The small port of Polperro lies just south of Looe. The village sits in between a small gap in the cliffs with rows of old stone cottages branching out from the harbour. A small brook flows through the village, passing under stone bridges before entering the harbour under an old Saxon some say Roman stone bridge next to the House on the Props, which itself overhangs the brook.
Polperro definitely lives up to its reputation as the most picturesque of Cornwall’s fishing villages. The streets are a delight to walk around and there are countless historic houses to admire. The streets are so narrow that cars are banned. This makes Polperro an ideal place to explore on foot. There has been a fishing community here for over seven hundred years and it hasn’t changed much at all in hundreds of years. The narrow streets and jumble of white cottages are undeniably attractive. This is especially true in summer when flowers cover a lot of them.
At high tide, local fishing boats unload their daily catch and take it to the fish quay on the inner harbour. When they aren’t fishing, fisherfolk are often found mending their nets and pots down on the harbour quay.
The alluring village attracts thousands of amateur artists who come here to paint. Many local artists have their work displayed in the villages’ galleries.
Most of the buildings started life as fisherman’s cottages. Although Polperro is still a working fishing village, tourism now provides the main source of income.
Getting to Polperro
It is a scenic drive to Polperro by car. Once in the village, you’ll need to park in the well-signed parking area at Crumplehorn (Postcode: PL13 2PL) and then walk down to the harbour. The car park has plenty of space. There definitely is no parking in the village. Don’t struggle down the narrow main street only to struggle to turn around at the bottom, just to then have to return to the car park. Once you’ve parked follow the road with the stream running alongside down into the centre of the village, a walk of 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes there is a shuttle tram service running from the car park to the harbour.
Parking is quite expensive and when I last visited the parking machines were only accepting cash. Charges, £5 for 3 hours, £7 for 6 hours and £9 for 10 hours.
There is a good bus service to Polperro, the Number 73 which runs from Looe and Liskeard.
You can almost get to Polperro by train by catching the scenic Looe Valley line from Liskeard to Looe and then catching a bus to Polperro.
Boat trips run from Fowey and Looe to Polperro.
Places to Visit and Things to do in Polperro
Nearly all shops are found on the long straggling main street, The Coombes. This runs for nearly a mile from the Crumplehorn Mill down to the working harbour. In high season, the shops and cafes are almost overwhelmed by visitors, such is Polperro’s popularity. If you want to experience the true charm of the village visit on an evening or out of season.
The shops along the Coombe are independents selling all manner of things. As well as souvenir shops selling pottery, jewellery and paintings there is also an artisan bakery, newsagents and other shops selling everyday requirements. You’ll also find a number of galleries and arts and crafts exhibitions.
Try to imagine as you walk down to the small harbour that the path you’re walking on was once used to transport barrows full of pilchards. After nightfall, it was a different story as brandy casks and tobacco bales were carried into their hiding places. Polperro was once a smuggling hotspot. Wagons carrying the contraband would leave here to travel across Bodmin Moor on the journey to London.
The smugglers and pilchards have gone now. If you want to find out more about Polperro’s history visit the Heritage Museum on the side of the harbour.
Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing
An old pilchard factory houses the Museum on the eastern side of the harbour. It focuses on the fishing and smuggling communities that once inhabited Polperro’s packed cottages. The museum has lots of historical items and photographs compiled by local people. Over the years Polperro has attracted many notable artists and photographers and some of their work is displayed in the museum. The museum is open from March through to October.
There are a number of boat trips on offer from the harbour. You can take a trip to nearby Looe or Fowey along the coast. This is particularly handy if you want to make a circular walk along the South West Coast Path. Of course, you can also book fishing trips. As well as the satisfaction of catching some fish, there is the experience of pulling into Polperro’s rather stunning harbour from the sea.
This is a miniature creation of the village of Polperro which has its own miniature village! There is also the Land of Legend exhibit telling stories about pirates and smugglers. As if that weren’t enough there is also a model railway running continuously. The model village is open from Easter until October.
Crumplehorn Inn and Mill
This is the first group of buildings you’ll see if you use the car park. These are opposite the main entrance. Dating from the 14th Century the Mill has a restored 12-ton water wheel. The building that houses the Inn is from the 18th Century and is allegedly haunted.
Couch’s Great House
This house dating from 1595 used to be the home of Dr Jonathan Couch. Dr Couch was a naturalist, fossil collector and physician and he lived in Polperro all his life, during the 19th Century. He wrote a fascinating book, The History of Polperro, published in 1871 (still available) which provides an insight into the life of the village during the smuggling era. Today the house is a restaurant, Couch’s.
Polperro hosts a festival every June. The week-long event is free and includes live music, an arts and crafts fair, a comedy night, a solstice bonfire on the beach and a colourful carnival.
The Shell House is one of the most photographed properties in the village. This was owned by Mr Samuel Puckey who decorated the outside of his house with shells from his lifetime’s collection. It took him five years to complete. You’ll find the Shell House in the Warren close to the harbour.
