Getting to Gorran Haven is an adventure in itself. If, like me, you rely on a SatNav for directions, prepare for a journey that takes you down narrow, twisty roads – some with grass growing down the middle. I love exploring and, although there’s almost certainly a more direct route than the one I took, discovering little hamlets and picturesque views along the way is part and parcel of the whole discovery experience.
Kate, a lifetime friend, came with me. Both of us grew up in Cornwall but neither of us had ever been to Gorran Haven before and it proved quite a revelation. Situated on the Roseland Peninsula, not far from Mevagissey, it’s an old fishing village with very narrow streets, two lovely beaches, a charming quay and a history that, according to the village website, can be traced back centuries.
When we visited, the soft drizzle and low cloud base gave the whole place a somewhat mystical feel. During the summer I have no doubt that Gorran attracts many visitors but, in winter, there are few living people about, just the ghosts of times gone by. Before I went I’d had a look at Grandfather Sanders’ pocket book – an online transcription of an 1851 almanac kept by Thomas Saunders, the then landlord of the Ship Inn, now a private residence in Gorran Haven known as Beach House.
The handwritten entries start in 1851 and end in 1867. A lot of them are concerned with listing the amount of beer being brewed and money being paid out but in between are very human observations that, for me at least, make the journal fascinating. ‘Febry 28th Cheldren went to scool’, ‘Dec home 3 Days with a Bad finger’, ‘Dec 27th 1852 A very high tide’, ‘1854 Nov 7 Mr E Harvey left Gorran for Ostrelyea’, ‘Litel Edward Herrel Drowend July 8 1861’ and ‘Thos Grose & Sard Ann grose Harral Maried Nov30 1861’ are just some of the remarks that, though often brief, shed light on the cycle of life and death in this age-old community. How had Grandfather Sanders got his bad finger? Had the tide in 1852 flooded homes? Did Mr Harvey ever come back from Australia and why did poor little Edward drown?
Sheltered from prevailing west winds by Dodman Point, swimming at Gorran Haven is generally considered very safe – another reason for the popularity of its beaches during the summer months. No-one was braving the sea on the day we were there (other than Poppy, my Labrador, of course), nor were there any fishing boats. The days of villagers having to rely on pilchards for survival (‘seining’ was happening there in the thirteenth century) are long gone and although Gorran was once a more important fishing centre than Mevagissey, the introduction of drift net fishing in the eighteenth century saw its neighbour thrive while Gorran, in commercial terms, declined.
Walking along the quay is a ‘must’ for any visitor as it provides a wonderful view of the village in its glorious coastal setting. Apparently, though, it’s a relatively new feature having been constructed in 1886 by John Charles Williams, owner of nearby Caerhays Castle, to protect fishing boats from destructive north easterly gales. Known as a kind, generous man, he bought the land required from the Duchy of Cornwall for the princely sum of £5 – although the quay itself cost several thousands of pounds to build. Decades of successful crab and lobster fishing followed until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 when the young men went off to fight. Few of those that returned wanted to go back to living off the sea and the fishing cooperative that had been established in 1917 eventually disbanded.
Few ‘never been to’ features would be complete without reference to a church and this one is no exception. Wandering up the main street (literally just the width of one car, necessitating a one way system), Kate and I found the Chapel of St Just, a small fifteenth century building that’s a joy to walk into. Comprising just one aisle and about two dozen pews, it has thick stone walls, lovely stained glass windows and a reassuring sense of tranquillity. Positioned just above the beach, you can hear the waves crashing against the rocks below – a place of calm and sanctuary juxtaposed with the ocean’s might.
Gorran Haven has been a real find but I can’t finish this piece without mentioning The Barley Sheaf at Gorran Churchtown. Kate and I stopped there for lunch on the way and their Sunday roast was excellent. Definitely worth including as a stop.
For more information about places to stay and things to see and do in Cornwall, visit wearecornwall.com
Written by Sue Bradbury