It takes something special to drag me away from North Cornwall, when I’m down there visiting family. It may be a gross generalisation, but the north coast has better beaches, better coastal walks and a more dramatic, rugged landscape with waves crashing against cliffs, whereas the south tends to have calmer waters and cute fishing villages. I enjoyed recent trips to Fowey and Polperro, so decided it was time to venture south again to Porthleven to discover what all the fuss is about.
You can’t get much further south than in vogue Porthleven – it’s only a couple of miles from the Lizard Peninsula, and is proud to be the most southerly working port in mainland Britain. Although it gets absolutely heaving with holidaymakers and day trippers in the summer months, I was there on a wet Monday in early-March, and had the harbour and the pay and display car-park almost to myself.
Porthleven’s photogenic 22-metre clocktower dominates the harbour with its red and white clock faces. It may look like a church, but it is part of the Institute Buildings, opened in 1884, and currently home to a snooker club. Contrary to what I said in the first paragraph, poor Porthleven can really get pummelled by storms, with huge waves crashing over the pier and battering the clocktower.
There is a red ball on a pole at the end of the pier, and when the ball is raised the pier is closed – it is that dangerous. I probably broke the law and risked my life to bring you some of these photos on what was a very wet and windy day. Porthleven is a rarity for South Cornwall, in that it is popular (and dangerous) for surfers – rather them than me. The area has also seen plenty of shipwrecks over the years. The twin cannons, below, guarding the entrance to the harbour were salvaged from the wreckage of the HMS Anson, who went down in 1808.
Walking to the other side of the harbour, you will see one of Porthleven’s newest and most famous faces. Rick Stein came to town in 2014, opening one of his seafood restaurants – a modern barometer for the affluence of a town’s tourists. Stein’s stops serving lunch far too early (14:30), so we settled for the nearby Harbour View Café (Mount Pleasant Road). Its ‘beer battered catch of the day and chips’ (it was haddock for us) fresh off the boat was bigger, nicer and cheaper than we’ve ever had at Stein’s in Padstow – highly recommended.
With bellies full of fish, the sun finally put in an appearance as we burnt off some calories by walking around the harbour and up the steep path, past the Ship Inn. From Easter to October, there is an outdoor artisan market in huts alongside the harbour selling local food, jewellery, clothes and crafts every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Our visit came too early for this, but it’s another reason to go back one day.
Before leaving Porthleven, we had time to wander around the art galleries and craft shops spread around Fore Street and Harbour Road. Kat spent far too much time and money in Stargazey on knick knacks for the house, while I browsed the homemade cakes to eat in or take away at the Twisted Currant (10 Fore Street). The thought of having my apricot and date slice for tea when I got home made the drive back up the A30 more tolerable.