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One of Cornwall's best-preserved fishing villages

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Harbour & Boats
Museum of Fishing and Smuggling
Shell House
South West Coast Path
Since the 13th century, Polperro's boats have set off into the English Channel's sparkling waters. Their targets were the shoals of pilchards that gathered nearby. These tiny fish made a fortune for the village. They were exported all over Europe for hundreds of years. Unfortunately this took its toll, and the shoals began to diminish. Today, Polperro's fleet is a lot smaller. The boats come back with almost anything they can find, including scallops, crab and monkfish.

Polperro Harbour
Photo Martin Pettitt

Unloading the catch in Polperro
Photo Martin Pettitt
Despite the changes in the fishing industry, the village itself looks the same as it ever did. It's tucked into a cliff ravine, keeping it safe from the elements. The ramshackle cottages were built by the hands of local fishermen. They even have the same layout as a ship! There's a large storage area that's a lot like a hold, and bedrooms that look like cabins. Even the entrances have staircases that resemble gangways.

One of Polperro's pretty streets
Photo Martin Pettitt
The houses may be like boats, but they're packed together like cans of sardines. Between the buildings is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. In the past these would have been congested with busy fishermen, dragging around cartfuls of their latest catch. When night fell, the town would become quieter, but there was still movement among the shadows. These were often the very same fishermen but, instead of fish, they'd be transporting bales of tobacco and bottles of rum. Polperro was at the centre of the smuggling trade. Contraband was bought in Guernsey, where prices were much lower. It was then taken secretly into England to be sold for a huge profit.

The Crumplehorn Inn
Photo Martin Pettitt
The full story is told at the Heritage Museum of Fishing and Smuggling. It takes a look at the most important vessels from both of Polperro's big businesses. First is the Lady Beatrice, an extremely fast craft that caught huge hordes of pilchards. A detailed model of the boat is on display. Next you'll hear the tale of the "Lottery", a smuggling ship that ran into some trouble. After encountering a group of customs officers, one of its crew was captured and executed. The museum retells the entire grisly tale.
Elsewhere in the village you'll spot all sorts of interesting properties. Shell House is the most unusual; as the name suggests, its exterior is covered with seashells. Another property with a descriptive title is the House on the Props. One of its ends hangs over a cliff, held up by precarious wooden stilts. The building is now a hotel and restaurant, with beautiful views of the harbour.

Shell House
Photo Smoobs
The sight may well make you crave a nautical experience of your own. Conveniently, Polperro offers both fishing excursions and pleasure cruises. If you're really lucky you'll catch a glimpse of dolphins or seals.

Just outside Polperro Harbour
Photo lostajy
From a boat, the view of the Cornish coast is something to behold. It's just as good in the opposite direction, looking out from Polperro's cliffs. Most of the local shoreline is on the South West Coast Path, the longest National Trail in Britain. It stretches for over 1000 kilometres from Dorset's Poole Harbour to Minehead, in Somerset.

The South West Coast Path near Polperro
Photo Smoobs
Polperro is also a fine place for a drink! The oldest tavern in town is the Three Pilchards, but the best known is arguably the Blue Peter. Its waterside location has earned it the nickname "the last pub before France"!
Visitor Information
Heritage Museum of Fishing and Smuggling is open from March to October from 10:30am to 5:30pm. Entry costs around £2 for adults, £1 for children. The Warren, Polperro, Looe, Cornwall PL13 2RB. Tel: 01503 272 423

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