Polruan to Polperro rollercoaster walk
A strenuous rollercoaster walk high above turquoise seas and white sandy beaches, through prime fishing and smuggling territory with a fine heritage of tales and legends. The National Trust owns most of the land and its conservation methods have encouraged an abundance of wildflowers and butterflies.
Polruan Quay, grid ref: SX125510
From Polruan Quay walk up the slope to turn right onto West Street and then left onto Battery Lane, passing the coastguard hut and then the lookout station to come out on the open ground at St Saviour's Point (also known as The Peak).
St Saviour's Point
St Saviour's Point has been used for military training for centuries. In Elizabethan times there were archery butts here, and in the nineteenth century the Royal Naval Reserve established a base in Hoe Meadow - to the west of The Peak, with a firing range where the high wall now stands on The Peak. In 1863, a four-gun battery was built as a replica of the 'between ships' of a man o' war and every year 320 men would spend a month training here.
Having picked up the South West Coast Path, follow it as it forks left and walk east through the car park, bearing right down a signposted lane to the fields above the coast. From here, the Coast Path climbs above Blackbottle Rock, giving tremendous views over Great and Little Lantic Beaches to Pencarrow Head, and then descends to sweep around above Lantic Bay and rise once more to Pencarrow.
From Pencarrow Head, on a clear day it is possible to see from Devon's Bolt Head in the east to the Lizard, 70 miles to the west of it. The National Trust owns much of this part of the coast and has worked with tenant farmers using traditional conservation strategies to improve and maintain the habitats on the cliffs and farmland for a wide diversity of species. Look out for traditional breeds of cattle such as Dexters as well as Dartmooor Ponies which graze the cliffs as part of the conservation management of the area.
Staying with the Coast Path behind the nineteenth-century Watch House, carry on past the path to the Lantivet Bay car park.
The Watch House
The Watch House (privately owned, please respect the occupiers' privacy) was built in 1835, after the 'Lantic Hill Affair' in which two Polruan coastguards apprehended a party of smugglers. In the ensuing ruckus, one of them was clubbed unconscious. Five prisoners were taken and a hoard of 484 gallons of brandy was found by a revenue cutter. Although all five men were found not guilty in the trial that followed, there was a permanent detachment of officers in the Watch House and a flight of steep steps was cut down to Watch House Cove.
From the bottom of the path to Frogmore Farm and Lantivet Bay car park, the coast path passes through Sandingway and continues above Palace Cove.
At Sandingway a packhorse track was used by donkeys carrying sand and seaweed up to Frogmore to fertilise the fields. Just beyond, at Palace Cove, there was a pilchard cellar, or palace (from the Cornish meaning 'enclosed place'). Here salted pilchards were pressed, using wooden beams weighted with heavy boulders to squeeze the fish into barrels, and the juices extracted were used as 'train oil' to light lamps.
From Palace Cove, the Coast Path descends to Lansallos Cove.
Lansallos Cove, too, has a rutted cart track for transporting sand and seaweed to fertilise the fields. It also, until the middle of the last century, had a water mill, powered by the Reed Water stream as it tumbled to the beach. According to legend, the miller's wife once refused hospitality to a half-drowned stranger, only to find him dead outside in the morning. His ghost drove the couple away and the mill was never used again. Look out for scurvy grass in the cove with its rubbery leaves and tiny white starry flowers, rich in vitamin C.
Walking a short distance up the valley, turn right through the wicket gate and go through a field, crossing the stile beyond to carry on to East Coombe.
Chapel Cliff Seat
On 30 April 1825, the Royal Cornwall Gazette told of one of many smuggling incidents: 'During the last week, the coast between Polperro and Fowey has been in a state of disorder in consequence of a quantity of liquor found on the shore... the miners [in Wheal Howell] having been in a continual state of drunkenness. On Wednesday last the whole of the men belonging to the mine... succeeded in getting underground where they concealed part of a keg of brandy, and drank to unusual intoxication.'
Ignoring the paths inland at East Coombe, carry on along the Coast Path to Raphael Cliff, from where a natural rock arch is visible on the shoreline, and on again to Chapel Cliff.
Chapel Cliff (pronounced 'Chaypell') gets its name from St Peter's Chapel. Dedicated to the patron saint of sailors and fishermen, the chapel stood at the Polperro end of the cliff, it may have served as a lighthouse to warn of hazardous rocks below. In 1820 it was being used as a fish cellar, and by the end of the century only a pile of rubble remained. Alongside the path on Chapel Cliff are the remnants of allotments where villagers once grew vegetables, and three shelters erected by the committee which raised the funds to buy Chapel Cliff.
There are a number of small paths leading off in both directions between Chapel Cliff and Polperro. Stay on the Coast Path all the way into Polperro, heading inland through the village to catch the bus at Crumplehorn.
As you descend into Polperro, the shed on the headland below is a net loft, owned by the National Trust but let to local fishermen. In southerly gales the waves sometimes break over the roof. When the Trust was restoring the building in 1982-3, the three floor beams of Douglas Fir each weighed more than one-and-a-half tons and were the largest pieces of sawn timber ever to leave Tavistock Woodlands. The only access to the net loft is up the narrow footpath, so a specially built 16-foot barge was used to float them across the harbour.
Look around in this small fishing village and explore its lively atmosphere.
Apart from a lively trade in contraband, for centuries Polperro's main source of income was fishing, and at one time there were as many as 40 drifters working out of the harbour. These were large gaff-rigged boats - or 'Polperro gaffers' - which used seine or drift nets to trawl for pilchards. The fish were processed in factories near the harbour, where children helped the women process the fish, washing, salting and curing before pressing them into barrels. Today one of these factories houses Polperro's Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing.
Polperro, grid ref: SX206509
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.