Nare Head to Portloe

Nare Head to Portloe

A circular walk around Nare Head, past the restored Cold War nuclear bunker, to the pretty fishing village Portloe, with views along the length of The Roseland coast and over The Whelps reef - a graveyard for sailing ships that misjudged the entrance to Falmouth.

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The walk meets the coast at Paradoe Cove, which it follows around Nare Head, with panoramic views, to the Cold War bunker. From here, the route is along the undulating coast path past Kiberick Cove and The Straythe to Manare Point. The descent to Portloe has some particularly nice views over the village. The return route is mostly on footpaths across the fields which are all quite level.


  • Some of the stiles on the route are fairly athletically-demanding (stone footholds over walls etc)
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 5.2 miles/8.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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


  • Panoramic views from Nare Head
  • Restored Cold War nuclear bunker
  • Unspoilt fishing village of Portloe
  • Coastal wildlife including birds and reptiles

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Ship Inn


  1. Facing out of the car park bear left to the footpath signposted for the viewpoint and Paradoe Cove. When you reach a kissing gate on the right, go through this and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a kissing gate beside a gate.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.


    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).


    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  2. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path down the hill until you eventually reach a stile next to a gate.

    Chestnut trees overhang the path and the husks may be visible in September and October.

    Since chestnuts don't need to hang around for a long time on the ground, they are nutritionally more similar to a cereal - containing principally starch and sugars - than a typical nut. They contain very little fat and are consequently much less calorific than other nuts: the kernels contain around a third of the calories of a similar weight of other nuts.

  3. Cross the stile and follow the path until it ends at a junction with the coast path.

    Choughs are sometimes seen along this stretch of coast.

    In the 1800s, many choughs were killed by "sportsmen" and trophy hunters. Also around this time, grazing livestock were moved to inland pastures where they could be more easily managed. The result was that the cliff slopes became overgrown and choughs found it increasingly difficult to find suitable feeding areas. By 1973, the chough had become extinct in Cornwall. In recent years, clifftops have been managed more actively which has included the reintroduction of grazing. Choughs have returned to Cornwall by themselves from colonies in Wales or Ireland.

  4. Turn left onto the coast path and follow the path up the hill to a waymark and along the right edge of the field to a kissing gate.

    The stone and cob cottage overlooking Paradoe Cove was built by a fisherman, who kept a boat in the inlet beneath his home, hauling it clear of the waves when not in use. He married a woman from Veryan, but the marriage cannot have been a happy one as he lived here alone during the week and only visited her at weekends with his catch. In the 1840s, he emigrated to Australia, leaving his wife behind, and started a new family there.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a waymark as you enter a field at the top of the hill.

    Mackerel come inshore during the summer and autumn to feed on prawns and small fish such as sandeels. They often occur in large shoals which at the surface can make the sea appear to "boil", often accompanied by excited seabirds. Although they cruise at a speed of around 2 knots, mackerel can reach 10 knots in short bursts.

  6. Follow along the right hedge of the field to reach a junction of paths.

    Nare head was known until the 16th Century as Penare, which still survives in the name of Pennare Farm; since then, the name for the headland has become shortened to "Nare". The name is from the Cornish word penn-ardh (pronounced "penarth") meaning promontory. Dodman Point was originally known by the same name.

  7. At the junction, take the path ahead towards the coast. Follow the path until you reach a bench by the path near two green metal objects protruding from the ground.

    The grassy mound with a concrete doorway on Nare Head is a World War Two bunker that was earthed-over after the war. It was the control bunker for a naval decoy centre built by Ealing Film Studios to lure German night bombers away from Falmouth. A sister site existed on Nare Point on the other side of Falmouth Bay, so whichever direction bombers approached from, they could be intercepted before they reached Falmouth. The sites were used to create two types of decoy. The first used muted lights to simulate the railway of Falmouth Docks. The second used a series of controlled fires to replicate a military or urban area that had been targeted by bombs. Orders came from Falmouth on an underwater cable.

