Walk - Loe Tide at Porthleven
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.
- From the First Downs car park outside Porthleven, take the South West Coast Path signed towards Church Cove. Follow the path to the shingle beach at Loe Bar.
The shingle dam at Loe Bar began to form around 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when the melting of the ice sheets caused sea levels to rise. This pushed huge deposits of eroded material into the mouth of the River Cober, which flows here from Helston. Pounding Atlantic waves and numerous winter storms have continued to shape the bar since then, and the continual wash of undersea currents continues to bring fresh material to the beach from many miles away. Much of the shingle on Loe Bar consists of flint, thought to originate from the underwater terraces of a river that flowed down the English Channel before rising sea levels cut Britian off from the rest of Europe.
As the sea washed more material onto Loe Bar, this caused the landward side to silt up, leading to flooding in Helston. From the 16th century, the bar was deliberately breached so that the pooling water could flow out to sea rather than cause flooding in Helston. While the estuary was open to the sea, salt water and marine creatures were able to enter Loe Pool. This breaching last occured in 1868. In 1986 a modern outflow was built into Loe Bar, by improving an old miners drainage adit on the north side of the Bar. In 2012, the Environment Agency was able to avoid severe flooding in Helston by using pumps to take water from the River Cober over the Bar and out to sea.
- Turning left at the National Trust's Bar Lodge, follow the estate drive through woodland along the western shore of the lake. At Penrose the path travels a short distance inland, skirting Shadywalk Wood. When another drive leaves on the left carry on ahead, following the sign for Helston and Porthleven, until you come to Penrose House.
Bar Lodge was designed by a leading London architect, G.H. Fellowes Prynne, and built by estate workmen between 1895 and 1898.
As the estate drive climbs gently above The Loe, it gives a clear view of how completely Loe Bar separates the lake from the sea. According to Cornish mythology, this was the result of sand spilt by the notorious ghost of seventeenth-century Wadebridge lawyer Jan Tregagle. Having been resurrected from the grave by a court defendant summoning him as a witness, Tregagle refused to return to the after-life. Exorcists called in to deal with him set him a series of supposedly impossible tasks (see the Nare Head Walk). The last of these was to carry sacks of sand from Bareppa, south of Falmouth, to Porthleven; but as he was doing so the devil came looking for him, to bring him home. In his haste to escape, Tregagle tripped and spilt his sand across the mouth of The Loe, which remains landlocked to this day.
- Please respect the residents' privacy at Penrose, curving right with the drive to walk through parkland and on to a T-junction. Turn right here, following the sign to Helston. The drive heads out to the lakeside again, passing Sycamore Grove before coming to Helston Lodge, with its boathouse below. Go through the gate to carry on along the drive and into dense woodland at Oak Grove, where the lake hidden behind the trees gives way to marshland. Shortly after the drive bears left in Oak Grove, there is a causeway path across the marsh and the river to Lower Nansloe. For the shorter route, cross the causeway, turning right on the drive by the old mine buildings to join the longer route at 5. Otherwise, carry on along the Penrose drive, to come out on Helston's Porthleven Road, by Coronation Park and the Boating Lake.
The River Cober flows into The Loe from the mining district around Helston. Stream tin was recovered from the valley in medieval times, and 30 mines operated in the catchment area for more than 100 years. This resulted in mine wastes being deposited in the valley around the river. The sand, silt and tin slimes spread along the river in this way eventually formed Loe Marsh.
- Turn right on the road, turning right again after the garage to take the public footpath signed along the side road. Follow the road through trees past the car park and the waterworks. Crossing the cattle grid, carry on along the lane past the causeway path and the disused mine buildings, towards Lower Nansloe.
The buildings are the remains of Castle Wary Mine, also known as Wheal Pool. This was a silver and lead mine. The first record of it was in 1780, when an adit was constructed to prevent back-flooding in the mine.
- Just before you reach Lower Nansloe itself, a path leads away to the right, through the trees and on alongside the hedge, into trees again and then onto the lakeside once more. Continue beside the water through the trees in Degibna Wood, coming out onto a footpath through an open field as you round the corner to Carminowe Creek. Once more the route travels a short distance inland around the head of the creek.
The Loe is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its bird population, particularly its over-wintering wildfowl, and there is a bird hide by Helston Lodge that can be reached from Helston by wheelchair. Birds often spotted here include widgeon, teal, shoveller, pochard and tufted duck. In addition, a few mallard and coot nest here, as well as moorhens and mute swans. Sometimes an unusual migrant is seen, such as an osprey, a spectacular fish-eating bird of prey on the Amber List of species under threat.
Loe Pool also features in Daphne du Maurier's novel, 'Frenchman's Creek,' as fated lovers Jean-Benoir Aubéry and Dona St Columb spend their last night together there (see the Frenchman's Creek Walk).
- Ignore the paths leading leftwards at the top of Carminowe Creek, staying on the main path as it doglegs around the creek and follows the shoreline around the edge of fields and back to Loe Bar.
On the beach, notices warn of the dangers of the rip currents and the deep water. Local superstition claims that The Loe claims one life every seven years.
There is a memorial above the shingle bar, dedicated to the memory of the 120 lives lost when HMS Anson was wrecked off Loe Bar in 1807. The 44-gun frigate left Falmouth on Christmas Eve, to join a navy blockade holding up the French fleet in Brest during the Napoleonic Wars. When storm-force winds blew up out of nowhere, Captain Charles Lydiard decided to put in and return to Falmouth until they died down.
The storm made this impossible, and the ship was still struggling well to the leeward of the Lizard three days later, unable to clear the land and being repeatedly blown towards Loe Bar. The captain's order that the topgallants should be lowered and the biggest anchor dropped appeared to work at first, as the anchor held. As the ship pulled around, however, the cable broke. The same thing happened when the next anchor was dropped. As a last resort, the captain ordered that the ship should be run full speed into the shingle bar, in the hope of beaching her in a controlled manoeuvre.
For a moment it looked as though it was going to work; but this failed too. Fortunately the mast fell in such a way as to create a bridge to shore, enabling some of the men to scramble to safety, while others were hauled ashore by villagers who had arrived to help. Despite all this, most of those aboard were drowned, including the captain, who died while trying to save the life of a young crew member.
It was common practice at the time to bury the bodies from shipwreck in the cliffs and beaches around the site. Local man Davis Gilbert was so distressed by this that in 1808, with the help of Helston MP Thomas Grylls, he campaigned successfully for an Act of Parliament to be passed requiring all victims of shipwrecks to be given a decent Christian burial.
Another Helston man involved in the rescue efforts, Henry Trengrouse, was equally horrified by the corpses along the tideline. He became obsessed with finding a way of saving more lives when a ship ran aground, eventually coming up with the rocket apparatus, or breeches buoy.
- Take the path across Loe Bar to pick up the Penrose estate drive again, turning left to return to the car park at the start of the walk.
Cafés in Helston and Porthleven