Porthleven to Gunwalloe

P1020130There is no better time to be on this stretch of the Coast Path than on a bright sunny day. The walking is easy and the proximity to the sea makes it a joy.

What one forgets is that this coast was feared by sailors of tall ships. The prevailing wind is from the South West and a large sailing vessel could easily find themselves unable to sail to windward, out of Mount’s Bay. If so, then they stood little chance of survival in a storm. The wind would drive them straight onto the lee shore: the long expanse of sand known as Loe Bar.

P1020126It was the wreck of HMS Anson which moved Henry Trengrouse to invent the ship-to-shore rocket carrying a light line as a precursor to a rope. This technique, so simple in concept, eventually led to the saving of many lives.

Loe Bar itself was once connected to the sea and was the entrance to the harbour of Helston. The harbour silted up and the Bar formed, leaving a fresh-water lake behind it. The remnant of the original river is now a boating pool near the old cattle market beside the A394 in Helston.

The two miles from Porthleven to Gunwalloe fishing cove is a single beach of sand, still famous for its steep shelving undertow which has taken lives even recently. At its end, a small open space pretends to be a cove which still retains some vestiges of its fishing past.

Beyond the fishing cove, the land rises over Halzephron cliffs.

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What a lovely word is Halzephron. According to the equally lovely pub, it is derived from the Cornish words for strong wind: hardly surprising given that it is face-on into the prevailing wind and that wind has crossed the Atlantic, undisturbed.

Over the headland, it was a short walk to the objective of our walk: the glorious church of Gunwalloe, surely one of the most televisual of churches in the county having featured in series from Wycliffe to Poldark.

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Apparently tucked into the back of a sand dune and with a beach on either side, it looks as though it might be overwhelmed during any storm. Its separate tower is all that holds back the sand.

A tour of the church was essential before heading for the pub for lunch. Then the return journey which included the mandatory paddle on the very edge of the sea on the Bar, the soft sand crunching beneath our toes.

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One answer to the problems of shelter on this coast was the creation of the tiny Porthleven harbour: somewhere a ship could tie up in safety. It would be a brave captain who attempted to take his ship in through the long arms of the entrance in anything other than a calm sea for it is far too narrow and dog-legged.

Really good walks contain a pub and church but this time we went one better: ours ended with an ice cream on the Porthleven harbourside. What a day.

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