Penrose and Porthleven circular walk

Penrose and Porthleven

A circular walk through the woodland alongside the Loe to the most southerly port on the British mainland, famous for its huge storm waves.

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The walk begins through the parkland surrounding Penrose House then follows the woodland along the edge of the Loe Pool to the coast. The walk joins the coast path beside the Loe Bar and follows this above the cliffs to Porthleven. The walk enters Porthleven along the quay and then circles to a terrace with views over the harbour. The final stretch is an easy walk on the bridleway from Highburrow.


  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 6 miles/9.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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


  • Historic harbour of Porthleven
  • Cornwall's largest natural freshwater lake
  • Historic Penrose Estate
  • Mature broadleaf woodland in the Cober valley
  • The Loe Bar - a geographical oddity with some rare wildlife

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Atlantic Inn
  • The Harbour Inn
  • The Ship Inn


  1. Make your way to the bottom of the car park and follow the path to emerge on a tarmacked driveway. Turn right (signposted Loe Pool) and follow the driveway to a junction with a Private sign ahead.

    The Penrose family owned a large estate to the south of Helston since mediaeval times which eventually extended from Gunwalloe to one side of Porthleven Harbour. In 1771, it was sold to John Rogers, who became the new squire of the estate and it remained in the Rogers family for another two centuries. In 1974, a large part of it, covering 1,500 acres, was gifted to the National Trust. Penrose House remains as a private family home. This was originally a U-shaped building created in the 17th Century by the Penrose family and remodelled a number of times in the 18th and 19th Centuries by the Rogers family.

  2. Turn left and follow the track to another junction.

    Squirrels assess each of their acorns before burying them. If an acorn is too light (which suggests it might have a hole), the squirrel will eat it immediately rather than risking it going mouldy.

  3. Turn right (also signposted Loe Pool) and follow the track to a junction just before a metal gate.

    Sycamores like moist soil and the young trees need a lot of water (equivalent to an inch of rain per week) to get established. For this reason, sycamores are very often found along streams or in low-lying meadows that collect water. Once their roots grow deep enough, the mature trees can withstand drought by tapping into underground moisture.

  4. Turn left between the metal bollards and follow the track across the meadow to another junction.

    The small building in the middle of the meadow at Penrose is a bath house built in 1840 which contains a walk-in slate-lined bath in mock Roman style.

  5. Turn right (signposted The Stables) and follow the track back across the meadow to reach The Stables (café).

    In 2012, Lieutenant Commander John Peverell Rogers died. His elderly wife continued to live in the house and his son Charles - heir to the estate - lived in a cottage as a recluse, suffering from poor mental health. In 2018, Charles died from a methadone overdose at the age of 62 by which point he was sleeping in his car. Charles died apparently without an heir and his mother died two weeks later.

    A local care worker, at the time known as Jordan Adlard, had suspected ever since he was eight that he was the illegitimate son of Charles, but Charles had refused to do a DNA test. After Charles died, the test confirmed what Jordan had suspected and in 2019 the low-paid worker, struggling to pay his bills, become the owner of an estate estimated as worth £50 million. Jordan Adlard-Rogers and his family now live in the house.

  6. From The Stables, continue following the track alongside the metal fence to pass a junction to the right and reach a second junction to the right with a "Porthleven via inland route" sign. Stay on the main track a little further, around a bend, to reach a wooden gate on the right with a wooden post with yellow and blue waymark arrows.

    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.

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

    The leaf shape of winter heliotrope is similar to its close relative butterbur, but the leaf edges are more rounded than butterbur and the leaves are evergreen whereas butterbur puts up flowers before it has any leaves. Both plants spread via rhizomes (underground stems) and their broad leaves can crowd out other plants making them potentially invasive.

  7. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path alongside the wall to reach a kissing gate.

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

    Navelwort grows along the wall.

