Saltash to Charlestown / St Austell to St Anthony / St Mawes to Helford Passage

This week we were staying on the north coast at Port Gaverne where we spent most of our time. Alison was with us for some of the holiday and we took her to catch a train home from Plymouth. This drive across country took about an hour. We spent a few days on the south coast between Saltash and St Austell where we had started in 2003.

The River Tamar is the county boundary and the main road crosses the Tamar Bridge that opened in 1961.


- From the Latin Cornu meaning horn and the Old English `wahl' meaning foreign, as that was how the English saw the Britons.

LizardThe name was first recorded in 891 as Cornwalam. Cornwall is a kingdom of its own called 'Kernow'. Even in Tudor times few Cornishmen spoke or understood English and their Celtic language still exists in the place names.

Chun QuoitThe county has more than 300 miles of coastline, the north comprising magnificent cliffs and headlands and the south is softer with tidal estuaries, the exception being the rugged Lizard peninsula, almost entirely surrounded by sea and often taking a severe battering.

Inland, the scenery is either desolate landscape of the mining areas or the lonely and bleak moors with few trees - Neolithic Man arrived around 5,000 years ago and left megalithic tombs and stone circles.

Cornish PastyTin and copper mining began in the Middle Ages and was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ruined chimneys are now all that remain. The climate is so mild here that palm trees and other tropical plants thrive in the many gardens.

You are likely to encounter the famous Cornish Pasty - meat and potato encased in pastry, held together by a thick ridge of pastry that was originally used as a handle by the tin miners. Yum yum.


Saltash bridgesSaltash is the 'Gateway to Cornwall' with most visitors arriving either by the road bridge or by Brunel's dramatic Royal Albert railway bridge.

The River Tamar divides Devon from Cornwall and was once a main maritime highway. The Tamar Bridge was first major suspension bridge to be constructed in the UK after World War ll. It was opened in 1961 and in the 1990's, was widened using cantilevers whilst remaining open to traffic.

Royal Albert BridgeThere is a toll of £1 on the way out of Cornwall.

In creating part of the Great Western Railway, Brunel had to design a large number of bridges and viaducts and in the early days many of these were built in timber.

The estuary at Saltash is 1100 feet wide, and the navigational requirement was for a clearance of 100 feet over most of that width. In 1849, Brunel decided on two spans of 455 feet, built of wrought iron. The central pier comprises four octagonal cast iron tubes, all resting on masonry which in turn rests on an early form of pneumatic caisson which was taken down to bedrock.

GuildhallAt the centre of this activity was the 12th century port of Saltash once the base for the largest river Mary Newman’s Cottagesteamer fleet in the South West. The town still retains its narrow streets rising steeply from the river, including an 18th century Guildhall on granite pillars that was restored in 1998.

We went to find Mary Newman’s Cottage, a perfect example of 15th century domestic architecture, little altered and with a reconstructed Tudor herb garden. Mary was Sir Francis Drake's first wife and this was her childhood home.

The Rame Peninsula

Rame viewBordered on three sides by the waters of the Rivers Lynher, Tamar and Plymouth Sound, this is known locally as ‘The Forgotten Corner’ and has an isolated feel about it. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty with secluded beaches and magnificent scenery. Devonport Dockyard

With the Devonport Royal Naval Dockyard nearby, the Rame Peninsula has always been strategically important and so the remains of many fortifications can still be seen throughout the area.


chain ferryA chain ferry has operated between Plymouth and Torpoint since 1832, replacing older steam and sailboat versions and recently upgraded. The trip gives views of the Devonport naval dock yard. Unfortunately our plan to use to ferry was scuppered when we had to call the AA, by which time it was too late and we found an alternate route.St. John's Lake

There are strong Naval connections and a long seafaring history. St. John's Lake is an inlet of tidal marshes and saltings.

Antony HouseJust to the north, Antony House was constructed for Sir William Carew around 1721.

The house has remained largely unaltered, apart from the addition of a 19th century porch, with rooms panelled in Dutch oak and displays of treasures belonging to the Carew family. There is also a superb landscaped garden, much of which was carried out by Humphry Repton.

