Polperro

The walk descends through Polperro's narrow streets to the museum beside the harbour, then follows the coast path through The Warren and towards Talland Bay. At Roy's Bench it descends onto Reuben's Walk and follows the coast past the lighthouse and back into the harbour to the Roman Bridge. On crossing the bridge, the route winds past the Three Pilchards and Blue Peter to the coast path along Chapel Cliff. The walk descends onto permissive paths near the sea and loops around to the top of Chapel Cliff to descend through the woodland on Brackenside and re-enter Polperro near the site of the Holy Well. The return route is across the Saxon bridge and back along Fore Street.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.9 miles/4.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Polperro car park
  • Parking: Polperro car park. Satnav: PL132PL
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Views of Polperro Harbour and surrounding coastline
  • Tidal swimming pool (on calm summer days)
  • Birds-eye views over the town from above

Directions

  1. From the car park, make your way to the roundabout then follow the lane down the hill between Crumplehorn Inn and Millys. Continue all the way to the bottom of the hill until you reach a junction marked "Access Only".

    The group of buildings making up the Crumplehorn Inn originally consisted of Killigarth Mill and Crumplehorn Farm (which is thought to have originally been Tremelhorn). The mill dates back to at least the 13th Century where documents regarding a mill were witnessed by Richard de Kylgat (hence Killigarth). Much later the mill was home to Zephaniah Job, known as the Smugglers Banker. He issued his own banknotes and one of these is displayed in the Truro Museum. The Inn was formerly a Counting House, used in Elizabethan times for dividing up goods with with The Crown that had been legally plundered from French and Spanish ships by Privateers.

  2. When you reach the junction, keep left to reach a sign for the harbour. Follow this, keeping left when you reach the bridge and the museum to follow the narrow lane up the headland until, just past a metal cage on the right, a path departs from the right and there is a coast path sign ahead.

    The Warren takes its name from the rabbit farming that took place for meat here in mediaeval times. As you ascend The Warren, look out for a blue plaque on Warren Cottage which commemorates the birthplace of Jonathan Couch.

    Dr. Jonathan Couch was born in Polperro in 1789 and educated in Cornwall. After working in the London hospitals of Guy's and Thomas', he returned to Polperro and lived in the 16th Century house on Lansallos Street, appropriately named Couch's House. As well as a physician, Couch was a leading Victorian naturalist. He specialised in the study of fish, and trained local fishermen to assist in his observations. This culminated in him publishing a 4 volume masterpiece on the subject: "A History of the Fishes of the British Islands". He also contributed heavily to a number of books on this and wider areas of British wildlife. He had three sons, who also took their mother's maiden name - Quiller - to form a double-barrelled surname. One of these was the father of the celebrated writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

  3. Keep left at the Coast Path sign and follow the path uphill until you reach the gate for Dinas Bal where a path descends to the right.

    Polperro is first recorded in a Royal document in 1303. Early records use names such as Polpyrre or Porthpyra. In Cornish both pol and porth were used to mean "harbour" or "cove" so it's not that surprising to see them used interchangeably. The origin of the latter part of the name is unknown although various theories have been put forward. Ours is that if at all possible, a Cornish placename will have Perran in it somewhere: the Cornish word for St Piran is Pyran, so the "n" may have simply been lost.

  4. Continue on the Coast Path until you reach Roy's Bench on the left with a flight of steps on the right.

    In December 1708, the East India Company ship Albermarle was driven ashore near Polperro in a violent storm. The ship was laden with cargo which included silks, wool, pepper, coffee, indigo and diamonds. The ship was wrecked and sank and little of the cargo was recovered, but even the small fraction that was recovered (likely to be mainly textiles which floated) was immensely profitable to the residents of Polperro as the total value of the ship was estimated at around £40,000, which today would be many millions of pounds. For weeks afterwards, the seas were turned blue by the sunken indigo dissolving into the water. Attempts were made to locate the wreck and salvage the sunken cargo but these were all unsuccessful. It is thought the location was somewhere to the east of Polperro, towards Talland Bay and the diamonds are likely to be buried in the sands on the seabed.

