally submerge the stepping stones.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 2.9 miles/4.7 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or walking shoes in very dry weather.

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 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 right at the junction and follow the lane uphill until you reach a long building on the left with a postbox in the wall. Continue a few paces further past "Tregonning View" to a gravel track departing to the right beside a paved driveway to a garage, marked with a Public Footpath sign.
  11. Turn right onto the track and follow the path leading from it to emerge on a residential road.
  12. 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. Other common names include sticky willy.

    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. The plant is in the same family as coffee and the seeds have been dried and roasted to make a (lower caffeine) coffee substitute.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    As well as its thorns, another thing that makes hawthorn good for hedging is its very rapid rate of growth of around half a metre per year. Consequently one of the alternative common names for it is "quickthorn".

  15. 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.

  16. 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.
  17. Turn left at the junction and walk a short distance uphill to reach Osborne Parc on the right.
  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Bear right to follow the road downhill. Continue to a bend with a junction.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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).

  25. 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.

  26. Turn right and follow the road a short distance to a junction.
  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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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