Parts of the village of Polperro date back as far as the 13th Century. For a long time, the village’s prosperity was based on pilchards. When this started to decline, smuggling became the main source of income.
Large quantities of pilchards used to be landed in the village. These were processed and packed in factories next to the harbour. Many women and children were employed in processing the fish. Pilchards were salted and cured and their oil would be extracted using large screw presses. They were then packed into barrels ready for despatch.
During the 18th and early 18th centuries, Polperro was notorious for smuggling activities. Pretty much everyone in the village conspired to hide the duty-free goods from the customs and excise officers. The famous preacher John Wesley visited the village in 1762 and he was recorded as remarking that all the locals were involved in smuggling.
Boatbuilding was also one of the main businesses in Polperro for many years.
South West Coast Path
The heritage coastline near Polperro is truly stunning and unspoilt. The South West Coast Path passes through the village but in order to leave there is a steep climb in either direction.
Head west from Polperro on the South West Coast Path to Polruan and Fowey probably one of the most scenic (and strenuous) stretches of the whole Coast Path. On the way, you’ll pass the beautiful, secluded sandy beaches at lantic bay and lansallos.
Head eastwards for an easier walk to the sandy cove (and excellent cafe!) at Talland Bay and further to Looe if you want a longer walk. From Fowey and Looe you can catch a boat back to Polperro to make a circular trip.
The photo gallery below is from the short walk from Polperro, past Spy Point Lighthouse, the War Memorial at Downend Point, and finishing at Talland Bay.
OS Explorer 107 Map. The Explorer 107 Ordnance Survey Map covers this part of Cornwall. The map displays the area of St Austell, Liskeard, Lostwithiel, and Bodmin as well as the South West Coast Path. With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Explorer Map is available in both the standard paper version and weatherproof ‘Active’ version.
Polperro only has a tiny beach, that disappears at high tide. The small stretch of dog friendly sand/shingle is just outside the harbour wall. Behind the beach is Willy Wilcox cave, believed to have been used by smugglers. A small walkway runs across the beach. This is used at low tide by the boats running trips along the coast. The surrounding rocks are a great place to sit and watch the boats arriving/leaving the harbour.
If you are looking for a more substantial beach then head west to Lansallos (Dog Friendly) or Lantic Bay both with National Trust car parks or east to Talland Bay, accessible by car, or Looe.
Polperro also has a tidal rock pool, Chapel Pool which is on the seaward side of Chapel Rock that stands guard at the western entrance of Polperro Harbour. The south-facing pool is accessible from about half tide. There are steps cut into the cliff but take care as they are quite steep. The pool is marked on the Google map, above.
Polperro Photo Gallery
Places to Eat
Polperro has plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes along the main street and around the harbour area. These can get very busy in the summer months and you’ll probably need to book in advance at the restaurants. There are also plenty of shops selling the usual assortment of take-away food, fish and chips, pasties, ice cream, bakeries etc.
Films and TV
Lots of films and TV programmes have been made in Polperro.
The 1929 Alfred Hitchcock drama The Manxman in which two brothers fall in love with the same woman.
The 1942 drama Spitfire is about the aircraft designer and patriot R. J. Mitchell.
The 1948 comedy Miranda in which a young physician on a fishing holiday is saved by a mermaid.
The 1955 drama The Break in the Circle is about an adventurer hired by a German millionaire to help a Polish scientist escape to the West.
The 1958 wartime romantic drama, Another Time, Another Place.
The 1959 Sci-Fi Behemoth the Sea Monster A prehistoric monster is disturbed where the dumping of radioactive waste into the ocean takes place.
The 1988 Sci-FI Doomwatch where the waters surrounding an island are contaminated by chemical dumping.
The 1990 Family TV movie The Tale of Little Pig Robinson which was adapted from a Beatrix Potter story.
The 2012 drama The Hour of Living where Theo goes looking for someone who can tell him about his dad.
The 2016 mystery Siren Song Chef and critic Matt pursues an online relationship after the murder of his wife. He finds Callie the owner of an Island guest house.
In 2013, Polperro was featured in the BBC Coast program, when Ruth Gordon learned about how knitting used to be an important industry 150 years ago. Women and girls made garments known as Knit-Frocks while waiting for the return of the boats. The tradition is still alive today, although on a much smaller scale.
Wall Art for Sale
Cliffs are changing all the time. Falls and landslides can happen at any time and without warning. Please stay well back from the cliff edge when walking along coast paths, and stay away from the undercliff on beaches.
Whilst I take every care to ensure the accuracy of the route descriptions, I cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions. The route described may be pleasant for walking in fine weather but can become slippery, boggy and dangerous in wintry or wet weather. On days when visibility is impaired by fog, rain, cloud or mist, some landmarks used as direction aids in the route descriptions may not be visible.
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