South West Coast Path - Porthleven to Gunwalloe
Updated: Jun 8
Map: OS Explorer: 103
Distance: 3 miles/4.8 km
Steepness grade: Moderate
Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer
The walk sets off from Porthleven harbour, the cafés and restaurants have put it firmly on the foodie map. Grab a pasty from Ann's Pasties and enjoy an ice-cream from Nauti But Ice, a family friendly ice-cream parlour and café with an evening pizza restaurant next door. The Square offers a brasserie-style menu with a terrace overlooking the harbour, and newly refurbished restaurant Amélie offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes right on the harbourside.
As you leave Porthleven you ascend to the first of several panoramic cliff sections, with much of Cornwall seemingly visible - distant villages, rolling fields, umpteen coves, all flanked by an infinite sea. Cornish choughs use the flower rich cliffs you are looking down on for feeding, and you may be lucky enough to see a passing kestrel, raven or peregrine which all patrol this wild coastline.
The walk then descends to Loe Bar which is a geographical oddity with some rare wildlife and protects Cornwall's largest natural freshwater lake. The Loe was originally the estuary of the River Cober which was flooded after the last Ice Age when sea levels rose. The estuary is now blocked by a bar of sand and shingle.
The walk then follows the coast to Fishing Cove, passing the old cellars which feature in the BBC's Poldark series as the exterior of Dr Dwight's cottage. The cellars was built in parts, it is thought that the first part was built as a summer lodging house and a winter equipment store for pilchard fishermen, probably in the 18th Century. In the early 19th Century it was extended to create a fish cellar. By the Second World war the building was redundant and was used by the Home Guard. The roof slates were removed in 1965 and it fell into ruin however in the early 21st Century it was restored.
The route then climbs up Halzephron Cliff where there are panoramic views of Mount's Bay and ends at the Halzephron Inn. The Halzephron Inn was built in 1468, making use of the timber from shipwrecks. Many features of the pub are centuries old, including the bar counter. Within the thick wall between the lounge and “Fishermen’s Bar” is a shaft leading to a tunnel. It is thought this connected the Inn to a nearby monastery and is also said that it connected to a passage from Fishing Cove, used by smugglers.
In January 1527, the San Antonio was sailing from Lisbon to Antwerp with a cargo including copper and silver ingots. The cargo was extremely valuable, with an equivalent value in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds today. The vessel encountered bad weather and anchored in Mount’s Bay, however her anchor cable snapped and she was driven towards the shore. The captain attempted to beach the vessel on the shingle of the Loe Bar but instead struck the reef just off the beach near Fishing Cove. The ship was destroyed and nearly half the crew drowned. In the 1970s, a copper ingot was recovered by a shellfish diver and in 1981 a holidaymaker discovered a copper ingot washed up on the beach. A local diver then found a melon-sized ball of silver weighing nearly 9kg lying on the reef. The wreck is now protected and no diving is allowed with 75 metres of its position.
The name “Halzephron” is well documented as being derived from “Hell’s cliff” in Cornish. The cliffs were given their name due to the many ships that were driven ashore and wrecked here. Some of the bodies that washed ashore are buried on the cliffs as there was no legal requirement to bury the bodies of shipwrecked sailors in churchyards until the start of the 19th Century.
The Penrose family owned a large estate to the south of Helston since mediaeval times which eventually extended from Gunwalloe to one side of Porthleven Harbour. In 1771, it was sold to John Rogers, who became the new squire of the estate and it remained in the Rogers family for another two centuries. In 1974, a large part of it, covering 1,500 acres, was gifted to the National Trust.