Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Saturday, 29 September 2012

South West Coast Path - Falmouth to Helford Passage

Durgan

An 10 mile walk along the Cornish section of the South West Coast Path between Falmouth and the Helford Crossing

A picturesque walk following the coast on from the Fal estuary round to the Helford River where a ferry links the village of Helford. The views are spectacular throughout this moderately challenging walk and includes a glorious stroll across the pastureland around Rosemullion Head.

Falmouth to Helford Passage Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
FalmouthView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Helford PassageView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
10 miles
Walk difficulty
Not too strenuous, a few climbs

Accommodation:

Mill Lane Camping and Caravan Park, PorthlevenView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Description
Mill Lane Camping and Caravan Park, Mill lane, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9LQ

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
2 - First Group service between Penzance and Falmouth
Timetable
First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
35 - First Group service between Helston and Falmouth via Helford Pasaage
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2012-06-30
Walk Time
07:30 to 13:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Sunny and warm with frequent heavy showers

Walk Notes

This was the seventh day of a two week walking holiday along South Cornwall section of the South West Coast Path.

Moving camp

The day prior to this walk had seen moving base camp from Trewince on the Roseland Peninsular to Porthleven. This move included a ride across the renowned King Harry Ferry which is purported to be the prettiest Ferry ride in World. This vehicular chain ferry links Feock and Philleigh across the Carrick Roads Creek on the River Fal estuary. The origin of its name is unknown though one local tale states that King Henry VIII spent his honeymoon with Anne Boleyn at St Mawes and signed a charter for the ferry from which it gained the name. Another story lies the origin with a small chapel that used to stand on the Philleigh side of the estuary which was named The Chapel of St. Mary and King Henry in commemoration of King Henry VI who was murdered in 1471. Either way it is a fascinating and scenic ride and well worth seeking out, as well as saving many miles of road in order to navigate around the estuary.

The third and final basecamp for this walking expedition was to be at the village of Porthleven, just west of Helston. Although I had made inquiries as to the availability of one online campsite close to Porthleven we decided to take a drive into the village as there was another site marked on the OS map which was much closer to the village centre. This proved to be a very good decision as the Mill Lane campsite opposite Gala Park was a small basic site with a tariff of only £10 per night. It had all the essentials of shower, washing up facilities and toilets and was within 5 minutes from the bus stop for both Helston and Penzance services which would be the backbone to our travels for walks between Falmouth and Lands End. This friendly little site was such a good find and something that, as far as I know, cannot be found on the internet. On the evidence of finding this site, in future we may just use the 'turn up on spec' mode of finding sites rather than prebooking as we had always done in the past. This would give more scope to delay walks if and when the weather turns for the worse as it had done on this expedition forcing us to use roads in order to keep to schedule.

As an update, after a second visit to Porthleven in 2013, I can say that the Mill Lane campsite is undergoing improvements including the establishment of a club house set to sell the legendary Spingo Beers.

A Most Excellent Brew Pub

Our scheduled plan for the day when we would be moving basecamp was to take some time off of our walking regime to enable us to attend to chores such as laundry and a little time to relax and explore. With the chores complete, a bus trip to Helston was on the cards. Helston is only a couple of miles up the road from Porthleven but it is the central hub for all bus services in the area and would be a regular changeover point to and from the following weeks walks. Therefore this initial exploration would also enable us to seek out the appropriate stops that would be needed. Well, seeking out bus stops was a good excuse. To be brutally honest, a visit to a pub known as the The Blue Anchor to sample their legendary Spingo beers was probably the main enticement. This is probably the country's oldest brewpub having brewed beer on the site since the 15th century. Many, many years ago I was one of a group of lads including my brother Chaig who drove down from Northamptonshire with the sole aim of spending an evening in the Blue Anchor. Back in those days brew pubs were something of a rarity and worth the effort of travelling a lengthy journey to seek out. I remember arriving in Cornwall at 2am after an 8 hour journey and having to erect a complicated borrowed frame tent in the dark at the then Helston campsite which has long gone. As soon as light arrived and opening hours beckoned we headed to the Blue Anchor and spent the entire day sampling the array of Spingo beers, the weakest of which was 5%. The following day we returned home. This was a round trip of over 700 miles for a beer! We knew how to live in them days! That expedition had long remained as a happy and unforgettable memory of my youthful days and was enough to tempt me back to this mighty fine establishment. One last thing remembered was calling into a pub off the beaten track near Exeter as a break in the journey home. I will never forget the name of the beer. Old Barstard. I cant recall who the brewer was but the beer was not the best I have had but the name sold it!

