Walk - Maenporth to Durgan & Helford Passage
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park at Maenporth, with your back to the sea turn left and walk a little way uphill to pick up the South West Coast Path on your left. Follow it around the headland above the beach, dropping down towards Bream Cove as it passes houses and a hotel on your right and private moorings on your left.
Between Maenporth and Rosemullion the Coast Path is a riot of colour in the summer: purple heather, vetch, wild thyme and thistles, yellow trefoil, buttercups, dandelions and tomentil, blue bugloss and sheep's bit, red campions and speckled white sea campions, white and purple daisies.
When you reach the cove, and Gatamala Cove beyond it, tiny paths lead down to equally miniature beaches, including Woodlands Beach, part of the National Trust's land at Nansidwell. There are elm trees above the path, and a collection of oaks from all over the world in a little walled garden, as well as an abundance of wild garlic and three-cornered leek in the spring for the wild-food gourmet.
- Carry on along the Coast Path towards Durgan, ignoring the footpaths inland to your right until the coastline starts curving around towards Rosemullion Head. Here the left-hand fork will take you around the headland on the Coast Path, while the right-hand fork cuts across the headland and returns to the Coast Path on the other side. (Here either fork will lead you to the Coast Path).
It is thought that there was once an Iron Age cliff castle on Rosemullion Head, defended by a massive rock-cut ditch with a bank some 10 feet higher. Within it were two Bronze Age barrows, although there is no trace of them now. More recently, the headland hosted a gun emplacement for anti-aircraft guns in the Second World War.
There are two wrecks on the seabed off the headland: the Endeavour, which went down in 1804, and the wooden cargo sloop the Alma, which sank in 1895. Both are below the low water mark and so not visible from the land.
- Continue on the Coast Path around the mouth of the Helford River check, ignoring the footpaths heading inland on your right, for a little over a mile. Dropping downhill past the beach at Porthallack, ('willows cove' in Cornish), carry on ahead to Porth Saxon.
In 1940, the Secret Intelligence Service based its Helford Flotilla at Ridifarne, near Porth Saxon, to maintain clandestine contact with its networks in Brittany (see the Rosemullion Head walk).
The Helford River, famous for its oysters, is a voluntary marine conservation area, and sea slugs, anemones, cuttlefish and seahorses live in the estuary's beds of the rare eelgrass, Britains only marine flowering plant.
- At Porth Saxon, ignore the footpath heading inland to Carwinion and carry on ahead along the South West Coast Path towards Durgan.
- Coming to the road just after Bosloe House, the Coast Path travels a short distance along the road to drop down into Durgan.
Durgan was the home port of eighteenth-century explorer Captain George Vancouver. Vancouver Island, Mount Vancouver and the Canadian and American cities of Vancouver and Vancouver, Washington, were all named after him
He was a midshipman on Captain Cook's second voyage, searching for Terra Australis, and a member of Cook's crew on the first European ship to reach the Hawaiian Islands; but it was as leader of his own 1791 expedition, exploring the Pacific region, that he came to fame. His two ships sailed to Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and China in the first year, collecting botanical samples and surveying coastlines, before proceeding to North America. Here Vancouver proved that the Northwest Passage did not exist at the latitude long held to be its location, and his charts of the North American north west coast were so precise that they served as the key reference for coastal navigation for many generations.
- In Durgan go past the tiny beach and turn right through the houses to pick up the Coast Path again on your left. Follow it along above the river until you come to Helford Passage. From here walk a short distance up the road to pick up the bus at Trebah Gardens.
The gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah lie at the heads of the two wooded valleys above this stretch of the Coast Path.
Although the house at Glendurgan is privately owned, the garden is owned and managed by the National Trust and is open to the public for several days a week from February to October. The house was built by Alfred Fox, who began work on the garden in the early nineteenth century, and some of the fine old trees still to be seen today date from that time. There are giant rhubarb plants in the jungle-like lower valley and spiky desert plants basking in the sun on the upper slopes, as well as an 176-year-old cherry laurel maze in the shape of a serpent curled up in the grass. The gardens are sub-tropical, and there are many exotic plants to be seen.
The gardens at Trebah also date from the nineteenth century, when owner Charles Fox thinned the natural woodland and carried out an extensive programme of planting rare trees and shrubs. His daughter continued his work, as did subsequent owners, and in the 1980s a waterfall and ponds were added, and a small lake at the foot of the valley. The gardens are open daily throughout the year.
Although there is no longer any trace of it on the ground, seventeenth century records suggest that there was a plain-an-gwarry at Trebah in medieval times. This feature, unique to Cornwall, was a circular amphitheatre, or playing place, and was used for many activities including sport, meetings and mystery plays. Only two remain today: one in St Just, in Penwith, and the Piran Round in Perranzabuloe.
Trebah Gardens, Glendurgan Gardens, Maenporth Beach, Helford Passage.