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A Glimpse of Old Cornwall at Polruan

A woodland and coastal walk from the village of Polruan through the ancient parish of Lanteglos.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 754ft (230m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good throughout. Can be very muddy in woodland areas during wet weather

Landscape Deep woodland alongside tidal creek. Open coastal cliffs

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 107 St Austell & Liskeard

Start/finish SX 126511

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead through grazed areas. Notices indicate

Parking Polruan. An alternative start to the walk can be made from the National Trust Pencarrow car park (Pd, SX 149513) . You can also park at Fowey's Central car park, then catch the ferry to Polruan

Public toilets Polruan

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1 Walk up from the Quay at Polruan, then turn left along East Street, by a telephone box and a seat. Go right, up steps, signposted 'To the Hills' and 'Hall Walk'. Go left at the next junction, then keep along the path ahead. Keep right at a junction and pass a National Trust sign, 'North Downs'.

2 Turn right at a T-junction with a track, then in just a few paces, bear off left along a path, signposted 'Pont and Bodinnick'. Reach a wooden gate onto a lane.
Don't go through the gate, but instead bear left and go over a stile. Follow a path, established by the National Trust, and eventually descend steep wooden steps.

3 At a T-junction with a track, turn right and climb uphill. It's worth diverting left at the T-junction to visit Pont. On this route reach a lane. Go left for a few paces then, on a bend by Little Churchtown Farm, bear off right through a gate signed 'Footpath to Church'. Climb steadily to reach the Church of St Winwaloe.

4 Turn left outside the church and follow a narrow lane. At a T-junction, just beyond Pencarrow car park, cross the road and go through a gate, then turn right along the field edge on a path established by the National Trust, to go through another gate. Turn left along the field edge.

5 At the field corner, turn right onto the coast path and descend very steeply. (To continue to Pencarrow Head go left over the stile here and follow the path onto the headland. From here the coast path can be re-joined and access made to Great Lantic Beach.) Follow the coast path for about 1¼ miles (2km), keeping to the cliff edge ignoring any junctions.

6 Where the cliff path ends, go through a gate to a road junction. Cross the road then go down School Lane. Turn right at 'Speakers Corner', then turn left down Fore Street to reach the Quay at Polruan.

There are parts of Cornwall so encompassed by the sea that they seem genuinely out of this modern world. The sea, rather than the dual carriageway, is still their major highway. The village of Polruan on the estuary of the River Fowey is one such place. The green headland on which it stands has the sea on its southern shore and is bounded to the north by the wonderfully calm and tree-lined tidal creek of Pont Pill. The village can be reached by land only along fairly minor roads that detour at some length from Cornwall's main spinal highways. Yet Polruan lies only a few hundred yards (metres) across the estuary from the bustling town of Fowey and a regular passenger ferry runs between the two.

Polruan and its surrounding parish of Lanteglos are redolent of old Cornwall. Prehistoric settlers found a natural refuge on the narrow headland on which it stands. Christian 'saints' and medieval worshippers set up chantries and chapels in the sheltered hollows; merchants prospered from the lucrative sea trade into Fowey's natural harbour. During the wars of the 14th and 15th centuries, Fowey ships harried foreign vessels, and because of their outstanding seamanship, earned themselves the admiring sobriquet of 'Fowey Gallants'. The entrance to the estuary was protected from attack by a chain barrier that could be winched across the river's mouth from blockhouses on either bank. In peacetime the Gallants continued to raid shipping of all types until Edward IV responded to complaints from foreign merchants, and several English ones, by confiscating ships and by having the protective chain removed. Resilient as always, the seaman of Fowey and Polruan turned their hands successfully to fishing and smuggling instead.

The route of this walk starts from Polruan. It wanders through peaceful countryside that was once owned by wealthy medieval families who played a major part in organising the freebooting activities of Polruan seamen. Original fortunes made through piracy were turned to legitimate trade and to farming and land management and the delightful countryside through which the walk leads is the product of long term land ownership and rural trade. At its heart lies the splendid Lanteglos Church of St Winwaloe, or St Willow. The second part of the walk leads back to the sea, to the steep headland of Pencarrow and to the dramatic amphitheatre of Lantic Bay with its splendid beach, an old smugglers domain if ever there was one. From here, the coastal footpath leads airily back to Polruan and to the rattle and hum of an estuary that has never ceased to be alive with seagoing.

What to look for

Spend some time exploring Polruan, at the beginning or end of the walk. This fine little port has retained much of its vernacular character in spite of some modern development. Polruan thrived because of seagoing and there is still a rich sense of those sea-dominated days in the narrow alleyways of the village.

While you're there

The handsome Church of St Winwaloe, or Willow, has notable wagon roofs containing some original 14th-century timbers as well as many other beams added during later centuries. The side walls and piers lean engagingly to either side. The novelist Daphne du Maurier was married here in 1932 and the church features as 'Lanoc Church' in her book The Loving Spirit.

Where to eat and drink

There are no refreshment opportunities on the walk, but the Russell Inn at the bottom of Fore Street, Polruan and the Lugger Inn on Polruan Quay, both do good pub lunches. There are a number of cafés and restaurants in Polruan. The Old Ferry Inn at Bodinnick also does pub lunches.

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