Polperro, Cornwall | A Guide

Polperro-Cornwall-Harbour

Visiting Polperro, a picture perfect Cornish fishing village, is like stepping back in time! The village is wedged between cliffs on the South Cornwall Heritage Coast and packed with ancient fishermen’s cottages. Polperro’s streets are so narrow that no cars are allowed! With it’s unspoiled architecture, charming harbour, ruggedly beautiful coastline, and sleepy feel you’d never guess that this little village had such a criminal past!

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The steep ravine shelters Polperro and its jumble of tightly-packed fisherman’s cottages from the tide. The cottages were built to store gear and pilchard catches on the lower level, with a loft space above where they’d rest.  
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When you walk these winding streets you’re following the same route that the fishermen would have done, with their wheelbarrows full of fish. But when night fell, they had slightly different agendas. They would sneak around under the cover of darkness to move illegally smuggled brandy and tobacco to their hideouts. This adorable little coastal village used to be full of smugglers!  
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This is the cave where they’d sometimes hide their loot, accessible at low tide.  
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History of Polperro

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Polperro has been a fishing settlement since 1303 but there’s evidence that smugglers flourished there in the 12th century. Smuggling reached it’s height in the 18th century when Britain was at war with America and France. The wars led to high import taxes making it well worth the smugglers time to sneak the goods in instead. However, in the 19th century, the Coast Guard introduced harsh penalties for smuggling which massively reduced the problem. You can walk along the South West Coast Path which is the route the revenue officers used to patrol to catch smugglers, or to dig deeper into the stories, visit the smuggling museum.

What to do in Polperro

Chill

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With its protected harbour full of colourful boats, you could easily spend the day relaxing, eating the freshest fish and taking in the view.

Go Fish

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Polperro is still a working fishing village, so if you fancy channelling your inner angler you can book a fishing trip or leisurely boat ride from the quayside.

Walk

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If you’re a landlubber, take the coastal path to explore the secluded smuggling coves of Talland to the East and Lantivet Bay to the West (both have beaches to cool off in when you arrive). The coastal path stretches for 80 miles along the heritage coast so there’s several days worth of walks there if you fancy.

Get Historical

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Visit Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling & Fishing to find out more about this village’s past.

Shop

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Wander around the shops nestled in the narrow, windy lanes selling souvenirs, art, jewellery, baked goods and everyday bits. We bought a vintage style metal London Underground sign with the name of the station where we live from the lovely lady at this shop. Of all of the things we could have found in deepest Cornwall! 😂

Hit the Beach

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Polperro has a small (I mean small!) sandy beach which appears only at low tide just past the main breakwater. The beach is in front of Willy Wilcox cave which is where the smugglers used to stash their swag back in the day. There are some bigger beaches a short drive away.

Wander along the Clifftops

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Take a wander out to the cliffs beyond the sea wall. From this relaxing spot you get a totally different view of the village, and can watch the comings and goings of the boats in the harbour.  
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Visit The National Trust’s Net Loft

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By the 14th century, Polperro was a busy port and the villagers became wealthy enough to build their own chapel. It was completed in 1391 and dedicated to St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. The chapel was originally built on Chapel Point above the harbour but was moved about 200 years ago to Peak Rock where it stands today.

It’s called the Net Loft as more recently, before it was abandoned, the top floor was used for storing sails and fishing nets. The ground floor was used for building boats. Rumour has it that it might have once served as a lighthouse, because of its ideal position out on the rocks. It’s been battered by bad weather and stormy seas in recent winters but has been restored by the National Trust. In fact, they’re looking for suggestions on how to use it, so drop them a message if you have any ideas!

Eating in Polperro

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The Crumpehorn Inn and Mill dates back to the 14th century and is recorded in the domesday book. It has a restored water wheel which used to power the mill, and large menu including vegan, coeliac and gluten free options. There are lots of casual dining places you can stop into but definitely check their serving times and whether you need to book as they’re not open as late as you may be used to and can get quite busy.

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When to visit Polperro

  • The village is small and gets rather busy on Summer weekends, so try to go in Spring, Autumn or on weekdays instead. It’s not the end of the world to go on a Summer weekend but don’t expect to have the place all to yourselves!
  • Stick around long enough to see the village at both high and low tide as the character changes a lot. Some people say it’s best seen at high tide so if you’re short on time aim for that. However, I personally liked walking on the sand around large beached boats and seeing the village from a different perspective at low tide.
  • The Polperro Festival is held annually on the 3rd Saturday of June. It’s a community festival that has been run by volunteers since 1996 and includes live music, arts and crafts.

What to know about Polperro

  • You can’t drive your car into the village but there is a pay and display car park nearby. It’s a delightful and easy 10 minute walk from the harbour. Alternatively, there is a “tram” that will take you there and back for a small charge.
  • Particularly during the off peak season, many places close after lunch and don’t serve food again until dinner time. This is something we weren’t aware of! With no energy left, we waited it out on a bench overlooking the harbour with our tummies rumbling until the fish and chips started flowing again. During the peak season, it’s worth calling ahead to book a table.
  • There is minimal phone reception in Polperro. And I mean minimal – occasionally-one-bar-if-you-lean-out-of-the-window-at-a-43.5-degree-angle – sort of minimal. Hello digital detox!

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9 Comments

  1. Kathleen
    August 8, 2018 / 2:02 am

    Wonderful detailed post. Looks like an amazing place.

    • August 9, 2018 / 3:08 pm

      Thank you Kathleen! We stumbled upon it by accident en route to a wedding venue viewing and just thought it was delightful! 🙂

  2. August 7, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    This is so close to me but I’ve never been! You’ve just made me want to though with those beautiful images! Thanks!!

    • August 9, 2018 / 3:13 pm

      Ah no way!! You’re so lucky to live in that neck of the woods! It’s a great little spot <3

  3. mflick1942
    August 7, 2018 / 1:23 pm

    What a great place! I have never heard of it, but I want to go!

    • August 9, 2018 / 3:14 pm

      Yes! Go go! I’m loving discovering these lesser known places around the UK – it really feels like you’re in a European seaside village rather than a few hours from London!

    • August 9, 2018 / 3:16 pm

      Thanks lovely, it really was! I think I liked it more knowing that lots of cheeky smugglers used to live here – I’m basically imagining Captain Jack Sparrow wandering around with his bottle of rum!

  4. Tony Hackett
    July 17, 2018 / 10:43 am

    What an interesting and beautiful place! xx

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