  5. Go down the steps and follow the path until you reach a rock outcrop overlooking the lighthouse, where a path climbs up to the right.

    Although the current lighthouse was built in 1911, this replaced another built in 1904. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 when three new lights were established. When it was operational, the light was visible for 12 miles. In place of the railings was a whitewashed stone rubble wall.

  6. Follow the left-hand path to a junction with the path leading down to the lighthouse. Continue ahead from this to rejoin the coast path just before the metal cage.

    The path below the coast path, leading to the lighthouse, is known as Reuben's Walk after Reuben Oliver - a local magistrate who, even when he became old and blind, regularly walked along here to the lighthouse. A coastguard lookout was also situated alongside the lighthouse but this was demolished in 1989.

  7. When the path meets the coast path, turn left and follow the path back into Polperro to reach the bridge, then turn left and cross the bridge to the other side of the harbour.

    Despite the name, the Roman Bridge was built in the latter half of the 19th Century replacing an earlier version with a flat timber lintel that was photographed in 1854. Given Polperro's history of flooding and the proximity of the bridge to the sea, it's more than likely that the bridge, like Boscastle's, has been rebuilt a number of times over its history after damage from floods or storms.

  8. On the other side of the bridge, bear left up the lane past the Three Pilchards until it ends beside the Blue Peter, then bear right around the Blue Peter to reach a flight of steps marked "To The Cliff".

    Records show that by the 14th Century, Polperro was already a busy port and that the main occupation of the men and boys was fishing. The pilchard fishing boom came much later, with the first export of pilchards from Polperro reported as being made in 1783. During Victorian Times, Polperro had three pilchard factories, two of which were owned by Italians, reflecting one of the main export markets.

  9. When you reach the steps on the right of the Blue Peter marked "To The Cliff", climb these and follow the arrows to reach a wooden coast path signpost at the top of the steps. Bear left onto the path and follow it to a rock outcrop on the end of a headland with a bench on it.

    Polperro harbour is unusual because it is a private harbour owned by the Council Tax payers of the village. This came about because in 1894, an Act of Parliament sanctioned by Queen Victoria formed the Trustees of Polperro Harbour - originally fifteen prominent men of Polperro - who bought the harbour rights. The Trust has continued down the generations to the current residents and the deeds for the harbour are on display in the museum.

  10. Turn right at the rock outcrop and follow the path a short distance past the information board, and past a steep path on the right, to reach a waymark where the path forks.

    The path to the left from the information board leads to the net loft on Peak Rock, from which there are nice views of the harbour, and Chapel Pool at the base of Chapel Cliff.

    Chapel Pool is a tidal bathing pool built in the 1940s. Its south-facing aspect means that the sun warms it up beyond the temperature of the sea once waves stop flooding it. By the 21st Century, the steps cut into the cliff leading down to the pool had deteriorated to the point of being impassable due to the constant battering of the sea. In 2001 they were restored by the National Trust with help from The Royal Engineers. The pool is accessible from about half tide, but note that it is a steep climb down the steps (with no handrails) to reach it.

  11. Bear left at the waymark, to depart from the coast path, then keep ahead on the major path, ignoring any smaller paths off to the left and right. Follow the path until it eventually passes around a rocky outcrop and climbs some steps to rejoin the coast path.

    If the tide is low enough to expose them, the flat rocks a short distance out from where the path rejoins the Coast Path are known as the Bridges.

    On 11th December 1849, the cargo ship Shepherdess was close to the end of a 6 month voyage from Penang to Plymouth with a cargo of Teak logs. Battered from her long journey, the ship was leaking badly and the crew had to constantly pump out the water. As she approached Falmouth, the pilots there offered assistance but there was a fair wind so the captain decided to continue the short distance to Plymouth. She arrived that evening at Rame Head but no pilots were available to bring her into Plymouth. Whilst she waited off Rame Head, the wind strengthened to a gale force southeasterly and she was unable to make headway to enter Plymouth Sound and instead was driven towards Polperro. She struck the "Bridges" rocks to the west of Polperro and broke in two. The ship was carrying so much timber that passengers and most of the crew were able to walk ashore across the timber, although the two crew who instead attempted to swim to the shore both drowned. The harbour and surrounding coves were filled with timber and consequently many farm buildings were built from this, a surviving block of which is in Polperro Museum. Also on Talland Hill, the appropriately named Teak House has rafters, floor joists, stairs and doors all built from the cargo of the wreck.

