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A Visit to Porthleven

Updated: May 22, 2023

Porthleven is an historic harbour town and the southernmost port in mainland Britain. Known for its crashing waves and a growing number of restaurants and cafes, it's just a short drive from the cottages at Middle Colenso.

A harbour at low tide with fishing boats
The historic harbour at Porthleven

Porthleven faces south west and is at the mercy of the winter storms that regularly batter this stretch of coast. The harbour was built in the 19th century as a safe haven for ships in Mount's Bay. Completed in 1825, much of the work was carried out by French prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars. The harbour is an impressive construction, with massive walls designed to withstand the huge waves that crash over its defences. Waves measuring more than 40ft pounded the town in 2014.

For many years the harbour was home to a large fleet of more than 100 fishing vessels catching mainly pilchard and mackerel. It's still a working port and there are still some day boats based here, many of them selling their catches to local restaurants.

In recent years the town has established a reputation as a destination for foodies. Celebrity chefs Jude Kereama and Michael Caines both have restaurants here. The Square and Amelies are well-established restaurants popular with diners, as is the relatively new Mussel Shoal which has earned a reputation as one of Cornwall's coolest alfresco venues. Those searching for more historic surroundings should head for the 17th century Ship Inn which was once a haunt of smugglers.

A harbour wall
The historic Ship Inn overlooking the harbour's impressive defences

Porthleven is also the headquarters of Origin Coffee Roasters. As well as enjoying coffee at The Roastery, just a short walk from the harbour, visitors can brush up on their skills with a range of courses that cover subjects including latte art and filter coffee making.

The highlight of the culinary calendar is Porthleven Food Festival which this year takes place from April 22nd to 24th. Chefs from the South West and beyond will be cooking live and there will be plenty of opportunities to sample street food and local produce. The festival will also include live music and plenty of family-friendly activities.

A sandbank at the mouth of a river
Looking across Loe Bar towards the Lizard

But there's more to Porthleven than just food. The town has a number of small shops and galleries. It's also home to Porthleven Harbour Markets which feature a range of independent stallholders selling food, art, jewellery, clothing and vintage goods.

To the east of the harbour, past the famous clocktower, is the town's three-mile beach. It's popular with more experienced surfers when conditions are right and at low tide you can walk along to Loe Bar, a large sandbank which formed at the head of the Cober Valley during the medieval period and created Loe Pool, Cornwall's largest freshwater lake. Beware, though, the waters off Loe Bar are treacherous and you shouldn't swim there under any circumstances.

A walk inland from here takes you through the Penrose Estate, a large area of wood and parkland now owned by the National Trust. It's wide tracks and pathways make it a great place for walking or cycling with the family.


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