Compton Mackenzie's cottage in Gunwalloe
Compton Mackenzie's cottage in Gunwalloe

Gunwalloe is a scattered hamlet on the north-west coast of the Lizard Peninsula, about 4 miles south of Helston. Within the rural parish are several small settlements including Winnianton, which gives the parish its alternative name of Winnianton.

The name Gunwalloe is thought to come from old Cornish meaning 'open land'. The village is vicariously noted as being the first Cornish location to be listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. The actual first entry was the king's manor of Winnianton, but the hamlet of Winnianton is today part of Gunwalloe parish. Winnianton is built around the remains of Castle Mound, remains of a prehistoric settlement. There is a regular archaeological dig at Castle Mound during the summer months and visitors are welcome to take part.

Gunwalloe village consists of a few pretty thatched cottages along the winding country lane leading to Church Cove, where the medieval church of St Winwaloe stands nestled into sand dunes above the beach.

The coast at Gunwalloe
The coast at Gunwalloe

St Winwaloe's is also known as The Church of the Storms, due to its exposed location on this windswept coast. Though the building we see today is 13th/15th century, the church has a history going back to at least the 6th century, when it was said to have been founded by Winwaloe, an abbot from Brittany. Within the church are two medieval fonts and remnants of a vividly painted screen said to have been salvaged from the wreck of a Portuguese treasure ship in 1527.

The St Antony was carrying a cargo of bullion, plate, and silver. Forty-five sailors survived the wreck, and for 2 days local residents helped the sailors rescue the precious cargo. No sooner did they complete the work than three local magistrates descended on them and took over £10,000 worth of goods.

A more recent wreck was that of the HMS Anson, which went aground off Poldhu Cove in 1807 with the loss of several lives. The ship ran aground within sight of the beach but local volunteers were unable to save the crew due to the bad weather. The tragedy was witnessed by Henry Trengrouse of Helston, who was inspired to invent the Bosun's Chair, a rocket-powered rescue device for transferring people from ships in distress to a safer location. He also developed the first life jacket.

A memorial to those who were lost in the wreck of the HMS Anson stands on the shore between Gunwalloe and Loe Bar to the north.

St Winwaloe's Church
St Winwaloe's Church

There are two main beaches at Gunwalloe; Church Cove beach, mentioned above, and Dollar Cove, named after the treasure said to be lost here after the wreck of the San Salvador, a Spanish ship that ran aground in 1669 whilst carrying a cargo of silver dollars. Treasure hunters still haunt the area around Dollar Cove hoping to find the long-lost wreck.

There is a popular pub called the Halzephron, with views looking towards Mount's Bay, but perhaps the most interesting house in the village is the picturesque thatched cottage known as Toy Cottage. A plaque on the outside of the cottage reminds us that it was home to novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie in 1908-1909. Mackenzie's best-known novels are Whisky Galore and The Monarch of the Glen.

The National Trust owns much of the coastline around Gunwalloe and the Trust website has details of several popular walks including a 1-mile circular loop based on the story of the San Salvador wreck and taking in Gunwalloe Marsh with its reedbeds and abundant birdlife.

Church Cove
Church Cove

A pretty thatched cottage and garden
A pretty thatched cottage and garden

About Gunwalloe
Address: Gunwalloe, Cornwall, England
Attraction Type: Village
Location: On a minor lane off the A3083 south of Helston.
Location map
OS: SW656227
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Gunwalloe, St Winwaloe's Church - 1.4 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Mullion, St Mellanus Church - 2.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Bonython Estate Gardens - 2.7 miles (Garden) Heritage Rating

Helston Museum - 2.9 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Helston, St Michael's Church - 3.1 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Mawgan Cross - 3.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Halliggye Fogou - 3.6 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Mawgan-in-Meneage Church - 3.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

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