Talland Bay to Looe circular walk

Talland Bay to Looe

A circular walk along the coast from Talland Bay to Looe, passing the pilgrimage site of Looe Island which Jesus was said to have visited as a child, and returning via the ancient Giant's Hedge in Kilminorth Wood and Talland's mediaeval church.

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The walk starts at Talland Bay and follows the coast path around Portnadler Bay overlooking Looe Island before reaching Looe at Hannafore Point. The walk then follows the foreshore to the Looe River and continues along the quay to the confluence of the East and West Looe rivers. The route turns up the West Looe River to Kilminorth Wood, then follows the Giant's Hedge through the woods and crosses the hill to Kilminorth. The return route is on small lanes and across fields via Talland church.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 107 OS Explorer 107 (laminated version)

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


  • Wading birds at Hannafore Point
  • Mediaeval twin towns of Looe
  • Mature broadleaf woodland at Kilminorth
  • 6th Century Giant's Hedge
  • Beach at Talland Bay

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. If you're starting from the beach café car park, turn right out of the car park onto the lane and follow it to reach the small car park at the start of the walk. Opposite Smugglers Rest, go through the kissing gate in the bottom-left corner of the car park and climb the steps. Follow the path until it meets a wide grassy path and turn right onto this, following it to a gap in the hedge.

    In 1922 the French Trawler "Marguerite" lost her bearings and went aground in a southwesterly gale. The boat was equipped with a radio and sent an SOS signal saying it had run aground on Eddystone Reef. The Looe lifeboat was launched and began the long row out to Eddystone. In fact the trawler was so far off course that it was on the rocks of Talland Bay, but the crew could not see the land through the thick drizzly mist. About half an hour later the trawler was spotted and a motorised fishing boat was sent to tow the lifeboat back to Talland Bay. Once in Talland Bay, the lifeboat was released. By now, the trawler was up on the rocks with a huge sea breaking over her. The coxwain of the lifeboat used the lifeboat's anchor in the marine equivalent of a "handbrake turn" to keep the lifeboat afloat whilst bringing it alongside the trawler on the rocks and was able to rescue all 21 of the crew.

    It is said that as the tide receded, the locals thought it a shame that the 50 tonnes of fish aboard the ship might go to waste and despite a guard being placed on the shore to protect the property, managed to creep in from the seaward side without the guard noticing. However, when they arrived, they found that the boat's acetylene lamps had spilled their calcium carbide (used to generate the acetylene) into the fish hold, contaminating the fish. In fact, the heat generated by carbide reacting with the water on the wet fish may have cooked them.

  2. Follow the path through the gap and continue to a kissing gate. Going through (or around) this and follow the path for about a third of a mile and finally uphill to reach a wooden gate with a National Trust sign for Hendersick.

    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.

    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.

  3. Go through the gate and follow the path through one more gate to reach a waymark beside a rock outcrop.

    Hawthorn berries have traditionally been used to make fruit jellies as they contain pectin and have an apple-like flavour. A reason for making seedless jellies is that the seeds in hawthorn berries contain a compound called amygdalin, which is cyanide bonded with sugar. In the gut this is converted to hydrogen cyanide.

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

  4. At the waymark, continue ahead along the coast to reach another gate.

    Common gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent but rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. One complicating factor is that Western Gorse flowers don't have any scent, so you need to be sniffing a tall gorse plant to test yourself.

    Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days.

    The Greater Black-backed Gull is the largest member of the gull family and a bird of formidable size, with a wingspan of nearly 6ft. Unlike other gulls, the Greater Black-backed Gull is highly predatory. Young birds are a significant portion of its diet and it tends to live amongst other seabirds where it can eat the neighbours. It has also been known to swallow whole rabbits and even eat young lambs. It often steals food from other seabirds using its large size to intimidate them into dropping it, and consequently it is sometimes referred to as a pirate.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach another gate on the other side of the field.