  8. After exploring, keep right along the edge of the gorse on the coastal path to reach a kissing gate.

    The green ventilator shafts protruding from the ground on your left are the top of the Cold War bunker.

    The bunker on Nare Head was built during the Cold War for the Royal Observer Corps who were in charge of monitoring radiation in the event of a nuclear war. It opened in 1963 and was accessed via a hatch connecting to a 12ft ladder. Below ground, it consisted of a state-of-the-art operations room and living accommodation that was designed to support three people for three weeks, giving them protection from radioactive fallout. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bunker was decommissioned, and has since been restored in a joint project between the National Trust and Royal Observer Corps, and is open to visitors several times a year.

  9. Go through the gate and keep right to follow the path along the coast. Continue to reach another kissing gate.

    The large offshore rock is known as Gull Rock and is part of the Whelps Reef.

    The bays either side of Nare Head contain a large number of shipwrecks. Many of these vessels were running for safety to Falmouth harbour from a storm but misjudged the narrow passage between the Manacles reef and St Anthony's Head. Once a sailing ship had passed on the wrong side of St Anthony's Head, it became trapped within the "lee shores" between Dodman Point at St Anthony's Head where there was no safe anchorage. The Whelps reef beside Gull Rock was particularly hazardous, with jagged rocks just below the surface.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a waymark on the edge of the valley. Continue down into the valley to reach a waymark as you emerge from the bushes above the grassy valley bottom.

    The SS Hera was a steel-hulled German sailing vessel which in February 1914 was bound for Falmouth from Chile with a cargo of nitrates. She had been sailing in thick fog for three days, using dead reckoning for navigation. As the ship approached Falmouth, the captain shortened the sails to reduce speed and was hoping to see the lights of The Lizard or St Anthony's Head on his approach but the fog was too thick. The ship passed on the wrong side of St Anthony's head and hit The Whelps Reef before he was able to turn it away. The holed ship continued travelling for another 10 minutes and then began to sink. The crew fired distress flares and were initially confident of being rescued. Although two lifeboats had broken free and drifted away, most of the crew climbed aboard a third and successfully launched it. However, moments later, the ship's hull failed and sank quickly without any warning, swamping the nearby lifeboat, but a few survivors managed to cling to the foremast which stayed above the water. Delays in launching the rescue, and locating the stranded crew in the dark, meant it was nearly 6 hours before the five surviving crew members were rescued; the remaining 19 crew members perished and only 12 of the bodies were recovered, now buried in a grave in Veryan churchyard. The grave is 30 metres long with a headstone at one end and is thought might be the longest in Britain. The wreck broke into two pieces when it sank, but parts of the wreck still stand 5 metres above the seabed and it provides a habitat for a variety of marine life, making it popular with scuba divers.

  11. At the waymark, follow the steep path to the bottom of the valley and cross to the waymark on the other side. Continue on the path to reach a kissing gate.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  12. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path along the fence to a waymark. Follow the path from the waymark to reach a kissing gate.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    The name "stonechat" comes from the sound of their call which resembles stones being knocked together.

  13. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach another kissing gate.

    The metal signs on stone walls with a maze with a map of Cornwall are from the Cornish Hedge Community Heritage Project - usually known by its more snappy Cornish name - Kerdroya. 11 sections of Cornish hedge have been restored and the project culminated in building the world's largest labyrinth at Colliford Lake incorporating a number of different styles of Cornish hedge.

  14. Go through the kissing gate and initially bear left to head between the clumps of gorse and follow along the line of gorse, keeping it on your right. At the end of the gorse, bear right to follow the path to the bottom of the valley to a waymark, and bear right to a kissing gate.

