We’ve all heard the stories. Strange goings-on, mysterious lights in the dead of night. Hidden passages and secret rooms. Smuggling is one of the things that Cornwall is most famous for – apart from the pasty and clotted cream, of course.
The village of Polperro is a place steeped in smuggling history, even today its narrow cobbled streets and huddle of houses just reek of intrigue and dark doings. This little place was the home of Tom Potter, a man hanged for shooting a revenue man in cold blood and at one point in the 19th century smuggling was reported as the harbour’s main income. Still today it is in this village that you will find the county’s only smuggling museum!
Often however it was the smaller, more hidden coves that did the real lively trade in contraband. Beaches that were secluded and far away from prying eyes. Lansallos Cove is just 3 miles on foot along the coastal path from Polperro but it has a very different feel and an interesting history of its own.
Lansallos is a tiny hamlet of just a church and a handful of houses dating back to the tenth century. It was recorded in the Doomsday Book as the Manor of Lansalhas. Now owned by the National Trust, it is still far removed from the bustle of the modern world.
From the church a track leads down hill through a beautifully wooded valley to the cove. This remote beach, a perfect curve of white sand was once a paradise for smugglers and you can still see their mark to this day. As you reach the coast something strange happens, the little track leads straight through the middle of a huge slate rock.
The hewn passageway presumably gave easy and secluded access for the goods being unloaded. The smugglers’ wagon ruts, carved into the rock through repeated use, are still visible.
It is said that the main ‘free trade’ here at Lansallos was in French lace and brandy, as one lucky local mineowner discovered by accident in 1825. He happened to come across a large quanity of liquor washed up on the shoreline, possibly due to a local gang of smugglers throwing their contraband overboard because they feared they had been discovered.
Somehow one of the kegs of brandy just happened to be smuggled a little further. It ended up in one of the mineshafts at Wheal Howell, with apparently disastrous consequences for the mine’s output that day!
This is a beautiful stretch of coastline, peaceful, perhaps as it always was even in those heady days of adventure and intrigue. An ideal place to let your imagination run away with you.
Further along the coast you will find Gribbin Head another picturesque place to visit with a fascinating past.