    Lesser celandines are common plants along woodland paths recognisable by their yellow star-shaped flowers. Despite their name, they are not closely related to the Greater Celandine. Lesser celandines are actually a member of the buttercup family and, like buttercups, they contain the poisonous chemical protoanemonin.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path up the steps, past a waymark and down the other side to where a small path departs from the right to a wooden gate.

    A flight of steps leads from the gate to the beaches of Portnadler Bay. At the western end is Hendersick beach, which is composed of sand and shingle, with some areas of rock. The small, rocky beach at the eastern (Looe) end of the bay is known as Old Mills Cove. The bay is sheltered both by the headland and Looe Island which makes it a good spot for swimming. There are extensive reefs stretching all the way to Looe Island and Hannafore Point, and to Talland Bay in the other direction, so it's also a good spot for snorkelling. At low tide, the exposed reefs host a number of rockpools.

  7. Keep ahead on the coast path to reach a gate. Go through this and continue along the path, crossing a footbridge at the bottom of a flight of steps to reach a kissing gate.

    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.

  8. Go through the gate and where the path forks, take either path to reach a kissing gate beside a gateway.

    There is a mediaeval legend that Jesus visited Looe Island, with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who traded with the Cornish Tin traders. Consequently, many early Christians made pilgrimages to Looe Island and a small thatched-roofed chapel was built here. The legend is not quite as far-fetched as it sounds as a fragment of an earthenware amphora was found on the island, originating in the Eastern Mediterranean and dating from around the time of Christ, which provides some evidence that there were trading links between Looe and the Middle East. Excavations by the BBC's "Time Team" found remains of Romano-British chapels built of wood with dating evidence that suggested use by Christians before the reign of Constantine the Great in AD 272.

  9. Go through, and cross the field to the kissing gate next to a gateway in the middle of the fence.

    The small beach is known as Samphire Beach, which is composed of coarse sand and shingle and has a few rock pools. It can be reached via some steps leading from a stile in the bottom corner of the fence on the opposite side of the field.

    Rock samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It has a strong, characteristic, slightly lemony flavour and recently has become more well-known as a flavouring for gin. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking golden samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as rock samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to rock samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

    Also completely unrelated is marsh samphire (also known as glasswort) which looks more like micro-asparagus. This is what typically appears on restaurant menus or in supermarkets as "samphire".

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path across the field to meet the fence on your right. Follow along the fence to reach a kissing gate leading onto a road.

    A path also leads up to the remains of Lamanna Chapel, located roughly in the middle of the top hedge of the field.

    During the Dark Ages, the sea crossing to the chapel on the island resulted in quite a lot of drowned pilgrims, so Lammana Monastery was built on the mainland. It is thought to have been in existence by the 6th Century and grew into a Benedictine Priory and Chapel. It still maintained a chapel on the island which was occupied by two Benedictine Monks until 1289.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the pavement in the direction signposted to Looe. Continue until the pavement ends at the Hannafore Point Hotel.

    The foreshore along Hannafore Point is popular with wading birds such as egrets and herons.

    In mediaeval Britain, roast heron was a prized dish reserved for aristocratic banquets. In Tudor and Elizabethan times, hunting herons with peregrine falcons was considered a royal sport which resulted in the population being protected from peasants who might otherwise have caught and roasted them.

  12. Join the green pedestrian lane and follow this until it ends at a black signpost with a coast path sign and a flight of steps down to the quay.

    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.

  13. Go down the steps and follow the quay upriver. When you reach the shops, pass to the right of the triangular Quayside Centre and continue following the river until you reach a large slipway opposite Looe Social Club.

    A scarred, one-eyed grey bull seal, who was consequently named Nelson, was a familiar sight in the harbours of South Cornwall for over 25 years. He eventually made Looe Island his home and lived there for over 20 years, and was popular with both locals and holidaymakers. After he died in 2003, the life-size bronze sculpture was created as a memorial which now overlooks Looe Harbour from the Pennyland Rocks.

  14. Bear left to join the pavement alongside the road, then continue following this alongside the river to where the path splits at 3 black bollards just before the bridge.

