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Walk - Porthallow and Nare Point

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Route Description

  1. From the car park at Porthallow take the steps up to the cliff path on your left as you face the sea. Follow the South West Coast Path along the edge of the steep slope above Nelly's Cove and Fletching's Cove. Passing Snail's Creep, carry on to Nare Head, ignoring the inland paths en route.

The path passes through an arch of tamarisk, a Mediterranean salt-loving plant with feathery leaves and flowers, found all around the Cornish coast. Look out for butterflies, including blues and coppers as well as the more familiar peacocks and whites.

In December 1917 the cargo ship Volnay struck a mine just off the Manacles. Two tugs towed the vessel ashore near Porthallow, where it subsequently sank, distributing its Canadian cargo of luxury goods along the shoreline. At a time of wartime rationing the locals were thrilled to be treated to such a lavish supply of butter, tea, coffee and cigarettes!

  1. Dropping downhill past the observation hut on Nare Point, bear left and round Parbean Cove to follow the path through a few trees and on across Lestowder Cliff towards Gillan Creek.

The lookout at Nare Point is manned by volunteers as part of National Coastwatch (NCI), and it has been awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in recognition of its vital lifesaving role on this rocky coastline.

The observation post dominating the Point was part of the anti-submarine torpedo range operating here until 1994. Managed from RNAS Culdrose and connected to a further base at Porthkerris, its function was to study the trajectory of torpedos dropped from helicopters.

During the Second World War Nare Point was the site of a decoy station, designed to draw enemy fire away from Falmouth. The docks made the port a prime target for German bombers, and tar barrels, cordite flashes and paraffin fires were used to simulate direct hits on the dockyard, but at a false location. There was a twin site 14 miles to the north, on the other Nare Head on the Roseland peninsula. The two were controlled remotely from a secret bunker still visible in the undergrowth to the left on Lestowder Cliff.

When the local radar stations detected enemy aircraft, all Falmouth's lights were switched off. One or other of the two decoy stations was brought to life, depending upon the line of attack. Built by Ealing Studios, the decoy film set at Nare Point featured red and green stop and go lights, strategically placed to mimic the docks and train depot as they would appear from a German bomber's cockpit. It also simulated shafts of light streaming from an open door, and from a window that was not properly shaded. Explosions were also used to imitate trains being bombed.

In 1940, Helford Passage had a key role in the Second World War. There was a Secret Intelligence Service flotilla sited at Porth Saxon running missions to the Breton coast. Using traditional Breton fishing boats as well as fast motor launches, they despatched and collected Allied airmen engaged in infiltrating enemy positions across the Channel (see the Rosemullion Head Walk).

Lestowder is thought to have been the court, or 'lys', of the ancient King of Cornwall, Teudar ('Towder'). He featured in a medieval miracle play that was doing the rounds of the Cornish plains-an-gwarries, or outdoor amphitheatres, in the sixteenth century.

  1. Descending through the woodland above Gillan and on past the small headland, turn left onto the path heading inland from the beach and follow the lane between the farm buildings at Trewarnevas to the road.

At low tide on the tiny beaches here it is possible to see why the rocky ledges are such a hazard for shipping. Between the fingers of rock the sand is overlaid with shingle, and at high tide all three are reduced to narrow stony strands. They are fine places for rock pooling and for fishing, as well as for watching the ships go by. Dogs are allowed here.

Mên-aver is a splendid example of a raised beach, or wave-cut platform, where falling sea levels in the past have left a beach stranded above the subsequent high water mark.

Like the hamlets around St Anthony in Meneage, across the creek, Trewarnevas has its roots in a medieval manor based on an earlier Saxon settlement (see the Gillan Creek & Dennis Head Walk). Its name comes from the Cornish meaning 'the estate in the pagan's sacred place', suggesting that it too was a place of worship in the Dark Ages. There are also the remains of a couple of Bronze Age burial mounds at Trewarnevas, dating from some 4000 years ago.

  1. Carry on ahead along the road beyond, signed to Porthallow and St Keverne, turning left at the next junction, signposted to Porthallow.
  2. After passing the houses on the left, take the footpath on the right down the lane by the parking area and carry on ahead along the track beside the hedge. Keep going along the grassy lane between trees and into woodland. Cross the footbridge at the bottom of the hill and continue along the lane and past some terraced cottages into Porthallow. Coming out onto the road on Pengarrock Hill, turn left and then turn right a moment later to return to the car park at the start of the walk.

Nearby refreshments

Porthallow Beach Cafe.
Near to the start/end of the walk just off Porthallow Beach the Five Pilchards Inn is recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.

Public transport

Visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 2233.

Parking

Porthallow Beach (Postcode for Sat Navs: TR12 6PP).

Gillan Estuary. Photographer Jennifer Rowlandson, Tiverton

Gillan Estuary. Photographer Jennifer Rowlandson, Tiverton

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