Exploring the Narrow Streets and Passageways of Cornwall’s Coastal Towns and Villages

Cornwall’s traditional fishing villages are full of narrow streets, passageways, and delightful little nooks and crannies.

If you’ve ever watched the popular TV sitcom “Doc Martin”, you’ll have seen Dr Martin Ellingham struggling to squeeze his Lexus down the narrow streets of Port Isaac, otherwise known as “Portwenn”.

Lined with whitewashed cottages, or pastel shades like yellow ochre, the picturesque village dates back to the time of Henry VIII, although its centre is mostly from the 18th and 19th century when its prosperity depended on the shipping and fishing trades.

Fore Street in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bryan Ledgard
Fore Street in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bryan Ledgard

Meaning “corn port”, Port Isaac initially served the trade in corn grown on the surrounding arable lands.

Later, cargoes of coal, wood, stone, and pottery were hauled along its narrow streets to the harbour, then shipped out to sea for export.

Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

“Fore Street” is a name often used in the south west of England to mean the main street of a town or village.

Derived from the Cornish word “Forth”, meaning “Street”, and corrupted to “Fore” in English, there are over seventy examples in Cornwall alone.

English colonists from Cornwall are thought to have named Fore Street in Portland, Maine, in the United States.

Fore Street, Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street, Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Stroll the meandering narrow streets and you’ll pass traditional family-run butchers shops, tucked-away seafood restaurants, and confectionary shops with Cornwall’s famous fudge made from local cream.

Old cottages in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Manfred Heyde
Old cottages in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Manfred Heyde
The narrow streets of Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The narrow streets of Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Pride of Place confectionary shop in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion
Pride of Place confectionary shop in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion

Become a stowaway at the Stowaway Tea Shoppe where they also sell delicious Cornish ice cream that some say is the world’s best.

The Stowaway Tea Shoppe in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
The Stowaway Tea Shoppe in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

And no trip to Port Isaac is complete without a visit to the Doctor—that’s Doc Martin, naturally.

Famous for the film location of ITV’s Doc Martin comedy-drama series, Port Isaac also played host to the original 1970s version of the BBC’s Poldark series.

Doc Martin's House, Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion
Doc Martin’s House, Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion

Another delightful Cornish village lined with narrow streets is Polperro.

Misty day at Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Misty day at Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Meaning “Pyra’s Cove” in the Cornish language, Polperro’s tightly-packed fishermen’s cottages, quaint harbour, and beautiful coastline make it a popular tourist destination in summer months.

Lansallos Street, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Lansallos Street, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Dating from the 1700s, a typical old fisherman’s cottage featured a fishing net store on the ground floor with steps leading up to the living accommodation above.

Fisherman's cottage, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fisherman’s cottage, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Off-season, when there’s little to no traffic, the locals can have a good old chinwag about the weather in peace.

The narrow streets of Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The narrow streets of Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Don’t forget to buy some postcards and postage stamps at the village Post Office!

Fast disappearing, these icons of the British way of life can still be found in many seaside towns and villages.

Polperro Post Office, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Polperro Post Office, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Lined with holiday cottages, the “Warren” is a narrow street providing perfect walks along the harbour front.

The Warren at Polperro harbour, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Warren at Polperro harbour, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Tucked away in The Warren is a house covered in seashells called “The Shell House”.

The Shell House, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Jarkeld
The Shell House, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Jarkeld

And if you like quirky buildings, why not visit “The House on the Props” restaurant and tearooms which also offers Bed and Breakfast accommodations.

The House on the Props, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
The House on the Props, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr



Booking.com

Wits End Cottage, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Wits End Cottage, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Leading up the hill from the harbour is Lansallos Street which is filled with quaint shops, pubs, and art galleries.

Lansallos Street, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Lansallos Street, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Formerly a family bakery dating from the 16th century, the Noughts and Crosses Inn is named after how the owner kept account of who had paid and who hadn’t by using a series of noughts and crosses.

Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Booking.com
Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro, Cornwall. Credit Booking.com

Quaintly named, the little fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzle”) is laced with a maze of narrow streets.

Narrow street in Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion
Narrow street in Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion

Destroyed by the Spanish raid on Cornwall in the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604, the only building to survive any damage was a pub owned by local resident Jenkyn Keigwin who died from a cannonball shot while defending it.

Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Nilfinion
Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Nilfinion

Ringed by lichened cottages and houses, the picturesque harbour reveals a sandy beach at low tide that’s popular with families.

Mousehole harbour, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion
Mousehole harbour, Cornwall. Credit Nilfanion

Reminding you of its delightful name and giving you another opportunity to practice how it’s pronounced, The Mousehole giftshop joins galleries, pubs, and restaurants along the harbour front.

The Mousehole gift shop in Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Otto Domes
The Mousehole gift shop in Mousehole, Cornwall. Credit Otto Domes

Over a thousand years old, the ancient town of Looe in south-east Cornwall straddles the Looe River.

Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Situated on the east side of the river, East Looe has numerous narrow streets and lanes, one of which is Fore Street—the main thoroughfare—teeming with shops, bakeries, pubs, and restaurants.

Fore Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Formerly a 15th-century merchant’s house, the timber-framed and painted-stone “Ye Olde Cottage Restaurant” on the tiny alleyway of Middle Market Street features oak ceiling beams and an old oak fireplace lintel.

The narrow old streets of Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The narrow old streets of Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Only wide enough for single-file traffic, Buller Street joins Fore Street and both are dotted with coffeeshops, pubs, pasty shops, bakeries, and creperies.

Buller Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Buller Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Originally built in 1420 and featuring salvaged oak timbers from a wrecked galleon of the Spanish Armada, the Smugglers Cott is said to have a tunnel leading to the quayside that was used by smugglers bringing their loot ashore.

Now serving loot of the edible variety, the restaurant offers delicious local seafood, steaks, and rib roast carvery.

Medieval building in Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Medieval building in Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Just in case anyone is tempted to drive down such a narrow alleyway on Lower Chapel Street, the no-entry sign is a reminder that it’s not a good idea.

Lower Chapel Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Lower Chapel Street, East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Upstairs or downstairs? Many former fishermen’s cottages now offer holiday season lettings.

Old Cornish cottages in East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Old Cornish cottages in East Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Set in a quiet traffic-free passageway a few yards from the harbour, Sandpipers is a 150-year-old former fisherman’s cottage, refurbished to offer comfortable accommodations.

Former fisherman's cottage in Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Former fisherman’s cottage in Looe, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

If Mevagissey‘s narrow streets were as busy as her little harbour, people might be stuck in traffic for hours!

Nestled in a small valley, tourism may have supplanted a once thriving fishing industry but Mevagissey manages to maintain 63 working fishing boats alongside dozens of pleasure vessels.

Mevagissey harbour, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Mevagissey harbour, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Rising up the steep slopes of the surrounding hillsides, the outer areas provide accomodations for local residents while the village centre is filled with eateries and shops aimed at tourists.

The narrow streets of Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The narrow streets of Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Narrow street in Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Narrow street in Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Named after two saints —St Mevan and St Issey—in the late 1600s, the village thrived on pilchard fishing and smuggling and there were at least 10 inns, of which the Fountain Inn and Ship Inn remain to this day.

The 15th century Fountain Inn, Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The 15th century Fountain Inn, Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street in Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Fore Street in Mevagissey, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

We hope you enjoyed a whirlwind tour of some of Cornwall’s narrow streets and feel inspired to visit one day in the not too distant future.

Hyns diogel! (Have a good trip!)

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