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. Chillbrook says:

    I love Porthleven. Not as sleepy and forgotten as it was just a few years ago though. It was featured on TV and ever since, it’s become a popular destination. Lovely pictures Jude.

    1. Heyjude says:

      Each time I go there I like it more. These photos were taking in February when it was very quiet, but also very cold!

  2. Dina says:

    I have never been to Cornwall, (I’m repeating myself now, I know) and I find the villages and towns along the coast fascinating and so different to the ones in Norfolk. Very nice impressions and a lovely post, Jude. Is there still a library and reading room open to public in the (former) Literary Institute? That’d be our number 1 on the “must see” in this pretty corner. And the harbour of course.
    Rainy greetings from the Rhine Valley x
    and stormy Cley xxx

    1. Heyjude says:

      That’s what drew me to Cornwall, all those different coves and beaches and little former fishing villages. Only trouble is that is what draws loads of people so they all get very busy and the roads and the car parks really aren’t equipped for so much traffic. Now is just right on a sunny day 🙂

  3. Sue says:

    Lovely images, Jude….

    1. Heyjude says:

      Thanks Sue. These were taken in winter when it was dull, I have better photos on a sunny summer day, but not of all these buildings. It is a lovely pretty place and less crowded than St Ives (most places are!)

      1. Sue says:

        St Ives sounds a nightmare!

        1. Heyjude says:

          I like it in winter.

        2. Sue says:

          Good point!

  4. What a lovely walk you’ve taken us on. Although I have never been to Porthleven, or Cornwall even, I can smell the harbour, hear the seagulls and feel the mist rolling in. A story brews … Thanks you for stirring my imagination!

    1. Heyjude says:

      Thank you for visiting and commenting PP – I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Another other pretty place to explore. It’s a shame so many places close down over winter. Many Australians travel to UK then.

    1. Heyjude says:

      Some restaurants still open and offer good deals during the winter, we got a set lunch for £20 each at Rick Steins (3 courses) which was very good.

      1. That’s a good price. We intended trying Rick Stein’s fish and chips in Falmouth but we ran out of time.

  6. Joanne Sisco says:

    It looks like a cold winter day with the gray skies and water. The first 2 photos look like they were taken from the water. I’m assuming however that the water forms a finger inlet that allows you to shoot from the opposite shore.

    1. Heyjude says:

      It was cold. We were surprised to see guys surfing! And yes, the harbour forms an inlet so you can walk at either side of it. I’m not really one for going ON water!! Or in.

      1. Joanne Sisco says:

        Near, on, in … I’m good with it all. Depending on the weather of course 😉

        1. Heyjude says:

          I felt somewhat seasick yesterday just looking at the swell. And it was only a little one when a boat passed by!

        2. Joanne Sisco says:

          Then I definitely recommend you stay on land 🙂

  7. beetleypete says:

    Nice to get such good images when it was quiet in the winter, Jude. Thanks for taking me back to a place I haven’t visited since the 1970s.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Heyjude says:

      The summer images are much more colourful, but also with lots more people about.

  8. Pit says:

    Thanks for taking me around. I love those details in the pictures. 🙂

    1. Heyjude says:

      A pleasure to have you accompany me Pit 🙂

  9. Anabel Marsh says:

    Lovely little town with a beautiful library building. I suppose it’s something else now?

    1. Heyjude says:

      It has been used as admin building for the town council and also a snooker club, but last year they were wanting to see what else they could do with it as it should be for public access. It does need a lot of work though as the storms wreak havoc on it. Current thinking is for refurbishment as a Community Heritage, Art and Culture Space, but the snooker club will need to be relocated and that apparently is a major factor in the decision! Why not a library I hear you ask.

      1. Anabel Marsh says:

        Jude, you are a mind reader 😉

  10. Cecilia says:

    Great post about this place and its history. It is now on my wish list to be visited one day.

    1. Heyjude says:

      Thanks Cecilia. It is a lovely little village with some nice galleries and shops and foodie places.

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