Rosemullion Head circular walk

Rosemullion Head

A circular walk passing the National Trust's Glendurgan gardens and the equally spectacular submarine gardens of Rosemullion Head where fish dart amongst the brightly-coloured blooms.

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The walk starts at Maenporth beach and follows the coast to the edge of Falmouth Bay. The route traces the edge of Rosemullion Head overlooking colourful marine gardens and then follows the Helford River to Durgan. The return route is across the fields via Mawnan Smith.


  • The path from direction 35 can get overgrown in summer. A stick or pole may be helpful for clearing the way.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 5.8 miles/9.4 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots in winter. Walking shoes or trainers in a dry summer.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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


  • Glendurgan National Trust gardens
  • Undersea gardens on Rosemullion Head
  • Sheltered sandy beach at Maenporth
  • Small beaches on the Helford River


  1. Facing the sea, make your way to the top-right-hand corner of the beach to reach a Coast Path sign. Follow along the road a few paces and then join the path on the left. Follow this to a fork just past the lifeguard hut.

    Maenporth, pronounced "main-porth" is an east-facing, crescent-shaped beach, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. Due to its proximity to Falmouth and easy parking, the beach gets fairly busy in the summer but out-of-season, or even early on summer mornings, you can have the beach to yourself.

  2. Keep left at the fork and follow the path out onto the coast. Continue on the path for just over half a mile, passing over a wooden walkway, up some steps and alongside some garden gates to reach a waymark just after the gate for "Chy-an-Mor".

    Most primroses tend to be pale yellow but in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However, there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.

    In December 1978 the Scottish trawler Ben Asdale was in Falmouth Bay unloading its catch of mackerel into a Russian Factory ship. As the trawler cast off from the factory ship, the stern rope jammed in the rudder and the trawler was unable to steer. The captain attempted to anchor the vessel but in the force 8 gale, the anchor dragged and the ship was driven ashore on Newporth Head. Three of the crew who attempted to swim ashore drowned but eight were rescued by helicopter which had to fly backwards to avoid the headland in one of the most dangerous rescues of modern times. The remains of the vessel can still be seen at low water.

  3. Follow the path through the gap ahead from the waymark and continue along the coast to descend via some steps into a valley and reach a waymark outside the Meudon Hotel.

    The headland on the far side of the bay is St Anthony Head and the white building is the (Fraggle Rock) lighthouse. The buildings to the left of this are part of Falmouth and the castle to the left of these is Pendennis. The buildings to the left of this are at Swanpool.

    Pendennis Castle was built by Henry VIII to defend the coast against a possible French attack and was reinforced during the reign of Elizabeth I. During the English Civil War, more reinforcement took place and the castle withstood five months of siege from Parliamentary forces before it was captured. The castle was adapted for the World Wars of the 20th Century and the guardhouse has been restored to how it might have looked in the First World War. During the Second World War, underground tunnels and magazines were added which can now be visited.

  4. From the waymark, follow the path to a pedestrian gate and go through this and pass a path to the right to reach a fork in the path at a Coast Path sign.

    Gunnera looks like giant rhubarb but the leaves stems are spiky. It tends to favour damp places as quite a lot of water is needed to supply its huge leaves.

    The plant has a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria which live between its cells. The cyanobacteria, also known as "blue-green algae", are photosynthetic and also supply the host plant with nitrogen which allows it to colonise poor soils.

  5. Keep left at the fork (towards Durgan) and follow the path to the beach, then bear right to a junction of paths. Keep left to follow the path along the coast, through a pedestrian gate and continue on the path to emerge into a field. Follow along the well-worn coast path across the field to reach a kissing gate on the far side.

    Spanish bluebells grow on the path down to the beach.

    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.

    You may wonder what an acorn on the coast path waymarks has to do with the coast. All National Trails in Britain are marked with an acorn symbol and the coast path is just one of over a dozen. The first of these was the Pennine Way, opened in 1965.

