Must-visit harbours in Cornwall
Cornwall's maritime legacy is intricately bound up in it's culture and there are many beautiful harbour towns and villages to visit dotted around the coastline. Here are just a few.
The historic harbour town of Looe keeps visitors entertained all year round and is still very much a working fishing port. The catch is still auctioned on the quayside early in the morning and you can pick up some fresh fish for yourself from the fishmongers nearby. At one time the railway continued all the way down the quayside, bringing copper and stone down from high on Bodmin Moor to be shipped out, and taking coal back up to fuel the mines. These days, apart from the fishing boats, it's the passenger ferries that cross from one side to the other that provide most of the action on the river that divides the two Looe's. Both are lined with a collection of narrow streets, restaurants and cafes serving delicious local produce. The Banjo Pier that sits at the harbour entrance is a tourist attraction in itself with the main town beach beside it.
St Ives is an award-winning holiday destination, home to Tate St Ives and countless other galleries. It offers a seemingly subtropical oasis where the beaches are golden and the quality of light is an inspiration for the artists. The picturesque harbour, which was once dependent on fishing, is now a must visit when holidaying in Cornwall, with a large expanse of golden sand when the tide is out. Sheltered by Smeaton’s Pier, the harbour and its beach are perfectly located in the centre of the town with fantastic shopping, restaurants, pubs and cafes at arms reach, plus the offer of boat trips to Seal Island and other places when tides permit.
Padstow harbour is a charming working fishing port surrounded by glorious sandy beaches at the head of the Camel River. Here, watching the everyday ebb and flow of harbour life, is a perfect way to spend an hour or two. Although the fishing fleet in Padstow harbour has decreased over the years, various types of fishing vessel still head out for a daily catch, that they sell on to the cafes, pubs and restaurants including the famous Rick Stein Restaurants that surround the harbour. To explore the coast around Padstow by boat, take one of the daily trips from Padstow Harbour or the ferry across to Rock on the otherside of the estuary.
Charlestown harbour was built in the 1700s by landowner Charles Rashleigh to export the copper, tin and China clay from the hills behind St Austell on the south coast of Cornwall. The original grade II listed harbour is split into two, separated by a lock gate which allows boats in and out of the two areas. The harbour has become a popular film set, showcasing its beauty in Poldark, The Three Musketeers, Doctor Who and most recently, the BAFTA winning Bait, to name a few. There are pebbly beaches either side where visitors can enjoy the rugged coastal views and paddle, and there are small gift shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs close by. The history of the port can be found in the Shipwreck Museum.
The picturesque fishing village of Boscastle with its medieval past and distinctive natural harbour is one of Cornwall’s most romantic places. It’s a village steeped in history, associated with authors and artists who have been inspired by its remoteness and rugged beauty. For fantastic coastal views take the left-hand path beside the harbour which leads to a slate platform where you can see the ‘Blowhole’ an hour before or after low tide, known as the Devil's Bellows. Carry on up the South West Coast Path as it climbs to the Coast Watch station at Willapark.
Popular for retaining its original character, charm and beauty, Mousehole harbour is situated within a tiny fishing village in West Cornwall. The harbour is surrounded by narrow streets and yellow lichened houses which huddle together creating a stunning location. Dotted around the harbour's winding lanes you’ll find galleries, gift shops, restaurants and The Ship Inn. In the lead up to Christmas, the harbour is illuminated with a wonderful display of lights.
In a town best known for its beaches, it's easy to ignore Newquay's harbour. It's still used by an assortment of coloured fishing boats that head out for their daily catch of crab and lobster. You can also enjoy an adventure on a sea safari from the harbour, seeing a view of the resort that you have never seen before, or simply sit back and relax on the harbour's small beach, looking out for seals.
Falmouth has the world's third largest deep-water harbour and is often visited by cruise ships and naval vessels. It is framed by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) along the Helford and Fal Rivers and the Roseland Peninsula to the east. The bay and adjoining rivers are renowned as one of the UK’s premier sailing destination with a bustling regatta each year. History abounds with tales of heroic maritime exploits and endeavours, from the days of the Packet ships bringing the mail from across the seas, to more recent around the world challenges. Today, as well as being a beautiful visitor destination, Falmouth is at the forefront of the region’s artistic and marine excellence and the National Maritime Museum on the waters edge is well worth a visit.
Fowey Harbour is situated on the south coast of Cornwall and is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the town hangs off the west side of the Fowey estuary where the large, deep water harbour is a magnet for the yachting crowd. As you walk the ever narrowing streets of the old town, where medieval and Georgian buildings cast shadows over each other, a vibrant maritime history comes to life, captured in the novels of Daphne duMaurier.
Described as a tiny, picturesque, traffic free harbourside village of old fisherman's cottages and sail lofts, Polperro is the perfect spot to perch and enjoy waterside views and indulge in a delicious crab sandwich from a local cafe. Popular with artists over the years, there are several galleries to peruse and a wealth of little shops to explore. A smuggling museum on the harbours edge tells the story of the village's hidden past.
A maze of lanes and steep valley sides lead down to the centre of old Mevagissey where the distinctive twin harbour provides a safe haven for the many fishing boats that land their daily catch. Sitting on the south coast of Cornwall, just 5 miles from St Austell, Mevagissey's attractions include a museum, aquarium and a model railway centre.
Best known for it's clock tower, that is often buffeted by waves when Atlantic storms hit Cornwall, Porthleven has made a name for itself in the last few years as a foodie destination. Restaurants and pubs encircle the inner harbour, catering for visitors and surfers who come here to experience the challanging waves. Construction of the harbour started during Napoleonic times and some sources state that it was built with the aid of French prisoners of war.
These are just a few of Cornwall's many harbours, there's plenty more to explore, check out our website for more info.