By Hannah Silverman
After driving along similar roads for about a week and long after the roadhouse caffeine supplies run dry, no matter where in the world you are the scenery begins to whistle a similar tune. Each town you pass through has its own charm, of course, and the journey is always a road delightfully travelled, but between the grassy detours and the bitchuman highways, you begin to experience a feeling of ‘been there done that, I believe it’s now happy hour’.
But the thing about road trips is for every few towns you pass, you find a hideaway village that makes you wonder if you’ve accidentally stumbled upon one of the world’s best kept secrets. Perhaps, this little known town is one of them.
I’m talking about Polperro. For those of you who think Polperro sounds more like a character from Pirates of the Carribean or an exotic vegetable (great minds and all that jazz), we need to tease this out. While it’s not the kind of place transient travellers seek out for longer than a few days, modern day bohemians would delight in calling this whimsical town home. In fact, they have. The artwork in Enid Blyton’s The Rat-a-Tat-Tat Mystery was illustrated by Polperrian Anyon Cook, and a trip to this enchanting stopover is like chapter of childhood fiction.
Polperro is a fishing harbour in south-east Cornwall and just might be the puppy dog of all sea side towns – it’s that damn cute. With fisherman’s houses built into steep cliffs, cottage-style cafes with rough timber detailing and delectable seafood restaurants scattered through a labyrinth of country-town nostalgia, Polperro makes for one inspirational chose your own adventure.
My discovery came at the end of an arduous day when my travelling buddy, Helen, started wishing this was the day we’d pre-booked accommodation. Instead, we left it up to the direction of the travel Gods who steered us through several similar-looking towns before eventually unveiling Polperro. Yet when we decided this was our camp for the evening, we still considered we were settling for a town that from the main road looked like it was home to a single pub and a couple of B&Bs. Stock standard, so we thought, but this is where the tired traveller is reminded to never judge a town by its high street.
Once we parked the car and started enquiring about vacancies, Polperro began to twinkle. After a straight strip of said pub and B&B stone cottages, the magic of Polperro revealed itself in the distance. Here we could see a glimpse of a postcard-perfect harbour, with majestic green cliffs nestling snuggly into the rocky hideaway homes and the gently lapping waves in the calm, ocean mouth below.
After checking into a most delightful B&B cottages, it was time to hunt and gather some food and wine, and, perhaps most poignantly at this point, explore. The town was mostly closed now, with holiday makers retreating into their self-catered accommodations, but the eery silence simply beckoned adventurers. Between the squeaking seagulls, the evening tide and the whistling winds, it’s not difficult to imagine a ghost-like presence in a relatively isolated town so beautifully carved into the countryside. As you walk deeper into the heart of the town towards the sea, Polperro explodes with rustic elegance, so unassuming I wondered if this was a dormant movie set. Within the mouth of the harbour was a cave, just slightly exposed as the tide pulled away from the mainland.
One of only a handful of open restaurants was Blue Peter Inn, complete with weathered signage and moistened timber hinting at its own marine tales from years gone by and days to come. The seafood platter here is the stuff of marine masterchefs, who splashed fortune on these incredible dusted prawns and scallops and worked it’s watery wizardry on on my plate. The chips aren’t so bad either. But then again, they never are, are they?
The morning after the night that was, Helen and I spent climbing one half of the mountain for views as breathtaking as the hike itself. It’s steep but worth it, so bring your camera and a picnic and park part way along the spiralling route.
Polperro is the kind of place you want to run away too, but perhaps not forever. However, it’s an ideal backdrop for a moonlit meal or a seaside stopover. It feels undiscovered, and that’s the best part of this spontaneous find. For those venturing along the Cornish coastline Polperro is a magical pitstop that will continue to inspire. Just don’t keep this relatively untouched secret to yourself, and equally don’t tell too many tourists.
What do you think is the world’s best kept travelling secret?