One of Cornwall’s defining images is of fishermen’s cottages nestled around pretty working harbours, shaped over hundreds of years by wind and the waves from the stormy Atlantic Ocean. Many of these harbour towns and villages have survived and – despite the onward march of tourism – remain largely unspoiled, continuing to keep the county’s fishing industry afloat. Some of the best are to be found in North Cornwall.
Join the celebrities in Padstow
At the head of the Camel River, Padstow harbour is a popular tourist destination thanks in large part to the harbour with its iconic fishermen’s cottages. Many families are drawn here for a spot of crabbing in the inner harbour, or simply to eat fresh fish and chips from one of the numerous takeaways.
Of course, Padstow is now inextricably linked with TV chef Rick Stein and his various seafood restaurants and fishmongers. Also worth your time is the London import, Prawn on the Lawn and its sister restaurant Barnaby’s which lie just across the road from one another. But if you’re looking for more traditional local flavour you should visit The Shipwrights, a historic fisherman’s pub.
Visit the Devil’s Bellows in Boscastle
A dramatic natural harbour flanked by the Valency valley, Boscastle was once a bustling commercial centre. Today you’ll still find fishermen and sailors navigating the harbour’s narrow entrance.
Visit an hour either side of low tide and you’ll see the Devil’s Bellows, a dramatic blow hole that sprays the churning waters across the harbourside. Keep a careful eye out for the ‘Beeny,’ a boat owned by the Boscastle Fishing Company who sell their wares from the quay – including mouth-watering crab sandwiches and lobster rolls.
Have a TV moment in Port Isaac
Home to TV’s Doc Martin, Port Isaac is one of the oldest harbour towns in Cornwall. Arrive early to grab a parking space and wend your way through the steep, narrow lanes to watch fishermen unloading their catch onto the Platt, where crab pots jostle for position with tourists along the harbour. (Check out our guide to Real life TV and movie sets to visit in Cornwall).
It’s here that you’ll find Nathan Outlaw’s Fish kitchen and the Golden Lion pub, with views over the harbour. And be sure to visit Fresh from the Sea, a sustainable fish shop selling crab and lobster caught daily by the owner Calum Greenhalgh from his boat the Mary D.
Discover a dark history in Port Quin
A near neighbour to Port Isaac, Port Quin with its sheltered rocky inlet was once a prosperous area for herring and pilchard fishing. Legend has it that the hamlet’s fishermen were drowned in a single storm during the mid 19th century, at which point the survivors left for neighbouring ports, and even emigrated to Canada. Today it remains a peaceful stopping off point for walkers along the South West Coast Path and a reminder of the risks that fishermen take each day.
Go fishing, crabbing and rockpooling in Bude
One of the earliest tourist resorts in Cornwall, thanks to the Victorian railway which made it accessible to Londoners in just 12 hours! Things have sped up a little, but a large part of Bude’s attraction remains its harbour, great for swimming with its fine, vivid yellow sands. The town is still used by commercial fishing boats in the summer months and it’s also a popular spot for sport fishing, crabbing and rockpooling.