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Mullion Cove & Porth Mellin

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Mullion Cove with the small pier of Porth Mellin is a cove somewhat protected by a small island on England's southwest coast about four miles northwest of Lizard Point. It offers a temporary anchorage outside its small drying harbour in a remote setting.

The cove provides a good anchorage in easterly or southeasterly conditions but is only partially protected by the island from prevailing winds. Approaches north of the island are clear but attentive daylight navigation is required as the cove is fringed with rocks.

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Keyfacts for Mullion Cove & Porth Mellin
Slipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this location

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
4 stars: Good; assured night's sleep except from specific quarters.

Last modified
April 8th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A good location with straightforward access.

Slipway availableHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this location

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pier

Position and approaches
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Haven position

50° 0.848' N, 005° 15.621' W

This is in a depth of about 3 metres about 150 metres outside the entrance to Porth Mellin.

What is the initial fix?

The following Mullion Cove Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
50° 1.000' N, 005° 16.249' W
This is a ⅓ of a mile west by northwest of the cove setting up an approach to the north of Mullion Island

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Lizard Point to Land's End Route location.

  • Approach from the north-northwest to the north of the Mullion Island.

  • Anchor in sand to the southwest of the entrance of its small drying harbour.

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 Mullion Cove & Porth Mellin for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Kynance Cove - 1.7 miles SSE
  2. Cadgwith - 2.2 miles ESE
  3. Porthleven Harbour - 2.9 miles NNW
  4. Coverack - 4 miles E
  5. Helford River - 4.4 miles NE
  6. Gillan Creek - 4.9 miles NE
  7. Saint Michael's Mount - 6.5 miles NW
  8. Falmouth - 7 miles NE
  9. Mousehole - 7.1 miles WNW
  10. Penzance Harbour - 7.5 miles WNW
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Kynance Cove - 1.7 miles SSE
  2. Cadgwith - 2.2 miles ESE
  3. Porthleven Harbour - 2.9 miles NNW
  4. Coverack - 4 miles E
  5. Helford River - 4.4 miles NE
  6. Gillan Creek - 4.9 miles NE
  7. Saint Michael's Mount - 6.5 miles NW
  8. Falmouth - 7 miles NE
  9. Mousehole - 7.1 miles WNW
  10. Penzance Harbour - 7.5 miles WNW
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
To view out over the cove from Porth Mellin
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0

Mullion Cove lies between The Lizard and Porthleven in the shelter of Mullion Island. It comprises an open cove with the small basin of Porth Mellin among steep-to cliffs at its head about ⅓ of a mile northeast of the island. Formed by two piers the tiny harbour dries to about 2.4 metres and is open to southwesterly winds and swell. The harbour is managed by the National Trust and is home to two full-time potting boats that fish for lobsters and brown crabs between May and October. Around the thick-walls of the harbour is a scattering of cottages and a couple of businesses that cater to the tourist trade.

Porth Mellin
Image: Michael Harpur

The harbour may be used for short periods for setting down crew or loading purposes by arrangement with the Harbourmaster, Landline+44 1326 240222. It cannot be used for an overnight stay. This would not be wise as it is open to the southwest and the main function of the tiny basin is not to create a safe mooring area but to protect the landing beach so that its small fishing boats may be run in and hauled clear of the sea.

A delightful anchorage is possible to the southwest of the entrance where the bottom is clear beyond the 5 metres contour. It provides very good protection in strong easterly or southeasterly conditions, and of course, in settled conditions with the absence of swell. Mullion Island provides some protection from the southwest but be prepared to weigh anchor if the wind shifts to the westward as it is dangerous here in any onshore winds. Likewise, the arrival of even a fairly modest swell from an Atlantic, nothing exceptional for West Cornwall, will quickly make it untenable.

How to get in?
The Mullion Cove Hotel overlooking the cove makes for a conspicuous mark
Image: Michael Harpur

Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Lizard Point to Land's End Route location for seaward approaches. Mullion Island, situated about a ½ mile north of Predannack Head and ¼ of a mile offshore, lies close southwest of Mullion Cove and makes for a prominent seamark. It rises 29 metres above high water and is precipitous on its western side. Immediately outside of it is the small yet conspicuous Tregwyn Rock. A conspicuous hotel will be seen standing on the northern mainland cliffs of the cove above its small harbour.

Mullion Island
Image: Nic via CC NC 2.0

There is southern pass with a least depth of 2.7 metres between Mullion Island and the 43 meters high Gull Rock off the mainland. Local boats may be seen taking this route, but it is fringed with rocky ledges on both sides making it an inadvisable without the benefit of local knowledge.

