Walk - Talland Bay & Looe
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- In Talland beach car park, facing the sea, turn left and go through the kissing gate onto the South West Coast Path, climbing the steps above Aesop's Bed and following the Coast Path acorns around the coast to Looe, ignoring the paths inland.
As you approach the first houses at Looe, the remains of the Lamanna Chapel are on the hillside to your left, opposite Looe Island. This was a medieval chapel, built on the site of a sixth century Celtic chapel, and there was a monk's cell attached. The chapel was Benedictine and belonged to Glastonbury Abbey until sometime before the fourteenth century, by which time 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.
There was a medieval chapel on the island, built before this one, which was a popular place for pilgrimages; but so many people drowned trying to reach it that this one was built instead.
There is a local legend that 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, found here and 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 the legend claims.
From the early 1960s, sisters Babs and Evelyn Atkins owned Looe Island. Evelyn wrote two bestselling 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.
- Going through the gate at Hannafore, stay with the Coast Path along Hannafore Road as it curves around the rocks and along the harbour to the bridge.
Looe's banjo pier, on the other side of the river, was designed in the nineteenth century by local engineer Joseph Thomas. The pier in place at the time failed to stop the sand from silting up the river, which was why it was built in the first place, and Thomas reasoned that adding a round head would solve the problem. It was so successful that banjo piers were adopted around 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.
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.
In medieval times, East and West Looe were separate towns joined by an estuary bridge, which was the first in Cornwall and in existence by 1411. Seventeenth century traveller Celia Fiennes wrote in 1685 that the bridge had 14 arches, but a new one was built about a hundred yards upriver in 1853. The two towns even had separate Parliamentary seats until 1832.
As well as being a prominent fishing town, from 1850 Looe was renowned for its fishing luggers. These square-sailed boats were hand-built, without plans, so that each one was unique, and well over a hundred fishing luggers worked from Looe.
There is still a fishing fleet based here, and daily fish auctions take place in the historic Looe Fish Market, rebuilt in 1987 and now bringing technology to a traditional industry. A live feed on the website gives details of the fish to be auctioned at the next landing, being updated even as they're caught, and a “Moby Clock” bidding system enables buyers to bid electronically at the auctions. The system also uses bar codes on each lot, making it possible to to trace through the supply chain exactly who caught the fish, when, and where.
Reaching West Looe, you can either walk back to Talland the way you came, along the Coast Path (remembering that a walk always looks different in the opposite direction!) or you can return via quiet lanes and footpaths.
- If you opt for the inland return route, turn left when you get to Fore Street in West Looe, and carry on up West Looe Hill. Continue straight ahead when Downs Lane joins from the right, keeping an ear open for traffic, and ignore both turnings into Portlooe, to carry on towards the main Polperro Road.
- As you approach the main road, turn left just before you reach it and walk to the sharp right-hand bend at Tencreek.
- Take the footpath through the caravan park, to your left on the bend, and follow the waymarkers through the fields to the road at the bottom, keeping the hedge on your right throughout.
The tower ahead of you as you drop through the fields is one of a pair, marked on the map as landmarks. There is another pair on the hillside at Hannafore, and together these are known as a measured nautical mile, used by the navy to measure a ship's speed. The distance between the two sets of markers is exactly a nautical mile, measured from when the two towers in the first pair line up, to where the second pari does the same. The run has to be carried out a few times in each direction, to make allowance for winds and tides.
- Reaching the road, turn right to return to Talland Bay.
There are numerous restaurants, pubs and tea shops in Looe and Polperro, as well as the Smugglers Rest and the beach café at Talland.