Cornwall is the ideal holiday spot for almost everyone. There are long, sandy, family-friendly beaches, wild moors, the raw industrial grandeur of engine houses, fabulous walking routes on the South-West Coast path, quaint rocky coves and more besides. So much more that one blog could not possibly do it justice so let's concentrate here on just one thing: some Cornish harbours.
Carrick Roads at the mouth of the River Fal is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, but it's the little stone quays enclosing tiny fishing harbours that give Cornwall its special appeal. Here are just a few.
Perhaps the most famous of them all is St Ives. It’s a stunning location, with glorious beaches, the broad sandy harbour, quaint streets and alleys - and world-class art galleries. Don’t miss the Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Budding and experienced surfers alike will love the blue-flagged Porthmeor beach, or head to Porthminster, Porthgwidden or Carbis Bay for more sheltered waters.
Further up the coast, Padstow is both a working fishing harbour and a haven for yachtsmen. The village wraps around three sides of the harbour with lots of bars and restaurants where visitors can watch the daily ebb and flo of harbour life. Foodies will be drawn to Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, but there are lots more choices to suit every pocket. It's a fairly short walk out along the Camel estuary, past the infamous Doom Bar to the Coastwatch station on Stepper Point where there are extensive views in both directions along the coast. A short trip on the ferry takes you across the Camel to Rock and then on to the sandy beach at Polzeath.
The harbour at Trevaunance Cove near St Agnes was a busy place in the 19th century, exporting copper from the local mines and bringing in coal from Wales to power the famous Cornish engine houses. The first harbour had been built in the 17th century but was quickly destroyed by the pounding winter surf of the Atlantic. A second attempt served no better but the third iteration survived until 1917 when it too succumbed. By then the Cornish mining industry was in terminal decline and the harbour walls were left to the not-so-tender mercy of the sea. Today the harbour is just a pile of rocks but some parts are still recognisable by their squared-off shapes. At low tide it's an interesting scramble over the stones towards the headland with a chance to explore some tunnels through the cliff at the end and a cleft in the rock where ore was extracted.
Cadgwith is a tiny fishing village forgotten by the 21st Century, located on the eastern side of the Lizard Peninsula. For the people who live there, it's a working fishing village, with boats being launched off the beach every day to go out fishing for crab, lobster, mackerel, shark and mullet. For the summer visitors, it's like a little piece of history that's been left behind. A stream winding down the valley and trickling over the sand and shingle beach, whitewashed cottages, mostly thatched, scattered on both slopes of the valley and the fishing boats drawn up on the beach. So relaxing, so peaceful; it doesn't get any better than this.
The distinctive twin harbours at Mevagissey provide a safe haven for the many fishing boats that land their daily catch of skate, lobster, plaice and sole. Like many places in Cornwall, the village derives its name from two Celtic saints largely unknown anywhere else, St Meva and St Issey. Mevagissey is another picture postcard village with plenty for the visitor: pubs, cafes, galleries and shops all clustered around the harbour walls and lining the pretty streets. For learning more about the area, Mevagissey has a museum, an aquarium and even a model railway.
One hundred years ago Mousehole was a bustling port landing pilchards by the ton, just as it had been since mediaeval times. Today it retains its old-world charm but now the narrow streets are filled with small shops, galleries and cafes. Local cottages built from finely grained Lamorna granite, huddle together around the inner edge of the harbour, and that harbour protects the village from the force of the sea with two substantial breakwaters. There's a strong community spirit in Mousehole, and the Christmas lights are a famous attraction each year. But on the 19 December the lights are extinguished as a memorial to the men of the Penlee lifeboat who perished on that day in 1981. Dylan Thomas and his wife honeymooned in Mousehole and he declared the village the "loveliest in England". There are more than a few Cornishmen who would dispute that this part can be called England, but would probably settle for the "loveliest in the world".
Yet another quaint old Cornish village is Polperro. The narrow streets of stone-built cottages are so narrow that cars are not permitted, and it's all the better for that. Like most other villages here, fishing was the staple industry for centuries, but that was not all. Cornwall is famous for its smugglers, and Polperro lay at the heart of that "industry". Smuggling had been around ever since there were import duties but it reached its zenith in the 18th century when wars with France and America took taxation to prohibitive levels. Given the protected position of the harbour it's hard to imagine that the harbour walls have been damaged or destroyed several times in recent centuries, each time causing the destruction of most of the boats within.
Coverack Cove is a gently curving bay with a tiny stone harbour tucked into the corner. Another village that once thrived on the pilchard shoals, Coverack is now a mecca for watersports, particularly windsurfing, sailing and diving. The Lizard peninsula provides the bay with safe shelter from the prevailing westerlies, while the Manacles rocks is the target for divers wanting to explore some of the wrecks that have come to grief there. The bay also provides a long sandy beach for quiet relaxation.
There are so many more Cornish harbours I could have mentioned, but any readers that are still with me are probably harboured-out by now, so Newquay, Portreath, Hayle, Sennen, Mullion, St Mawes and others will have to wait for another day.
For accommodation near any of the ports and harbours mentioned in this blog, try:
St Ives - The Lifeboat Inn
Padstow - Trewornan Manor
St Agnes - Beacon Country House Hotel
Cadgwith - The Bay Hotel
Mevagissey - Havener's
Mousehole - The Summer House
Polperro - Havener's
Coverack - The Bay Hotel
27 Feb 2023, 13:00