It is possible to pass between Gull Rock and Mullion Island but not advisable
for newcomers

Image: Philip Goddard

Initial fix location The initial fix sets up a southeasterly approach to the north of the island. Mullion Island and the Mullion Cove Hotel, on the cliffs above, will be seen on this approach. It is safe to steer a midway between the walls of Porth Mellin harbour below and the island until the 5 metres contour is reached. Be careful not to drift down onto the northern end of Mullion Island as it is foul out to nearly 100 metres. As a general rule, keep 200 metres from all the cliffs around the cove to avoid any off-lying rocks.

Mullion Cove as seen from the northeast
Image: Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0

Haven location Anchor according to draft and conditions in good holding over clean sand. It can be weedy and rocky the farther out a boat anchors. The usual berth it close southwest of the entrance to the small harbour in about 4 to 5 metres.

The harbour area is confined as it is intended to provide a safe landing area
Image: Andrew

Land by tender inside the drying harbour. Vessels intending on temporarily coming in the harbour should note the position of rocks that flank the approaches to the entrance.

Why visit here?
Mullion Cove takes its name for the village of Mullion located a mile inland and the largest village on the Lizard. The name was first recorded in 1262 after the parish 'Church of Sanctus Melanus' the patron saint of the village church.

St Mellanus Church Mullion
Image: Public Domain
The mainly 13th-century church of St Mellanus remains to this day and is renowned for its richly-carved oak bench-ends depicting biblical scenes, including that of Jonah and the Whale. The village sits at the end of two river valleys which run out southwest and descend steeply to meet the sea at Polurrian Cove and Mullion Cove. The river that emptied into Mullion Cove was used to power several mills at Porth Mellin, also Porthmellin, which means literally 'cove of the mill'.

Occupancy of the cove goes back to at least to the 1600s when a small community of fishing families with links to Newlyn made a living here. Like many other Cornish coastal villages during the 18th-century, it became a pilchard fishery controlled by seining companies based around Penzance and Newlyn. The set-up costs were beyond the means of the majority of poor fishermen so the seining companies provided the equipment and paid the workers a relatively small wage plus 25% of the catch. The mullion catch were cured at Newlyn and exported to Mediterranean countries. The companies posted a huer, a lookout for shoals, on Mullion Island to watch for the dark and silvery patches of the approaching shoals of pilchards.

The Grade II protected old net store building predates the harbour
Image: Eugene Birchall via CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1793 the local fishermen sought to develop the fishing in the cove by applying to Lord Robartes at Lanhydrock for permission to increase the number of boats involved. The entrance to the cove was widened by the removal of rocks so it could take more boats and additional winching facilities were set in place. By the early 1800's it had three working grist mills grinding cereal grain into flour and middlings, including 'Criggan Mill, Mullion Mill Farm'. By the time of the first recorded census of 1841, the cove had several working fish cellars, net lofts and two thatched cottages. A description from about this time noted that…"Mullion Cove contains a Mill worked by a stream running down through the valley, some fish cellars and a few humble cottages, on which last, owing to the height of the rising ground behind them, the sun, in the winter months, never shines. In one of these lives an old man who has been blind for many years who ... is glad indeed when the month of March is come, for he finds his solitary walk up and down the road in front of his cottage more cheerful when he feels the blessed sunshine falling on his sightless eyes".

The harbour walls were not built until the end of the 19th-century
Image: Michael Harpur

Smuggling was a common side activity among the fishermen during the 18th and 19th-centuries. Lizard boatmen had ties with the Bretons and Mullion Cove and the surrounding cliffs saw many boats slowly and quietly made their way in at night loaded with tubs of French Brandy and other illicit goods. The fishermen saw this rough trade and the avoidance of excise duty as a way to add a few shillings in their pocket to see them through the years that the pilchards failed to come not to mention just reward for foiling the excise men and customs. Two cottages were built in 1848 for local Coastguard officers and their families, Cove Cottage today, to take control of the activity. The excisemen had limited effect but by then the bottom had already fallen out of it when Prime Minister Robert Peel eliminated tariffs on more than 600 products.

The view from the entrance
Image: Eugene Birchall via CC BY-SA 2.0

Another natural sideline for this coastal community was 'wrecking' for which there were plenty of opportunities. When easterly or northeasterly winds blew down the channel ships were forced to anchor and take shelter in what was then called Mullion Roads the area of coast between Mullion Island and Pedngwynian. During the 18th and 19th-centuries, there could be well over 200 to 300 sailing ships at anchor here for up to two or three weeks at a time. At other times many became trapped or embayed in Mounts Bay by southwesterly or westerly winds which eventually forced them onto the cliffs when they could not tack out to sea. In the six years up to 1873 alone, there were nine wrecks under Mullion cliffs with the loss of sixty-nine lives. Unsurprisingly, in an 18th-century letter, Rev. G.C. Smith described the local people of the area as 'sadly infested with wreckers'. It was not only the men of the area and he was particularly concerned about the women and children who were seen working to break up vessels... 'the hardships they endure especially the to save all they can, are almost incredible'.