Mount Edgcumbe Country Park

Mount Edgcumbe Country ParkExtending south along the coast from the ferry at Cremyll, the park has woodland, rugged coastline and formal gardens this Tudor house has spectacular views over Plymouth Sound.

Mount Edgcumbe In the early 16th century the estate came into the possession of Sir Piers Edgcumbe through marriage and the family moved their household from Cotehele during the late 17th century.

follyThe house was destroyed during the 1941 Blitz on Plymouth and left derelict until 1958, when Adrian Gilbert Scott was commissioned by the 6th Earl to rebuild it. The external details mostly date from the early 19th century but the entrance at the north front has its original 16th century doorway. It is rare among English country houses because of its post-War interior design.

The grounds were transformed into one of the finest landscape gardens in England by the1st Earl, an admiral of the fleet, in 1789.

The Rame Forts

Built over a period of several hundred years to defend the naval base at Plymouth, the Rame forts form the western part of the most extensive and complete historic coastal defences in the UK.

Fort PicklecombeFort Picklecombe stands on the extreme south eastern coast, overlooking Plymouth Sound. It was commissioned in the 19th century by Lord Palmerston, when Britain was at risk from large scale enemy invasion by sea. After world war ll, the fort was decommissioned and stood derelict for many years until the early 1970s when it was converted to apartments. Cawsand Fort Cawsand Fort was also built on the site of an earlier battery, and has also been converted to residential use.

The principal forts of the Western Defences are Scraesdon and Tregantle. Both date from the 1860’s and are known affectionately as ‘Palmerston Follies’ because their protection was never required. They stand today as important examples of mid Victorian military architecture.

Kingsand and Cawsand

Cawsand CawsandUntil 1844 the border passed between the twin villages, making Kingsand Cornish and Cawsand Devonish. It only took us five minutes to walk from one to the other and although they are now a single town, each possesses a distinct identity with their own small shingle beaches.

Cawsand Bay was a magnet for smugglers from Tudor times until the18th century and has narrow streets and colour-washed buildings. It is overlooked by one of the Victorian forts high above, reached by a steep stone stair at the centre of the town.

steep stone stairwar memorialKingsand

From Kingsand there is a spectacular view over Plymouth Sound and the Breakwater with a prominent clock tower on the seafront, commemorating the coronation of King George V.

Rame Head

Church of St GermanusThe lane to the headland passes the 11th century Church of St Germanus. There is no electricity in the church so it is lit by candles and the organ is one of last remaining hand-pumped examples left in England.

National Coastwatch lookoutNational Coastwatch volunteersWe arrived at the car park and went to see the old coastguard lookout, which is now manned by the volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution.

Inside, with spectacular views, two very nice ladies told us about their work recording all the passing shipping.

\towards St Michael's ChapelWe were the only people walking to the tip of the headland, where perched on the top of the hill is the ruined 14th century St Michael's Chapel.

This originally had a beacon that was kept blazing to guide ships into Plymouth. The Head is flanked by two small beaches, Eastern and Western Gear, which are only accessible by boat

Whitsand Bay

Whitsand BayThis is a gently curving bay notorious for strong cross-currents and there are beautiful long stretches of sand at low tide. The beach can be reached by paths which zigzag down National Trust cliffs more than 250ft high in places.

Whitsand Bay In 2004 the former HMS Scylla was sunk in 20m of water to form Europe's first Artificial Reef and a well known scuba dive destination.

Tregantle FortThe area around Tregantle Cliff forms part of a military firing range and is sometimes closed to the public. It includes Tregantle Fort which is dramatically sited on the cliffs and can be seen for several miles along the coast.

view-pointThere is a fabulous view-point near the road where you can see right across to Plymouth on one side and the sea on the other.

Seaton, Downderry and Millendreath Beach

We met a double decker bus here, on the narrowest steepest bit of road around and it wasn’t very funny!

DownderryDownderry is a popular seaside village sheltered by a towering sea wall and with a beach of fine shingle. Low tide exposes a network of rock pools and there are the usual beach amenities.