    The inaccessible beach at the bottom of the steep cliff is now known as Parc Caragloose Cove, but is actually from the name of the field (park is the Cornish word for "field"). This took its name from Caragloose Farm, to which the field belonged. Caragloose itself is from Cornish along the lines of Carrack Lûz (spelling at the time was pretty variable) meaning "grey rock" - there's a rock outcrop on The Lizard near Lankidden Cove with a similar name.

  15. Go through the gate and follow the path until you eventually reach a wooden walkway crossing an area of reeds.

    As the path descends to a rocky area, a small path on the right leads down onto the rock platform.

  16. Cross the walkway and follow the path over the wall. Continue until the path levels out and you reach a junction of paths with a waymark post and a couple of steps to the right.

    In summer, you might possibly encounter an adder sunbathing on the coast path.

    On warm days from late April, you may be lucky enough to witness the "dance of the adders" (a pair of adders wrestling). This was once thought to be a mating display, but is actually a larger male attempting to drive away a smaller one.

    Seawater is about 2.5% salt which is about one tenth of the strength of fully saturated brine solution. By the 17th Century, it was found that dissolving impure rock salt in seawater to increase the concentration and then recrystallising this in clean salt pans was a cheaper way of producing salt than evaporating ten times the amount of water from normal seawater.

  17. At the junction, turn right down the steps and follow the path to reach a stile into a field.

    The path to the left leads to Broom Parc.

    Broom Parc is a large Edwardian-style house built in the late 19th Century and is now owned by the National Trust and run as a Bed and Breakfast. It was used as the main location for the 1992 serialisation of Mary Wesley's "The Camomile Lawn" on Channel 4. Richard Curtis' film "About Time" was also partly filmed there.

  18. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge, crossing over a wall into a second field. Continue along the right hedge to reach a path leaving from the field.

    There are several quite common plants (catsear, hawkbit and hawksbeard) which all have yellow flowers similar to dandelion. Their main flowering period is later in the summer (late June and through July) than dandelion which itself peaks in April-May. If you want to have a crack and figuring out exactly which you are looking at, the leaves offer a good clue.

    Catsear is the most common, especially along the coast, and is the easiest one to tell apart as the leaves are hairy (hence the name).

    Hawkbit and hawksbeard both have non-hairy, deeply toothed leaves like dandelion but the leaves are narrower than dandelion. Hawksbeard has very well-defined "shark teeth" along most of the stem leading to the solid patch of leaf on the tip that all three have - these teeth are as wide as the widest part of the leaf. In hawkbit, these teeth are so tiny that the stem is nearly bare for about half its length.

    One other plant with flowers similar to the dandelion is the sow thistle but this is easily recognised by its spiky thistle-like leaves.

    Some perennial grasses spread via underground stems, cloning genetically-identical copies of themselves. This way, a single plant can spread to cover an area of over a hundred metres across and live for hundreds of years.

  19. Follow the path from the field onto the coast and continue to a large boulder at a bend in the path.

    The stones of sloes (and plums, cherries and peaches) contain the compound amygdalin which is metabolised into hydrogen cyanide. Therefore breaking the stones is best avoided when using them in cooking, gin etc.

    Blackthorn is a spiny type of plum which is more broadly a member of the rose family. It is native to the UK and common on old farmland where blackthorn trees were planted as hedges to keep out cattle. It is still common in Cornish hedgerows today and also common on the coast as it's tolerant to salt.

  20. Continue on the path to a junction of paths with a grassy path departing uphill to the left where the main path bends right.

    There are excellent views over the coast around Portloe from the top of the boulder on the headland. The long headland in the distance is Dodman Point and the first beach to the left of this is Hemmick. Further to the left from this are the beaches of East and West Portholland.

  21. Keep right to continue downhill to reach a waymark with arrows in multiple directions beside a bench.

    One in five of all known fungi form lichens. Studies suggest that many species of fungi that form lichens started out from ancestors that lived on organic waste. Fossils have also revealed that the symbiosis between algae and fungi dates back more than 400 million years roughly to the time when plants first evolved from green algae.

