The sun was shining; we both felt relaxed and free. B wanted petrol for the mower; I wanted to get us registered with our local doctor. “Let’s do both,” we said. “Let’s check out Polperro: there’s a surgery there and we’re bound to find a petrol station. And we can have lunch.” And thus we set off, up the steep road behind us and along narrow winding lanes across the high ground between us the well-known little harbour. Our first sortie into one of the local ‘tourist spots’ and a place I recall from childhood holidays.
Polperro is a natural harbour, a deep cleft between brooding cliffs. A gaggle of higgledy houses; warm-fronted cafes; artists’ shops, novelty shops, bohemian clothes shops, ice cream shops; pubs, gulls and fishing boats. There is one primary way in by land: down, down, along a single narrow road leading gently to the sea. Cars must stop at the top, in the large open car park provided. Visitors unwilling or unable to make the gentle stroll to the harbour or the gentle climb back up can make use of the gaily-painted red trams that travel quietly back and forth. We walked.
Walking meant we discovered the doctor’s surgery – currently closed. And we could peer into shop windows and doorways as we passed and notice narrow waterways passing between narrow houses. It meant that we saw the local inhabitants leaning against their doorposts and chatting, sometimes to the neighbour next door, sometimes to the business owner across the street. Even the main road down is narrow enough to chat across. I have heard stories that so many of the houses in this fishing village are second homes; that the village is empty and devoid of community, especially in the winter months. Today, on a sunny day in early May, there were tourists in sensible numbers, but there were residents as well. Residents a-plenty it seemed to me.
I hope I am right: the atmosphere as we walked towards the harbour was warm and vibrant, alive and genuine. Real life happens here among the ice creams and the lobster pots. The view from here is sparkling, spirited and vital.
The tide was out. At the top of the harbour, boats were beached akimbo, resting askew in the barest trickle on the sand-covered harbour bottom. Further down they floated in formation, securely fastened in rows, anchored. Men worked: tinkered, bent to their work, industrious; and oblivious to gawping visitors and gaping camera lenses.
At the harbour mouth a sign proclaimed: “seated viewing area” accompanied by a large arrow directing your sight line along the concrete harbour walls to inviting benches. Foreign tourists sat, not on the seats provided but in front of the sign and obstructing access to said seats. In a rather pathetic English manner I muttered darkly, looked sternly at the obstructing visitors and at the unreachable benches and ambled away. I didn’t want to sit there anyway.
We had lunch at The Blue Peter. Inside was small and dark: pokey perhaps, to some. I liked it. The barman was fun and friendly. And helpful. This was a local pub; more locals than tourists, it seemed to me. A man was talking about fishing trips and gargantuan catches in the way that fishing folk seem to do. He looked the part: tall, shaggy-haired; thick, tatty oiled jumper well-worn and rugged. The jumper was well-worn; the man was rugged. A handsome, arty, eloquent, fishing man. I liked him. I imagined him painting on canvasses when he wasn’t catching gigantic fish and then I realised that he almost certainly wasn’t local at all. Perhaps he was an example of the elusive second-homer: known to the bar staff and comfortable in these surroundings, but not of these surroundings. He probably has an airy loft apartment in London…
We climbed the narrow stairs to the first floor in search of a suitable table to eat at and found the last available places. Behind us, a door was propped open to the outside, and to the cliff path: part of the long-distance coastal path. Three and a half miles along that path is Lansallos. A mental note made: The Blue Peter would be an excellent point of arrival when I set out on that stretch of coastal path, which I surely will before the summer is out.
Replete with both fish cakes and good music, we drifted back into the sunshine and ambled along tiny lanes, window shopping. An ice cream shop: it had to be sampled. We sat in a small concrete square that was not for the tourists, soaked up the sunshine, lapped up our ice creams and people-watched. Then we wandered back up the road to the car park.
The doctor’s surgery was open; the receptionist helpful. The locals were still leaning against their door posts, chatting. Polperro was suffused with a languid busyness. A warm hubbub of activity and friendliness with no sense of bustle or rush. There was time to spare in Polperro.
Later, when I posted some photos on Facebook, so many responses sighed dreamily over the evocative memories the photographs raised for them. Polperro was a part of my childhood and it hasn’t changed from the fuzzy memories I hold of it. It seems that is the case for many others too.
We liked Polperro. We liked our time there and came home relaxed and rested. We didn’t bother with the petrol. We had no inclination to step back into the noise and hustle of the twenty-first century. Just writing this has left me chilled and relaxed. At this time of the year at least, Polperro is a place to go to unwind…