SUE McQUEENIE enjoys a relaxing break in the charming Cornish harbour town of Porthleven.

Nestled neatly between Land’s End and Lizard point, along the rugged coastline of Cornwall, the quaint fishing village of Porthleven is a draw for visitors all year round. When we visited just after the summer holidays, the streets were less crowded, with visiting families replaced by older couples, hikers and dogs aplenty.

We stayed at the St Austell Brewery-owned Harbour Inn and, once we’d shoehorned our car into the hotel’s quayside car park, we decided to put the car keys away and spend our entire weekend in and around Porthleven, exploring the village and nearby coastline on foot.

Originally constructed as a private hotel in the late 18th century, the Harbour Inn has recently undergone a sensitive refurbishment. Downstairs, the bar has been opened up to create a huge open plan area. Upstairs the 15 bedrooms have all been tastefully redecorated, with a marine theme running throughout.

Our room was well appointed and the beds comfortable, and there was even a welcome treat of a can of St Austell’s Korev lager each. Our room looked across the pub’s outside seating area, directly onto the harbour. The views from our window were picture perfect, capturing the essence of Porthleven’s bustling historic harbour, bobbing fishing boats, and the rhythmic dance of waves against the sea wall.

Porthleven Harbour developed in the early 1800s as part of the booming Cornish China clay industry, when William Cookworthy shipped his locally-quarried China clay to his Plymouth-based porcelain factory. However, its usefulness as a port was limited due to its vulnerability to the strong prevailing Atlantic winds and rough seas, claiming many a wreck.

Over the years, the quiet harbour village was mostly home to boat-builders and fishermen. There was a steady rise in population during the 19th century and in the 1850s the port was taken over by Harvey & Co, who had major plans for alterations to the harbour, including building the massive sea walls you see today. Walls which are excellent for jumping off into the sea when the tide is in, by the way. We spent a good hour or two watching the fun – from the comfort of the nearby Ship Inn, of course.

By 1913, the harbour was busy receiving coal steamers alongside vessels carrying cement, bricks, and timber. Today the coal steamers have gone and the harbour is full of fishing boats, dinghies and leisure craft. The village’s narrow streets, cobbled roads and colourful cottages which reflect its past are a treasure trove for visitors.

We spent the morning exploring the area, walking around the horseshoe of a harbour, browsing the local galleries and craft shops. And it really is a place which embraces the arts. Its own community interest company, Porthleven Arts, stages events throughout the year, and an annual autumn festival all designed to support artists, innovators and creatives through its activities, ‘weaving creativity into the fabric of the community’.

Our drink at the Ship Inn, an atmospheric 17th century old fisherman’s haunt, perched beside the outer wall of the harbour, was followed by a late al fresco lunch at Dan Dan the Lobster Man – a heaven for seafood lovers – based in a rustic shack on the harbour. We sampled the mackerel pate and the lobster tails in garlic and parsley butter – just delicious!

A stroll along the South West Coast Path followed and then back to the Harbour Inn for the evening. There was still a chance to catch some late afternoon sun, so gin and tonics in the beer garden alongside the harbour were the order of the day.

The next day was bright and sunny, so we donned our walking boots, fuelled up with coffee and the most enormous cheese scone which we shared in the Corner Deli on Fore Street, and followed a circular walk from the village through the beautiful grounds of Penrose House and back to the harbour.

We also took a detour to nearby Loe Pool a freshwater lake, separated from the sea by a sandbar, close to Porthleven beach, the perfect location to while away the hours wandering and exploring the scenery. There’s an outdoor gym along the six-mile circular walk if you’re feeling energetic. It’s a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife lovers too, with the route passing through woodland, marshes, and open fields.

Our evening meal was back at the Harbour Inn; the restaurant was busy, but the service was quick and friendly. There’s lots of choice, with local produce and locally sourced seafood. We plumped for fish and chips – well, it seemed rude not to! Hake landed in Newlyn and cooked in St Austell Ale batter was cooked to perfection and served alongside peas and crispiest of chips.

The pub breakfast the next morning was equally good, with local produce on the menu and friendly service. All too soon our weekend was over, and we headed for home, refreshed and revitalised – full of sea air and delicious Cornish food and drink.