Looe woodland, river and coast circular walk

Looe woodland, river and coast

A walk following the West Looe river from woods to its confluence and then to meet the Atlantic beside one of Cornwall's mediaeval ports.

Get the app to guide you around the walk

Phone showing walk for purchase
Download the (free) app then use it to purchase this walk.
Phone showing Google navigation to start of walk
The app will direct you to the start of the walk via satnav.
Hand holding a phone showing the iWalk Cornwall app
The app guides you around the walk using GPS, removing any worries about getting lost.
Phone showing walk directions page in the iWalk Cornwall app
The walk route is described with detailed, regularly-updated, hand-written directions.
Person looking a directions on phone
Each time there is a new direction to follow, the app will beep to remind you, and will warn you if you go off-route.
Phone showing walk map page in the iWalk Cornwall app
A map shows the route, where you are at all times and even which way you are facing.
Phone showing facts section in iWalk Cornwall app
Each walk is packed with information about the history and nature along the route, from over a decade of research than spans more than 3,000 topics.
Person looking at phone with cliff scenery in background
Once a walk is downloaded, the app doesn't need wifi or a phone signal during the walk.
Phone showing walk stats in the iWalk Cornwall app
The app counts down distance to the next direction and estimates time remaining based on your personal walking speed.
Person repairing footpath sign
We keep the directions continually updated for changes to the paths/landmarks - the price for a walk includes ongoing free updates.
The walk winds into the mature broadleaf woodland of Kilminorth Woods by following the Giant's Hedge, built in the Dark Ages before a woodland existed here. The walk descends to the riverbank and then follows the West Looe river down to its confluence beside the pool that powered Looe's mills. The route follows the river to the bridge and crosses this to East Looe, continuing all the way along the quay to where the river meets the sea at the Banjo Pier. After passing along the beach, the walk winds through the mediaeval alleyways past some of Looe's oldest buildings before returning to the car park.


  • The woodland paths can be slippery after wet weather.

Buy walk

Sign in to buy this walk.

This walk is in your basket. Proceed to your basket to complete your purchase.

My Basket Remove from basket

You own this walk.

An error occurred while checking the availability of this walk:

Please retry reloading the page. If this problem persists, please contact us for assistance.

Reload page

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 3 miles/4.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • Mature broadleaf woodland with squirrels and chestnuts
  • 6th Century Giant's Hedge
  • River wildlife including herons, egrets and kingfishers
  • Mediaeval streets of East Looe
  • Possible to combine with a trip to Looe Island

Pubs on or near the route

  • Harbour Moon
  • The Admiral Boscarn
  • The Bullers Arms
  • The Fishermans Arms
  • The Ship Inn
  • Ye Old Salutation Inn


  1. Make your way to the furthest end of the car park (towards the woods) to reach a slipway in a separate boating car park. Follow the path from the other side of the slipway, uphill towards the woods to reach a tarmacked track on the left just before the Kilminorth Woods sign.

    Kilminorth Wood is the largest area of sessile oak woodland in this part of Cornwall. A Local Nature Reserve was created in 1993 and is owned by Cornwall Council. A local group, known as the Friends of Kilminorth Woods, promote the conservation and improvement of the woods and its use for education and recreation. The woodland is classified as ancient and contains other broadleaf species including beech and chestnut. The woodland bordering the West Looe River provides a habitat for an array of wildlife including birds and mammals.

  2. Turn left and cross the stile (or follow the track through the gate if open). Continue along the track until you reach a path on the right marked with a public footpath signpost.

    Many of the trees forming the canopy over the track are beech.

    Beech trees can live up to 400 years but the normal range is 150-250 years. Beech trees respond well to pruning and the lifetime of the tree is extended when the tree is pollarded. This was once a common practice and involves cutting all the stems back to a height of about 6ft during the winter when the tree is dormant. The 6ft starting point kept the fresh new growth out of the range of grazing animals. When allowed to grow to full size, a beech tree can reach 80ft tall with a trunk diameter of around 3ft.

  3. Turn right up the steps and keep left at the fork to follow the path uphill between the banks. Continue to reach a junction of paths at a bench.

    The bank on your left is the Giant's Hedge and the path runs along a ditch that accompanied the bank.

