Walk - Maenporth to Swanpool

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Leaving Maenporth car park, turn left and pick up the South West Coast Path by the café. Follow it up through some trees to where it starts to pull out above the cove.

There is a lane behind the cove at Maenporth called Fine and Brave Lane, named after the women of Mawnan who acted to protect the community, in the time-honoured tradition of women around the South West coast, when their men were at sea and there were threats of a French invasion. Wearing red petticoats they all marched up onto the cliffs, tricking the French into believing that there was a brigade of redcoats ready to defend the coast, so that the enemy turned tail and fled.

Under the cliff, and visible at low tide from the opposite side of the cove, are the remains of the Scottish trawler the Ben Asdale, which went aground in a blizzard in 1978.

There are several concrete pillboxes around the cove, sited here in the Second World War to provide cover for this part of the coast. The docks made Falmouth a prime target for enemy air raids, and at nearby Nare Head a decoy station was built to draw enemy fire away from the port.

Built by Ealing Studios, the decoy film set featured red and green stop and go lights placed in such a way as to mimic the docks and train depot from the viewpoint of a German bomber's cockpit. Remotely controlled from a hidden bunker a little further down the coast towards Porthallow, the set also simulated shafts of light streaming from an open door and a poorly shaded window. Explosions were also used to imitate trains being bombed.

Helford Passage also played a key part in the Second World War, with a Secret Intelligence Service flotilla running missions between here and the Breton coast (see the Rosemullion Head Walk). 

In the last enemy air raid of the war, a large fuel depot behind Swanpool was blown up. The fuel, planned for use in the D-Day landings, swept through the valley in a massive torrent which threatened the houses below. The flow was diverted, thanks to the prompt actions of an American Navy officer with a bulldozer, and he was awarded the British Empire Medal.

  1. At Newporth Head a path branches off to the left, inland. This cuts over the hill and drops back onto the Coast Path on the far side of Pennance Point; but carry straight on ahead along the Coast Path unless you want the diversion.
  2. At Pennance Point turn the corner with the Coast Path and follow it past the Home Guard war memorial, to drop down to the road at Swanpool. Turn right on the road and walk down to the beach and the lake before returning to Maenporth by bus. Alternatively, follow the Coast Path back to Maenporth the way you came.

A culvert built at Swanpool in 1825 to allow water from the freshwater lake to flow into the sea led to a unique mix of seawater and freshwater, creating one of Britain's most important brackish lagoons. The reduced water level in the lake left an area of marshland to the north west of it, fed by the six streams winding through on their way to the sea.

This in turn produced a small, densely wooded wetland of mostly willow carr behind the lake: a rare and valuable environment where the willow acts as a filter, removing pollutants before they flow into the lake and providing food and shelter for many birds and small mammals.

Willow trees will support as many as 450 different species of invertebrates, which in turn attracts a huge variety of birds. In all, over 100 different species of birds have been spotted at Swanpool, including mallard, moorhen, coot, little grebe and tufted duck, as well as siskin and kingfisher. Although the name is probably derived from 'swamp-pool' there are also swans nesting on the lake. 

The species for which Swanpool is famous is invisible underwater, but it is the only one of its kind in Britain: the trembling sea mat. This exotic-sounding creature consists of billions of primitive microscopic animals called bryozoa, which live in colonies attached to stones or the stems of plants. Each bryozoan is no more than two millimetres in size and is crowned by a ring of tentacles which is uses for filter feeding by catching particles in the water in the hairs on the tentacles.

Nearby refreshments

Maenporth and Swanpool Beaches, Falmouth.

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