  22. Keep right along the coast path and follow it around the headland, turning left when you reach another bench. Continue down to the slipway to reach the lane next to the Lugger Hotel.

    The name Portloe is thought to be derived from the Cornish Porth Logh, meaning something along the lines of "inlet cove". Due to its natural harbour, it developed as a fishing village, although whereas most fishing villages were thriving in mediaeval times, Portloe's development was not until the 17th and 18th Centuries. Due to the road access being along narrow, winding lanes, Portloe also missed the 20th Century commercialisation that happened to many other seaside towns. Consequently it has been used as a filming location in a number of productions and was cast as the hamlet of St Gweep for the BBC comedy series "Wild West", which starred Dawn French and Catherine Tate.

  23. Follow the lane uphill passing Harbour View on your left, to reach a junction.

    The RNLI stationed a lifeboat at Portloe in 1870. It was kept at first in a boat house built at the end of the road above the beach but proved difficult to launch (one attempt to launch the boat resulted in the demolition of a shop) and manoeuvre across the beach. In 1877, a new boathouse was built nearer the water, and the original one became the church. However it was found that whenever a strong wind blew from any southerly compass point, it was impossible to launch the lifeboat, which was exactly when one was needed. It was finally withdrawn from service in 1887, without ever having performed a rescue. The second boathouse was used as a school for a while but has since become a private house.

  24. Bear left at the junction and follow the lane past the Ship Inn to a junction where a road joins from above, beside the pub car park.

    The Ship Inn is said to have originally been a fisherman's cottage which was later converted to an inn. It is recorded in the 1880s on the first edition OS map, whilst the Lugger Hotel is recorded as the New Inn. The "new" implies that either the Ship Inn predates the Lugger, or there was another, older inn now lost.

  25. Stay on the lower lane and follow this all the way out of Portloe past the national speed limit and Portloe signs to reach a flight of steps to the right marked with a Public Footpath sign, opposite Innis Carne.

    The name is from the Cornish word enys, for island, and karn which means "rock pile". It's possibly a reference to an offshore rock.

  26. Climb the steps into the field and cross the field to the stile opposite.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

  27. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge, past the gate, to reach another stile.

    The association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

  28. Cross the stile and bear left to cross the field diagonally to a stile slightly to the left of the building.
  29. Cross the stile and follow the path to the lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past all the buildings to reach a small stile on the left, just before a gateway.

    The wall of "Camels" has some old cider bottles set into the stonework.

    The settlement of Camels is nothing to do with animals of the desert. The name was recorded in 1332 as "Camals" which is from the Cornish word cam for "crooked" and als for "cliff".

  30. Cross the stile and go through the gate. Follow the right hedge to another stile.

    In late spring and early summer, dandelion plants will be obvious from their bright flowers.

    Dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion (lion's tooth), which is thought to refer to the shape of the leaves. The plant is a member of the sunflower family.

    The UK produces nearly two-thirds of all cider in the European Union and by volume of alcohol, the excise duty on cider is lower than any other drink. Cider has had a huge resurgence in popularity over the last few years and three in five adults now drink it.

    Cider is part of the Westcountry heritage and this includes a tradition dating back to the early Middle Ages known as the "Orchard Wassail" where an offering of bread and cider was made to the apple trees and incantations were recited to promote a good harvest.

    Cornish ciders beginning to achieve popularly outside the county include "Cornish Rattler" from Healey's cider farm (distributed by St Austell Ales) and "Orchard Cornish" cider (a joint venture between Cornish Orchards and Sharp's Brewery). In the interests of research, both have been extensively tested and deemed very refreshing and conducive to the recital of incantations.