  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to another kissing gate into a field. Go through this and follow the path across the field to reach a gateway.

    The first record of the name Rosemullion was in 1318 when it was written rosemylian. The name is thought to be from the Cornish words ros (meaning promontory) and mellyon (meaning clover).

  7. Go through the gateway and then bear left to follow the left hedge downhill to join the path leading around the headland (not the one on the far side of the field leading along the top). Continue following the path around the headland until you reach a fork near the end of the headland.

    Seaweeds are algae and rely on sunlight to produce energy via photosynthesis in the way terrestrial plants do; they therefore thrive in shallow water where the sunlight penetrates. On the shoreline, you're likely to see brown bladderwrack and red dulse on exposed rocks; within rockpools, green sea lettuces and red coral-like seaweeds. At very low tides, or if you wade into the water beside rocks, brown ribbon-like kelp is common, which is a favourite hiding place for many fish such as bass, pollack and wrasse.

    No seaweeds are known to be poisonous and several are eaten raw, cooked or dried. Seaweed is quite rich in iodine which is an essential mineral, but in very large doses is toxic, so excessive consumption are not recommended. A number of food additives such as alginates, agar and carrageenan are produced from seaweed and used as gelling agents and emulsifiers in many processed foods.

  8. Keep left at the fork to follow the lower path around the headland as far as a Coast Path sign pointing upwards then head uphill to pass along the top of the area of gorse (as the lower path has become overgrown) to rejoin the lower path on the far side of the gorse. Then continue following the path along the bottom hedge to reach a stile.

    Dandelions are dispersed very effectively by the wind. The tiny parachute-like seeds can travel around five miles. Each plant can live for about 10 years and produces several thousand seeds each year.

    The weed-covered rocks provide a habitat for fish species such as wrasse.

    One of the most common fish on inshore reefs is the wrasse. The name for the fish is from the Cornish word wragh meaning "old hag". This is probably based on its lack of popularity for culinary consumption and is the reason why it is still quite common whereas most other species have been depleted by several centuries of fishing. Recently, wrasse has been "rediscovered" as a good eating fish if not overcooked. However, wrasse are very slow growing so are not an ideal culinary fish for conservation reasons: they cannot reproduce until they are 6-10 years old and large individuals may be over 30 years old.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path along the hedge to reach a footbridge on the far side.

    The small blue pom-pom-like flowers have common names which include blue bonnets, blue buttons, blue daisy and Iron Flower but it is best known as sheep's bit. The name is said to originate because sheep enjoy eating it. Confusingly, it is sometimes known as "sheeps bit scabious", yet it is not at all closely related to the group of plants normally known as "scabious".

    Sheep's bit flowers are rich in nectar and are a favourite with bees and butterflies. The flowers are highly reflective to ultraviolet which is thought helps to attract insects. The reason that insects can see UV but we can't is that insects' eyes have colour receptors that are tuned to different wavelengths than ours but also the lens of the human eye blocks UV light.

    The English Channel is a relatively recent name. The Saxons called it the "South Sea" (their "North Sea" still remains) and then became known as the "Narrow Sea" until the 18th century.

  10. Cross the bridge and stile and cross the small field to the stile and gate opposite.

    Roughly two-thirds of the way along the left hedge, a small path leads down to the seashore.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  11. Cross the stile (or go through the gate if open) and follow the path along the left hedge of the field to reach a kissing gate.

    The Helford creeks are formed from an ancient river valley that has been flooded by rising sea levels. In total, seven creeks (Ponsontuel Creek, Mawgan Creek, Polpenwith Creek, Polwheveral Creek, Frenchman's Creek, Port Navas Creek, and Gillan Creek) connect to the main Helford River inlet between the headlands of Nare Point and Rosemullion Head. The creeks are an important area of marine conservation and contain eelgrass which provides a habitat for a variety of wildlife including seahorses.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to a kissing gate into a field.

    A glebe was an area of land used to support the parish priest (in addition to a residence in the form of a parsonage or rectory). Occasionally the glebe included an entire farm. It was typically donated by the lord of the manor or cobbled together from several donated pieces of land.