    In tidal rivers, the discharge of freshwater and friction with the riverbed effectively "holds back" the rising tide. The further up the tidal region of the river, the shorter the interval between low and high tide and the faster the rising tide comes in when it eventually does.

  15. Keep right to follow the path leading under the bridge. Under the arch, bear right beneath the pillars to a walkway along the river. Follow this a short distance until it ends in a left hand bend leading onto a lane.

    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.

  16. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to the (old) Ambulance Station. Cross the road and car park to the lake and turn left onto the path around the edge to reach the small jetty.

    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. From the jetty, continue following the path around the lake to reach the river, then turn left to follow the path upstream until you reach a slipway.

    Kingfishers can occasionally be seen, zipping up and down the river

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish, as their name implies, but they also eat many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

    The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  18. Follow the path from the other side of the slipway, uphill towards the woods to reach a wooden signpost 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.

  19. At the signpost, turn left (signposted Watergate) and follow the track through the gate (or go over the stile if the gate is shut). Continue along the track until you reach a public footpath signpost beside some steps on the right.

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

    Compared to many native trees, the beech colonised Great Britain relatively recently, after the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. Beech trees have a shallow root system and are therefore often found in areas where water is plentiful such as near rivers. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, tall, stately beech trees were very fashionable in the estates of wealthy landowners and many mature beech woodlands today are the result of 18th Century parkland landscaping projects.

  20. Turn right up the steps and follow the path until you 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.

  21. Turn left at the junction by the bench and follow the path to another junction. Continue ahead at this one onto the path leading uphill and follow this to pass through a gap in an embankment. Then turn left and follow along the embankment, keeping it on your left, to reach a stile.

    Bluebells are also known by folk names based on their shape including Lady’s Nightcap and Witches’ Thimbles.

    Other common names for the bluebell include "wild hyacinth" and "wood hyacinth" as they are related to the hyacinth family. Their Genus name Hyacinthoides also means "hyacinth-like".

    The broadleaf trees in the woodland include chestnut - the spiky husks may be visible on the path near the embankment 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.

  22. Cross the stile and head straight up the field, heading for the brow of the hill. As you approach the top corner of the field, head to the right-hand of the 2 gateways.

    In fields with crops where the footpath doesn't run along the edge, if there is a well-trodden path then follow this to avoid trampling any more of the crops. If there appears to be no path through the crops then you do have a right to walk through the crop but stick as close as possible to the line of the path to avoid damaging any more of the crop than strictly necessary. Alternatively, you can follow around the edges of the field to avoid trudging though the crop.

  23. Go through the gateway on the right and head straight across the field to a gap between the taller trees on the skyline.

    On a clear day you can see Caradon Hill across the fields to the right.

    Caradon Hill has a 371 metre summit and the name is thought to originate from the Cornish word car for fort. The slopes are dotted with the remains of engine houses and the area was once famous for its copper mines, which were discovered relatively late in Cornwall's mining history. In an account documented in the early 20th Century, the area was described:

    On Saturday nights after pay-day, the populous villages of Caradon Town, Pensilva, Minions and Crows Nest were crowded with men, and resembled in character the mining camps of Colorado and the Far West.
  24. Go through the gateway and turn right. Follow the sunken track to a gatepost with a waymark then follow the fence, keeping it on your left, to reach an opening in the trees in the corner of the field.

    The hilltop on the right is surrounded by a stone-faced hedge. During Victorian times it was recorded as a prehistoric settlement. However, the stone walling is thought to have been built after the mediaeval period which casts doubt over this, although the walls could have re-used existing earthworks. The enclosed field is known as and recorded as "The Warren", so one theory is that the walled enclosure could have been for keeping rabbits.

  25. Go through the opening and follow the track downhill, passing a quarry on your left. Follow the track around a bend to the right and continue until it ends on a lane.

    The quarry is recorded on the 1st edition OS map from the 1880s and the stone is likely to have been used for the wall to the track and possibly some of the cottages nearby. By the 1880s there were a few cottages near Kilminorth House on the opposite side of the lane. Kilminorth House is thought to date from the 16th Century and been rebuilt in the 18th Century. A manor at Kilminorth is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 so the settlement overall is likely to date back to early mediaeval times. This is consistent with the name being based on Cornish words - kyl means "ridge".