    The succulent leaves of navelwort can be eaten and used in a salad. Older leaves become more bitter so the younger leaves are recommended. The crunchy stems can be added at the last minute to a stir-fry as an alternative to beansprouts. Care should be taken not to pull roots out of wall when breaking off leaves.

  8. Go through the gate and the one immediately opposite and follow the path a short distance to another gate. Pass to the right of this then follow the path until you reach a fork in the path with a waymark.

    The woodland is a mix of deciduous trees including beech and oak.

    Oak was often associated with the gods of thunder as it was often split by lightning, probably because oaks are often the tallest tree in the area. Oak was also the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid-summer sacrifice.

  9. Keep right at the fork and follow the path uphill to another junction.

    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 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.

    The first trees evolved about 360 million years ago which were a bit like tree versions of mosses. Seeds hadn't evolved at this point and so they reproduced via spores. After the arrival of the seed came conifers which were the dominant form of trees for nearly 200 million years. The flower evolved around 100 million years ago and following this, broadleaf trees appeared and eventually out-competed conifers in many habitats.

  10. At the junction, keep left to follow the path downhill. Continue to where it bends sharply at a waymark post then around the bend to descend to meet the main track.

    Beech bark is very delicate and does not heal easily. Consequently some graffiti carved in beech trees is still present from more than a century ago. This is a practice that should be strongly discouraged as it permanently weakens the tree, making attack by insects more likely which can prematurely end its life.

  11. Turn right onto the track and follow this for roughly a quarter of a mile to a path on the right opposite a signpost for Coast Path to Porthleven, just before the lodge.

    The Loe was originally the estuary of the River Cober which was flooded after the last Ice Age when sea levels rose. The contours of the original valley can be traced for several miles out to sea. The estuary is now blocked by a bar of sand and shingle which has created the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. The earliest record of the name was in 1337, when it was called "La Loo", but is now pronounced "low". It is from the Cornish word logh which is equivalent to the Scottish "loch".

  12. Turn right and follow the path to a junction. Turn left to continue on the Coast Path to Porthleven and follow the zig-zag path uphill to another junction.

    The Loe Bar is composed mainly of shingle that is not of local origin: it is mostly chalk flint. It is thought that this was washed down from the terraces of the river which the English Channel once was, when sea levels rose after the last Ice Age. It is also thought that the bar of shingle initially formed offshore and then slowly moved towards the shore so that the bar across The Loe may not have been in place until early mediaeval times or at most a few thousand years ago. The bar was originally porous, allowing seawater into the lake but fine silt released by mining activity upriver has caused it to seal so that it is now freshwater. To prevent flooding in parts of Helston, a disused mine adit has been repurposed as an overflow from the Loe Pool into the sea. On occasions this has blocked and so the Bar has been intentionally breached to release the build-up of water, but the Bar has always resealed itself. It is thought that Longshore Drift plays an important part in the maintenance of the Bar and causes it to gradually accumulate more sediment over time.

    During violent winter storms, waves have been known to break all the way over the bar into the Loe Pool. Even under normal conditions, the sea off the beach is extremely dangerous and a number of people have been drowned, some just from paddling. It is notorious for its massive unexpected shore dumps which can appear out of nowhere even in calm weather and suck people under the water as the shingle caves in beneath their feet. Some locals have called for a skull-and-crossbones to be added to signs on the "killer beach" which is reputed to take one soul every seven years.

  13. At the junction, turn left to follow the coast path to Porthleven. Continue on the surfaced path for just under half a mile to reach a waymark with blue and yellow arrows at a junction of paths.

    The engine houses that you can see on coast in the distance are part of Wheal Trewavas.

    The Wheal Trewavas mine opened in 1834 and worked four copper lodes which ran under the seabed. Wheal Trewavas produced over £100,000 worth of copper ore, which in today's money would be over £10 million. By the 1840s, the lodes were beginning to peter out or were too close to the seabed to be mined safely without causing flooding. Mining became uneconomical and it closed in 1846 with allegations that the last dividends had been paid from bank overdrafts.

