Walk 138: Polperro Village & Headlands…Pasty or Clotted Cream Fudge anyone?

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.7 miles (5.9km)

Time to walk: This is only a short walk, but there’s plenty to explore &, with a stop for food, it took us just over 3 hours. You could easily spend a whole day in & around the village

Difficulty: A mixture of hard paths & tracks walking. This is quite a hilly walk, although not challenging if you take your time. There are no stiles

Parking: In the sign-posted large public car park at the top of the village

Public toilets: Several public ones all round the village & many pubs / cafes etc

Map of the route:

We love Polperro, which means ‘Pyra’s Cove’. This large village & fishing harbour lies on the south Cornwall coast, 6 miles to the west of Looe. Given its picturesque location as a tourist destination, it can get extremely busy in the summer months. We visited in September, just out of the school holidays

As early as the 13th century Polperro was a recognised fishing settlement & for centuries the village was a pilchard & processing port. Fish are drawn to feeding off the South Cornwall coast in late summer bringing rich pickings for local fishermen. Once ashore, the fish were salted & pressed & the oil was collected as a by-product & used for heating & lighting

Polperro pilchards were exported throughout Europe. Shoals of these fish diminished in the 20th century & pilchard fishing died out as Polperro’s mainstay in the 1960s, however approximately twelve commercial fishing vessels still operate from the harbour catching flatfish, scallops, crabs, monkfish, ray, pollock, bass & cod

Tales abound of the village’s role in the smuggling industry & is understood to have prospered since Polperro first developed as a port. It reached its height in the late 18th century when Britain’s wars with America & France precipitated the high taxation of many imported goods, making it worthwhile for the local fishermen to boost their income by the covert importation of spirits, tobacco & other goods from Guernsey & elsewhere

By the late 18th century, much of the success of the smuggling trade through Polperro was controlled by Zephaniah Job (1749–1822), a local merchant who became known as the ‘Smugglers’ Banker’. A more organised Coast Guard service was introduced in the 19th century together with the deterrent of stiff penalties, leading to much less smuggling. Part of the South West Coast Path was originally used by Revenue Officers as they patrolled the coast in search of smugglers

The village is also home to the famous ‘Polperro Fishermans’ Choir‘ which can be seen singing on selected Wednesday evenings on the quay

It’s a stunning place & we’ll look at more of the village’s history as we explore its narrow streets…

Let’s Walk!

1. Park in the public car park at the top of the village. It’s very well signed. One tip is to pay for plenty of parking time, as the last thing you want to do is rush this walk without exploring everywhere

This small hamlet is actually Crumplehorn & completely separate from Polperro

If you don’t want to walk, it’s possible to get transport both ways on the attractive local bus…

2. Exiting the car park, walk straight across into the village. It’s hard to get lost as there’s only one road in & one road out. The large pub on the left called the Crumplehorn Inn was originally a mill & a farm

The mill dates back to the 13th century & the water wheel can still be seen on the left side of the building

The property was once the home of accountant, Zephaniah Job, known as the “Smugglers’ Banker”. Apparently Job issued his own bank notes! In Elizabethan times the Inn became a Counting House where goods that had been legally plundered from French & Spanish ships were divided up with The Crown

3. If you can hear gurgling, it’s because the street follows the course of a small river. The river Pol rises near the village of Pelynt & then flows through a steep valley before it finally reaches the harbour & flows into the sea

Now…we told you there were lots of public toilets throughout the village so, if the sound of the river has had an effect, there’s some just here on the left

4. The residents of Polperro are extremely proud of their village so you’re going to see many quaint, well-kept buildings & lots of floral displays. Continue down the hill…

The ‘chapel-looking’ building on the right was indeed once a chapel in 1877, but today is the impressive Ebenezer Gallery, which houses work from members of the East Cornwall Society of Artists Ltd, which was formed in 1946

The Society always has a summer-long, free exhibition & it’s well worth popping in to look at all the different types of displays

5. The road continues to narrow as it winds its way down towards the harbour…

We always tell people when they walk, to keep looking up & all around. There’s several interesting & colourful shop signs (see if you can spot the random cuckoo clock which we haven’t shown here!). The Cornish Maids Shop is one of the oldest in the village & has been making fudge for over 50 years. Not surprisingly, the Cornish Clotted Cream fudge is the most popular – WARNING!!!! This village could seriously damage your waistline

6. Because of its reputation as a tourist destination, the village has many holiday cottages etc to hire, something which the locals must have mixed feelings about. Some of them must be a delight to stay in…

Just past here, set back on the right’s another of the villages attractions…Polperro Model Village. The model village dates back to the 1940s & is a replica of where we’re exploring!