SeatonSeaton was a notorious smuggling area in the last century when brandy, silk and spices were brought in from Brittany. There is car parking next to a sand and shingle beach overlooked by holiday homes. The beach is divided by the River Seaton which flows into the sea here and frequently changes its course.

To the west is the Monkey Sanctuary, where several generations of Amazon woolly monkeys, all bred in Cornwall, roam free in outdoor enclosures.

Millendreath BeachThe Millendreath Beach holiday village has a small, sheltered beach, backed by an indoor swimming pool. At the east end of the beach is an artificial pool filled by the tide. The facilities, including watersports, are open to day visitors as well as to residents of the village.

East and West Looe

Looe bridgeLooe is really two towns built on opposite sides of the Looe River, joined by a granite bridge of seven arches. It was developed by the Great Western Railway in the first half of this century as a holiday centre.

There is a scenic 8 mile railway through the Looe Valley to Liskeard.

ice roomWe parked at East Looe beside the fishing harbour, and walked through the shopping centre to the beach.

Looe harbourThe fishing fleet is smaller these days but it is still a busy and colourful scene. We had a look in the large ice room and passed several boards advertising boat trips


Looe beachDown on the beach, the "banjo" pier protects the east side of the mouth of the River Looe - the west side being naturally protected by the rocky coast. In summer a passenger ferry operates from here, allowing walkers to avoid the lengthy detour to the bridge.

Victorian GuildhallOld GuildhallIt is a pleasant town with narrow streets; the quaint Old Guildhall is one the oldest buildings, dating back to about 1500 and now houses a museum.

The Victorian Guildhall in Fore Street, with its tall clock tower, has now taken over as the town hall.

Beyond the bridge the river splits into two arms; the West Looe and the East Looe, the latter flowing through some unspoilt countryside.

West LooeOver the bridge, the more residential West Looe is older and quieter and leads to Hannafore with its fine views of Looe Island, a mile offshore that is open to day visitors in the summer. The proper name is St.George's Island and once had a Benedictine chapel. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimethea landed here with the child Christ. ‘Da Vinci Code’ enthusiasts take note!

Looe IslandThe island has no roads, no shops, no traffic and is a natural sanctuary for birds and a one time haunt of smugglers. In 1965 two sisters, Evelyn and Babs Atkins, bought it and lived there alone, often cut off from the mainland for days. Sadly both sisters died in their 80’s but they left the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.Talland Bay

The coast path leads west to Here Point which is National Trust owned, and passes black and white panels used for offshore speed trials by the Royal Navy.

Nearby Talland Bay is a sheltered shingle cove that is overlooked by the 13th century Church of St Tallan.


Polperro riverAs non-resident traffic is banned in Polperro, we walked down from the car park beside the river Pol which is routed via a man-made channel.

Polperro tramhorse-drawn carriageThere is a shuttle service to and from the harbour using a small tram or a pretty horse-drawn carriage.


Polperro is a picture book village with narrow, winding streets, some only 6ft wide, with cottages packed tightly on steep slopes overlooking a tiny harbour.

MuseumIt is still a working fishing village although the shoals of pilchards have long gone so the town now thrives on tourism. The Museum of Smuggling and Fishing houses a remarkable collection of exhibits.

Polperro squareThis was once a centre for the area's smuggling when wagonloads of contraband left here, some heading across Bodmin Moor for London. In the 18th century, duty on many goods was increased considerably, encouraging the Polperro fishermen to smuggle tea, gin, brandy and tobacco across from Guernsey.

Polperro streetZephaniah Job arrived to manage the smuggling trade and was to become the greatest single benefactor in the town’s history. Job acted as advisor, accountant and banker to many of the inhabitants and even hired lawyers when the smugglers appeared in court. His bank continued in Polperro until his death in 1822, and he was able to rebuild the harbour after it was destroyed by a violent storm in 1817.

harbourPolperro's isolated position made it difficult for Excise officers to catch smugglers but the Revenue cutters at sea had more success. One vessel, the Hind, came to be feared by the smugglers more than any other and as a result, the smuggling trade began to diminish. Polperro Knitfrocks is the name given to the Guernsey sweaters knitted in one of the traditional patterns used by local families.