    The large, circular area next to the lowest engine house was known as a "capstan platt", where a capstan powered by horses would be used for winching ore up from the mine. The flat, round area has proved irresistible to helicopter pilots from Culdrose who are reported to sometimes use it for landing practice.

    More about the Wheal Trewavas.

  14. Keep left on the coast path (marked with the yellow arrow) and follow the path to pass through a gap in a wall. Continue to reach a Coast Path sign where a small path departs to the left.

    Kestrels are members of the falcon family and the most common bird of prey in Europe although in recent years in Britain they have been overtaken by the buzzard. They can be recognised from their fairly small size for a bird of prey, brown plumage and black tips to their tail when in flight. Despite having a wingspan of over half a metre, kestrels only weigh around 200g.

  15. Keep right on the main path and follow this to reach a flight of steps. Follow the path down from the cliffs to emerge into a parking area along a track.

    The name Porthleven can be interpreted as the Cornish for "smooth cove" which could be a reference to the relatively sheltered natural harbour that existed here before the Victorian port was built, or it could possibly be from the name of the stream leading into the harbour. Names in the Cornish language normally date from the period before the Norman Conquest when landowners still spoke Cornish so the settlement may date from the Early Middle Ages. The first documented record of the settlement is from 1529 although records of a chapel of St Elvan date from 1257, so another theory is that the "leven" originates from the name of the 5th Century Celtic saint but no historical evidence has so far been found.

  16. Turn right onto the track and follow this to where it becomes a tarmacked lane and continue uphill on this to a junction.

    In 1948, The Energetic - a fishing boat crewed by six brothers from Porthleven - was out fishing when thick fog rolled in whilst their nets were out. Meanwhile, The Chrysanthy Star - an American steamship bound for Falmouth - had realised they had insufficient coal to reach port and so had changed course for the Isles of Scilly. In the fog, the visibility was only around 150 yards, and the steamer struck the fishing boat which sank in seconds. The only survivor of the six brothers was the one who couldn't swim. As he went overboard, he grabbed a canvas buoy but this was punctured and sank. Next he tried to stay afloat using a wooden spar from the ship but this would not hold his weight. Finally he managed to reach one of the boat's marker buoys and hold onto this for 15 minutes until he was rescued by a lifeboat. A church service was attended by over 1000 fishermen from all over Cornwall.

  17. Bear left at the junction to follow the lane downhill. Continue to where it splits around a building with a path marked Mount's Road on the left.

    In February 1833, a smack (a traditional fishing boat under sail) named "John and Mary" was carrying a cargo of pork and butter from Cork to Plymouth but ran into bad weather and attempted to make a run for Falmouth. A diary records:

    She mistook the light at Penzance pier-head for the Lizard and seeing a light at Porthleven (which was a man carrying a lantern) mistook Porthleven for Falmouth and ran in as the weather was very bad. She was sold this afternoon.

    The boat grounded on the beach 100 metres from the pier and was wrecked but the crew were all rescued.

  18. Bear left and follow Mount's Road downhill along the sea wall to where it opens out into a road. Continue to where it ends in a junction opposite Captain's Rest.

    The Herring Gull is the gull most commonly encountered in Cornwall and 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.

    Despite a growth of urban populations inland, particularly around rubbish tips, the Herring Gull population has dropped to half its size in 25 years. It has 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 competition from Red Kites, which scavenged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

  19. Turn left and follow the road to another junction.

    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).

  20. Bear left onto the no-through road and follow this down to the quay.

    Porthleven's most prominent building is the Institute, instantly recognisable by the 70ft high clock tower. The Institute was built on the site of an 18th Century inn - The Fishmongers Arms - which was demolished in 1883. The new building opened in 1884 as Porthleven Literary Institute for the furthering of scientific knowledge and literacy - a gift to Porthleven from Mr Bickford-Smith of Trevarno, a former Member of Parliament. It is consequently now known as The Bickford Smith Institute. The large reading room contained hundreds of books, newspapers and a telegram news service and was heated by two stoves.

