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Polperro Harbour

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Overview





Polperro is a small fishing harbour on the south coast of England that lies about midway between Fowey and Looe. It offers medium-sized vessels the possibility of drying within the inner harbour or mooring afloat in its approaches.

The narrow inlet provides a tolerable berth in very settled conditions or in offshore winds from west through north to northeast. Attentive navigation is required for access as the inlet is fringed by dangerous rocks on either side. Although lit at night it is best approached by newcomers in good conditions during daylight. The harbour is dangerous to approach during southerly or south-easterly conditions.



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Keyfacts for Polperro Harbour
Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the area


Nature
Berth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierNote: can get overwhelmed by visiting boats during peak periodsNote: harbour fees may be charged

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
February 20th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the area


Nature
Berth alongside a deep water pier or raft up to other vesselsVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierNote: can get overwhelmed by visiting boats during peak periodsNote: harbour fees may be charged



Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 19.867' N, 004° 30.960' W

This is the head of West Pier where a light on a post is exhibited, F.W or R. 4m 4M.

What is the initial fix?

The following Polperro Harbour Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 19.744' N, 004° 30.725' W
The is 400 metres out from the entrance on the alignment of 310° T of the south face of East Pier with the east face of West Pier behind leads through the drying ledges that fringe each side of the inlet.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location

  • Give Downend Point a wide berth as it has foul ground out to 200 metres from the shore.

  • From about 400 metres southeastward of Polperro, align the south face of East Pier with the east face of West Pier to create the safe approach alignment of 310° T.

  • Proceed in on transit keeping an eye on the sounder to the moorings, that are on transit or the harbour entrance.



Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Polperro Harbour for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Looe Harbour - 1.7 miles ENE
  2. Fowey - 2.8 miles W
  3. Polkerris - 4 miles W
  4. Par - 4.4 miles W
  5. Charlestown - 5.7 miles W
  6. Mevagissey - 6.7 miles WSW
  7. Portmellon - 6.8 miles WSW
  8. Gorran Haven - 7.3 miles WSW
  9. River Tamar & Tributaries - 8.3 miles E
  10. Plymouth Harbour - 9.2 miles E
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Looe Harbour - 1.7 miles ENE
  2. Fowey - 2.8 miles W
  3. Polkerris - 4 miles W
  4. Par - 4.4 miles W
  5. Charlestown - 5.7 miles W
  6. Mevagissey - 6.7 miles WSW
  7. Portmellon - 6.8 miles WSW
  8. Gorran Haven - 7.3 miles WSW
  9. River Tamar & Tributaries - 8.3 miles E
  10. Plymouth Harbour - 9.2 miles E
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Chart
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What's the story here?
Polperro Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Polperro is a large village and fishing harbour situated ⅓ of a mile west of Downend Point and 1 mile eastward of Nealand Point. It has a small tidal harbour that is set into a narrow inlet protected by two piers. The West Pier extends from the southwestern shore to provide a protecting arm for the inner harbour area. The smaller East Pier projects a short distance from the north shore, about 50 metres outside of the entrance to the inner harbour, to protect the entrance.

The entrance to the inner harbour is about 10 metres wide and has a storm gate that is closed during bad weather. A black ball is showed from the head of the West Pier when the harbour is closed and a red light is exhibited on the pierhead. The harbour is used by fishing vessels and leisure craft but, being exceptionally pretty, is a major tourist attraction during the summer.

Storm gate and red light that is lit when it is closed
Image: Michael Harpur


Polperro's inner harbour dries to about 2.3 metres with its sands drying out through the entrance to the head of the East Pier at the lowest tides. Beyond this, the depths gradually increase to 3.8 metres.

In the approaches, there are 2 sets of mooring buoys where 1.8 metres LAT will be found. Swing space is narrow and a vessel of any size should moor fore and aft using two moorings. The small harbour also has space alongside the East Quay for a couple of visiting boats of up to 10 metres LOA that can take to the bottom. It has depths of 3.4 metres at HWS, 1.5 metres at HWN but dries to 2 metres on the East Quay.

Contact the Harbourmaster for availability and advice P: +44 1503 272423, VHF Channel 10, E: blackmore@polperroharbour.freeserve.co.uk.


How to get in?
Polperro's entrance between Peak Rock and Spy House Point
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Start Point to Lizard Point Route location for seaward approaches. Vessels approaching from the southeast should give Downend Point a wide berth as it is foul with rocks that extend out 200 metres offshore. A prominent granite war memorial near the summit of the point stands out conspicuously. It should be noted that Downend Shoals also lie 400 metres southward of the headland. With a least depth of 2.6 metres over them, they should be passed well to seaward if there is any sea running.


