Talland Bay to Polperro

A circular walk between Talland Bay and Polperro along an area of coastline so famous for smuggling that there is even a museum on the subject.

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The walk starts at Talland Bay and follows the coast path around Talland Hill above a series of small coves tucked under the cliffs. The route departs from the coast path to follow Reuben's Walk past the lighthouse and then enter Polperro through The Warren. From the centre of the village, the route returns over Talland Hill with spectacular views of Talland Bay on the final descent. The walk can alternatively be started from Polperro by climbing Talland Hill.

Reviews

Love that walk, we do it every year.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 107
  • Distance: 2.5 miles/3.9 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Talland Bay Beach Café
  • Parking: Beach café car park (or along road in winter) PL132JA. A short distance towards Polperro from where the A387 meets the B3359 in Barcelona, take the lane signposted to Talland. Follow the road to the bottom of the hill. The turning to the café is on the right but park along the road in winter as the car park is blocked with bollards out of season.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots; trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Sandy beach at Talland Bay
  • Secluded Lekerok Cove which is sandy at low tide
  • Views of Polperro Harbour and surrounding coastline
  • Tidal swimming pool (on calm summer days)
  • Views over Polperro and Talland Bay

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Blue Peter Inn
  • The Millhouse Inn
  • The Noughts and Crosses
  • The Ship Inn
  • The Three Pilchards

Directions

  1. If you're parked on the road then make your way into the Beach café car park (signposted with a coast path sign for Polperro). Follow the tarmac past the café and behind the beach to reach an area of tarmac in front of Kiln Cottage.

    The place name Talland is from the Cornish words tal (meaning "brow") and lan (meaning "church site" or "monastic enclosure") so this is generally thought to mean something like "the holy place on the brow of the hill". A Celtic Missionary, known as St Tallanus, is said to have erected a holy altar where the altar of the current church now stands.

  2. Take the path to the left. Follow the steep path uphill until you reach some steps on the left just before a wall and fence on the right.

    As you might have guessed, Kiln Cottage is built on the site of a lime kiln.

    Internally, a lime kiln consisted of a conical stone or brick-lined chamber which was loaded from the top with alternating layers of limestone and carbon-rich fuel such as charcoal, peat or coal. At the side of the kiln was an alcove known as an "eye" which was used to access the kiln and remove the quicklime from a hole at the bottom of the chamber. The kiln was often run continuously with more layers of fuel and limestone added to the top as the previous layers worked their way down through the kiln. Air was drawn in through the bottom of the kiln and heated up as it passed through the quicklime (also cooling the quicklime) before it reached the level where combustion was taking place.

  3. Go up the steps on the left and follow the path to pass through a wooden fence. Continue on the path to emerge on an area of tarmac with a gravel path leading ahead between fences.

    In 1922 the French Trawler "Marguerite" lost her bearings and went aground in a southwesterly gale. The boat was equipped with a radio and sent an SOS signal saying it had run aground on Eddystone Reef. The Looe lifeboat was launched and began the long row out to Eddystone. In fact the trawler was so far off course that it was on the rocks of Talland Bay, but the crew could not see the land through the thick drizzly mist. About half an hour later the trawler was spotted and a motorised fishing boat was sent to tow the lifeboat back to Talland Bay. Once in Talland Bay, the lifeboat was released. By now, the trawler was up on the rocks with a huge sea breaking over her. The coxwain of the lifeboat used the lifeboat's anchor in the marine equivalent of a "handbrake turn" to keep the lifeboat afloat whilst bringing it alongside the trawler on the rocks and was able to rescue all 21 of the crew.

    It is said that as the tide receded, the locals thought it a shame that the 50 tonnes of fish aboard the ship might go to waste and despite a guard being placed on the shore to protect the property, managed to creep in from the seaward side without the guard noticing. However, when they arrived, they found that the boat's acetylene lamps had spilled their calcium carbide (used to generate the actylene) into the fish hold, contaminating the fish. In fact, the heat generated by carbide reacting with the water on the wet fish may have cooked them.

  4. Follow the gravel path and continue on the tarmac until you reach the entrance to West Cliff Old Court.

    West Cliff Old Court is a 6 bedroom Edwardian house with landscaped gardens built in 1911. Due to the remote location, it is not connected to mains water so the water supply comes from a spring fed by water draining from Talland Hill. It's a private property and not open to the public.