Shell houseWe bought ice creams down on the inner harbour and enjoyed a stroll through a maze of impossibly narrow lanes with cottages shoe-horned amongst each other, one completely covered in shells.

On the Roman Bridge is the famous 15th century House on Props, a restaurant that is supported over the river by several stout wooden beams of timbers from a shipwreck.“knockers”

One shop is festooned with wooden carvings of Cornish spirits or piskies. The tin miners used to call them “knockers” and inside, the walls are covered with letters from people who’ve purchased one and seen their fortunes change for the better.

There is also an attraction called the Polperro Model Village & Land of Legend where stories of legends and superstitions from Cornish folklore are told and there is a large 00 gauge railway.

Pencarrow Head

Pencarrow HeadBetween Polperro and Polruan, the coastline is rugged, rocky and unspoilt. All the beaches have access only down steep cliff paths.

Reed WaterFrom the small village of Lansallos, a track starts beside the 14th century St Ildierna's Church and runs beside a stream which falls to the shore as a small waterfall. This is known as the Reed Water and is the site of an old water mill. This cove was the setting for part of the 'Poldark’ series.

Lantic BayTo the west is the sheltered Lantivet Bay and further round Pencarrow Head is Lantic Bay, a white sandy cove lashed by powerful currents where bathing can be hazardous and the toilets are some distance away.


Polruan and FoweyCars are not allowed in Polruan during the holiday season as it is a small village with only one road that ends on the village quay. The village is bounded by water on three sides - Penpoll Creek to the north, the Fowey River to the west and the sea to the south.

PolruanIts cottages are stacked high above the village's waterfront with its narrow streets and flights of slate steps between the houses.

It is famous for its boat building heritage and the natural defences of water made the area an attractive dwelling place for the earliest inhabitants. Its position has not allowed much expansion and commercialisation so it has retained much of its charm.

blockhouseBy the quay is a 15th century blockhouse from which a heavy chain was connected to a similar structure at Fowey, to seal off the river mouth and deep grooves carved by the chain can be seen in the rock. The towers were probably built in response to a raid on Fowey by the French in 1457. Bodinnick

From Bodinnick, slightly further up the estuary, we used the vehicle ferry to Fowey. Near to the slipway is a house called "Ferryside” where Daphne du Maurier once lived.


Fowey churchThe original name of Fowey was "Foye" and the current name is still pronounced that way.

Fowey RiverThe Fowey River is surrounded by miles of lovely countryside, much of which is in the ownership of the National Trust. The estuary is a busy waterway used by ferries, pleasure craft and huge ships on the way to the docks north of Fowey. It has a deep water harbour that is a very important exporting port and provides the pilotage and towage services for the export of china clay to destinations all over the world.

Fowey streetThe town is absolutely lovely, built on the west bank of the estuary, with steep, narrow streets creating a winding maze. As we were visiting out of the holiday season, we were able to drive through the tiny streets but this is definitely not advisable when it is busy. As it was, we spent longer than our parking ticket allowed and ended up with a fine. A fair cop.

Noah's ArkThe medieval and Tudor cottages beside the quays, busy with yachts and boats are enchanting. There are loads of antique shops, restaurants and old pubs. The oldest house in Fowey is called Noah's Ark and dates back to 1430 and the parish church, dedicated to St. Fimbarrus was begun in 1336. A 15th century fortified manor house called 'Place', dominates the town and is still owned by the original family who had it built.

Fowey shopIron Age Man lived here, then the Romans and in 1380 the Spanish, and in 1457 the French, tried to raze it to the ground. Drake, Raleigh and Frobisher all sailed from Fowey. In the museum are the timber, sails and cordage from ships that chased the Spanish, beat the French and carried Cornish tin and China Clay all over the world.

There is a regatta in August and we arrived a week before the Daphne du Maurier Festival that looked very interesting indeed.

