Porthleven is a town, civil parish and fishing port near Helston in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is the most southerly port on the island of Great Britain, and was originally developed as a harbour of refuge, when this part of the Cornish coastline was recognised as a black spot for wrecks in days of sail. Nearby Loe Bar – a sandbar which separates the lake from the sea – was particularly infamous, with swimmers and surfers being warned off the area to this day.
There is a picturesque harbour with three public houses overlooking the sea/harbour, a long sandy beach, shops, cafes, and restaurants. With stunning coastal scenery nearby, it is a wonderful base for your holiday whether you like to laze on the beach or be more active.
Historically and for local government purposes, Porthleven was included within the town boundaries of nearby Helston. After years of growth, it now has its own town council. Its population recorded by the United Kingdom Census 2001 was 3,190. During the summer months, that number swells considerably with tourists and surfers. Porthleven has exploited its location and exposure to powerful swells to become one of the best-known and highly regarded surfing spots in Britain. Waves, often exceeding 6.6 feet (2.0 m), break on the shallow reef that was shaped by blasting the harbour. Due to the prevailing westerly winds it was very easy for a ship under sail to get trapped in the bay and be cast up on the rocks at the small fishing coves of Mullion, Kynance and the Lizard.
Porthleven’s Clock Tower
Arguably, Porthleven’s most recognisable building is the Bickford-Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance. With a tower about 70 feet (20 metres) high, it looks like a church but currently is used as a snooker club and houses the town council offices. It featured (along with various other scenes from the town) as the incident room in an episode of the TV detective series Wycliffe. A picture of the building against a large breaking wave sometimes appears in the background of BBC UK weather forecasts, particularly when windy conditions and rough seas are expected.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at Porthleven in 1863. A boat house was built at Breageside from where the boat was taken to the water on a carriage. A new boat house on the west side of the harbour entrance was opened in 1894 with a slipway to make launching easier. The station was closed in 1929 as the neighbouring stations at The Lizard and Penlee had been equipped with motor lifeboats that could cover the whole of Mount’s Bay. The slipway was dismantled and the boat house was used as a store for a while but has since become the Shipwreck Centre museum.
Porthleven lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Almost a third of Cornwall has AONB designation, with the same status and protection as a National Park.
There are four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) sites close to Porthleven. Three of them, Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, Porthleven Cliffs East SSSI and Wheal Penrose SSSI are also Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites. The ″Giant’s Rock″, within Porthleven Cliffs SSSI, is an erratic of unknown origin and unknown mode of transport to its present site near the entrance of Porthleven harbour. The Wheal Penrose SSSI is a disused lead mine 550 yards (500 m) to the south with “good examples of typical lead zone mineralisation”. The fourth Loe Pool SSSI is Cornwall’s largest natural lake formed by a barrier beach, known as Loe Bar, which dams the River Cober.
Porthleven is twinned with Guisseny (Gwiseni) in Brittany, France.
Porthleven has connections with the Dambusters’ Commanding Officer, Guy Gibson, who used to come on holiday to visit relatives in Porthleven. There is a road named in his memory.