Polperro to Looe coast walk
This part of Cornwall had lively trading links with the Mediterranean even in prehistoric times, and it is said that Jesus visited Looe, accompanying his uncle, Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea.
Explore South East Cornwall's history and culture
The walk passes an early Christian holy site and the ruins of the medieval chapel built on it after a number of pilgrims drowned trying to reach its predecessor on Looe Island.
Crumplehorn car park, Polperro, grid ref: SX204515
From the Crumplehorn car park walk down through Polperro to pick up the South West Coast Path on the north side of the harbour and walk steeply uphill, past the seating area at the viewpoint.
The cave on the western side of the beach is known as Willy Wilcox Cave, after a Polperro smuggler who drowned in it while hiding from Customs men. Although for centuries Polperro's main source of income was fishing, in the 18th and 19th centuries it was also a very lively centre of Free Trade. Crippling taxes on tea and brandy meant that a cuppa cost six times as much in Britain as it did on the continent, and a snifter five times as much. Gin, rum and tobacco were other commodities brought quietly ashore in the dead of night.
Keep climbing the hill to follow the coast path past the mouth of the harbour and around the Warren.
Exotic plants at the Warren
At the top of the cliff, the path dropping down to the lighthouse is known as Reuben's Walk, named after a former harbourmaster in Polperro who loved to walk here and still continued to do so even after his eyesight failed. If you visit the lighthouse, the path loops back uphill to rejoin the coast path. The land around this area was once allotments where villagers grew vegetables and flowers, the ground in Polperro being too steep to do so, and exotic stands of sub-tropical plants once cultivated here still flourish in the warm climate.
Carry on along the coast path to Talland, ignoring the paths inland at Brent and just before reaching Talland.
Around the 5th and 6th century, as the incursion of waves of Anglo-Saxons forced the native Britons to the extremities of the land, there was a flow of Celtic saints into Cornwall from Ireland, Wales and Brittany. They set up hermitages and monasteries around the coast in order to support the Christianity seen to be under threat from the new pagan ways. One such missionary was St Tallanus, who is said to have erected a holy altar, where the current church now stands. 'Tallan' in Cornish means 'the holy place on the brow of the hill'.
Following the coast path above the bay at Talland, carry on along the road beyond, dropping onto the path beside it for a short way, and turn right with it onto the footpath towards Hore Point at Hendersick and towards Looe.
The towers on the hillside as you leave Talland are the first of two pairs in a measured nautical mile, used by ships to measure their speed. The other towers are on the hillside as you approach Looe. On the shoreline below the towers at Talland is a curious flat-topped rock known as Aesop's Bed, but it may have nothing to do with the famous fabler: it has been suggested that the rock was once known as 'Yesu's Bed', from the Hebrew word for Jesus.
Carry on around Hore Point, leaving Talland Bay for Portnadler Bay.
Ahead of you is Looe Island, also known as St George's Island. There is a local belief that Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea landed here with his great-nephew, the teenage Jesus, on his way to Glastonbury to set up Christianity in Britain. A fragment of an earthenware amphora was found on the island, dating from around that time and originating in the Eastern Mediterranean, demonstrating trading links between Looe and the Middle East. Other artefacts found locally include the Pelynt Dagger from the Mycaenean Greek world of 1900-1100BC.
Ignoring footpaths travelling inland, carry on along the coastal path to the gate at Hannafore.
The original Lammana Chapel, signposted to the left just before the gate, is thought to have been in existence as a Celtic monastery and hermitage in the sixth century. There are many holy sites along the South West Coast Path which date from this time, from St Culbone's Church in Somerset all the way around to St Anselm's in Dorset, although most of them are in Cornwall. At Lammana, a new chapel was built sometime in the twelfth century, which, like many contemporary chapels, was dedicated to St Michael, the patron saint of high places.
Going through the gate, carry on along Hannafore Road, following it along above the beach as it curves around the mouth of the harbour.
The rocky beach at Hannafore is a popular place for rockpooling. At low tide the rocky reef is exposed, its beds of flat slate scored through by deep gullies and providing a habitat for many different species. These include furrowed crabs, scorpion spider crabs, hairy crabs and squat lobsters, as well as sponges, sea-squirts and sea anemones. During the 19th century, a new pier was constructed by local engineer and entrepreneur Joseph Thomas to prevent sand from silting. His solution was so successful that the idea was adopted elsewhere.
Carry on along the western bank of the river and into West Looe. Stop at the fire station to catch the bus back to Polperro, or continue ahead and cross the bridge to visit East Looe, with its shops and craft galleries, catching the bus from Shutta Road.
Nelson the seal
Nelson the bull grey seal, one-eyed and scarred from his maritime adventures, was a regular visitor to Looe Harbour for more than 25 years, having trawled a number of local ports before deciding to settle here. When he died in 2003 a bronze statue was erected in his memory, designed to serve as a reminder of the area's rich underwater ecosystems and the need to preserve them.
Looe Fire Station
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.