The street narrows further as it passes the Ship Inn, whose history is difficult to find, but it looks attractive & has a good menu

7. We warned you about food & have already succumbed to clotted cream fudge, so next up’s Polperro Bakery & look what’s in the window!!

It’s Pasties!!! The bakery gets excellent reviews for them, but forget your minty lamb, & cheese & bacon versions there’s only one pasty for us…the traditional!

8. On reaching the junction continue straight ahead up the hill…

This area’s known as ‘The Warren’ & most of the cottages date back to the 16th century. The name is said to come not from the narrow streets, but from the rabbit farming for food production that took place in medieval times. One of Polperro’s most famous houses is just round the corner…’The Shell House’

The Shell House is one of the most photographed houses in Polperro & dates from the mid 19th century. It was decorated with shells by Samuel Pucker who was a retired naval man using his lifetime’s collection of shells from around the world. He started work in 1937 & it took him five years to complete

9. At the junction, turn right & follow the signs to the harbour. Note the tea room on the right as we’ll come back here for a cuppa

Continue past the bridge, up the hill towards the museum…

You might be wondering why there’s a traffic jam of people looking over the wall in the above picture? It’s because this is where we get our first (of many) view of what most people come to Polperro for…the stunning harbour

10. Walk up the hill to arrive at Polperro Harbour Heritage Museum of Smuggling & Fishing which looks at what’s gone on in the village since the late 18th century. It’s housed in the old pilchard factory. It brings to life the story of this Cornish fishing village’s extraordinary history & many of the people who featured in it

There’s a small cafe attached to the museum where, for the prize of a coffee, you get one of the best views around…

11. It’s time for some exercise, so head straight up the steep hill at the side of the cliff…

The road (if you can call it that) bends right & then left where it opens out & clings to the edge of the cliff, which means superb views the higher it gets

If you do this walk you may be lucky to meet the “Guardian of the Hill” who was checking everyone had paid for their coffees at the Museum…

12. If you’ve paid & he’s let you pass, you can have a rest on one of the many benches on this stretch. The locals have been very kind as this is quite a steep hill, plus it gives you an excuse to take in the view…

Pass a rather unattractive metal cage which we weren’t too sure what it was used for. Looking at it from the other side of the harbour, it appears accessible by a walkway at low tide

13. The path continues to climb, passing Dina’s Gate…

…& though a hedge tunnel to arrive at “Roy’s Bench”. At this point the path splits & you can see the coastal path continuing up the hill ahead, the other side of which is the town of Looe

Our route though is sharp right down the edge of the cliff, back in the direction of Polperro…

14. After 50 yards the path arrives at a small lighthouse, roughly about 10 foot high. This current structure was built in 1911, replacing an earlier one built in 1904, however it was decommissioned in 1958. The light could be seen between 10 miles away

If you want to see the lighthouse up close, there’s a path down to the left. Our path though lies straight on to rejoin the coastal path we walked up previously. We’re now heading back down towards Polperro again

15. Follow the road back to the harbour & the bridge over the river. So we’re now roughly halfway through this walk &, if you fancy a cuppa & a slice of fabulous cake, we can highly recommend the House on the Props. Check out the cakes in the window…we can also recommend the BLT

Refreshed, continue cross the Roman Bridge to reach the other side of the harbour…

Roman Bridge isn’t Roman at all however, over the years, there’s probably been several several versions here that have probably been washed away by flood waters coming down into the harbour. This attractive one dates back to the late 19th century. By the time we had returned the tide had definitely gone out