The Blue Anchor is located on Coinagehall Street, the town centre thoroughfare with a trickling stream on either side of the road. Aptly, the principle bus stops for the town are located either side of this road opposite the Blue Anchor. The main door to this historic establishment leads to a long corridor paved with well worn flagstones. This leads through to a yard at the back where the brewery is located together with a skittle alley. Either side of the corridor is an array of little rooms with bare stone floors and walls adorned with memorabilia of bygone times. Two rooms on the right share the simple, small bar with a serving hatch to the latter room. The main room had a group of locals leaning up against the bar in a mixture of animated postures. Blokes of varying ages and occupations. Talking. Laughing but not overtly loudly. Ribbing each other. Telling tales of the days encounters. They took little notice of us two tourists, just a glance of recognition to let us know that they knew we were there. The discoloured and aged bartop was populated by an array of hand-pumps each with a Spingo beer label clipped to its shaft. A barmaid was hurriedly trying to keep pace with rising queue of orders being placed by the locals. They all seemed to be drinking an ale simply named 'Middle', a 5% standard ale described as a traditional sweet Cornish bitter. The chap at the end of the bar put in his request, which was for 'a pint of fizz'. He was duly presented with a pint of lager that had been poured from a pump hidden from view. A pint of fizz with such an array of ale on offer! The others made no desirable comment just a reiteration of the phrase 'a pint of fizz' and a snigger as if he was not old enough to drink the real stuff. A blackboard opposite the bar listed the ales available with a variety of eight ranging from 4% up to a whopping 6.6%. We opted for a couple of their specials, Flora Daze and Fireman's Fury followed half an hour later by Olympic Ale and Jubilee IPA. Each of these had the distinctive peppery Spingo taste which, even after nearly 30 years, I still vividly remembered from the lads expedition. This peppery polished bitterness similar to the woody hues of a well varnished antique sideboard was worth savouring. Above the underlying Spingo distinctiveness are the individual hop notes particular to each brew. But that Spingo bitterness was the thing I always remembered and it had not changed a single bit. It was something to enthuse over as our eyes wandered across the regalia adorning the walls, the most interesting item being a plaque labeled 'Victims of the Scaffold' which listed all those who had suffered the fate from times gone by, together with their crime. It did seem a little harsh measure for bestiality but they were strict times way back then.

An Amazing Bus Offer

On finishing the beer I emerged from the pub in order to confirm the times of the bus back. Whilst gazing across the timetable attached to the bus-stop I noticed a car pull up on the opposite side of the road from which a man emerged. He walked across to the bus stop and went through the routine of replacing one of the advertising posters opposite the timetable. His attire was jacket and formal trousers which was obvious First Group uniform. He completed the job then turned to me and asked my destination upon which he immediately recited the times of the next buses from memory. I had already gleaned the information from the timetable but thanked him nonetheless. He continued with the latest bus ticket offer. A FirstGroup Anywhere ticket for the paltry sum of £7. I had read about this on the FirstGroup web pages whilst planning the walk, but it appeared to have conditions on the time and geographic extent. He corrected my assumptions - anywhere in Cornwall and no time restrictions. I had to reiterate the question to absolutely clarify this. A double deck bus pulled up by the stop as I sought to qualify the statement. The man waited for the doors to open, then asked the driver to confirm the offer. The driver got out a booklet from down the side of his seat and confirmed the offer in black and white. Kat had by now joined me which prompted the chap to advertise another First Group ticket Offer, 'A family ticket which entitles 2 adults and 2 children to unlimited day travel for only £12 a day which is better value than paying for two £7 tickets' he related, amusingly adding '...you don't have to have the kids!'. It seemed a bargain. All the routes we would need over the next few days entailed multiple First Group bus journeys. Out to Falmouth, Helford, Coverack, The Lizard, Penzance and Lands End could all be done on £12 a day for both of us. It seemed good value. Then he had another offer '...or...' he enlightened '...a £30 family ticket for three days unlimited anytime travel'. That bought it down to £10 a day for two. It had cost us over a fiver just to do the short return journey from Porthleven to Helston. That was a bargain. The driver affirmed the offer. It did not take any more convincing, we were bought on the prospect of purchasing such a ticket on our first days journey up to Falmouth the next morning. Amazing revelations happen when you visit Helstons Blue Anchor and drink their Spingo beer!

