The traditional fishing village of Polperro, set along the dramatic South Cornish coastline between Looe and Fowey, is steeped in maritime history. Wandering its pretty, narrow, winding streets offers a nostalgic taste of times gone by.
For centuries local families here were reliant on “Polperro pilchards” which were sold right across Europe. Nowadays, there is still an active fishing fleet but their catch is more varied. You can sample their wares in a number of local restaurants, pubs and cafes, or simply sit back and watch the fishermen at work in the harbour as you tuck into a fresh crab sandwich.
Polperro has an abundance of small, twisting lanes, most of which are simply not wide enough for modern vehicles. Some are little wider than footpaths, so leave your car in the main car park at Crumplehorn and from here you can walk, catch the bus or even take a horse and cart the half mile down into the village. The traffic-free zones allow you to explore the winding alleys of whitewashed fishermen’s cottages at your leisure.
It’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of people with loaded horse & carts rumbling past during Polperro’s smuggling heyday, or the scores of ladies lining the streets nimbly knitting fishermen’s jumpers, known locally as “knit-frocks”. On the harbour-side you can visit the Polperro Heritage Museum of Fishing and Smuggling to immerse yourself more fully in Polperro’s rich history.
The village and harbour are best seen at high tide, but at low tide, a small beach appears so it’s possible to go for a paddle. The picturesque South West Coast Path runs right through the Polperro. If you walk east along the coast you’ll reach the beautiful Talland Bay, or alternatively hop in your car to visit other nearby sandy beaches including Seaton, Downderry, Lansallos and Lantic Bay. Regular boat trips run from the harbour offering fantastic views of the coastline and day trips to nearby Looe, and you might even spot dolphins and seals on your way!
A holiday cottage in the Polperro offers a wonderfully traditional seaside escape on the dramatic South East Cornish coast.
An utterly charming day out for the family, Polperro Model Village and Land of Legend is two attractions in one. The village is, quite literally, the coastal town in miniature and has been around for more than 60 years, surviving both fire and floods – so don’t underestimate the strength of these little guys. Meanwhile, Land of Legend is your chance to explore Cornish folklore, derived from tales of pirates and smugglers who thrived in and around Cornwall from the early modern period through to the 19th century. It is a unique show of lights, sound and animation. The site also houses a model railway, and prices are £3 for adults and £2 for children, open daily from Easter to October.
In The Warren overlooking the harbour, the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing houses a collection of exhibits and 19th century photographs that date back to a time when both smuggling and fishing thrived in Polperro. It brings to life the little village’s beautiful history and the lives of the people who lived there, having depended on fishing for generations and been home to no less than three factories close by at one point. A delightful opportunity for children and adults alike to learn about local history in this little Cornish village, entry is £1.75 for adults and 50p for children.
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This museum is packed with interesting facts and some great photos, so even though small we spent a good hour there. Definitely worth a visit to learn more on the local history (including about the more recent floods and storms), fishy facts and smuggling tales!
On an island just off the coast of Looe, the aptly named Looe Island Nature Reserve is brimming with marine wildlife. The island provides a variety of habitats including woodland, maritime, grassland, sand, shingle and rocky reef, and is part of the Whitsand and Looe Bay Marine Conservation Zone. Trips run from Easter until around the end of September, although all visits are weather and tide dependent. The crossing via a passenger boat named Moonraker takes 20 minutes and you will then have about two hours to explore. The return boat fee is £7 per adult and £5 per child, and then there’s a landing fee of £4 per adult and £1 per child. You can then book guided walks online in advance, which are £25 including the boat and landing fee. What makes the island so beautiful is its ruggedness and as such there are not any cafes or refreshments available, and dogs are not permitted. However, there is a compost toilet should you need it.
A proper Cornish pub with something for everyone - hearty dishes and a great selection of drinks, including local cask ales. In the summer, this can all be enjoyed in the beer garden and, when the weather isn’t quite up to it, by the cosy log fire.
The Ship Inn, Fore St, Polperro, Looe PL13 2QR (T: 01503 272453)
Been a regular visitor since the restaurant opened, every year in fact. Best place for relaxing atmosphere,fine food and a sense of occasion. Best way to end a week in Polperro. Good value and a great chef/owner.
Excellent on both visits, good ingredients well cooked and presented
Enjoy superb English breakfasts, light lunches, afternoon teas and dinner in a cosy, nautical environment. The menus consist of a wide range of locally sourced produce and fresh fish specials created using what’s landed that day.
The House on the Props, Talland Street, Polperro, Looe, Cornwall PL13 2RE (T: 01503 272310)
In South East Cornwall, Polperro is widely thought to be one of the area’s most picturesque fishing villages. Brimming with whitewashed cottages all the way down the harbour, the beach sits in a sheltered position under the cliffs, only visible at low tide and close to the harbour. Unsurprisingly, it’s a popular destination and can get busy in the summer months. Dogs are not permitted at the beach during peak season, from Easter to October, and while parking in the village itself is all but impossible, but there’s a large car park about a mile up the valley with a regular shuttle service going up and down the hill.
A small, quiet beach between Looe and Polperro, Talland Bay actually comprises two beaches, one of which has sand both at low and high tide and is good for swimming all the time, while the other is less sandy and is easiest to swim from at high tide. There is a ramp for launching boats from the main beach and there are lots of small coves and tidal pools to swim in as well, so it’s a delightful area to explore in the water. Parking is limited, but there is a small, free car park by the beach and paid parking at The Beach Café, all of which provide easy access to the sand. Thanks to the nearby café, visitors can also benefit from the accompanying facilities, on-site shop, and tuck into Roskillys Cornish Ice-Cream as well.
In East Looe, the beach sits directly in front of the old town, sheltered by the Banjo Pier and overlooked from the east by the hillside of Mount Ararat. A good family beach that has something for everyone, at low tide the sandy location is safe for swimming although it’s recommended you steer clear of the river mouth beyond the pier. The beach backs on to a seafront walkway which runs its length all the way to Second Beach to the east, where it tends to be less busy and it’s good for snorkeling. As it’s in the centre of the town there are lots of facilities and cafes nearby, but in the summer it’s a very popular spot and parking can be tricky, with traffic prohibited during these months, so be prepared for a bit of a walk.
Between Polruan and Polperro along the coastal path, Lantivet Bay is only accessible at low tide when a sand and pebble beach is revealed. Parking is in the National Trust car park at Polruan, where there are toilets as well, but there aren’t any facilities closer to the beach itself. Dogs are allowed all year round, which is lovely as it’s the perfect beach to incorporate into a walk. The National Trust recommends a charming circular route, starting in the car park and taking in 2.4 miles of beautiful bays and surrounding landscape, and giving you the chance to explore the area with its rich smuggling heritage.
Half a mile west of Looe, stretching along the coast, Hannafore Beach is a sandy, shingle bay with a rocky reef and views of St George’s Island. At low tide it’s brimming with rock pools, making it fun and games for the whole family to enjoy, and it’s a wonderful sun trap in summer months thanks to its south east facing position. Because of its location over the river, the beach never really becomes too busy, but equally there aren’t any facilities nearby. It’s popular with dog walkers as it’s amongst the few dog-friendly beaches in the area, and having explored you can extend your excursion to a stroll along the promenade or a potter around the coast path to the wonderfully scenic Talland Bay. There is roadside parking along the sea front above the beach, but it can be difficult to find a space. Alternatively, there is a large car park in West Looe, around 10 minutes away on foot.