Spy House Point with the foul ground of Downend Point in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur



Nestled between cliffs and in a narrow cut, Polperro Harbour can be difficult to distinguish from seaward. The best seamark for its location is a white pillar lighthouse that stands 3 metres high on Spy House Point. At night it shows a light Iso. WR.6s30m7M with a white sector from 288° to 60° to
clear the dangers west and east of Polperro Harbour. Standing a ⅓ mile west of the Downend Point monument, and close east of the inlet it makes the position of the harbour unmistakable.

Once the light has been identified, Peak Rock, a ragged pyramid shaped boulder extending from the west and fronting the inlet, should become obvious. On closer approaches, from a south-eastward direction, the V-shaped cleft in the cliffs will soon begin to open and the houses of Polperro will begin to show.


Peak Rock and Polperro Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


The main hazard on the approach is the covered Polca Rock that has 1 metre LAT over it. It lies south-eastward and south-westward, about midway between the crest of Peak Rock and Spy House Point lighthouse. Within Polca Rock is The Raney Reef which extends from Peak Rock and is usually awash.

Keeping well outside any soundings of 10 metres clears Polca Rock and its drying ledges that extend from Spy House Point on the initial approaches.


Approach transit of the East Pier just open of the West Pier showing the
entrance

Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location The initial fix is situated about 400 metres out from the entrance to the harbour. It sets a southeasterly approach where the harbour's natural transit of the harbour piers opens up. From here, the south face of East Pier, front, with the east face of West Pier, rear, should be seen to just open creating the safe approach alignment of 310° T. This leads north-eastward of Polca Rock and through the drying ledges that fringe each side of the inlet. Vessels carrying any draft should still keep an eye on the sounder at low water.

The mooring area and inner harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Follow the transit onto the moorings in the entrance. Those intending to enter the inner harbour, should stand off the outer end of the East Pier and pass through the middle of the harbour's narrow entrance.

Berth as directed by the harbour master. The usual berth location is alongside the wooden piles of the East Quay just inside the entrance which dries to 2 metres. The harbour office can be found in the fish market on the west side of the harbour.


Why visit here?
The origin of the name Polperro, derived from the Cornish Porthpyra, is uncertain. It is made up of 'Porth', meaning harbour, plus Pyran where the uncertainty lies. Some believe it is a personal name whilst others believe it could be ‘Pyra’, or possibly ‘Pira’, derived from the name for the River Pol which runs through the middle of the village to discharge itself into Polperro harbour today. Early forms of the name were first recorded as Portpira in 1303 and Porpira in 1379 with the chapel of St Peter de Porthpyre being first mentioned in 1398.


Peak Rock providing the inlet with prevailing wind protection
Image: Michael Harpur


The harbour's location, on both sides of the river, falls between the jurisdiction of two ancient and separate manors. These are the manors of Raphael, in the parish of Lansallos on the west side of the river, and Killigarth, to the east in the parish of Talland, which were both noted in the 1086 Domesday Book. Doomsday did not mention Polperro as it only came about in the 13th-century after the two manors were combined and the inlet came into the ownership of the Huish, or Hywis family, who lived at Raphael manor house. After establishing full control of the valley the Huish family developed the village to exploit the natural harbour's fishing potential. They developed the piers and quays to provide the manor with an important source of income by charging for anchoring, use of moorings, landing fish, or duties on goods going in or out.


Polperro West Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


Conveniently located at the end of the long valley, with a stream, an important source of fresh water and power, and with Peak Rock providing a safe haven from the prevailing winds, the harbour proved to be a success. The first known record of Polperro as a fishing settlement is in a Royal document of 1303. In 1391 the fishermen of Polperro were wealthy enough to build their own chapel, dedicated to Saint Peter the patron saint of fishermen, on the cliffs of what is now Chapel Hill overlooking the harbour.


Polperro Fishing Boat alongside the West Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


For the following centuries fishing would be the principal occupation for the families of Polperro as the land above the cliffs was too poor to support much more than a few families. By the 17th-century the shoals of pilchards that were drawn to feed off the South Cornish coast in late summer, had become an essential part of the Cornish economy. In this industry, Polperro played a central role. The village’s fishermen harvested the shoals and brought them into the harbour to be processed in one of its three pilchard factories located in the valley, two on the east side and one on the west side. Here they were salted and cured before the oil was pressed from them using large screw presses. The pilchards were then packed in barrels and the oil was collected as a by-product and used for heating and lighting. The processed and packed fish where then taken to Fowey by boat, where they were transferred to larger vessels bound for the Mediterranean.