St Catherine's castleThe ruined castle just to the south west is a small artillery fort built by Henry VIII to defend the harbour with two storeys and gun ports at ground level. In medieval times the chapel of St Catherine stood on the cliff top and a light was kept burning as a lighthouse.

Gribbin Head

Gribbin HeadThe South West coast path leads to Gribbin Head, and the Saints' Way runs for 26 miles north to Padstow, marking the route followed by Celtic missionaries from Brittany on their way to Wales.

Gribben DaymarkThe coast footpath skirts the grounds of Menabilly, which was Daphne du Maurier's home for many years and the ‘Manderley' of her novel ‘Rebecca’. A 20 minute walk from a car park here leads to the craggy headland at the tip of which stands the Gribben Daymark.

This is an 84ft high, red and white beacon that was built in 1932 to help seafarers identify the approach to Fowey Harbour.


Polkerris At a junction with the A3082, a very narrow lane leads to a peaceful harbour, where a curving breakwater shelters a sandy, west-facing beach hemmed in by rocky cliffs. Parking halfway down the hill we arrived to find just one café and a pub. Rashleigh Inn

The Rashleigh Inn is known as "The Inn on the Beach" for obvious reasons; it is a 300 year old building which was the coastguard station at one point and the main bar was once a boathouse.

Par Sands

Par SandsWe turned off towards a large holiday village and campsite before entering Par and walked across the sand dunes to a large, flat beach. The brackish lagoon to the rear of the beach and associated reed beds are noted for their wildlife. Towards Little Hell Cove

When the tide is out you can walk to an opening in the rocky cliff known as Little Hell Cove and the area is pretty safe for bathing. The most noticeable feature is the view to the west of the chimneys of Par's clay-processing plant.

Carlyon Bay

Carlyon Bay Carlyon Bay towards Gribben HeadCarlyon Bay has been really messed up.

Crinnis Beach, Shorthorn Beach and Polgaver Beach together make up what is known as Carlyon Bay, a popular seaside resort. The shore is backed by craggy cliffs, and Crinnis Beach is a beautiful spot - nearly a mile long stretch of sand recognised as one of the finest locations on the south Cornish coast.

The road to the beach is through a private estate with hotels and a golf course. Demolishing the Cornwall ColiseumDuring the 1950s, a complex known as the ‘Cornwall Coliseum’ was built, and was then gradually extended with a Wimpy Bar and a nightclub. Now it is being demolished and has been that way for at least two years.

'Improvements'Developments are planned which would extend across nearly 1¾ miles and cover most of the beach. Although the plans look impressive, the concern amongst locals is the impact it is going to have on the local infrastructure and a planning enquiry is awaited.

Understandably this has drawn attention from the local press with recent articles such as 'No to Costa Del Carlyon' and 'Petition Calls on Prescott to Step In'. In the meantime, fences and rusting metal barriers adorn the sand as well as a huge sales office and abandoned machinery. Something needs to be done one way or another as it is awful.


Charlestown harbour This was an amazing surprise as we drove down the hill to see a harbour full of square-rigged, tall ships on a glorious sunny day.

Charlestown harbourThe town is named after Charles Rashleigh, a local mine-owner who built the harbour in the late 18th century. The facilities generated trade in pilchards, stone, tin, copper, timber and coal and encouraged a large commercial infrastructure.

Charlestown grew prosperous from the export of St Austell's china clay but better port facilities at Fowey, Par and Plymouth led to the decline of these docks at the end of the 19th century. A small amount of clay is still exported in an average of 30-40 ships a year. Charlestown beach

Now tourism has largely replaced shipping and on either side of the harbour are two small pebbly beaches.

The Shipwreck Rescue and Heritage Centre houses an extensive collection of shipwreck artefacts and traces the history of underwater exploration. Part of it is built over tunnels where stevedores pushed wagons full of Cornwall's clay to waiting ships.

tall shipThe famous collection of old ships are employed in film projects all over the world and have brought work and life to the quays and harbour buildings.

Shipwreck Heritage CentreWe couldn’t go into the inner harbour or go aboard the ships as a French production of Treasure Island was underway. It was interesting watching the set building and riggers climbing to the top of the masts.