The Walk

The next day, with a newly purchased family ticket tacked under a clear plastic holder, we caught the early bus up to Helston and then onward to Falmouth. The day was looking good. Gone was the fog that had plagued us for the entirety of the previous week, masking the views and scenery of this renowned coastline. The day was clear. Some blue sky. Some sunshine. A little warmth filling the air and a promise that things appeared to be on the up. IT wasn't totally perfect. There were some threatening clouds moving across the sky and evidence of showers falling out at sea. But showers were far far better than the seven days of fog that we had experienced.

Falmouth was quiet when we arrived just before 8:30, with most shops yet to open up for business. We took some time out to wander up to the pier and admire the view across the Fal estuary which had been secluded by the thick fog whilst walking the opposite side. The coast path leads up above the docks and around to Pendennis Castle with more outstanding views of the estuary. St Anthony's Head and its lighthouse prominently stuck out, being more distinctive than when we had witnessed it from just a few yards away amid the fog. Continuing, a steady stroll along the coast road led down to Gyllynvase Beach. A heavy dark cloud postured over the area and we were forced to hurry our pace in order to seek shelter in the beach-side pavilion from a short burst of heavy rain. Numerous holiday makers joined us but within minutes the rain had eased to a drizzle which was enough to tempt us off on the walk.

Across the cliff-top paths led us to the village of Maenporth with a sandy beach nestled in the cove on which there was a beach side cafe. We were its sole customers and, with a mug of tea and flapjacks, we spent half an hour gazing from the blue wooden benches out at the ideal deep azure seascape. Beyond Maenporth the cliff-top path opens up into broad grassy pastures around Rosemullion Head. This was such a wondrous sight. Blue sky. Blue sea. Acres of lush green pasture littered with wildflowers on the gentle hill slopes. Yachts playing around the Helford estuary. A Distant tanker anchored out at sea. A dark cloud just beyond Nare Head on the other side of the estuary, offering its rain to the waters as it drifted eastwards into open sea. Glorious. Such a fine sight. After all those days of catching small glimpses of coastline through the fog, this was such a revelation.

This was a fairly easy stretch of coast path walking although there were a few challenges. These were mostly overcoming areas of mud and water along the footpath, the result of the previous few weeks of rain and fog. Such obstacles are never too much of a challenge and do present a little bit of fun trying to balance and pivot across tree branches, rocks and other assorted flotsam and jetsam that have been placed in the quagmires by other walkers to provide a stepping-stone access across these areas. In some instances such as Polgwidden Cove there is a series of permanent stepping stones that lead across a muddy section behind the cottages.

Falmouth Harbour
Falmouth Harbour

Directions

Follow the well marked South West Coast Path trail which is marked with the usual National Trail Acorn waymarkers.

The walk uses the official route throughout the entire distance from Falmouth Pier to Helford Passage. From the Ferryboat Inn, take the road up the hill and out of the hamlet. The bus stop is located at the junction at the top of the road at the bend in the road. The bus stop is on the right and serves both directions. The bus will reverse into the lane, then return the way it came.