John Wesley
Image: Public Domain
At this time as many as 40 large gaff-rigged drifters, known as Polperro gaffers, were fished by Polperro men whilst a large number of the women and children were employed in the factories. During this period, Polperro was very far from the genteel place experienced today. Fish oils and scales lined the quays, and the smell hung in the air, in the houses and clung to the clothing of all who came into contact with it. Fishermen and traders, with their slimy brown panniers, bargained noisily with one another over the latest catch to be landed. It was a busy place that reeked with the stench of fish and the cleric and theologian John Wesley, when he visited Polperro in 1768, found it anything but appealing… ‘the room over which we were to lodge being filled with pilchards and conger-eels, the perfume was too potent for me, so that I was not sorry when one of our friends invited me to lodge at her house.’


In good years, when the pilchard shoals arrived in abundance during the summer and autumn months, there was fish enough and rich pickings for all. But if the pilchards failed to arrive, or storms prevented the boats from putting to sea, everyone shared the hardship and hunger of a bleak winter ahead. So it was out of sheer economic necessity, the seafarers of Polperro always maintained a quiet side business that they could turn to in the hard times; smuggling. Being one of the smallest and remotest fishing harbours on the southeast coast of Cornwall, Polperro was ideally set up for the rough trade. Generations of its fishermen supplemented their living by the covert importation of spirits, tobacco and other goods from Guernsey and elsewhere.


Polperro Fish Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Smuggling flourished during the 18th-century when Britain's wars with America and France precipitated the high taxation of many imported goods. Dr Jonathan Couch, in his ‘History of Polperro’ published in 1871, wrote: Our town was probably a stronghold of the contraband trade in early times. All joined in it; the smith left his forge, and the husbandman his plough; even women and children turned out to assist in the unlawful traffic, and received their share of the proceeds. That it was in any degree a dishonest pursuit perhaps never entered their minds; and if it did, they saw enough in the conduct of those above them to satisfy less unscrupulous minds that theirs was a venial offence. The gentry of the neighbourhood bought their brandy and lace; the excise and custom-house officers connived in unlawful acts, and profited by secret connection with the smugglers. Revenue cruisers were not infrequently detected with contraband goods on board, and sometimes caught in the act. John Wesley also remarked "An accursed thing among them: wellnigh one and all bought or sold uncustomed goods. "


The slipway at the head of the inner harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


A more organised Coast Guard service was introduced in the 19th-century. This and the added deterrent of stiff penalties, lead to much less smuggling in Polperro. The shoals of Pilchards diminished in the 20th century and so with them went the small fishing village’s second traditional mainstay which ended in the 1960s. Fortunately, long before the last pilchard was processed here, the village was already hauling in its biggest catch of about 25,000 visitors a day at the height of the season to its picture-perfect quays. During the 20th-century tourism has become Polperro's mainstay.


Polperro's pretty inner harbour area
Image: Michael Harpur


It is said that Polperro is one of the most photographed harbours in England. Although hard to prove or disprove this claim, it is very believable as the harbour presents an undeniably pretty sight. The dramatic coastal setting is enhanced by its dark brown shale cliffs, and small sandy beaches,which are hidden at high tide. Tucked back up the inlet and huddled around the sheltered historic harbour, are pretty slate cottages that ramble away from the sea shore in tightly packed lines along narrow lanes and alleyways up the steep-sided valley of the River Pol. They soon give way to wooded hills and a flat northern plateau containing a patchwork of ancient field boundaries. If ever a town was designed for photography it is Polperro.


A narrow Polperro alley rambling up from the sea
Image: Michael Harpur


Fortunately, little has changed since the village's heyday of smuggling and pilchard fishing, except for the smell of fish which has long since departed. It is still a fishing village with twelve commercial fishing vessels catching flatfish, scallops, crabs, monkfish, ray, pollock, bass and cod. It is possible to buy fresh fish and seafood at the quayside from time to time. The story of its fishing and smuggling is best told today at the Heritage Museum, housed in an old fish processing house. The old fishermen's chapel that stood on Chapel Point was moved centuries ago to Peak Rock where it is now a net loft, owned by the National Trust. The coast pathway which the Revenue Officers once patrolled in search of smugglers, is now the South West Coast Path maintained by the National Trust.


One of Polperro's seven pubs situated on The Coombes
Image: Michael Harpur


As with any hugely popular tourist destination, Polperro gets overwhelmed during the season and its straggling main street, The Coombes, is now an unbroken row of gift shops and cafes. But this is picture perfect Cornwall at its best, and although it could never be described as a highly protected boating location, it would be difficult to experience a more beautiful harbour to moor in.


What facilities are available?
Toilets are found on Fish Quay, freshwater tap on the West Pier, and fuel in jerry cans from a local garage. It has a post office that has a cash machine open during working hours. Unfortunately, it does not have a supermarket so it is not ideal for provisioning but it does have a very good bakery. Tourism is Polperro's main industry and has several restaurants as well as seven pubs.

Hourly buses #73A and #81A link the village with neighbouring Looe, four miles east. Looe has a railway station. Nearest airports are at Plymouth or Newquay.


With thanks to:
eOceanic


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