Walk - Pendennis Point to Maenporth Beach
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Start from Pendennis Point Car Park.
From this prominent position there is so much to see. If one stands with ones back to the coastguard station and Pendennis Castle immediately left is the stretch of water called the Carrick Roads which is the the River Fal and the Truro River which branch off each other.
Looking across to St Mawes the stretch of water between it and St Anthony Head is the mouth of the Percuil River. The source of the Percuil is in fact closer to Nare Head and only 300 metres from the sea but because of the tilt of the land of the Roseland peninsula the river takes the tortuous six mile route out past St Mawes instead of heading for the much closer Gerrans Bay.
To defend against possible invasions by the Spanish and the French, Pendennis and St Mawes Castles were built between 1540 and 1545 by order of Henry VIII. During the Civil War the Royalists surrendered St Mawes Castle to the Parliamentarian forces without a shot whereas there was a five month siege of Pendennis where the future King Charles II and Queen Henrietta Marie managed to escape.
From Pendennis Point looking westwards one can see the beaches of Swanpool and Maenporth, which are the destinations along this walk. Further down the coast is Rosemullion Head, which masks the mouth of the Helford River. Dennis Point is also visible, the site of an Iron Age fort and where the Royalists made a brave stance before falling to the Parliamentarians at the end of the Civil War in 1646. With binoculars one can also make out the Coastguard Watch building at Nare Point. Here, during World War II Ealing Studios built a film set that would act as a decoy at night when it was lit up because it was made to resemble Falmouth docks and the train depot. This was achieved with the aid of red and green coloured stop and go lights which would be visible from the cockpit of an incoming German bomber. This remotely controlled film set would also mimic the shafts of light emanating from an opening door and a poorly draped window.
Explosions would also be set off to imitate trains being hit. This encouraged the Germans to drop their bombs on the false Falmouth docks. A similar film set was set up on Nare Head on the Roseland peninsula. In the 1950s Nare Point was the site of torpedo trials for the Navy at Culdrose Naval Airbase.
The furthest one can see looking West is the East of the Lizard with Porthallow beach (‘Pralla to the locals) and the Manacles Rocks. Manacles or Maen Eglos in Cornish means church rocks with reference to St Keverne’s Church where many of the drowned sailors were buried. One can see the spire of the church on a clear day from Pendennis Point. Many ships have foundered on the rocks and become wrecks including the more famous Mohegan in 1898, the Primrose in 1809 and the John in 1855 where 106, 125 and 193 people respectively lost their lives. Bad seamanship has often been the cause of such wrecks, but bad weather has also been a major factor.
- Head down hill towards Gyllyngvase Beach. Keeping to the pavement on the right. Just past the motorcycle monument there are elm trees just behind the fence.
In summer the leaves are jagged and pointy and one half is shorter than the other. The bark is extremely rutted and looks very old. Elm trees used to be plentiful in the UK and the Southwest fared better than many other areas with a total of 25 million Elms dying in the UK through a disease spread via beetles.
- Cross the road and walk along the seafront. It’s flat for a mile or so.
A seasonal café is opposite the Falmouth Hotel. Telescopes ranging from 20p to £1 for 10x vision are along the seafront.
- Opposite the steps up to the Princes Pavilion walk under a tiny building with steps that lead down from pavement level towards the beach below.
This is believed to be one of two things. Either a bathing house or a chapel for the old Gyllyngvase house that no longer exists.
Gyllyngvase Beach accommodates an award winning beach restaurant. The rock pooling here (and at Maenporth Beach) is good when the tide is out and the sandy beach gets very busy when the weather turns warm. A bit of beach volleyball can be encountered whilst exponents of Tai Chi, painters and those just out for a promenade all give this beach a somewhat bohemian atmosphere.
- Follow the beach around Swanpool point to Swanpool Beach.
There is another beach café and a venue Elementaluk that helps you experience a wide variety of water based activities under expert instruction. The beach is stonier but sufficient parking and a regular bus route to Falmouth and Maenporth makes it a destination in itself. There is a nature reserve at Swanpool, which is an important brackish lagoon cut off from the sea. It hosts one protected species, the Trembling Sea Mat which is a rare, primitive animal group made up of tiny sea creatures 1-2mm in size.
Resident swans and a variety of duck species populate this Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). At Swanvale, just behind the lagoon, in the last enemy air raid of World War II a large fuel depot was blown up, the oil destined for use in the D-Day landings. The torrent of oil that emanated from the enormous fuel tank threatened a group of houses and one American Navy officer diverted the flow with a bulldozer. He was awarded the British Empire Medal.
- After the Three Mackerel Restaurant there is a sign to take the coast path left. Follow the path past a cliff top house and carry on uphill. One can take a small diversion on encountering a stile after the fence of the house.
This takes you down to the rocks with panoramic views over to St Mawes and the Roseland. It is a pleasant diversion for a picnic.
- Follow the path past the war memorial that celebrates the work of the Home Guard. It is a gentle descent to Maenporth beach.
At the back of the cove there is a lane named Fine and Brave Lane reputedly named after the women of Mawnan who descended the lane to repel a French invasion. Wearing red petticoats the French thought that they were an army of redcoats and decided to sail away without an encounter. Underneath the cliff, which one descends into Maenporth, is the wreck of the Ben Asdale, an Aberdeen trawler caught up in a blizzard in 1978. At low tide the hull is still visible.
A beach café Life’s a Beach is a welcome sight at the end of the walk.
- The bus stop is on the road just outside The Cove Restaurant.
Maenporth, Swanpool, Gyllyngvase beach cafes and restaurants. Falmouth all year round, others most year round.