A Block House below Pendennis Castle
A Block House below Pendennis Castle

Pubs

Ferryboat Inn, Helford Passage View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Ferryboat Inn, Helford Passage
Website

The building dates to the 17th century though there is the possibility that an inn has been on this site even since the ferry began operating in the 15th Century. There is a main bar and patio which both overlook the river. The pub is frequented by many of the sailing folk whose yachts are moored in the estuary, as well as walkers and tourists who clog up the only lane that leads down to the pub. The inn is a St Austells house and as well as the usual St Austell ales there is a varied menu from simple snacks to full meals.

Review

A very busy tourist hot-spot overlooking the river. St Austells ales on offer and the Dartmoor Ale up to its usual hoppy refreshing standard.

The Blue Anchor, Helston View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Blue Anchor, Helston
Website

Although not on the actual route, this pub is well worth seeking out.

The Blue Anchor dates back to the 15th century when it was established as a Monks rest home which lasted until the dissolution of the monasteries in the first half of the 16th century. It then became the village tavern and began brewing its own Spingo ales. The ales are still produced to this day to the traditional recipes whilst the pub retains its original character with no slot machines or piped music. It is said that local tin miners were paid their wages at the bar of the Blue Anchor.

At the rear of the building is both the brewery and skittle alley which was originally built in the 18th century for the local gentry. This was refurbished in 1937 and is still played today. The skittles and bowls are made of solid sycamore with the bowls being 12 inches in diameter and weighing 4ilbs.

Review

See the walk notes for a full and detailed description of the pub. Always a fascinating place to visit and well worth taking the time to seek out. The ales are distinctive and very drinkable. The charm of the place is in its unique untouched character. Throughout the week spent at Porthleven, we sampled all the ales apart from the Bragget which was unavailable due to a lack of bartop pumps!, Well recommended.

Memorial to Pendennis Castle Road Race
Memorial to Pendennis Castle Road Race

Features

Pendennis CastleView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Pendennis Castle was built in 1539 as one of a chain of forts running along the coast of the southern half of Britain from Hull to Milford Haven. This was in response to the threat of invasion to Henry VIII from the French and Spanish. Henry had changed the religion of England to Church of England so he could get a divorce, money and more power over his country. The pope had asked the French and Spanish, who both had strong armies, to invade England to perform a restoration on the country's religion. Henry knew that the two countries knew of the area, as when the French and Spanish had a war a couple of years before they had fought in the Carrick Roads, so they knew that it was unguarded, and so Henry believed this would be a target that the French and Spanish would choose to attack from.

References

Pendennis Castle Road RacesView in OS Map | View in Google Map

On the west side of the hill on which Pendennis Castle stands, alongside the coast road is a plaque commemorating the Pendennis Castle Road Races. The plaque was put in position in 2002 by the Pendennis Motorcycle and Light Car Club. These races were the first motorcycle races to be run on public roads in Britain and used a 1.5 miles circuit around Castle Drive. The races were held from 1931 until 1937 and a lap record was achieved by G.E.Rowley of Sidcup on a 346 AJS in 1 minute 44 seconds.

Falmouth Home Guard MemorialView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Alongside the coast path at Pennance Point is a simple white painted metal seat in front of a granite memorial dedicated to the Falmouth Home Guard. The inscription reads "For Freedom. This seat and the path leading thereto have been provided as a memorial to the men of Number 1 (Falmouth) Company of the Home Guard who during 1940, 41, 42, 43, 44, after their day's work, nightly patrolled this coast area and, vigilant against German landings, thus they watched 1,000 dawns across these great waters which form our country's moat."

It is not known when the memorial was erected, but by the 2000's it had become lost in the undergrowth with the seat in front vandalised. Falmouth Town Councils sexton, Lee Mitchell, took it upon himself to restore the monument and replace the old vandalised bench with the assistance of the probation services community payback team.

Memorial to the Home GuardSTepping stones through a quagmire behind Polgwidden Cove
On the left Memorial to the Home Guard; On the right STepping stones through a quagmire behind Polgwidden Cove

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15

2013-07-05 : editorial updates plus updates about the Mill Lane Campsite in Porthleven

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