    The Giant's Hedge is the remains of a wall from the Dark Ages which runs for ten miles from Looe to Lerryn. In some places it is still twelve feet high and it was recorded as being 16 feet high in Victorian times. Where it is best preserved, it is stone-faced and has a ditch running alongside. It is thought that it marked and defended the border of a Cornish Kingdom, which was otherwise surrounded by water from the River Fowey to the West Looe River.

  4. Pass the bench and continue ahead at the crossing to reach a wooden post with three coloured dots where a path joins from the right.

    In order to later find the nuts that they've buried, squirrels need to be organised. Some species of squirrel have been studied and found to structure their hoards by type of nut e.g. burying all their acorns under one tree and all their conkers under another. This is equivalent to us organising all the veg onto one shelf of the fridge to make it easier to remember where to look for them.

  5. Continue ahead from the wooden post to reach another post with three coloured dots with a flight of steps leading down to the right.

    The size of the nuts from wild British chestnut trees is quite variable but the largest rival the nuts sold in supermarkets. Nuts that are very flat or less than the girth of your little finger are not worth harvesting; anything bigger is viable. A painless way to extract the nuts is to grip the husk between your feet and rub it between your boots or against the ground. This saves having to handle the spiky husks as the spikes are very sharp and tend to break off under the skin to leave behind splinters. Often the husks contain one (fairly round) large nut surrounded by several small, flat nuts, so it's worth squeezing out quite a few husks to get the larger nuts. Discard any nuts with holes in (as they will contain maggots) or that are very dark in colour - the fresher ones will be "chestnut" brown rather than dark brown.

    Unlike many nuts which are designed to last through the winter and then germinate in the spring, chestnuts germinate in the autumn and waste no time putting down some roots. The leaves and stem follow in the spring and their established root system gives these a head start.

  6. Pass the steps then keep right at the fork in the path towards a tree in the middle of the path. Pass around the tree to reach a footbridge, cross this and continue on the uphill path. Follow the path until you reach a path descending to the right with a signpost indicating "Alternative Return Route" with a yellow dot.

    There are several species of Woodrush in the UK that all look fairly similar. They are most noticeable in woodland where they often form dense mats - hence the name.

    Woodrush has green pointed leaves which can be mistaken for bluebell leaves when there are no flowers to provide an obvious difference (woodrush flowers are unexciting small brown things that look a bit like grass seed). To tell the leaves apart, woodrush leaves taper steadily to a sharp point whereas bluebell leaves are relatively straight for most of their length and only taper near the end (like a broadsword). Bluebell leaves are also slightly blue-green whereas woodrush is a glossy vibrant green.

  7. Bear right onto the path leading downhill to emerge on a larger path. Turn right onto this and walk a few paces until you reach a flight of steps to the left marked with a signpost labelled "To Riverside" with a yellow dot. Descend the steps and follow the path to reach a post with a yellow dot at a junction of paths near a fence.

    Ferns evolved a long time before flowering plants and dominated the planet during the Carboniferous period. The bark from tree ferns during this period is thought to have been the main source of the planet's coal reserves.

  8. Turn left down the steps and follow the path to reach a gap in the wooden fence with a flight of steps descending to the right.

    Anyone who has sat on a holly leaf will know how prickly they can be but the leaves particularly on larger holly bushes often vary considerably with less spiky leaves nearer the top.

    Holly is able to vary its leaf shape in response to its environment through a chemical process known as DNA methylation which can be used to switch genes on and off. If its leaves are eaten by grazing animals or trampled by walkers, the holly will crank up the methylation level to produce really spiky leaves on these stems. Conversely on the stems where the leaves are able to grow old in peace, the holly will produce versions that are flatter and therefore more efficient at catching the light. An individual leaf can last up to five years.

  9. Go down the steps (signposted to Looe). At the bottom of the steps, turn right and follow the path past a picnic area to reach a low bridge over a small stream.

    The West Looe river rises near Dobwalls and runs for roughly 8 miles through Herodsfoot and Churchbridge before entering the creeks of the flooded river valley just below Milcombe with a final mile along the creek to its confluence with the East Looe river. The sedimentary rocks surrounding the river form an aquifer reserve which results in the river levels being topped up by groundwater during periods of low rainfall.

