Porth (harbour) and Leven (level or smooth) was so named because the harbour was once a flat marshland on the banks of a stream flowing into the sea at a small cove. Walking into Porthleven on the Cornish Coastal Path from the west today, the path leads down to the present harbour, which faces south west, directly into the prevailing winds. This makes for spectacular storms in winter with waves crashing over the defences and consequently the granite harbour and sea walls are massive.
Although the area has been inhabited for over 1000 years, the present village dates from the early 19th century when a fourteen year programme of harbour construction began. The tin mine at Rinsey just inland (its abandoned engine houses still visible from the cliffs needed constant supplies and coal, whilst the tin ore had to be transported out of the port.
A safe refuge for the fleet of over 100 drifters used for fishing pilchards and mackerel was also necessary, and in order to satisfy these urgent demands, the local workforce had to be augmented by prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. It was opened in 1825 with a feast of roast beef and plum pudding for the whole village.
The traditional boat building trade on the quayside is still in existence and small fishing boats land their daily catch for the award winning Quayside fishmongers, as well as the local restaurants and cafes.
At low tide, just west of the harbour entrance lies the Moonstone , or “Giants Quoit”, a 50-ton rock of a type not found anywhere in the UK, and believed to have floated down from northern Europe on an iceberg. Further to the west lies Loe Bar, a natural barrier of sand and flint built up by winter gales and fierce under-currents at the mouth of the River Cober. This in turn has made a lake behind it, the biggest natural stretch of fresh water in Cornwall and known as Loe Pool, home to rare plants. The pair of canons which stand on the harbour wall were salvaged from the Anson, one of the many wrecks around the treacherous coastline, which met its unfortunate end on Loe Bar in 1807.
As you climb the narrow streets from the harbour, past the shops and buildings which make this fishing village so unspoilt by progress, you can see Tregonning Hill, an extinct volcano where the first china clay in the country was discovered and shipped out of Porthleven harbour.
Porthleven is a good place for a rest day with boat trips from the harbour, and there is an excellent cycle hire option. If you just want a day of rest and relaxation however there are a handful of excellent inns and restaurants around the harbour area including one of our favourites on the Lizard Coast Path, Kota Restaurant. Enjoy.