  31. Cross the stile and follow along the right hedge to a stile roughly 20 metres before the end of the hedge.

    To make wine from dandelion flowers, pour a gallon of boiling water over a gallon of flowers and steep for 2-3 days in a covered container, stirring occasionally. Then boil, add 1.5kg sugar and allow to cool. To the basic liquor, citrus is often added (lemon/orange juice and zest) which gives some acidity, and chopped raisins or grape concentrate can be used to give more body to the wine. Ferment with a white wine or champagne yeast.

    There are over 30,000 miles (more than the distance around the earth) of hedges in Cornwall, many of which are based on distinctive local styles of stone walling. Consequently, often what a Cornish person calls a "hedge", most people from outside the county do not recognise as a hedge, resulting in some foreign translation needed for walk directions.

    Around 50% of the hedgerows in the UK have been lost since the Second World War. Although intentional removal has dramatically reduced, lack of maintenance and damage from mechanical cutting techniques such as flailing are still causing deterioration of the remaining hedgerows.

    Some Cornish hedges are thought to be more than 4,000 years old, making them some of the oldest human-built structures in the world that have been in continuous use for their original purpose. They act as vital miniature nature reserves and wildlife corridors that link together other green spaces. This supports hundreds of species of plants and tens of thousands of insect species, many of which are vital pollinators for arable crops.

  32. Cross the stile into the field on the right then turn left and follow along the left hedge to a gap next to a stone stile. Go through the gap and follow the left hedge to another stile.

    If you are crossing a field in which there are horses:

    • Do not approach horses if they have foals, make loud noises nor walk between a foal and its mother as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Horses will often approach you as they are used to human contact. If horses approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. If you are uncomfortable with their proximity, calmly walk away.
    • Do not feed the horses with sweets or otherwise. Some food which is harmless to humans can be deadly to horses.
    • If you have a dog, keep it under close control in a visible but safe place, and as still and quiet as possible.
  33. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field to the left of the barn to reach two gateways. As you approach, head to the gateway on the right which has a stile next to it.

    One of the reasons that thistles go to all the effort to defend themselves is that they are rich in nutrients. The non-spiky areas of thistle plants such as the stem and leaf ribs have even been used as a food by humans. The ribs from the middle of the leaves are still harvested and sold in markets in some parts of the world. Preparation needs extreme care as the spines are very harmful if ingested so thistles are definitely not recommended for foraging!

    Sheep were one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans thought to be roughly around 12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The first sheep weren't woolly and were used for meat, milk and their (woolless) hides which were sometimes tanned to make leather. Woolly sheep were bred about 4,000 years later in Iran.

  34. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the left hedge to where it meets a fence. Turn left down the path between the hedge and the fence to reach a stile.

    Due to their flocking behaviour, sheep have gained a reputation for not being intelligent but actually this is more about being nervous of being eaten. In a study, their intelligence was found to be on a par with cows: they can recognise human faces, learn a name given to them etc. This may even extend to problem-solving: in Cornwall we've seen them escape into a neighbouring field by operating a kissing gate and in West Yorkshire there are reports of sheep that have worked out that they can cross a cattle grid by rolling on their backs with their feet in the air.

  35. Cross the stile in the bottom corner of the field and turn right onto the track. Follow this a few paces to a junction with a driveway and follow this past the barn on the left. Continue until the track ends in a junction with a lane.

    Ivy is unusual in that it flowers particularly late in the year - from September to November - and therefore provides vital nectar for insects such as bees and moths. Ivy berries are an important winter food source for birds and will remain on the plant all the way through the winter until spring. The berries also have a high fat content so provide a dense source of energy at a time when animals need lots to keep warm.

  36. Bear left onto the lane and follow it back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    Project Neptune was started by the National Trust in 1965 to purchase and protect large portions of the British coastline. By 1973 it had achieved its target of raising £2 million and 338 miles of coastline were looked-after. The project was so successful that it is still running although mainly focused on maintenance. There is still an occasional opportunity when privately-owned coastal land is sold. A particularly notable one was in 2016 when the land at Trevose Head was put up for sale and successfully purchased by the National Trust.

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