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!