16. Once across, walk left up the alley, past what probably is Polperro’s most famous & oldest ‘watering hole’, The Three Pilchards

We once spent Xmas in this area & had a great night with the locals, who were singing shanties & eating the famous “star-gazey pie”. The pub was built in the early 16th century although the website tells us that the origin of the name is uncertain…

“It Is Said That The Pub Itself Relates To The Rich Fishing History Of The Village And Harbour And ‘The Three Pilchards’ Derived From Three Pilchard Factories In The Village. Pilchards Were Caught In Abundance, And At The Time Brought A Lot Of Prosperity To The Village. Two Italian Brothers Settled In Polperro And Exported Pilchards To Their Home Country Of Italy. Some Locals Believe The Italian Brothers Inspired The Name Of The Pub; It Was Said That When The Brothers First Arrived, They Stayed At The Pub And Wanted To Try Pilchards From Each Of The Three Factories To Determine The Best Ones To Take Home.”

“Smuggling Is Also Part Of The Rich History Of Polperro’s Harbour. One The Three Pilchards’ Landlords, Charles Jolliff, In The 19th Century Was Rumoured To Have Sold Contraband Liquor Over The Bar Of The Three Pilchards. It Was Said That If Locals Saw His Mare Saddled Outside, Then It Was Likely He Would Have A New Shipment Of Smuggled Goods To Purchase Such As Tea, Gin, Brandy And Tobacco Across From The Channel Islands”

17. Just pass the Three Pilchards is another attractive pub, The Blue Peter Inn

Our path is just to the left side of it, a helpful “To the Cliff” sign is there to guide you in the right direction

18. Rather than just head up the cliff, why not walk round onto the breakwater &, if the tide’s out, go down the steps onto the shore & explore the cave

The famous cave is at the side of Polperro’s small sandy beach which is uncovered at low tide. Willy Wilcox was an 18th century smuggler who lived in a cottage on the cliff above the cave. There was reputedly a secret passage between the two. Wilcox apparently drowned in the cave while hiding from Customs officers, & his ghost is said to haunt it. So if you dare to venture inside…

19. Walk back up the steps & up towards the cliff. There’s a rather handily placed bench at the top if you need a rest

On reaching the top admire the views. the building down to your left’s the Net Loft which is owned by the National Trust. The building is believed to have been a Chapel. By the 14th century Polperro was a busy port, & the village fishermen became rich enough to build their own chapel in 1391, dedicated to St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen

The building reminds us, although a different shape, of the net lofts of Old Hastings & Whitstable

20. Take the path to the right along Chapel Cliff, which is National Trust property…

After roughly 20 yards the path splits. Ignore the one going to the right up the hill, instead keeping left along the cliff edge. Take a moment to stop & have a look back at the coastline & jagged rocks. There’s been many shipwrecks along this stretch of coast

21. Eventually the path passes below a large rock & climbs some steps to reach the coastal path once more…

On reaching the coastal path turn right & walk back in the direction of Polperro again. As you reach the bend the path splits once more. Turn left & carry on up the hill on the small grassy track…

22. Look for a small path to the right that passes through the small wood…

…where it eventually reaches another as it levels out & continues to a lane that passes some houses & their parking spaces

23. The path’s still high above the village so there are great views across the rooftops down to the harbour. That obviously means one thing, it’s all downhill from now on. At the junction with the road turn right & start the descent…

Be careful walking down the hill as the road’s narrow & there’s no footpath

24. At the junction turn left over the bridge into an area called ‘Big Green’ where you can sit on one of the benches & tuck into your hard-earned pasty

In the square you’ll find ‘Nelsons’ restaurant which had an unusual advert in its window…

Walk to the end of  ‘Big Green’ & turn left to rejoin the road that goes all the way back up the hill to reach the car park once more. Or, if you want to, you could always catch the bus

We’ve been to Polperro several times, but have always just stayed within the village itself. This walk really shows you different aspects of it & the role this tiny village plays in the harsh, but beautiful environment it sits. The history side is well worth exploring further &, if you are in the area at Xmas, please visit The Three Pilchards

It’s simply lovely so…

Go Walk!