The Loe circular walk

The Loe

A circular walk around the Loe Pool, the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall, and along the Loe Bar, one of Cornwall's most treacherous beaches on which 100 of those onboard the HMS Anson drowned metres from the shore, motivating the invention of the rocket lifesaving apparatus that saved thousands of lives.

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The walk begins on a track past the engine house of Wheal Pool and then follows paths through the woods. The walk follows the edge of the Loe Pool to the Loe Bar and crosses this towards Porthleven. The return route is on the tree-lined bridleway through the Penrose Estate.

Considerations

  • After prolonged heavy rain, the water level in the Loe Pool can rise to the point where it floods a couple of stretches of path. When this happens, most of the time it's possible to bypass the affected section via small paths higher up the banks but after an extreme period of heavy rain it may be impassible for a few days until water levels drop.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes in summer, waterproof boots after wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • 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

Directions

  1. Facing into the car park, make your way to the opening on the left (roughly 50m past the garage) leading onto a concrete track. Turn right onto the track and follow this for just over half a mile to a bend just after the track crosses a stream, where an unsurfaced path departs from the right (marked with a blue arrow).

    The chimney beside the track is one of the remnants of the Wheal Pool mine.

    Wheal Pool was a lead and silver mine that was worked since at least the 16th Century. Initially, open-cast mining was used to reach the ore close to the surface and this was extended to underground mining at the start of the 19th Century. In order to prevent the Loe Pool from flooding the mine, a drainage adit was bored through the cliffs next to the Loe Bar at the end of the 18th Century so that the water level in the pool could be regulated.

  2. Turn right onto the path and follow it to where it emerges into a meadow.

    On the hill to the right is the manor of Nansloe, from the Cornish word nans, for valley. The two neighbouring farms also take their name from this (Higher and Lower Nansloe).

    Cornwall has at least 8 different words for "valley".

    • nans - valley
    • golans - small valley
    • haunans - deep valley with steep sides
    • keynans - ravine
    • glyn - large deep valley
    • deveren - river valley
    • tenow - valley floor
    • coom - valley of a tributary or small stream (from Old English)
  3. Follow the path along the left edge of the meadow and continue on the path through the trees to reach a crossing over a small stream immediately before a gateway with granite gateposts.

    Robins are common enough in Cornwall to be part of the Cornish language.

    The Cornish name for the bird is rudhek from rudh = "red" (in Cornish, "dh" is pronounced like the "th" in "with"). Cornish place names like Bedruthan, Ruthern and Redruth are all based on the colour red.

  4. Cross the stream and continue ahead between the gateposts. Follow the path to reach a junction of paths with a waymark post and a bench to the left.

    In situations where ducks need to watch out for predators, they can sleep one half of their brain at a time, keeping one eye open for danger. In safer circumstances, ducks will sleep fully.

  5. Bear right at the waymarked junction and follow the lakeside path to reach some steps. Climb these and continue a couple more paces uphill to reach a junction of paths with a waymark post.

    Minnows are a species of small carp that live in oxygen-rich streams, typically in the upper reaches of rivers where they provide an important food source for trout. Unlike trout, minnows don't need gravel for spawning and their young hatch quickly which allows them to multiply wherever sufficient food is available.

    When minnows are injured, special skin cells release a chemical which warns others of the presence of a predator. The evolutionary advantage of this to an individual minnow is not understood as it's already too late for the minnow being eaten and the cells require extra energy to maintain them so are, if anything, a disadvantage to the particular minnow who is carrying them. One possible explanation would be if other minnows in the shoal were relatives and therefore carrying similar genes then the sacrifice would be "worth it" (genetically), but studies have found that other minnows in the shoal are often unrelated. So it appears that minnows are simply nice.

  6. Keep left to follow the main path uphill (marked with a blue arrow). Continue to where a path joins from the right at a waymark post with 4 yellow arrows.

    The berries of holly contain a chemical compound very similar to caffeine. Only in very small doses is this a stimulant; in larger doses it is toxic. It is for this reason that you see holly berries on bushes rather than being inside the nearest bird. The birds have learned to wait until after the frosts have reduced the toxicity of the berries before eating them.

    Holly has separate male and female plants, so not all holly bushes produce berries - only female plants. In less biologically-enlightened Pagan times, holly was though to be a male plant (the spikes symbolising aggression) whereas ivy was regarded as a female plant (symbolising attachment). The Christmas Carol "The Holly and the Ivy" is thought originally to derive from Pagan fertility myths onto which Christian symbolism has subsequently been added.

  7. Continue ahead on the upper path to reach a fork in the path with a waymark post with blue and yellow arrows.

    Fungus is the Latin word for mushroom but is derived from the ancient Greek word for sponge since this is what they were thought to resemble. Biologically, this isn't so far off either as fungi are more closely-related to animals than plants.

    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.

  8. Take the path on the right leading downhill, marked with a yellow arrow. Follow this to a junction of paths with a waymark post.

    Squirrels live in the woods. You're most likely to encounter them at times when there are not many dogs being walked.

    Squirrels eyes are positioned on the sides of their head which allows them to spot predators approaching from behind them. When a squirrel spots a predator, its runs away in a zigzag pattern. This confuses many of their predators but unfortunately it doesn't work well for cars.

  9. Bear right at the junction and follow the path to reach a gate.
  10. Go through the gate and follow the path along the right hedge of the field to reach a gate. Go through this and follow the path a little further to emerge on a track.

    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.