  13. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a kissing gate beside a bench.

    Mawnan church was originally built in 1231. It was restored in Victorian times and when the north wall was rebuilt in 1827, the remains of a former church building and fragments of carved stone were discovered.

  14. Go through the gate and over the stile and follow the path along the coast until reach a gravel path with a kissing gate.

    In Jan 1940 after a mine sweep, the Canoni River - an oil tanker of over 7,000 tons - left Falmouth harbour to carry out engine sea trials . To everyone's surprise she hit a German mine and sank within an hour. It was quickly worked out that the mine was laid close inshore by a German submarine just after the minesweep was completed. The submarine was capable of laying 9 mines and the remaining mines were found and detonated. The Navy realised that the submarine had use the light on the Manacles buoy to navigate into the shallow water in Falmouth Bay at night and so the buoy was extinguished for the rest of the war.

  15. Follow the gravel path through the gate and continue to reach a grassy area in the field. Bear left down the field to the gate at the bottom.
  16. Go through the gate and continue along the coast to reach a kissing gate into a field.
  17. Go through the gate and continue straight ahead down the field to the gate at the bottom.

    In October 1940, the coaster Jersey Queen suffered an aerial attack with machine gun and cannon fire, and incendiary bombs on its way though the Irish Sea. Two of the crew were injured but the incendiary bombs slipped off the hull into the sea preventing any major damage. Two days later, she struck an acoustic mine in Cornish waters and sank in Falmouth Bay with the loss of two crew. When the mine detonated, the captain was knocked unconscious but was pulled from the water by one of the crew. Despite suffering attacks on two subsequent ships he captained, he survived the war and was awarded an MBE for his service.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path along the top of the beach, past the hut with a Trerose sign and through the gate into the field. Then turn left and follow along the left hedge to reach a stile.

    The beach is named Porthallack from the Cornish words for "willow trees" and "cove".

    Sea beet is also known as "wild spinach" and is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot and Swiss chard. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are at their best during March and April and become tougher as the year goes on.

  19. Cross the stile and follow the path along the coast and the top of a beach to reach another hut on the far side.

    Porth Sawsen been recorded as "Porth Saxon" on OS maps since the 1880s but records of Porth Zawsen date from the 1860s. It is thought to be based on a personal name.

    During the summer months, jellyfish drift across the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream and can sometimes be seen washed up on Cornish beaches.

    The collective noun for jellyfish can either be a "swarm", "bloom" or "smack". When jellyfish rapidly multiply (due to plankton availability), "bloom" is typically used. When jellyfish actively swim to stay together (not all species do) then "swarm" tends to be preferred. "Smack" is a word play on being stung which is frowned-on by scientists.

    The speed with which the tide comes in or goes out follows a sine wave: slow at low tide, speeding up to the fastest at mid-tide (known as the "tide race", when currents are at their strongest) and slowing down again towards high tide. Thus high and low tides are also referred to as "slack tide" when tidal currents are at their minimum.

  20. Turn right after the hut in the direction indicated by the arrow on the sign and go through the gate. Once through the gate, turn immediately left to follow the path uphill and along the coast until it forks as it goes into a field. Keep left at the fork and then follow the left hedge to reach a well-worn path departing from the far side of the field and follow this to a stone stile.

    A cordial can be made from blackthorn blossom by dissolving 100g of sugar in 1 litre of warm water mixing one large handful of blossom, scaled up to produce the quantity you require.

    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 name of the plant is Greek for "sun direction" because the flowers turn to follow the winter sun.

  21. Cross the stile and follow the path until it ends in a stile and gate onto a lane.

    One of the birds that you may see under the trees is the robin.

    Robins are able to hover like kingfishers and hummingbirds and use this skill when feeding from bird feeders, which they are unable to cling to.

  22. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow this until you reach some steps with a wooden railing on the right.