Hauled out fishing boat well clear of the cove
Image: Bill Boaden via CC BY-SA 2.0

But the fleets of the cove were far from immune from the weather in a cove themselves. Being entirely open to the west the seine boats survived by being winced out to a position above high water when bad weather or storms approached. But the cove was always vulnerable and when in 1839 a freak storm suddenly raged across Mount's Bay the entire pilchard fishing fleet were caught off-guard and destroyed. This would occur time and time again in the following decades. Finally, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at Mullion Cove in 1867 to address the death toll.

The cove in a westerly blow
Image: Lizard Fine Art via CC BY SA 2.0

The exposure to precarious weather and the sudden absence of the pilchard shoals led to a decline and a number of boats, and nets and gear were put up for sale in 1877. However, catches varied and some good years remained. It was not until 1890 that the two stone piers were commissioned to help get the fleet safely ashore and to recompense to the fishermen for several bad pilchard seasons. Made from granite, serpentine with a concrete core the west pier was constructed between 1890 and 1892, and the south pier between 1895 and 1897. The harbour walls were maintained each year by a local stonemason.

Recent storm damage on the south wall
Image: Andrew

In 1928 the harbour, island, and fish cellars were bought from Viscount Clifden by Montague Meyer. By 1944, after neglect and further storm damaged the harbour required extensive maintenance and repair. The harbour and surrounding 12 acres was then acquired by the National Trust in 1945, principally through a gift from Mr A Meyer. The Trust still has ownership of the harbour area and Mullion Island. Considerable damage to the walls has been incurred in recent years, most notably the winter storms of the 2013-2014, necessitating very costly repairs which have recently been attended to. The Trust aims to patch up the breakwaters for as long as they can but concede that at some point over the next couple of decades, they are likely to be damaged beyond repair.

Local boats on the steep slipway today
Image: Michael Harpur

Today the Victorian Harbour is Grade II Listed along with the Net Loft and Winch House at the top of the slipway which pre-dates the harbour walls and the wooden fish cellar on the northern breakwater. All still stands proud after taking a century and a quarter of Atlantic storms which have regularly beaten against its walls and sometimes damaged its structure. The lifeboat house was demolished but its barometer is on display in the village. The harbour still supports two full-time beach boats that principally pot for lobsters and brown crabs, one setting 375 pots whilst the other sets between 150 and 250 pots between May and October. But it is for recreation and quiet enjoyment that most people visit Mullion Cove and Porth Mellin today. They are an attraction on this coast not to be missed for its beauty and scenery.

Small yacht anchoring in the cove
Image: KalivonGall via ASA 3.0

Beach lovers tend to head to the neighbouring softer sand and swimmable surf beaches of Polurrian and Poldhu Coves a mile to the north. Both are accessible by the South West Coast Path which offers awe-inspiring scenery along this length of the coast. A short walk along the path is the Mullion Cliffs National Nature Reserve where rare plants include land quillwort and fringed rupture-wort. Mullion Island is a bird sanctuary with breeding colonies of kittiwakes, cormorants and guillemots. Landing is not permitted.

From a boating perspective, this is never a good anchorage in prevailing conditions. But in settled weather on any easterly quadrant conditions, an overnight anchorage here is absolute joy.

What facilities are available?
There is a slip on the east side of the harbour and a few buildings, including a café the 'Porthmellin Tea Rooms' and a kayak business, within its surrounds. Drinks with great views at the Victorian Mullion Cove Hotel above the cove but its award-winning food can be pricy.

Supplies can be had a mile's walk to the east at Mullion village which is the largest village on the Lizard peninsula. Alongside local supermarkets are a Post Office, pharmacy, restaurants, inns, hotels, and a heritage centre.

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Mullion Cove & Porth Mellin, Cornwall, England
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

Yacht anchored in Mullion Cove
Image: eOceanic thanks KalivonGall via ASA 3.0

Fishing boat Porth Mellin
Image: eOceanic thanks Nilfanion via CC ASA 4.0

Hauled out boats on the slip
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

The old winch Porth Mellin
Image: eOceanic thanks Public Domain

The more modern capstain
Image: eOceanic thanks Michael Harpur

Mullion Cover aerial overview

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