  26. Turn left onto the lane and follow it uphill, around a bend to the left and continue until it ends at a crossroads with the main road, with a "Welcome to Looe" sign.

    Handling primroses is best avoided as the hairs on the leaves and stems can cause contact dermatitis which is quite severe in some people. It is thought that some people may develop a tolerance with repeated exposure but nevertheless a study in a medical journal found that over a quarter of Primula growers experienced skin reactions.

    The sun looks white in space. Here on Earth it looks yellow because colours from the blue-violet end of the rainbow are scattered more so the rays of light reaching us directly from the sun are missing more of those colours.

  27. Carefully cross the road to the lane opposite with a Waylands Farm sign. Follow the lane until you reach a kissing gate ahead with a large sign for Tencreek and a Public Footpath sign alongside.
  28. Go through the kissing gate and follow the right hedge through the campsite to reach a kissing gate marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    Recreational camping was first popularised in the UK on the river Thames as an offshoot of the Victorian craze for pleasure boating. Early camping equipment was very heavy and so transporting it by boat was pretty much essential. By the 1880s it had become a pastime for large numbers of visitors.

  29. Go through the kissing gate and follow along the right hedge to reach an iron kissing gate next to the field gate in the far corner of the field.

    The headland sticking out in the distance is Rame Head - the last headland in Cornwall before Plymouth Sound. This and the headland between Talland Bay and Looe enclose one of the largest bays on the Cornish coast, sometimes referred to in its entirety as Whitsand Bay although this name is more commonly applied to just the section between Portwrinkle and Rame Head.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the right hedge, passing to the right of the tower, to a waymarked kissing gate in the bottom-right corner.

    The structures on the opposite side of the valley with white fronts are nautical measured mile markers.

    Two pairs of towers, known as "measured mile markers", are set exactly one nautical mile apart and are used by ships to calculate their speed. The ship sets a steady course on a bearing perpendicular to the markers. When the two markers align, the time is noted and again at the second pair of markers. The ship then turns around and repeats the process in the opposite direction and the average of the two values is taken. Now that ships have GPS, this can be used to measure speed, but the markers are still used by some ships coming out of refit at Devonport. At night, the marker towers are illuminated so they can be seen from the sea.

  31. Go through the gate and follow the path down to the lane. Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach the path to the churchyard gate.

    The place name Talland is from the Cornish words tal (meaning "brow") and lan (meaning "church site" or "monastic enclosure") so this is generally thought to mean something like "the holy place on the brow of the hill". A Celtic Missionary, known as St Tallanus, is said to have erected a holy altar where the altar of the current church now stands.

  32. Bear left up the path into the churchyard, around the left side of the church and through the arch next to the church door. Turn left up the steps on the other side and follow the path to a gate into a field.

    The present church dates from the 13th Century and the bell tower was originally completely detached from the church. The church was enlarged in the 14th and 15th Centuries and reconstructed in the Perpendicular Gothic style, and at this point the bell tower was joined into the church. Much of the mediaeval woodwork and carved pews from the Tudor era have survived. There is also an elegantly carved Elizabethan tomb of Sir John Bevill.

    During the 19th Century, part of the churchyard collapsed into the road and the gravestones now lining the path were salvaged from the rubble.

    More about John Bevill's tomb

  33. Follow the path to a fork and keep left to head downhill towards the beach. Continue ahead at a crossing of paths to reach the coast path and follow this down the steps to return to the car park.

    Talland Bay was used in one of the largest smuggling operations of the 20th Century. In 1979, police found 1.5 tonnes of Moroccan Gold cannabis wrapped in Christmas paper and hidden in a secret underground store beneath the café's counter. In all, 30 tonnes - with a street value of over £100 million at today's prices - had been imported by the smuggling gang using a converted fishing boat. The owner of the café was jailed and only legal herbs are now used by the café's new owners.

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