    If you continue on the lane past the steps to Durgan Village, there is a lower entrance to Glendurgan garden.

    Glendurgan Garden is situated in a steep south-facing valley beside the Helford river. The aspect and mild maritime climate allow frost-intolerant subtropical plants to grow here. The garden was laid out by Alfred Fox in the 1820s and 1830s and now covers 25 acres. It was given to the National Trust by the Fox family in 1962. The most well-known feature of the garden is the cherry laurel maze dating back to 1833.

  23. Turn right up the steps and follow the path parallel to the road, up the hill, to reach a point where the path passes through a gap in a wall with slate slabs across the path either side of the wall. Follow the path beneath the large tree to another gap in the wall with Candy's Gate on the opposite side of the road.

    As well as forgetting where they buried some of them, squirrels may also lose a quarter of their buried food to birds, other rodents and fellow squirrels. Squirrels therefore use dummy tactics to confuse thieves by sometimes just pretending to bury a nut.

  24. Follow the path through the gap in the wall to stay on the left side of the road and continue until the path emerges into a National Trust car park.

    The National Trust is the largest owner of farms in the UK. It has around 2,000 tenants and over 600,000 acres of land. It has been calculated that 43% of all the rainwater in England and Wales drains through National Trust land.

  25. Bear right to make your way out of the car park to the lane and then turn left to walk up the lane. Continue until you reach a stone stile on the right beside a gate for Mawnan Allotment Association.

    The settlement of Bosveal was first recorded in 1327 and spelt Bosvael. It is from the Cornish word bos, for dwelling. The rest is thought to be based on the name of the person who lived there.

  26. Cross the stile on the right marked with the Public Footpath sign and follow the right hedge of the field to reach another stile.
  27. Cross the stile and follow the path until you reach another stile at a corner in the path.

    Navelwort produces flower spikes with small green bells from June to September. When the flower spike is first forming it is a rather beautiful structure and is a perfect subject for macro photography.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the path between the fence and the hedge, crossing a small stile part-way along, to reach a stile into a field.

    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.

    The plant spreads to form dense colonies, crowding-out native species. The onion-flavoured seeds are very attractive to ants who carry them quite large distances and forget some of them, allowing the plant to colonise new areas. In fact three-cornered leeks are so invasive that they are illegal to plant in the wild.

    The -wort in plant names derives from the Old English word wyrt, which simply meant plant. Wurzel - the German word for root - also has the same ancestry. In mediaeval times, -wort was often used for the names of plants reputed to be medicinal, prefixed by the ailment that the plant was supposed to cure (e.g. woundwort).

  29. Cross the stile and follow the path along the left hedge of the field to reach a gate with a kissing gate alongside.

    As you enter the field, the field hedge to the right incorporates part of a rampart from a fortified settlement, probably from the Iron Age or the "Romano-British" period that immediately followed this (the Romans were mostly "upcountry" and left the Cornish alone to carry on building in a similar style to before with no newfangled villa nonsense). Most of the embankment has been ploughed away but enough traces of a ditch remain to work out it was about 60 metres across. The name Carwinion (the "car" is from the Cornish word for fort) could well be connected with this.

  30. Go through the kissing gate and follow the track ahead, past Carwinion Cottage to reach a road.

    Carwinion House was built in the 18th Century and during Victorian times, the Rogers family were keen plant hunters, planting many exotic species in the gardens. The property was gifted to the National Trust in 1969 and the Rogers family lived there for another generation as tenants, tending the gardens and creating a nationally important bamboo collection. After Anthony Rogers died, the furnishings from the house and many horticultural items were auctioned off and the National Trust began seeking new tenants in 2014 to renovate the house and tend the gardens, with a view to eventually re-opening the property to the public.

  31. Turn left onto the road and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign on the right for Meudon.

    As you might guess from the name, Mawnan Smith began as a blacksmiths. This was located on the crossing of two ancient tracks which are now the roads that cross in the village. The first record of the "smith at Mawnan" is from 1645 during the Civil War. By 1888, Mawnan Smith had grown into a village with a pub, school, post office and 2 places of worship.

