The Cornish fishing village of Polperro is invisible from seaward until you are in line with the narrow cleft in the cliffs.

The Cornish fishing village of Polperro is invisible from seaward until you are in line with the narrow cleft in the cliffs. Then, as you edge towards this famous cove, the neatly painted cottages come into focus, stacked on the hillside above the inner harbour. The overlapping jetties seem impenetrable, but then the gap opens up and you can glimpse inside to where the local boats dry out.

Polperro once specialised in fishing and smuggling, not necessarily in that order. Fishing remains, but smuggling has been replaced by seaside tourism that, although quite intense, is run at a bustling level which preserves the character of the village.

The Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing is well worth a visit, but one can only speculate about what the lingering ghosts of nefarious brandy runners would say about being the star attractions here.

Above half-tide, you can take the dinghy into the harbour and land at the fish quay near the harbourmaster’s office. The best time for wandering the crooked streets, mysterious steps and secret alleys to catch the local vibes of Polperro is in the evenings, when most visitors have retreated. The tiny River Pol meanders through the village, pursuing its ancient route between close-packed houses to emerge under a stone footbridge into the harbour.

As you lie at anchor during the day, holiday-makers stroll the harbour walls and laze on the beach, while youngsters enjoy traditional fun with shrimping nets, buckets and spades.

Local boats chug in and out, bearing visitors on the “half-hour trip along the coast ­ anyone else for the half-hour trip?” There always seems to be someone else willing to jump aboard, and the boats run a continuous procession inshore around Polperro.

The village has several pubs and restaurants, a general store, post office and a few banks. You also see numerous purveyors of the ubiquitous Cornish pasty.

The Blue Peter Inn, near the west jetty, is a sociable watering hole, shady in summer but a snug retreat when the nights draw in.

Anchored off Polperro, you can savour the nostalgic summer holiday atmosphere from just the right distance offshore. Up in the village, tourists jostle for postcards and ice creams under the midday sun, while you relax in a cool sea breeze to the languid wash of swell in the nooks and crannies of the cove.

Pilotage Notes

Use Admiralty Chart 148. Above half-tide, simply approach from the south-east, steering between Spy House Point on the starboard hand and prominent Peak Rock to port.

A miniature white lighthouse stands on Spy House Point. Keep clear of the Raney ledges, which jut well out from Peak Rock to the south-east, forming an invisible extension to the west side of the entrance.

Below half-tide, especially near low water, avoid the Polca Rock, an unmarked head with 1m over it. Either keep fairly close (but not too close) to the Spy House Point side if coming in from the south-east, or approach Peak Rock from due south and then curve between the Raney and the Polca before entering the cove.

In high season you have to anchor well out near the entrance of the cove, or use one of the moorings. In quiet weather or settled north-westerlies it’s quite safe to stay overnight so long as you show a riding light.

Distances
River Yealm 18 miles
Plymouth Sutton Harbour 36 miles
Cawsand Bay 15 miles
Fowey 6 miles