Shadows of history in Poltesco Valley

Sea views from Poltesco valleyWe could almost feel the history simmering in the shadows as we walked down through the sheltered valley of Poltesco to visit Carleon Cove on the Lizard Peninsula at the end of the summer.

The wildlife haven of Poltesco, managed now by the National Trust, conceals a long industrial history in the soft verdant greenery, in a timeless peaceful mantle.

We were charmed as we walked down through the sub tropical depths of Poltesco valley to the sea by occasional art works almost enveloped by the vegetation but artfully places there as a counterpoint to each twist and turn in the path.  And yet how different this valley would have been when the Serpentine works was in full production and the cargo was ferried from the cove in flat bottomed barges to schooners waiting in the bay.

Lush undergrowth gives way to serpentine cliffs at Poltesco Valley

There is a discreetly sited National Trust car park at the top of the valley – park here and then open the gate to pass the shepherds huts and follow the good path down through Poltesco Valley to Carleon Cove below or explore the cliff top walks

The lush sub tropical valley of Poltesco

rocky cornish cove - poltesco carleon

A view across to the Lizard from the rocky shores of Carleon Cove at the bottom of Poltesco valley

A little of Poltesco’s history

As you reach Carleon Cove, there is an intrigue number of quite substantial but semi ruined buildings paused in time between land and shore and flanked by a glassy mill pool to the south

Track winding down to carleon cove passed ruined buildings

The clusters of buildings that remain are thought to originate from the fourteenth century although substantially added to in the 18th and 19th Century. I’m sure the buildings would still be of use had they not been summarily dispatched by explosive in 1923.


Carleon Cove as most Cornish coves grew in importance for fishing gaining momentum for Pilchard fishing between the fourteenth and nineteenth century – Look out for the circular capstan building that now dates from the 1700s, as you enter the cove as the hint of those former times.

Serpentine works

The Lizard Serpentine Company built a factory at Carleon Cove in 1855 and the Serpentine that was worked in this silent sheltered cove was sent to London to feed the fashion that grew up for serpentine objects after Prince Albert visited the Penzance Serpentine works and ordered Pedestals and Mantelpieces for Osborne house on the Isle of Wight. Interest in worked serpentine gained steadily in momentum, with the final triumph of success in the Great Exhibition in 1851 that showcased products from around the world visited by six million people set the road for success for Cornwall

With the seal of Royal approval and fashion the Lizard Serpentine Company opened a showroom on The Strand in London which displayed a statement piece  7’ 6” tall Vase.

Fashion can be a fickle thing though, which combined with the increasing scarcity of unblemished pieces of serpentine only sourced from in narrow seams in the rocks, led to  the company was wound up in 1870.

The working of the serpentine enjoyed a brief revival, under the auspices of “The Poltesco Marble Company” until again the fickle changes of taste and the loss of an uninsured load finished products at sea led to the business being wound up in 1893. Only the water wheel continued then in use over the yeas until it too fell still in 1917

Poltesco a sub tropical valley

Last week in my garden blog I talked about the subtropical climate of Cornwall and effect of sheltered valleys west facing slopes. Researches found that in Poltesco valley the temperature could be fifteen degrees warmer than the nearby Naval base at Culrose on the flat exposed plain. I think that alone is enough reason to visit the lovely valley of Poltesco to stand on shore in the sheltered warmth and through half closed eyes to imagine a schooner still waiting offshore for her load to take to London.

Read more about exploring The Lizard and West Cornwall


About Christine Taylor

Christine has written a weekly blog about life at Ednovean Farm and interesting places to visit in West Cornwall for over ten years now, concentrating on those off the beaten track places that only the locals find. Charles and Christine Taylor have hosted Luxury Bed and Breakfast at Ednovean Farm Nr Penzance in West Cornwall since 1991 and live there with three cats and five horses, including a Spanish Stallion called Danni. Ednovean Farm has been awarded AA five star gold for Bed and breakfast and is included in The Michelin Guide and The Alastair Sawday Guide . The Farmhouse and gardens has been featured in BBC Homes and Antiques, Homes and Gardens. Period Living and 25 Beautiful Homes as well as being used as a film and photo shoot location.

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