Walk - Trelawne - West Looe & Hendersick
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.
Millpool car park can be reached by leaving Trelawne and turning left on to the B3359. At West Layland turn left on to the A387. Take the road into Looe. The very large car park (clearly labelled!) can be reached by means of a sharp left turn as you travel down the hill but before you cross the bridge.
- From the entrance to Millpool car park in West Looe, turn left on the road, towards the coast and East Looe, dropping onto the footpath past the amusement arcade to take the steps up to the bridge. Cross the road (but not the river) and carry on ahead along Quay Road, beside the harbour, continuing along Hannafore Road beyond, which turns into Marine Drive as it curves around the mouth of the river and heads south and then west around the coast.
In medieval times, East and West Looe were separate towns joined by an estuary bridge, the first in Cornwall and in existence by 1411. Seventeenth century traveller Celia Fiennes wrote in 1685 that the bridge had 14 arches. A new one was built about a hundred yards upriver in 1853. The two towns even had separate Parliamentary seats until 1832.
As well as being a prominent fishing town, from 1850 Looe was renowned for its fishing luggers. These square-sailed boats were hand-built, without plans, so that each one was unique, and well over a hundred fishing luggers worked from Looe.
There is still a fishing fleet based here. Daily fish auctions take place in the historic Looe Fish Market, rebuilt in 1987 and now bringing technology to a traditional industry. A live feed on the website gives details of the fish to be auctioned at the next landing, being updated even as they're caught. A “Moby Clock” bidding system enables buyers to bid electronically at the auctions. The system also uses bar codes on each lot, making it possible to trace through the supply chain exactly who, when and where the fish were caught.
Looe's banjo pier, on the other side of the river, was designed in the nineteenth century by local engineer Joseph Thomas. The pier in place at the time failed in its mission to stop the sand from silting up the river. Thomas reasoned that adding a round head would solve the problem. It was so successful that banjo piers were adopted around the world.
Joseph Thomas was also responsible for the quayside in East Looe, across the water, as well as the rail loop to Liskeard. Other projects of his include Hannafore Road and the Hannafore Estate.
As you walk along beside the harbour, note the bronze statue of Nelson, a one-eyed bull seal who was a familiar sight around the harbour for 25 years before he died in 2003.
- At the end of Marine Drive go through the gate follow the South West Coast Path Acorn signing.
On the hillside to your right are the remains of the Lammana Chapel, a medieval chapel, built on the site of a sixth century Celtic chapel with a monk's cell attached. The chapel was Benedictine belonging to Glastonbury Abbey until sometime before the fourteenth century. By then it was a private chantry chapel belonging to the local Dawnay family. It was demolished in 1549 in Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
This replaced a medieval chapel on St George's Island, just offshore. The island was a popular place for pilgrimages in those times; but so many people drowned trying to reach it that the Lammana Chapel was built instead.
In 2008 Channel 4's Time Team excavated the island and found evidence of human habitation here from Roman times, as well as pottery from the thirteenth century.
There is a local legend that Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea landed here with his teenage great-nephew, Jesus Christ, before they travelled up the coast to Glastonbury to found Christianity in Britain. A fragment of an amphora (an earthenware storage vessel) from the Eastern Mediterranean, found here and dating from around that time, shows that there were trading links between Looe and the Middle East, although there is no evidence that Christ was left to amuse himself on the island while his uncle went into Looe on business, as the legend claims.
The island's Benedictine chapel, built in 1139, was dedicated to St Michael, archangel and patron saint of high places, and it is believed that Glastonbury Abbey owned the island around that time. In 1743 the Trelawny family bought the island, letting it over the centuries to various people. There are a number of tales about smugglers, caves and hidden treasure from those years.
In 1965, Sisters Babs and Evelyn Atkins bought the 22-acre Looe Island, living together on it until Evelyn died in 1997. Babs continued living here alone until she too passed away, in 2004. When they first arrived, Evelyn had worked in Looe as a teacher, lodging on the mainland during the week and returning to the island at weekends, although sometimes the weather made it impossible to cross. Evelyn wrote two bestselling books about island life: "We Bought an Island" and "Tales from our Cornish Island".
When Babs died in 2004, she left the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. It is a natural sanctuary for sea and woodland birds. Because of its unusually mild climate daffodils bloom here at Christmas.
In 1995 a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area was established from Hore Stone, to the west of Portnadler Bay, to the Limmicks in Looe Bay, also including Looe Island.
The island provides a variety of habitats, including woodland, maritime grassland, cliff, sand, shingle and rocky reef. Hebridean sheep are used to graze the coastal heathland and keep down the scrub, encouraging wildflowers and invertebrates, which in turn attract mammals and birds. In spring the woodland is carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic. In summer the cliffs are vivid with clumps of thrift.
Parts of the island are closed to protect nesting seabirds, and it hosts Cornwall's second largest colony of great black-backed gulls. Offshore, dolphins are sometimes spotted, while closer to shore, grey seals are often seen.
Looe Island (or St George's as it can be called) is one of only a few inhabited islands, and the Trust is working towards becoming self-sufficient. Seaweed is used to fertilise the soil, providing excellent growing conditions for fruit and vegetables in the island's mild climate, and the woodland is managed to provide fuel for heating. Solar panels are being used to head water, and there are plans to use wind power for electricity.
In summer (normally Easter to September!) a 20 minute ferry service runs to and from the island. Ferry times vary from day to day, because of tides, and the “Islander” does not sail every day. See the “Islander” board beside the lifeboat station in East Looe for more information, on contact the Cornwall Wildlife Trust on 01872 273939.
- Continue along the Coast Path, past the Lammana Chapel, to the deep valley by the National Trust's Hendersick sign. Carry on ahead, climbing the steps and following the path above the rocks until you come to the next path on the right, heading inland.
- Turn right onto this path, carrying on uphill towards the barn, past the path joining from the left.
This permissive access meadow is a good spot for a picnic and a chance for a rest after all that toiling uphill! Enjoy the sea views, and look out for the rare Dartford warbler, a tiny, shy bird with a rattling call, and the hornet robberfly, a huge predatory fly (but harmless to humans!), recognisable by its yellow abdomen.
- From the barn take the track uphill to the car park and the road.
- Turn right on the road, continuing ahead at Portlooe.
- At the T-junction turn right to descend into West Looe via West Looe Hill.
The mutilated medieval cross standing at Portlooe Cross has had a chequered history. It was discovered at East Wayland Farm, where it had been used as a support for mowhay buildings which were being demolished. The Looe Old Cornwall Society fitted it to a new base of Cheesewring granite and restored it to its current location, where it is believed it previously stood.
Carry on down the road as it turns into Fore Street and then Church Street, and turn left on Quay Road, at the bottom, to return to the Millpool car park.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Polperro, as well as the Smugglers Rest and the beach café at Talland.