  11. Bear right onto the track and follow it until you reach a waymarked path departing to the right before a building with a walled courtyard.

    In 1684, the East India Company cargo ship The President was on its way back from India laden with an expensive cargo that included spices, indigo, drugs, pearls and diamonds. The valuable cargo was targeted by pirates but the heavily armed ship was able to see them off, exploding one of the pirate ships with a direct hit on the powder magazine.

    As The President approached Cornwall it faced strong winds which prevented docking to re-provision. As food supplies dwindled, the crew became malnourished and too weak to man the ship. In desperation, they ate the ship's dog but this was insufficient and the unguided ship grounded on the Loe Bar in a storm and was smashed into pieces.

    Only two crew members survived - narrowly - as after making it to shore after clinging to the cliffs, some not-so-sympathetic locals attempted to club them to death on the off-chance they might have salvaged something valuable!

    Divers have located the remains of the ship including cannons and the anchor which is now a protected archaeological site.

  12. Turn right onto the path and follow it until you reach a wooden walkway crossing the creek.

    Swans can often be seen on the lake. Some of the shallower areas contain weed which swans can reach with their long necks.

    Swans usually mate for life, although "divorce" can sometimes occur if there is a nesting failure. The birds can live for over 20 years but in the 20th Century many swans were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. This was tracked down to the tiny "lead shot" weights used for fishing that swans would hoover up with weed and roots from the bottom of rivers and lakes. Since the introduction of non-toxic metals for making fishing weights, incidents of poisoning have disappeared and the swan population is now even growing very slightly.

  13. Turn right and follow the walkway to the path on the opposite side of the creek.

    The Loe provides an ideal habitat for herons, which can sometimes be seen flying over the lake.

    Herons nest in tree-top colonies known as "heronries" where they make a large nest from twigs. It is not unusual for a single tree to contain as many as 10 nests and the overall colony can reach over a hundred nests. The herons re-use their nest for as many years as possible until it gets blown away by a storm. It is unwise to stand beneath a heronry as the birds defend their nests by regurgitating half-digested fish on those below!

  14. Turn right onto the rightmost path and follow this alongside the lake. When the path eventually becomes sandy, continue to where the path opens out onto the Loe Bar.

    In December 1807, the Navy frigate HMS Anson hit bad weather off Mount's Bay. They attempted to head into Falmouth harbour but realised they were trapped by the wind on the wrong side of the Lizard. The captain anchored the ship but the anchor rope snapped. A second anchor was deployed and held fast but this also snapped. As a last resort, the captain attempted to sail the ship onto the beach at the centre of the Loe Bar, but hit an uncharted reef just 100 metres off the beach. The force of the collision caused the main mast to topple onto the beach. Some of the crew were able to escape across it but around 100 drowned in the huge breakers. One of the witnesses was Henry Trengrouse who was so moved by the helplessness of the onlookers that he spent much of his life and personal savings developing the rocket lifesaving apparatus which went on to save many thousands of lives. A canon salvaged from the wreck in 1964 is on display outside the Helston museum and a cross overlooks the beach, commemorating both the disaster and the life work of Henry Trengrouse. Gold coins are occasionally found which are thought to be from pockets of the officers aboard.

  15. Bear right to cross the Loe Bar towards the building to reach a concrete ramp on the far side.

    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.

  16. Make your way up the ramp to where the wall on the right ends, just before the fence ahead.

    In December 1921 the Italian cargo ship, the Tripolitania, was driven ashore on the Loe Bar in a gale. When the tide went out, the huge ship was parked upright at the top of the beach. A great effort was made to refloat her with many tons of sand and shingle being dug out by hand before the next spring tide. Tugs stood by to pull her off the bar, but another storm rose and embedded the ship even more firmly in the bar. This put an end to any chance of refloating her so she was broken up for scrap.

  17. Turn right (signposted to The Stables) and go through the pedestrian gate. After the lodge keep right to follow the main track (signposted The Stables via Loe Pool) for about a mile to reach the National Trust café.

    Amongst the species of tree growing around the Loe Pool are sweet chestnuts.

    The chestnut tree originated in Sardinia and there is evidence of its cultivation by humans from around 2000 BC. It was introduced into Britain by the Romans who planted chestnut trees on their campaigns to provide an easily stored and transported source of food for their troops.

  18. After the café, bear right and follow the track to a junction of tracks with a signpost.

    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.

  19. Turn right (signposted to Helston) and follow the track to a gate beside a gatehouse.

    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".

  20. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a waymark post on the right.

    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.

  21. Continue ahead on the tarmac path from the waymark to reach a waymarked footbridge on the right.

    During the 1960s, the formerly meandering River Cober was canalised as part of measures to prevent flooding in Helston but this had a detrimental effect on the wetland willow woodland habitat. A series of pipes have now been installed so that when the water level rises, the river can discharge water into the woodland. This is restoring the habitat and also further improves the flood defences by allowing the river to discharge floodwater more quickly. Since the work has been done, there has been a substantial increase bird life and otters have even been seen recolonising the area.

  22. Turn right and follow the path across the bridges. Continue to reach a junction of paths beside the river.
  23. Turn left onto the riverside path and follow this upriver. Continue until you reach a bridge over the river and cross this to return to the car park and complete the circular walk.

    Up to the end of the 19th Century, the area now occupied by Coronation Park was an area of waste ground that was often flooded and sometimes grazed by donkeys that mischievous children attempted to ride whilst the farmer wasn't looking. To commemorate the coronation of King George V in 1912, it was transformed into a swimming and boating lake.

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