There is something fascinating about a harbour. What is so captivating about these seaside towns? Is it the romantic notion of seeking out far seas, or of childhood memories of crabbing, or simply the bustle of these busy places? Is it the way they are constantly changing due to the mood of the sea or the time of the tide?
There are a lot of harbours in our coastal county. From tiny Mullion Cove on The Lizard to Falmouth Docks, the largest ship-repair centre in the UK, there are a plethora of different ports to explore. Here are a few of our favourites.
The town of pilchards and Pears Soap (Andrew Pears was a local boy), Mevagissey is only five miles from The Cornwall. Mevagissey has everything you could possibly want from a Cornish harbour town: fishing boats, interesting little streets, lots of places to eat and drink, a song by The Wurzels…
Take a fishing trip from the harbour – or perhaps catch the passenger ferry over to Fowey…
Fowey (pronounced “Foy”) is best known for its annual literary festival, which was inspired by the legacy of local author, Daphne du Maurier. Its natural harbour makes it a commercially successful port; however it remains a picturesque little town with wonderful, winding little streets to explore.
There is a fine selection of galleries, places to eat, and high-end shops (Fowey is no bucket-and-spade resort…). To really appreciate the harbour, take the ferry service across the water to pretty Polruan.
Before Charlestown was developed, boats for nearby St Austell had to dock on the beach. Charles Rashleigh began constructing a harbour in 1791 – and the fishing hamlet of West Polmear grew rapidly. Renamed for its founder, Charlestown originally served the copper industry, and later became the port for St Austell’s thriving china clay trade.
The unspoilt eighteenth-century harbour is the perfect location for films and dramas requiring harbour scenes – and recently played Truro harbour in BBC’s Poldark.
Visit the Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre to find out more about this unique little town. (And don’t forget to stand on the quayside, gazing moodily towards the horizon, pretending to be Ross Poldark.)
Newlyn and Mousehole
If you want to visit a real working fishing harbour, Newlyn is one of the best places to go. One of the largest fishing ports in the UK, Newlyn is no tourist-trap, but a place of real integrity and genuine Cornish character.
Newlyn was home to the Newlyn School of artists from the 1880s onwards. The subject of fishermen and their lives fascinated these artists; you can find out more about the School and its work at Penlee Gallery in nearby Penzance.
A bit further west from Newlyn is gorgeous little Mousehole. Named after the tiny gap in its harbour, protecting the boats from the seas of Mount’s Bay, Mousehole has some of the prettiest little streets of any village in Cornwall. Two main things to know: it’s pronounced “Mowzal”; and never attempt to drive through it.
In December, Mousehole, which has quietened down since August, leaps back into life with its famous Christmas lights. Newlyn also has some fantastic Christmas lights – please don’t just pass through it on the way to the Mousehole lights, but stop to admire the winking mermaid and other creative illuminations.
Padstow, or “Padstein”, is best known these days for its association with celebrity chef Rick Stein, and the associated fantastic eateries. Of course, it sells great fish because it catches them; and Padstow has a great harbour to explore.
There’s a good walk from the harbour along the coast towards the “Doom Bar”. This sand bar at the entrance to the Camel Estuary has been the cause of many a floundering vessel. It’s said that it was created by the dying curse of a mermaid, shot by a local man. Still, it’s a lovely walk; and “Doom Bar” is a great pint, brewed by Sharp’s Brewery in Rock.
Rock itself is worth a visit. Take the Black Tor Ferry across from Padstow, and get stunning views of both sides of the estuary, and towards the Doom Bar and sea. For something different, visit the National Lobster Hatchery, which does great conservation work.
It’s hard to believe that quiet little Polperro was once a hotbed of smugglers… Home to “The Smugglers’ Banker”, Zephaniah Job, much of Cornwall’s eighteenth-century smuggling trade passed through this fishing village. Find out more at the Polperro Heritage Museum of Fishing and Smuggling.
These days, Polperro’s income comes mainly through tourism, as it’s one of Cornwall’s most unspoilt harbours. There are some fascinating old fisherman’s houses here, right down at the water’s edge, which cling like limpets to the land. Walk round to Lansallos Cove, accessible only on foot, and the perfect smugglers’ haunt…
Coverack is on the east side of The Lizard Peninsula, with an attractive small harbour built from the local green serpentine rock. The harbour provides shelter from the dreaded Manacle Rocks, just off the coast of The Lizard. The site of many a shipwreck, the Manacles are now a popular diving spot, for obvious reasons. Coverack also has a nice, sheltered beach, ideal for swimming.
While you’re on the Lizard, other lovely coastal spots include Mullion Cove, postcard-pretty Cadgwith, and the famous Lizard Lighthouse.
That’s just a selection of Cornish harbours. Apologies to St Ives, Port Isaac, Penzance, Falmouth, Newquay, and many other wonderful harbour towns and villages across Cornwall. There simply isn’t room to sing praises for all of you, although you all deserve it!
Everyone has their own favourite harbour. Spend some time this autumn finding yours.