Town Trail: Porthleven

There has been a settlement here for thousands of years and by the 1600s Porthleven was a small hamlet populated by fishermen and miners. The harbour was built in the early 1800s and little has altered since then.

There are many harbourside restaurants, art galleries and shops.

The turquoise waters attract many visitors and the surf break is one of the most respected in Europe. Walkers enjoy the scenery and the south coast path along to Loe Bar which connects with the Penrose estate.

In winter though, the harbour town is quiet. The restaurants are empty or closed for the season and the sea is drab. But the advantage is that it is quiet with lots of parking available and some restaurants, such as Rick Stein, have deals on their winter menus.

It’s also an ideal time to follow the Town Trail and explore the sites of 13 historic buildings around the harbour.

The Bickford-Smith Institute

This building is often mistaken for a church. I know that was my first impression on seeing it. With a 700ft high steeple it is an easy mistake. The ‘Porthleven Literary Institute’ was formally opened on 16 December 1884 by benefactor William Bickford-Smith, who made his fortune with the invention of the safety fuse for mining explosives. Originally a reading room and library for furthering scientific knowledge and literacy the building was predominantly for the people of Porthleven.

Bay View Terrace

The curved white terrace of Victorian terrace houses is very distinctive. The houses with bay windows and gables, each featuring the Cornish coat of arms, are Grade II listed with views over the entire harbour. The houses stand on the site of a much earlier development called Buenos Aires Row.

The Warehouse

Dating from 1814 this three storey building built from granite has loading doors on each level for hoisting goods on and off waiting vessels. Now the vast space is used as studio spaces for the many artists and painters drawn to this area.

The Lime Kiln

Built in 1814 this kiln was used to burn rock lime. It was built for Archibald Blair one of the Porthleven Harbour Company directors and initially the product was used in harbour building work. Villagers were quick to appreciate the source of free heat at the kiln and it was not unusual to find washing drying nearby.

The Lifeboat House

The Lifeboat House is perched on the rocks of the outer harbour. Today it is used as an Art Gallery. In 1863 the Porthleven lifeboat was kept in a glavanized shed and had to be pulled by six heavy horses to be launched into the water from whichever quay or beach was closest to the stricken vessel. Many of the crew at the time could not even swim. This building was opened in 1894 and closed in 1929 when other safer launches had sufficient engine speed to cover this part of the coastline. The storm of 2014 removed half the roof tiles and smashed the rafters, flooding the building.

It’s hard to imagine what this pretty little harbour-side must have looked like over 200 years ago.

The Town Trail is produced by the Porthleven Community Interest Company (CIC) to support the economy and community of Porthleven. You can see more information about these and other buildings on their website.

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.


  1. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Another little Cornish village I haven’t been to, but I see Mr Stein has, he does like to get about! I’m glad the altruistic Victorian built such an interesting place, well done that man.

    1. Heyjude says:

      We were in Padstein the other day. Good fish and chips I have to say. Porthleven is much quieter, though it can get busy in summer.

  2. Ros says:

    Interesting read about a place I have never been. Thank you 🙂

  3. pommepal says:

    You make me yearn to visit but I do enjoy your informative post Jude. I admire those life savers that couldn’t swim, that is dedication.. very artistic buildings, they would make me get my sketch book out

    1. Heyjude says:

      Cornwall would certainly have you getting the sketch book out PP. Even I wonder about having a go.

      1. pommepal says:


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