A minimum car park charge of £4 suggests Polperro in the present has retained the freebooting spirit it celebrates from its smuggling past. Five minutes into the four hours this fee allows and you realise why the village needs to discourage an excess of motoring visitors. Our visit was in April and the car park was almost deserted: the number of cars and coaches it can accommodate – and no doubt does in summer – tells the story.
The narrow streets were already clogged enough with residents’ cars and tradesmen’s vans. You have to be prepared to pay for the privilege of walking about, and to take the time to do justice to the attractions of Polperro, not to mention its pubs, fudge and curio shops and restaurants.
It was our last day in Cornwall and as we arrived the rain began. There was a sharp wind with it. Nonetheless we enjoyed the stream running down towards the harbour, and the cottages and gardens. A number of cottages are let to holidaymakers who may, presumably, bring their cars into the village. There are shops to provide for their needs, as well as cafes and the aforementioned pubs and restaurants. Prices, as in most of Cornwall, are reasonable.
Late afternoon is no time to learn whether or not the fish market still operates; boats in the harbour suggest it does, perhaps to send the fish on to shops elsewhere. A notice forbidding the entry of dogs into the market seemed to offer post-health-and- safety confirmation.
Even – or perhaps especially – on a grey day the harbour cottages banked up against the cliff are striking. There was spray whipping across the harbour wall, with breakers on rocks either side of the narrow inlet. Not at all difficult to imagine the smugglers coming in under cover of darkness. There were plenty of places nearby to hide their contraband too. The cave offers atmosphere but seems too obvious to give security.
Although the road down appeared the only one we found another on leaving the harbour. Confusing for the excise men perhaps. Today, though, just an alternative route to tea shops. A cream tea anywhere else in the country seems expensive; here it’s cheap.
We could have spent time in shops or cafes but there would still have been the walk back through rain that threatened to become heavy. Just enough time to buy some fudge: a disappointment in the end, with too much “curiosity-value” flavour and not enough real fudge experience. We had a fine fish meal to look forward too, however, so little was lost.
As we returned to the car park a local bus demonstrated why Polperro guards its traffic-free environment. The thought of having to reverse for who knows how far on meeting that head-on is better acknowledged in the breach than in reality.