  5. Bear left onto the waymarked path and follow this to reach a flight of steps descending to the left with two grey metal posts either side of the main path.

    During winter, from November to March, winter heliotrope is visible along the edges of roads and paths as carpets of rounded heart-shaped leaves. The name is Greek for "sun direction" because the flowers turn to follow the winter sun.

    Winter heliotrope produces spikes with pale pink scented flowers in December and January. The scent resembles marzipan i.e. almond and vanilla.

    The leaf shape is similar to its close relative butterbur, but the leaf edges are more rounded than butterbur and the leaves are evergreen whereas butterbur puts up flowers before it has any leaves. Both plants spread via rhizomes (underground stems) and their broad leaves can crowd out other plants making them potentially invasive.

  6. The steps lead down to Lekerok Cove. Continue ahead on the coast path to reach the war memorial.

    The memorial was created to commemorate the local men who died in the First World War. It has been added to for the Second World War, and the Falklands War.

    During the First World War nearly 10,000,000 military personnel and over 10,000,000 civilians were killed. A further 23 million people were injured. In addition, over 8,000,000 horses, mules and donkeys and more than 1,000,000 dogs lost their lives. The sixteen million animals that served in World War 1 are commemorated with purple poppies.

  7. Continue from the war memorial on the coast path to reach a junction of paths.

    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.

  8. At the junction, bear left on to the path leading downhill. Follow this past a flight of steps leading up to the right to where a path departs to the left opposite Roy's bench.

    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.

  9. Go down the steps on the left 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.

  10. Follow the left-hand path to a junction with the path leading down to the lighthouse. Continue ahead from this to pass a sign for Reuben's Walk and rejoin the coast path.

    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.

  11. When the path meets the coast path, turn left and follow the path downhill into Polperro through The Warren to pass the museum and reach the bridge over the river opposite Bridgend House.

    The Warren is said to take its name from the rabbit farming that took place for meat here in mediaeval times although it is an equally fitting description of the narrow street.

  12. You can optionally nip across the bridge to explore the other side of Polperro and return here to continue on the route. Follow the lane ahead to reach a junction with a sign for Talland Street.

    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.

  13. The return route is up Talland Hill to the right. First, you might want to explore Polperro a bit more and rest yourself for the climb up the hill. Follow Talland Hill upwards until you eventually reach a junction on the right just after a school sign.

    Kirk House at the bottom of Talland Hill was still in use as the Sion Central Church until the 1950s. It was built as an overflow for the main Methodist Central Church on Fore Street. At the end of the 20th Century it was purchased as a holiday home by actor Kris Marshall (who appeared in "Love Actually" and "Death in Paradise"). He allowed the band Republica to use it as a recording studio to create their single "Christiana Obey".

  14. Turn right and join the pavement on the left. Cross over Brentwartha, pass the school and cross to the pavement on the right after the football ground. Continue a short distance further after the pavement ends to reach a junction with a Village Centre sign.

    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.

  15. Keep right at the junction to take the no-through road (Sand Hill). Follow the road towards Talland Bay until it ends at West Cliff Old Court.

    Two pairs of towers, known as "measured mile markers", are set exactly one nautical mile apart and are used by ships to calculate their speed. The ship sets a steady course on a bearing perpendicular to the markers. When the two markers align, the time is noted and again at the second pair of markers. The ship then turns around and repeats the process in the opposite direction and the average of the two values is taken. Now that ships have GPS, this can be used to measure speed, but the markers are still used by some ships coming out of refit at Devonport. At night, the marker towers are illuminated so they can be seen from the sea.

  16. Continue on the narrow lane leading downhill ahead and join the path at the end of this. Follow the path downhill to return to the area outside Kiln Cottage and retrace your steps back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    Talland Bay was used in one of the largest smuggling operations of the 20th Century. In 1979, police found 1.5 tonnes of Morrocan Gold cannabis wrapped in Christmas paper and hidden in a secret underground store beneath the café's counter. In all, 30 tonnes - with a street value of over £100 million at today's prices - had been imported by the smuggling gang using a converted fishing boat. The owner of the café was jailed and only legal herbs are now used by the café's new owners.

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

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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