  10. Cross the bridge and join the tarmacked path. Follow this to a gate leading out of the woods.

    Oystercatchers are recognisable by their black-and-white bodies, their long, straight red beaks and loud, piercing call. In flight, the white markings form an image of a white bird towards the back of their otherwise black backs which may have evolved to confuse predators.

    The long beaks are adapted to open shellfish - mainly cockles and mussels - "cocklecatchers" would be a more accurate name. They can also use their bill to probe for worms.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the tarmacked path alongside the river to the slipway.

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and yet weigh in at only 1-2kg. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - a loud croaking "fraaank" noise that is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Herons are are most commonly seen in or near freshwater where they hunt for fish. The number of breeding herons has been steadily growing in the UK due to mild winters as they struggle to feed during cold weather when ice forms a barrier on the surface of water.

  12. Cross the top of the slipway and bear left between the bollards to continue following the path alongside the river. Continue to the edge of the mill pool.

    The little egret - a white member of the heron family - can be seen on many of the creeks in Cornwall and yet is only a very recent settler in Britain. The birds first appeared in Britain in any number in 1989 and the first to breed was in 1996 in Dorset.

  13. Go down the steps and cross the dam (or walk around the pool if the causeway along the top of the dam is underwater) to reach the other side.

    The herring gull is the gull most commonly encountered in Cornwall, with a grey back and red spot on their yellow beak. They live for around 12 years and are highly intelligent birds with strong communication and social learning skills. This has allowed them to evolve strategies to obtain food more easily by stealing it from humans, either when briefly left unattended or by swooping and grabbing from unsuspecting hands.

    Whilst their pasty and ice cream stealing antics in coastal resorts might give the impression there are lots around, the coastal herring gull population dropped by about 50% from 1970 to the mid 1980s and the decline has continued with another drop of around 50% up to 2020.

    Part of the decline in coastal herring gull populations can be explained by a migration of birds inland to urban areas. Birds have been driven inland in search of food and roosting sites due to declining fish populations and lack of undisturbed coastal nesting sites. In urban areas, streetlights allow gulls to forage by night and there is no longer much competition from red kites, which scavenged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

    At the time of writing, a survey of the inland populations is being carried out to determine the relative size of these vs the coastal population and if these are stable. The first datasets from some of the devolved UK Nations suggest that is unlikely to explain the majority of the decline. Since the 1990s, 96% of the population in Northern Ireland died out predominantly from botulism. It's thought that birds seeking food on rubbish tips might be bringing this back to colonies.

    The herring gull is an example of a "ring species". In Europe, the lesser black-backed gull and herring gull are distinct species, yet as you circumnavigate the globe, the populations become more similar until they merge in the middle as a single species.

    Herring gulls are able to communicate nuances both by altering the frequency and timbre of their calls - conveying, for example, the relative severity of a threat in an alarm call. They also analyse and remember the personality of their neighbours, ignoring more skittish birds but taking action when a more trusted bird raises an alarm.

  14. At the top of the steps, continue following the path along the edge of the river until the waterside path ends in a chained gate into a boatyard.

    The large black birds nesting on offshore rocks, known colloquially as the cormorant and shag, are two birds of the same family and to the untrained eye look pretty similar. The origin of the name "shag" is a crest that this species has on top of its head and the cormorant doesn't. The cormorant is the larger of the two birds with a whiter throat. The shag's throat is yellow, and mature shags have a metallic green sheen on their feathers which cormorants lack.

  15. Turn right and follow the narrow path until it ends in a bollard at a lane.
  16. When you reach the lane, head towards the Ambulance Station then turn left to follow the lane to the Old Mill. Continue on the lane to a tarmac area immediately after the Old Mill and before the Amusements building.

    The Old Mill gift centre was the location of a tidal mill, known as Polvellan, first built in 1621. The name is from the Cornish words pol and melyn meaning "mill pool". The mill pool on the edge of the car park today is a small remnant of the original which extended for 13 acres, covering pretty much the entire area of the car park and boat yard, and was surrounded by a high wall. The mill, which had 4 waterwheels, was initially used to grind corn for brewing and was last used in the 19th Century for grinding bones to make bonemeal. The full-sized mill pool was still in place at the start of the 20th Century and is recorded on the 2nd edition of the OS map in the 1900s.

