Echoes of smugglers on Cornwall’s north coast – a guest post by Rachel Bates

Unknown A new dramatisation of ‘Poldark’ starts on BBC One this Sunday (8th March) and I’m unbelievably excited!   Set in Cornwall in the late 18th century, the Poldark novels by Winston Graham are some of my very favourite books, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

This guest post is by Rachel Bates, who visited Cornwall last year and shares an amazing discovery which she made on the wild and rugged north coast…


For me that word conjures images of a craggy and dramatic coastline, quiet country lanes, and clotted cream teas. And when I think of the coastline, I think of smugglers and shipwrecks.

Cornwall 2Cornwall is quite famous for its smuggling past, although in reality fewer goods were smuggled here than other areas of the country. Much of the contraband being smuggled was exported tin, and rather than an organised gang, a range of people from the villages were involved and took a share in the profits, from magistrates and farmers to merchants and townsfolk. A likely exaggerated description of smuggling comments that:

‘When smuggling was in full swing, money became so plentiful that neighbours lent guineas to each other by the handful, not stopping to count, or being so particular as to reckon by ones and twos’.

I managed to spend a long weekend in Cornwall last autumn and we stayed close to the coast at the Poldark Inn, which is named after the Poldark novels.

A trip to Cornwall would be incomplete without a walk along the coast, so on our last day we packed lunch, dressed up warmly, and headed down to the south-west coast path. It was only about four miles as the crow flies to Port Isaac; easily walked there and back in an afternoon, right?


With the many coves and streams running down valleys it took us almost four hours to get to Port Isaac, traversing frequent steep climbs and equally steep descents, scrambling over styles and streams, until our leg muscles were aching and wobbling every time we took a step.

On one particularly steep ascent we saw a dark hole in the hillside surrounded by dense vegetation, with a small path leading to it from the coast path. Naturally, our curiosity led us along this small path and we found an opening into a cave. Or what we thought was a cave.

Cornwall 3After a quick glance at each other, we opened the LED torch app on our phones and scrambled down into the darkness. And down, and further still down. It wasn’t a cave, but a tunnel! But where did it go? After about five minutes of slipping and sliding down smooth rock and squeezing through narrow rocky openings, we saw a distant pinprick of light.

Cornwall 5Cornwall 4A minute later we found ourselves in a secluded cove with the cliffs rising above us. There were no other footprints in the sand, so I guess not many people had either the equipment or the inclination to make the journey through the darkness; it was if we were the only two people in the world down there!

We couldn’t help thinking, down there with the waves crashing against the rocks and sea birds wheeling and diving overhead, once upon a time smugglers would probably have used this beach as a landing, with a secret man-made tunnel allowing access onto the mainland in an otherwise inaccessible landscape.

Cornwall 1

Where I stayed…

The Poldark Inn has both bed & breakfast and self-catering options and serves lunches and dinners.  It sits just two miles off the North Cornwall coastal path at the highest point of the Treligga Downs, between Port Isaac and Tintagel (the legendary seat of King Arthur!) with scenic walks to the quiet Tregardock Beach which is less than a mile away.  It is set in a very peaceful location, but is easily accessible via the A30 from Exeter and about an hour’s drive from Dartmoor National Park.

Cornwall 6Rachel Bates is a freelance ecologist based in the south of the UK.  In between travelling around to carry out protected species and habitat surveys, she takes any opportunity she can to explore the local area and venture abroad.  More of Rachel’s work can be found at

To find out more about the new BBC dramatisation of ‘Poldark’, take a look at the special page on the BBC website.

All photos copyright © Rachel Bates


    • Jo Woolf

      Glad you enjoyed it, Viv! I have only been to Cornwall a few times but it’s breathtaking, especially the coast. I would like to have seen the tunnel that Rachel describes!

  • Anny

    Lovely to be reminded how gorgeous Cornwall is – these days if we get the chance, we head north, not south. Just wanted to mention for any readers of a certain age, Robin Ellis blogs about food (mostly) these days – he lives in France and writes about food suitable for Type II diabetics – he’ll always be my Ross Poldark.

    • Jo Woolf

      We also head north, Anny, or west, rather than south. But you’re right, Cornwall has a unique charm. Ah, which Poldark!? I can’t wait to see Aidan Turner in the role! Thanks for your note about Robin Ellis and his blog. I think it’s nice that he has a part in the new drama (Rev Halse!)

  • Fife Photos and Art

    Rachel’s guest post makes me feel almost homesick, it’s great to see some wonderful photos of Cornwall on here. As to Poldark though, I think I’ll give that a miss! My parents, who still live in Penzance have watched a bit of it, and say it’s quite funny how they flit from one bit of Cornwall to another, all in the same scene!

    • Jo Woolf

      Glad that you enjoyed Rachel’s post! I can’t comment on the locations used for Poldark as I am not that familiar with Cornwall, but I know that somewhere in Wiltshire was also used for filming. I guess they have to use what is suitable, like some of the so-called old English dramas which were filmed in places like Hungary or France. Being a fan of the Poldark books myself, I haven’t really been able to get into the series for other reasons, though – frustrating, because I really wanted to like it! 🙂

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