Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston



Theory 1 – from the Cornish words “porth” meaning port and “leven” meaning smooth.
Theory 2. – from “porth” meaning port and “Elvan” from St Elvan the 5th century saint who landed on these shores to spread the word of Christianity. (There was originally a settlement nearby called St Elvan)


A rather grey day, but we decided to head for Porthleven which is the most Southerly working port in mainland Britain, positioned between the Lizard Peninsula and Marazion near St Michael’s Mount. The harbour is unusual in that it opened directly south west into the prevailing winds, as a safe haven for ships getting into difficulties near the Lizard.


An act of parliament was signed by King George III in 1811 “for constructing a harbour in Mounts Bay in the county of Cornwall” The construction of the harbour was a tremendous and dangerous engineering achievement and took 14 years, using prisoners from the Napoleonic War. The granite pier and quays were complete by 1825 and the inner harbour completed in 1858. The huge timbers that seal the inner harbour closed, in the event of storms are still in use today.

The Bickford Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance is a splendid local landmark with its seventy foot high clock tower. It was donated to the town by former MP, Mr Bickford Smith in 1884.

On the day we were there the conditions were clearly perfect for surfing, as there was a steady stream of wet suited bodies appearing, running for the beach, across the treacherous looking rocks and joining the queues in the rolling waves. It’s a particularly challenging area for surfing, attracting many top level surfers.



Back in February 2014 during the ferocious storms, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be on this beach. Scientists from Plymouth University found the waves were some of the most powerful ever recorded on Earth. The huge breakers up to 26 feet tall caused the cliffs to shake more than any others ever recorded and 1350 cubic metres of cliff face disappeared.


When the tide is out, a three mile long shingle and sand beach is exposed towards Loe Bar and the Penrose Estate. We took a stroll round both sides of the harbour. On the right is the Old Lifeboat House, now a studio and exhibition space. The two cannon standing either side of the harbour, come from the frigate HMS Anson, which was wrecked on nearby Loe Bar in 1807. They were once fired on the Napoleon’s navy during the battle of Brest. A morning coffee sat outside and the sun even came out. A lovely place, no doubt we will return!


From Porthleven we drove on to Mullion Cove, now owned by the National Trust. This tiny picturesque harbour was originally built in the 1890’s and still shelters a small fishing fleet from powerful westerly storms.



Just up from the harbour is The Chocolate Factory and craft centre, worth a stop off for some shopping!

After a quick drive to the top of a hill with a view for our picnic lunch, we finished our day in Helston, where the rain clouds were finally amassing.  This bustling market town has a mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture with a fine monument built in 1834 of Humphry Millet Grylls, a local bank and solicitor whose actions kept the local tin mine open, saving 1200 jobs. We visited the fascinating Helston Folk Museum which is housed in a very long building, the former Market House and Drill Hall. The Market originally had two separate market halls, one for butter and eggs, and one for meat, you can still see the original sloping granite floors. The museum was extended into the Drill Hall in 1999 and a mezzanine gallery was added. It really seemed to go on for ever! At the end of the museum a class of school children in old fashioned clothes were being taught their lessons in the Victorian manner!


When we finally left the maze of the museum and made our way to the car, the heavens finally opened. We’d had a fantastic day, so really couldn’t complain!


Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston

Porthcurno, telegraphs and sharks?

On the Monday afternoon we headed back to Porthcurno. We had previously visited the amazing Minack Theatre perched up on the cliff.


Today we were heading for the telegraph museum. While G had a quick nap in the car, I took a stroll down to the beach. Porthcurno beach and bay, enclosed by the Logan Rock headland is a stunning stretch of golden sands, which has been listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world! Not exactly tropical weather today but still beautiful.


At the beach you can see the Cable Hut/House the last point before the cables go under the sea. In fact you can still see one of the thick cables. So what were these cables? And why was this site so important? We went into the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum to find out how this spot in Cornwall became the most important communications site in Britain.


The first cable under the Atlantic Ocean was laid in 1866 by the SS Great Eastern and in Cornwall the first submarine telegraph cables were landed here in Porthcurno in 1870, part of an early international link from the UK to India (then a British colony). In 1872 the Eastern Telegraph Company Limited was formed which took over the operation of the cables and built a cable office in the Porthcurno Valley. Between the wars, the office operated as many as 14 cables for a time, the largest submarine cable station in the world, with the capacity to received and transmit up to a two million words a day. The telegraph message (though primitive in today’s technical world) transformed global communications! Before telegraphs, the quickest way to communicate with another continent was sending a letter by ship!

From the 1850s until well into the 20th century, British submarine cable systems dominated the world. In 1896 there were thirty cable laying ships in the world and 24 of them were owned by British companies!

By World War 2, the office at Porthcurno had become a crucial communication centre and to improve the security of the site, a network of tunnels were built to shelter the essential telegraph equipment from enemy fire.

It’s a fascinating place to visit with plenty of hands-on exhibits (morse code practice anyone?) and lots of information about the people who worked here and at sea laying the cables.


It’s fascinating history, of course. But surely in this world of global satellites, we no longer need to lay cables under the sea? You might think so, but actually our internet today still relies on those underground cables. In fact 99% of all international data is transmitted by submarine communications cables, hundreds of thousands of miles long. Laying these cables is a complex expensive business! Thwarted rather by sharks, who happen to like gnawing on those cables so that companies such as Google, need to shield their cables in shark proof wire wrappers! Ouch.