  17. Bear left off the lane past the Amusements entrance and follow the path alongside the river. Walk through a tunnel beneath Looe's bridge and continue for a few metres until you meet the ramp leading down from the bridge.

    The name Looe is from the Cornish word logh (meaning sea lake, similar to the Scottish word) and on 17th Century maps the name still appears as "Low" or "Lowe". East Looe and West Looe originated as separate towns. East Looe is the older of the two and by 1310, Looe had five ships in the wine trade with Bordeaux. There are still a number of mediaeval buildings in the old town.

  18. Turn right, back on yourself, to follow the ramp up to the bridge then cross the bridge. As you reach the other side of the river, keep right to reach the war memorial.

    By 1411, the two towns of East and West Looe had been joined by the earliest estuary bridge in Cornwall, which was recorded as having 14 arches in 1698. The bridge was replaced in 1853 by the current one which is about a hundred metres further upstream than the original.

  19. Turn right through the gap between the bridge and war memorial to reach the quay. Turn left and follow the quay downriver taking note of any ropes, chains and raised ironwork on the quay edge. Continue along the quay as far as you can go until you reach some gates with No Public Access signs.

    Many guides to crabbing mention changing water in a bucket containing crabs. There are two reasons why changing water frequently (every 10 minutes) is vital to keep crabs alive:

    Crabs have gills and get their oxygen from the water. There is not much water in a bucket and the oxygen quite quickly gets depleted. Too many crabs in one bucket also depletes the oxygen too quickly.

    The temperature of the sea in Britain rarely exceeds 19°C and most marine animals can only survive short periods at higher temperatures where their metabolic processes don't work efficiently. Crabs will avoid water warmer than 25°C (room temperature) as long periods in warm water will kill them. The small amount of water in a bucket has a small heat capacity (like in a nearly-empty kettle) and so will warm up quite quickly. Keeping the bucket out of the sun will also help to stop the water getting too warm before it is changed.

    Increasing the amount of water will also help by holding more oxygen and staying cool longer.

  20. Bear left and pass around the railings to reach a lane behind the fish landing area. Turn right and follow this past the building on the right to where a paved area leads back to the quay on the right.

    There are several reasons why seagulls should not be fed.

    One is that human foods are not nutritionally suitable for seagulls but seagulls are not smart enough to know these can damage their health.

    Another is that seagulls become dependent on humans and lose the skills to obtain food from natural sources.

    The reason most affecting us is that feeding seagulls makes them less scared of humans. Since seagulls do not have have the emotional wiring to empathise with humans, fear is the only thing preventing that interaction being aggressive. Seagulls are innately aggressive when it comes to food as their behaviour with other seagulls demonstrates. There are many examples of children being attacked (who then drop food, reinforcing the behaviour).

  21. Bear right to reach the quayside then continue walking down the river. Follow this to a yellow boxed area just before the Lifeboat station.

    Boats for Looe Island depart from this area of the quay.

    Looe Island has been inhabited since the Iron Age. Roman coins, pieces of Amphora and stone boat anchors all point to continued habitation and possibly trade before the Dark Ages. From the 13th to the 16th Centuries, the island was known as St Michael's Island, and after 1584 it became known as St George's Island.

    Looe Island also had a history of smuggling, and the first cottage on Looe Island was built by smugglers. The second cottage on the island was built by the Revenue to clamp down on the smuggling!

    In 1965 the island was bought by two sisters who lived there for the rest of their lives. The island was left to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust who now manage it as a nature reserve.

  22. Walk along the front of the lifeboat station then join the path between the railings and follow this to the start of the pier.

    The Looe lifeboat was established in 1866. The current lifeboat station houses two inshore lifeboats (RHIBs).

    The RNLI was founded in 1824 under the original name of the National Institution for Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. It was renamed to the RNLI in 1854. Until 1890 all the lifeboats were rowed with oars until some steam-powered boats were introduced. By 1905, petrol-powered boats were being trialled and fairly quickly replaced the bulky steam-powered predecessors. Today a fleet of over 340 lifeboats provide a 24/7 search and rescue service around the UK. The charity has saved over 140,000 lives since it was set up.