  12. Turn right onto the Coast Path and follow it until you reach a junction of paths at a waymark.
  13. Keep left at the waymark to depart from the coast path and follow the path, keeping left past a steep path descending to the right, to reach a junction of paths in front of a large wall.

    The paths along the south-facing slope seem to be a particularly good habitat for butterflies.

    The Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady and Tortoiseshell butterflies are all quite closely related and specialised for overwinter hibernation. Their wings, when closed, have a jagged outline and camouflaged colours that allows them to blend in with dead leaves. Their feet contain chemoreceptors (taste buds) which allows them to detect nectar-bearing flowers when they land.

  14. Just before the wall, turn left to follow the leftmost path uphill. Continue a short distance until the path forks beside some woods.

    For many generations, Cornish fishermen wore hand-knitted wool jumpers known locally as "knit-frocks". These are similar to guernsey jumpers and were made from wool dyed navy blue with indigo. If well-made, they could last for more than twenty years. Young boys were therefore given oversized jerseys that reached to their knees to grow into. Each fishing family wore their their own distinct pattern which meant that if a jumper was lost, its wearer could be identified.

    A total of ten individual patterns from Polperro have been recorded, but the knitters never worked from written patterns. They were passed on within families by practical demonstration.

    As well as knitting for their family, many women earned money as contract knitters; a skilled knitter could make a knit-frock in a week often whilst looking after children at the same time. In the 1851 census, 28 women and girls in Polperro were listed as "knitters". At the beginning of the 20th century, women could earn between 2s. 6d. and 2s. 9d. for a knit-frock and up to 3s. 6d. for a "fancy" one, whereas at this time, a full-time domestic servant earned only an average of 9d. each week.

  15. When you reach the fork, take the right-hand path leading down into the woods. Follow this until it joins another path above a flight of steps. Bear left onto the path and follow it to reach a parking area.
  16. Walk through the parking area to a track and follow this until it ends on a road.

    When you reach the road, the holy well of St Peter is located a short distance up the road to the left.

    The chapel of "St. Peter of Porthpyre" was documented in 1392 and was located on Chapel Point, in a field on the Landaviddy Estate above the holy well. In the 19th Century, the chapel was moved onto Peak Rock and was later used as a net loft, which is the large building now owned by the National Trust.

    The holy well still exists as a small wet hole on the edge of Landaviddy Lane in the vicinity of Elm Cottage, although its water supply has likely been diminished by the road building immediately next to it. The well contains a carved slate inside it which confirms that you have found it but doesn't make it any easier to distinguish from any potholes along the edge of the road.

  17. Turn right onto the road and follow it downhill into Polperro until you reach a junction just before the sign for Lansallos Street.

    In the early 18th Century, a rift developed between the Cornish people and their Anglican clergy. Meanwhile in Oxford, the Wesley brothers began practising their rigorous holy lifestyle which was mockingly referred to as Methodism by their peers. The Wesley brothers arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and began preaching, bringing with them charismatic lay preachers who spoke in the dialect of the locals. Services were held in the cottages which was attractive to women who needed to look after young children, and in the many villages where the parish church was more than a mile away or at the top of a steep hill. A combination of these factors made Methodism very popular in Cornwall and through the late 18th and the 19th Century, many chapels were built (in the centre of the villages).

  18. Turn left over the bridge and follow the road on the other side to a junction. Turn left and follow the road up the hill to return to the car park. You can optionally cheat and catch the tram to the car park from Fore Street.

    Perhaps in part due to the very steep hills from Polperro to the churches of Lansallos or Talland, there was great enthusiasm for Methodism in Polperro. Polperro had a chapel for The Wesleyan Methodists, another for the Wesleyan Association, one for the Independents, and a final one for the Bible Christians. Perhaps in response to the competition, an Anglican chapel of ease to Talland Parish Church was built in the 19th Century and dedicated to St John.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

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