  21. Follow the quayside road along the edge of the harbour to reach the Harbour Inn and continue a short distance further to a junction.

    Until the 19th Century, Porthleven was a small fishing village with a modest harbour. In 1811, permission was granted for a development project to create a new mineral port, importing coal and timber and exporting ore. The building work was completed in 1818, but just four years later the new harbour was destroyed by a storm and was rebuilt in 1825. In 1855, the harbour was improved with the addition of a breakwater and balks to protect boats in the inner harbour during storms. The mineral port proved financially unsuccessful despite several companies attempting to make it a viable enterprise, however, the development of the harbour greatly improved the fishing trade.

  22. At this point, you may want to have a look along the other side of the harbour and return here afterwards. The route continues uphill on the road ahead to reach a staggered crossroads after Anne's Pasties.

    "Pasty" was another word used for "pie" throughout England from the Middle Ages onward, and did not necessarily imply the characteristic shape and crimping we associate with the Cornish Pasty. A pasty recipe from 1746 contains no veg, just meat (venison), port wine and spices. The first "Cornish pasty" recipe is from 1861 which contained just beef and no veg.

    Even during Victorian times, main meat available to poor people would have been pork. The Cornish dialect word for a pork flatbread eaten in the mines during the 18th and 19th Centuries is hogen (pronounced "hugg-un") which evolved into "oggy" - the dialect word for pasty. The really poor had a "tiddy oggy" (with no meat at all).

    The "traditional" Cornish Pasty recipe contains beef, onion, potato and swede (referred to as "turnip" in the local dialect from its more formal name of "Swedish turnip") seasoned with salt and pepper. It's thought that this probably dates from the late 18th Century (when the Poldark novels were set) when potatoes and turnips were a staple diet for the poor but the first documented "traditional" recipe is not until 1929. Over 120 million Cornish pasties are now consumed each year.

  23. Turn right onto The Gue and follow this until it ends in a T-junction.
  24. Turn right and keep left when you reach a junction to follow the road past the war memorial. Continue to reach another junction immediately after the Atlantic Inn.

    Like many War Memorials, the one at Porthleven was constructed after the First World War and then subsequently added to for losses from other conflicts. The site for it was donated by the Penrose family.

    During the First World War nearly 10,000,000 military personnel and over 10,000,000 civilians were killed. A further 23 million people were injured. In addition, over 8,000,000 horses, mules and donkeys and more than 1,000,000 dogs lost their lives. The sixteen million animals that served in World War 1 are commemorated with purple poppies.

  25. Bear right to follow the road downhill to a junction.
  26. Bear left to the Keep Clear markings on the road and then bear right past the postbox onto the path leading between the cottages. Follow this to emerge on the road and bear left to follow it a few paces to a junction.
  27. You can either bear right to retrace your steps along the sea front via Mount's Road or alternatively keep left for a gentler gradient to where the two rejoin. Then continue following the lane to pass through national speed limit signs and return to the bend where you joined the lane earlier.

    Sea beet grows in various places along the lane, especially at the far end.

    Sea beet has been cross-bred with domesticated crops to re-introduce some of the disease resistance from the tougher wild plant that were lost in the domesticated plants. It is also able to withstand quite high sodium levels in the soil which allows it to grow in salty conditions on the coast.

  28. Turn left at the bend and follow the lane uphill to a Public Bridleway sign.

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

    A similar-looking bird called the whinchat is also present in the summer but this can be identified by a white stripe across its eye. Both stonechats and whinchats can often be spotted perching on dead sticks or brambles protruding above gorse and heather, and consequently the term "gorse chat" or "furze chat" has been used locally to mean either species. For a long time, stonechats and whinchats were thought to be members of the thrush family but genetic studies have revealed they are actually members of the (Old World) flycatcher family.

