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Porthleven Town Talks: a harbour town with a fascinating history

three people stand in front of the iconic Porthleven clock tower

On the first day of August, some of the team from Aspects Holidays were kindly invited to attend an exclusive ‘Porthleven Town Talks’ experience with David Henshaw.  

Heading to Porthleven on a grey and overcast morning, waterproofs at the ready, we were intrigued to learn more about the harbour town we’ve known since childhood. We met David at the prearranged starting point by the clock tower; fortunately, he was easy to spot with his ‘Porthleven Town Talks’ T-shirt and lanyard. A friendly greeting was followed by a quick briefing outlining what to expect on the tour, and we were each given a lanyard to wear. Beginning by the clock tower, the tour would lead us on a gentle walk around the harbour and up the hill towards the coast path, covering approximately 1.5 miles.  

A picture of Porthleven from centuries ago is showed to the team.

Almost as soon as the tour started, in typical Cornish manner, it began to rain. David, however, was undeterred and, waterproofs donned, we continued. Incredibly knowledgeable and engaging, David’s passion for Porthleven shone through, bringing to life the history of Britain’s most southerly port. It was fascinating to learn about the development of the harbour; key figures from Porthleven’s past; buildings of significant interest, and more. 

Porthleven harbour on a grey day, with some people walking along the harbour.

Thankfully, after about twenty minutes, the rain eased and the day brightened up making for a much more pleasant experience. However, the upcoming storm forecast for the next day gave us the opportunity to see just how the harbour is prepared for such weather, with David explaining the steps taken to protect the harbour, which involves lowering traditional wooden baulks between the inner harbour walls. It was the danger of the sea during stormy weather, and the sinking of several ships that led to an appeal in 1808, petitioning for a harbour to be built in Porthleven as a place of refuge and safety for boats between Falmouth and Penzance. Opened in 1826 the harbour was not a success until, in 1855, the incredibly important inner walls were built to add further protection. When a storm is impending, the inner harbour can be closed off to protect the moored boats. 

Porthleven's inner harbour is closed off with wooden baulks

Guided by David, we stopped at key points along the walk, each time learning a little more. We were continually surprised by how little we knew about the town! It’s so easy to take the past for granted, without taking the time to appreciate how it shaped what we know today. Many visitors and locals will miss key elements of the town’s heritage, but with David’s unrivalled wealth of knowledge, no stone is left unturned. David pointed out several plaques commemorating villagers from the past; it was humbling to stand in the footsteps of villagers remembered for their bravery, including: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who played a vital role in WW2 before losing his life at war; brothers Fred and Edgar Giles who died on the Titanic, and PC’s Joe Childs and Martin Reid, whose police car was swept into the harbour during a violent storm in 1978. 

A canon is positioned at the harbour's edge

As we made our way around the harbour, we realised there were signs of the town’s history everywhere, from the canons raised from the sunken HMS Anson (wrecked in 1807, canons salvaged in the 1960's) to the King George V memorial lamp which was the first street lamp in the town, lit in 1911. Wherever we stood, whether at the harbour’s edge, in front of a shop, or next to a restaurant, there was a whole past waiting to be discovered. David shared stories from the past, bringing the history of this town to life. We loved hearing how buildings of today were formerly used: The Salt Cellar was built for curing fish; Kota, once a corn mill powered by a water wheel, had many uses including a horse and carriage depot and then a petrol station; what was Harbourside Refuge was home to the China Clay works until the 1930's, and the Mackerel Buildings now let by Aspects Holidays were once the town’s ice house, storing ice imported from Norway!

The view across the village of porthleven and beyond to the sea.

Around every corner, there was more to learn, and with a short walk up to the coast path, the tour concluded with facts about sunken ships, daring rescues, heroic men and a geological anomaly! Want to know more? You’ll have to book a tour! Use code Aspects10 when booking to receive 10% off tours.

A man in a blue t-shirt walks along the coast path

David was a fantastic and friendly guide who clearly has a great passion for Porthleven; we’d highly recommend booking one of his ‘Porthleven Town Talks’. Even if you think you know the town, we’re certain you’ll be amazed by what you discover on one of his tours. The experience lasts approximately two hours, and while walking is involved, the pace is gentle. David caters to the needs of each group, ensuring everyone is comfortable and allocates time for convenience breaks. 

Still water in a quiet harbour.

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In the meantime, why not check out our Porthleven Harbour webcam, and take a look at our Porthleven holidays

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