Telegraphy (from Greek: τῆλε têle, “at a distance” and γράφειν gráphein, “to write”) is the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic (as opposed to verbal or audio) messages

Porthcurno, telegraphs and sharks?

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

So G was off to St Ives for an art class as part of the wonderful annual St Ives Art Festival. So I decided not to be put off by the unpromising drizzle but get on the train to Lelant Saltings so I can walk back along the beautiful South West Coast path. This section is also part of St Michael’s way, a twenty mile route from Lelant to Marazion and the iconic St Michael’s Mount island. This route is the only footpath in Britain that is part of a designated European Cultural Path . It is part of a network of pilgrim routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, an important site of Christian pilgrimage. No pilgrims today, just me in my walking boots getting of the train! There are some amazingly tropical looking gardens along the lane.


Lelant Saltings is the location of the park and train ride service into busy St Ives. Lelant, often called Uny Lelant after its Saint Uny, lies on the west side of the Hayle Estuary which is managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve. It is thought that Saint Uny and Saint Herygh (patron of St Erth) were brothers of St La, patron of St Ives who was an Irish princess in the 5th/6th century who evangalised this part of Cornwall.


The road sign shows the way to the church in both English and Cornish. Cornish evolved from the Common Brittonic spoken throughout England and Wales during the Iron age and Roman period. The language had almost died out but a revival started in 1904 has meant that the language is again being learned in Cornwall, and the number of native speakers increasing!

The medieval Church of St Uny’s is built entirely from granite.


In a corner of the extensive graveyard stands another little chapel. This one was a primitive Methodist chapel built in 1879 and used until the early 1900s. There are plans to make this into a Heritage Centre manned by volunteers.


A path between the two churches, takes you down to the sea, between dunes and a golf course. The tide was in so I took the coast path to the edge of the golf course and through scrubland with fine views of the sandy beaches


The overnight rain, and warm humid air make it feel a little like walking through a tropical forest. The path never veers far from the train line, with frequent trains running through.


The Autumn leaves are already starting to turn, while blackberries are in full fruit and crocosmia have colonised the cliff edges. Fronds of bracken are turning brown and crisp and fuscia’s drip damp flowers at the side of the path



It’s a beautiful walk, if rather undulating and tiring especially before Carbis Bay. Carbis Bay is a lovely little place, and our holiday home is just up the hill but I keep on walking. The walk into St Ives from here is much easier, and after navigating a load of slow walking American tourists, I’m soon there, ready to sample a lamb pasty and meet up with Greg at the car.


I love these little turnstones that rush around the rocks and quayside steps in search of food!


A lovely walk, and the rain even stayed off!

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster





We took an afternoon drive to Mousehole. When we visited last year, it was rather a dismal day, so we were looking forward to seeing this pretty place with the sun on it. Today it’s a gorgeous little fishing harbour with a higgledy piggledy cottages clinging round the circular sheltered harbour, with cafes and art galleries.

Mousehole was once known ast Porth Enys meaning port of the island and from the 13th Century it was the main port in Mounts Bay. The origins of the name are unknown, but may be derived from the Cornish word Moeshayle meaning “young woman’s brook”. Others argue it is just named after the round tiny harbour or a nearby sea cave resembling a mouse hole!

In the 16th century Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) together with Marazion was still one of the principal ports. In 1595 the Battle Of Cornwall raid on Mounts Bay by the Spaniard Carlos De Amesquita, with 400 men and four galley ships, obliterated Mousehole (along with Penzance, Newlyn and Paul). In Mousehole the only building to survive the destruction was the Keigwin Arms, a local pub (now a private residence bearing a plaque to Squire Jenkyn Keigwin who was killed there  23 July 1595)

In 1667 the Great Plague reached Cornwall. Tucked away in one of the side streets by a shop, is a fine example of a plague stone. This stone with a cup shaped intentation was used by infected households to leave money soaked in vinegar in attempt to pay for supplies, without infecting the person delivering them!


On 19 December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat station in Mousehole was called to assist with a rescue of the Union Star vessel after its engines failed in heavy seas. The lifeboat the Solomon Browne, a wooden 47-foot Watson class boat built in 1960 with eight volunteer lifeboatmen went to the aid of the ship through 60ft breakers. A message came back that four passengers had been rescued and pulled aboard the Solomon Browne, but that was the last heard from either vessel. Sixteen people lost their lives including eight lifeboatmen.

The day after the disaster enough people from Mousehole volunteered, to be able to form a new lifeboat crew.  In 1983 a new “Penlee” lifeboat station was built along the coast at Newlyn. The old station site is now a memorial and garden to those brave men. A harsh reminder of the power and fury of the sea.

Since 1963 Mousehole has had a fine display of Christmas lights at the harbour, a tradition started by artist Joan Gilcrest, and becoming increasingly elaborate each year. In 1981 the Christmas lights had been lit two days before the storm, by lifeboatman Charlie Greenhaugh. After his death is widow asked for them to be repaired and relit. Since then they have been restored but are dimmed on the anniversary of the tragedy for an hour of remembrance.

At fair Mount’s Bay, on that Christmas week
Was such a raging storm, no man could speak
That lifeboat thundered through an angry sea
Was called Solomon Browne and her company

With courage, it was called

On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Now the stricken coaster called the Union Star
Her maiden voyage, she never thought that far
With Captain Moreton and his four man crew
A woman to save and her daughters two

Now, never had a lifeboat fought in vain
She could have made a dash for port but she tried again
All sixteen perished in that mighty wave
It tossed them overboard into a watery grave

With courage, it was called
On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Solomon Browne lyrics by Seth Lakeman




Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster