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From Helston to Porthleven by Loe Bar

A walk through the National Trust property of Penrose, between the peaceful lake known as the Loe and the restless sea.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 82ft (25m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Excellent paths and estate tracks

Landscape Densely vegetated river valley, poolside woods and open, sandy coast

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 103 The Lizard

Start/finish SW 656272

Dog friendliness Dogs strictly on the lead within Penrose Park area. No dogs on Loe Bar and beach from Easter to September

Parking Penrose Amenity Area car park, Helston. Turn off the A394 onto the B3304 at the large roundabouts on the outskirts of Helston. Car park is 200yds (183m) along the road on the left, opposite a boating pool and next to a garage

Public toilets Porthleven

Notes Buses 2 and 2A, Helston-Porthleven, about 14 times a day

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1 At the far end of the car park go through a gap to the left of the 'Penrose Amenity Area' sign and then turn right along a concrete drive, past a National Trust sign, 'Lower Nansloe'. In about ½ mile (800m) pass an old chimney stack, the remains of the 18th-century Castle Wary lead and silver mine.

2 In 50yds (46m) turn right through a wooden gate, then cross a sturdy causeway that was built in 1987. Dogs must be kept on the lead here. You are now at the heart of the almost subtropical Loe Marsh, the choked gut of the River Cober, dense with alder and willow trees and moisture-loving plants.

3 On the other side of the causeway, go through another gate, then turn left along a wide drive through the Oak Grove. Soon you pass a bird hide in a fine location for viewing the reedy shores of the Loe.

4 Reach the Victorian Helston Lodge, go through a gate, then follow the drive to where it forks. Take the left fork. There is a fine view of Penrose House from here; the house is a private dwelling.

5 Continue past the old stable block and on alongside the Loe. The old carriageway that you are following leads through Bar Walk Plantation to Bar Lodge above Loe Bar. You can reach the Bar from here, but although you may feel tempted to swim from the sandy shore, or from the long stretch of beach, Porthleven Sands, that runs all the way to Porthleven, take heed of the warning notices; the ground shelves steeply close to shore here and there are dangerous tidal currents. Porthleven is a delightful destination, a traditional Cornish harbour of great character.

This undemanding walk leads from below the town of Helston to the fishing village of Porthleven, via the valley of the River Cober and the remarkable Loe, the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall. What makes the Loe exceptional is that its southern end is separated from the sea by a sand bar, known as Loe Bar. The Loe's name derives simply from the Cornish word logh, meaning 'pool'. The Loe evolved in medieval times from its origins as the estuary of the River Cober because of a build-up of silt washed down from the countless tin and copper mines inland. The silt added its weight to encroaching shingle spits at the seaward end of the estuary and by the 13th century, a formidable dam, or 'bar', of sand and shingle separated the pool from the sea. The Loe is as deep as 30ft (9m) at its seaward end.

Until the middle of the 19th century Loe Bar was regularly breached by gangs of diggers to ease flooding in the Cober valley below Helston. The rush of water out of the pool is said to have left a thin yellow stain for miles offshore. Today, modern flood release systems alleviate the problem of flooding and the Loe has become a splendid reserve for wildlife, while the Bar makes for a dramatic flourish between peaceful pool and restless Atlantic. The Loe lies within the Penrose Estate, ancestral home from the late 12th to the late 18th century of the Penrose family and then of the Rogers family who gave the estate to the National Trust in 1974. Today the Trust maintains the landscaping and carriageways established in the 18th century and has created a network of paths for the enjoyment of the public. The walk begins at the public car park beside the Penrose Amenity Area to the south west of Helston.

What to look for

The Loe is a sanctuary for birds including moorhen, mallard, teal and mute swan. Most of these are winter visitors, but some mallard and moorhen nest here and there is always something to see. Ospreys have been known to stop off at the Loe for a taste of the lake's trout. Look for cormorants and herons that often perch in the Monterey pines just inland from the Bar. Aside from birds, there are many exotic shrubs within the Penrose estate. Near Bar Lodge look for the bright red spiky leaves and blue flower of Fascicularia pitcairniifolia, a member of the pineapple family.

Where to eat and drink

Porthleven has several pubs, restaurants and cafés. The Crab Pot Restaurant serves breakfast, morning coffee, lunches, cream teas and evening meals. The Harbour Inn is a long-established harbourside pub with a pleasing atmosphere, good food and a fine selection of beers.

While you're there

Stroll across Loe Bar up to the Anson Memorial on its south eastern side. This simple stone cross commemorates the loss of the 44-gun frigate Anson, wrecked on Loe Bar in 1807. Over 100 sailors drowned, many of them as they tried to struggle ashore through the surf. Those on the beach could do nothing to save them, but the frustration of one local man Henry Trengrouse led him to devote his life to developing a rocket apparatus that became standard life saving equipment for coastguards.

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