Walk - Looe, Talland & Polperro

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

If you are starting the walk from Hannafore Road, begin at number 3. If you are starting at Talland, begin at number 5, at the Smugglers Rest otherwise start from the railway station in Looe.

  1. From the railway station walk down Station Road to the bridge and cross the river to West Looe.

During the nineteenth century, the pier constructed here to prevent sand from silting up the river was failing to do so, and local engineer and entrepreneur Joseph Thomas designed the banjo pier to address this problem. His solution was so successful that the idea of a banjo pier was adopted elsewhere in the world.

Joseph Thomas was also responsible for the quayside in East Looe, across the water, as well as the rail loop to Liskeard. Other projects of his include Hannafore Road (ahead) and the Hannafore Estate.

  1. Turn left and walk down Quay Road, alongside the harbour, carrying on along Hannafore Road beyond, which turns into Marine Drive as it curves around the mouth of the river and heads south and then west around the coast.

As you walk along beside the harbour, note the bronze statue of Nelson, a one-eyed bull seal who was a familiar sight around the harbour for 25 years before he died in 2003.

The rocky beach at Hannafore is a popular place for rockpooling. The rocky reef exposed at low tide consists of beds of flat slate scored through by deep gullies, providing a habitat for many different species. These include sponges, sea-squirts and sea anemones, as well as furrowed crabs, scorpion spider crabs and hairy crabs, and squat lobsters.

  1. At the end of Marine Drive go through the gate and on to the South West Coast Path.

Just offshore is Looe Island, also known as St George's Island. According to legend, Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea landed here with his teenage great-nephew, Jesus Christ, before they travelled up the coast to Glastonbury to found Christianity in Britain. A fragment of an amphora (an earthenware storage vessel) from the Eastern Mediterranean, dating from around that time, shows that there were trading links between Looe and the Middle East, although there is no evidence that Christ was left to amuse himself on the island while his uncle went into Looe on business, as local legend claims.

There is a medieval chapel on the island, which was dedicated to St Michael, although this was later corrupted to St George. It was a popular place for pilgrimages; but so many people drowned trying to reach it that a new Benedictine chapel was built just across from it on the mainland, sometime around the twelfth century.

The Lamanna Chapel, just a short detour uphill after the gate (and signposted), was built on the site of a sixth century Celtic monastery and incorporated a monk's cell. It was originally part of Glastonbury Abbey (maybe the reason for the Joseph of Arimathea legend), but by the fourteenth century it was a private chantry chapel belonging to the local Dawnay family. In 1549 it fell foul of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries

From the early 1960s, sisters Babs and Evelyn Atkins owned Looe Island. Evelyn wrote two books about it: "We Bought an Island" and "Tales from our Cornish Island". When Babs died in 2004, she left the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. It is a natural sanctuary for sea and woodland birds, and because of its unusually mild climate daffodils bloom here at Christmas. Cornwall Wildlife Trust run tours out to the island throughout spring and summer, and you can find details about these on their website.

  1. Stay with the Coast Path past the path inland to Hendersick, until you come to Talland.

Talland Church, nestling in the hollow of the hill above the bay, is noted for its detached tower and its old bench-ends. In past times, it was also famed for its eccentric vicar, the Rev Richard Dodge, who at the start of the eighteenth century was a renowned exorcist, and was often to be seen leaping around the churchyard at night, cracking a whip around the headstones to drive away evil spirits. More cynical narrators have suggested that perhaps the clergyman's eccentricities were actually cultivated to keep prowlers away from the churchyard while the smugglers were bringing their cargo through (see the Talland & the Giant's Hedge Walk).

On Talland Beach at low tide you can see the boiler of a French trawler wrecked here in 1922.

The pairs of towers at Talland and on the hillside above Hannafore, marked on the map as landmarks, are a measured nautical mile, used by ships to time their speed. Although advances in technology since they were built have meant that ships can measure their speed electronically, vessels often still use the measured mile as they come out of Plymouth Sound.

Timing starts when the first pair of towers passed lines up, and it stops when the second pair does the same. The distance between is a nautical mile (about 1.15 land miles), enabling the ship's crew to calculate their speed in knots (nautical miles per hour). In order to be allow for wind and tide, the process needs to be done between four and six times in both directions.

  1. Dropping steeply downhill into the car park at Talland, turn left at the Smugglers Rest and then left again to pass the toilets. Turn right along the tarmac path to take the Coast Path uphill towards Polperro. Carry on past the path to the right towards Brent, and above the war memorial on Downend Point, finally dropping steeply downhill in Polperro. The path to your left just before you reach Polperro, along Reuben's Walk, will bring you back up to the Coast Path if you turn right just before the lighthouse.
  2. Passing around the back of the harbour, by the Harbour Heritage Museum, carry on inland along The Warren and on to Fore Street. Keep going through Polperro, on the road known as The Combe, until you come to the roundabout at Crumplehorn.
  3. Walk back along the same route, or catch the bus back. The bus stop is across the road, by the car park, and there are frequent buses to Looe Health Centre, just down the road from the station.

Nearby refreshments

There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Looe and Polperro, as well as the Smugglers Rest and the beach café at Talland, about halfway.

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