  29. Turn right and go through the gap to the left of the gate then follow the path to a metal pedestrian gate.

    There are nearly 400 miles of public bridleway in Cornwall, marked with blue waymarks, which are also open to horses and cyclists, although there is no obligation to make them navigable by any means other than on foot. The general public are also legally entitled to drove livestock along public bridleways, and although Cornwall has more than its share of eccentrics, this is something we've yet to see.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the path to where it forks.
  31. Keep left at the fork and follow the path to a junction of tracks at a signpost.

    In 1898, a Porthleven fishing boat is recorded as landing a rather unexpected catch. When the (presumably heavy) nets were pulled, they were found to contain a wooden case. When this was brought aboard and opened, it was found to contain a piano which was subsequently restored and used locally.

  32. At the junction, turn left (signposted "Stables inland route") and follow the path which narrows into an unsurfaced path. Continue on the path for just under half a mile until it ends in a pedestrian gate.

    The streamers on swallows tails serve an aerodynamic function, assisting tight turns to catch insects. Experiments with sand martins found that they could be "pimped-up" by adding artificial streamers to their tails which afforded them increased manoeuvrability in a flight maze. The suggestion for why swallows have evolved streamers and not sand martins is partly the speedier insects that swallows need to catch and also that sand martins live in burrows and this would risk breaking off one streamer, leading to unbalanced flight.

    Extracts from ivy were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of some modern-day cough medicines. It is said to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study for English Heritage also found that roadside ivy absorbed particulates from the atmosphere which may lead to its use in improving air quality.

  33. Go through the gate and bear left across the track to the gate opposite. Go through this and follow the path towards the farm, then around to the right to a signpost before a gate with a gap to the left.

    The first record of the settlement and manor of Penrose is from 1345 as Penros Methele although Roman coins from around 100 BC were found near the house. The name is from the Cornish words pen, meaning "end" or "top" and ros which has a few different meanings, but in this case, "hill spur" fits the landscape. Penrose is divided into Higher Penrose (the farm) and the lower area with the stately home known now just as Penrose. This division has existed from mediaeval times - Penros Bighan first recorded in 1367, meaning "little Penrose".

  34. Turn left (signposted "Penrose Hill car park") to follow the path around the farm buildings. Continue on the waymarked path until it ends in a gate onto a track.

    There are 2 sparrow species in the UK but only the house sparrow is common in Cornwall. Since the 1970s the UK house sparrow population has declined to less than half with an even greater loss in urban areas. Consequently the house sparrow is now red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. The exact causes for the decline are not known although a number of likely factors have been identified. In the countryside a reduction in aphid populations due to changes in farming practices is thought to be significant whereas in urban areas a loss of suitable nesting sites and a more intense level of predation by cats may be significant. Since 2008 the population seems to have stabilised but no-one is quite sure why.

  35. Go through the gate and cross over the track to the signpost opposite. Bear right onto the grassy path running parallel to the track and follow this until it ends.

    Magpies are often found on farmland such as this.

    Since members of the crow family will eat the eggs and chicks of other birds, there has been concern that magpies might have an effect on the songbird population. However, an extensive study by the British Trust for Ornithology using 35 years of data found that the presence of magpies appeared to have no measurable effect on songbird numbers. It is thought that availability of food and suitable nesting sites are probably the main factors limiting songbird populations. Hedgerows are a particularly important habitat.

  36. Turn left onto the track to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    Many Cornish place names contain the word "rose" (Roseland, Roseworthy, Roserrow, Penrose and even just Rose) but these come from the Cornish word ros which can either mean "promontory" (e.g. peninsula or hill spur) or "moor" so are likely to be descriptions of elevated landscape features. Confusingly though, the Cornish word for "rose" is also ros.

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