  32. Turn right onto the path indicated by the footpath sign and follow this over a stile into a field. Follow along the left hedge to pass a gate on the left just before the corner and then reach a gate leading into the field ahead.

    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.
  33. Go through the gate ahead and follow the track to another gate.

    As sunlight passes though the atmosphere, the rays of light can interact electromagnetically with the molecules of air. This interaction causes each ray of light to be sent off in a random direction and is therefore known as "scattering".

    Sunlight includes all the colours of the rainbow, each with different wavelengths. The shorter waves of blue and violet light interact with air molecules more strongly than the other colours in sunlight and this is responsible for the colours we see of the sun and the sky.

  34. Go through the kissing gate (or the farm gate if open) and follow the track to a public footpath sign beside a waymark post.

    Crows have a vocabulary of different calls with specific meanings and these can be varied to convey emotion like a human tone of voice.

    The sounds that crows make have also been found to vary with location rather like regional accents in humans. When a crow moves into a new area, it mimics the calls of the most dominant flock members to fit in with its peer group.

  35. Turn left to pass the barn and continue a few more paces to a kissing gate just past the metal farm gate (if this area is very muddy, there is a second kissing gate further to the left which joins the same path). Go through the kissing gate and turn left to follow the grassy path downhill and under the trees. Continue downhill on the path until you reach a pedestrian gate on the right.

    The bramble is a member of the rose family and there are over 320 species of bramble in the UK. This is a big part of why not all blackberries ripen at the same time, and vary in size and flavour.

  36. When you reach the gate on the right, go through this and down the steps. Bear left down the field to the gate in the bottom hedge.

    The name "daisy" is thought to be a corruption of "day's eye" (or "eye of the day", as Chaucer called it). The name comes about because the flower head closes at night and opens each morning. In mediaeval times, it was known as "Mary's Rose".

    Cows eat about 10kg of grass a day and a dairy cow produces around 50 pints a day on average rising to around 100 pints at their peak.

  37. Go through the kissing gate and cross the next field towards the gate in the bottom hedge.

    The hedge between the fields is planted with oaks.

    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.

  38. At the gate, don't go through it but instead turn right to stay in the field. Follow along the bottom hedge until you reach a waymarked kissing gate into the woods.
  39. Go through the gate and keep left to follow the lower path (leading downhill). Continue to reach a junction of paths where a path with concrete slabs joins from the left. Continue ahead here and follow the main path until it forks beside a metal gate on the left.

    Wood anemones can be recognised by their white star-like flowers growing in shady locations during the spring. Hoverflies are important pollinators of the plant so you may also see these nearby. Avoid touching the plants as they are poisonous to humans and can cause severe skin irritation.

    The anemones grow from underground stems (rhizomes) and spread very slowly - to spread by six feet takes about 100 years! This makes it a good indicator of ancient woodland.

    When photographing bluebells, the flowers that look blue to your eye can end up looking purple in photos.

    The first thing to check is that your camera isn't on auto white balance as the large amount of blue will cause the camera to shift the white balance towards reds to try to compensate.

    Another thing to watch out for is that the camera's light metering will often over-expose the blue slightly to get a reasonable amount of red and green light and the "lost blue" can change the balance of the colours. You can get around this by deliberately under-exposing the photo (and checking there is no clipping if your camera has a histogram display) and then brightening it afterwards with editing software.

    You may see bracket fungus growing on dead branches beside the path.

    Bracket fungi can be recognised by tough, woody shelf-like growths known as conks. Bracket fungi can live for a very long time and are often coloured with annual growth rings. Many begin on living trees and can eventually kill a branch or whole tree by damaging the heartwood and allowing rot to set in. They can continue to live on the dead wood afterwards.

  40. Bear left at the fork to follow the path around the corner to the remains of a kissing gate. Go down the steps and follow the drive ahead to reach the beach and complete the circular walk.

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