  23. After exploring the pier, walk along the railings behind the beach to the far side where the roadside car park ends in front of the Boscarn Free House.

    The Banjo Pier was created by Joseph Thomas in the late 19th Century as the previous pier wasn't effective at stopping the river silting up. Thomas worked out that a circular pier head would hold the sand back and was so confident in his design that he refused payment until it was built and proven effective. The Looe pier has become the prototype for other banjo piers around the world.

  24. Bear left to pass in front of Boscarn Free House and left again onto the lane. Walk back a short distance on the lane to pass the church.

    St Mary's church dates from mediaeval times and was dedicated the Bishop of Exeter in 1259. The tower dates from the 15th century, but the rest was largely rebuilt in 1806. The tower was left untouched as it was used as a navigational landmark. The 1806 building was replaced again in 1882. By the 1980s, the church was declared redundant by the Church of England. In the 1990s, it was converted into sheltered accommodation by the Westcountry Housing Association.

  25. Immediately after the church, turn right to follow alongside the church building with it on your right. Walk all the way to the far end of the church then join the cobbled alleyway leading towards Osborne House to reach a pair of no-through signs.

    Osborne House (with the sign) is thought to have been built in the 18th Century and extended by a wealthy shipping merchant in the early 19th Century. The ship's figurehead on the corner of the wall seems to be Napoleonic in theme so may also relate to this period.

    Symbols on the front of ships arose both out of superstition for good luck and symbols of power. The general practice of putting a carved figure on the bowsprit became common practice from the 16th Century. Figureheads often depicted either the role of the ship (e.g. warship) or the name of the ship allowing it to be recognised by sailors couldn't read. During the 18th Century, a figurehead of a woman (preferably showing some breast) was thought to bring calm to a stormy sea.

    There's another ship's figurehead above the Ship Inn a little later on the route.

  26. Turn right through the gap below the building and go through the gap opposite, and the next, to reach a building with a boat on the wall. Turn right until you reach an alleyway on the left just as the Old Vicarage comes into view.
  27. Turn left through the alleyway and then left again to pass the Museum. Continue following the lane towards Smugglers Cott to reach a passageway with a postbox immediately in front of Smugglers Cott.

    Smugglers Cott in East Looe dates from 1430 and was restored in 1595 using timber salvaged from one of the ships from the Spanish Armada. The name of the building alludes to a tunnel from the cellar which led to the quay.

  28. Turn left to go through the passageway and then right onto the cobbled street. Follow this until it ends on the tarmacked road.

    Another of Looe's mediaeval buildings is on the left as you emerge onto the tarmacked road.

  29. Turn right onto the road and follow this back to the war memorial.

    Clotted-cream fudge is traditional in Devon and Cornwall but this is a relatively recent tradition. Fudge is thought to have first been made in the USA during Victorian times when a recipe for caramel went wrong hence "fudge" is also used to mean "to not do correctly". The basis of fudge is sugar, butter and milk but in the Westcountry, clotted cream is used in place of butter and milk, resulting in a basic recipe of just 2 ingredients.

    The traditional flavouring is vanilla, which itself is also clue to the period from which the recipes originate. It wasn't until Victorian times that a hand pollination technique was discovered for the vanilla orchid by a 12-year-old slave in the French colonies. This allowed commercial vanilla production to take place outside of Mexico and this made vanilla much more affordable. The pollination technique discovered by the young boy is still the basis of commercial production today.

  30. Pass the memorial and make your way onto the bridge but cross via the pedestrian crossing on the bridge to the opposite side. Continue across the bridge to reach a small gap in the wall leading towards the Amusements building.

    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.

  31. Go through the gap and pass the steps to stay on the upper level, then bear left in front of the building to reach a walkway down the left side. Follow this to reach the lane. Follow the lane back to the car park to complete the walk.

either as a GPS-guided walk with our app (£2.99) or a PDF (£1.99)

Please recycle your ink cartridges to help prevent plastic fragments being ingested by seabirds. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.