West Country Family Holiday Continued


Looe is a charming coastal town and civil parish located in southeast Cornwall. The town is divided into East Looe and West Looe by the River Looe and has a population of 5,314 as per the 2021 census. Looe boasts of a small harbour and a sandy beach and is situated seven miles south of Liskeard and 20 miles west of last week’s port of call at Plymouth. The area is rich in history with evidence of habitation dating back to the Neolithic period.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
East Looe beach, 1947.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

The main beach at East Looe, pictured during my grandparents’ 1947 West Country road trip, is known for its soft golden sand, safe swimming conditions and is a popular sun trap. It is also easily accessible from the town. Apart from the beach, Looe offers a range of activities for visitors. It has a working fishing port and is known for its fresh fish, served in local fish and chip shops and gourmet restaurants.

Visitors can even venture out to sea to fish or catch crabs in the harbour. Looe Island, a nature reserve, is another notable attraction that can be visited via a boat trip. Access to Looe is convenient, with options to travel by car, train and bus. Its unique blend of history, natural beauty and activities make Looe a captivating destination to explore.

The Looe to Liskeard Railway

If arriving by rail, the Looe Valley Line is a scenic train route that connects the Great Western’s Cornish mainline station at Liskeard to Looe, presenting an opportunity to enjoy picturesque views.

The line from Liskeard to Looe is an eight-and-three-quarter mile branch line originally opened in 1860 as the Liskeard and Looe Railway. It was constructed to carry sea sand and lime for agricultural purposes, and later copper and tin ores. Passenger service began in 1879 and the rail line was linked to Liskeard station in 1901.

The route is scenic, featuring sharp curves and a steep gradient. It is a single-track railway with intermediate stops at Coombe Junction Halt, St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, Causeland, and Sandplace. The line was nearly closed in 1966 but was saved and has since seen a rise in passenger numbers.

Designated as a community rail line in 2005, it has seen several improvements over time. It’s promoted through timetables, scenic line guides and leisure opportunities. A heritage project about the line won an award in 2019 for Best Community Engagement Project. The line remains operational today, run by Great Western Railway.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Liskeard to Looe branch.
The Looe Valley Line,
OpenStreetMap contributors
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Leaving Liskeard, a loop and tight curve brings the branch back under the main line at Liskeard Viaduct, also known as Moorswater Viaduct. It then returns towards the mainline as far as Coombe Jc Halt where trains change direction and follow the East Looe River down to Looe station which sits about half a mile from the beach.

At the moment there are 15 services a day in each direction with, presumably, the same unit going back and forward along the branch. Your humble reviewer of old photographs visited on the day of the highest and lowest tides of the 20th century with the branch flooding as we left Looe. If I remember correctly, and I am often wrong, the driver exited his cab at Coombe Jn Halt to change the points manually.

West Looe Millpool

On the opposite banks of the river to the railway station sits West Looe Millpool, a popular location known for its scenic beauty and recreational activities. At the moment it offers a large car park serving as an ideal starting point for gentle, mainly level walks along the coast, providing stunning views of Looe and the river.

The area surrounding the Millpool is also a testament to Cornwall’s rich history and architectural heritage, with landmarks such as Polvellan House visible from the East Looe River hillside. The car park at West Looe Millpool is suitable for long stays and is conveniently located near various accommodations, including hotels, B&Bs, self-catering options, and campsites.

However, previously the pool was much larger and consisted of 13 acres of enclosed water powering a tidal mill. The mill, which had four waterwheels, was initially used to grind corn for brewing and was used in the 19th Century for grinding bones to make bonemeal. The full-sized mill pool was still in place at the start of the 20th Century and is recorded on the 2nd edition of the relevant OS map from the early 1900s. The old mill buildings are still there tucked in at the bottom right of the car park.

HMSes Looe

As every Puffin knows there have been five Ark Royals, with Harrier carrier Ark Royal V being decommissioned as recently as 2011. However, Queen Elizabeth’s flag ship’s namesakes are outgunned by this modest Cornish port as there have been eight HMS Looes.

One and two were wrecked in 1697 and 1705, respectively only one and eight years into their service. Three managed to survive a full 30 years. By 1741 the Navy were already up to Looe IV which was lost off the Florida coast during the War of Jenkins Ear only two years after she had been commissioned.

V lasted 14 years. VI was an ex-privateer in service for four years. VII was a Q-ship (a heavily armed merchantman) in WW I. VIII was a Bangor Class minesweeper laid down as HMS Looe in the Hong Kong and Whampa Dock but renamed on the stocks before being captured by the Japanese. Renamed again she was sunk by American aircraft in the Formosa Straight.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Bognor class minsweeper similar to the would-be HMS Looe.
HMS Blackpool underway,
Royal Navy official photographer
Public domain

After that, the Navy finally took the hint and there hasn’t been another. The Smithsonian’s definitive history of the last cruise of the Looe lost off the coast of Florida can be read here. Puffins with OCD are forewarned that through the entire book the Colonials have spelt its name wrong (LMS Loo) even though the site of the wreck is mapped as Looe Reef.

An interesting Looveian

Gentlemen of a certain age who back in the day partook in the sporting spectacles at the East End of Glasgow’s Celtic Park may recall being mugged not just by the locals but by the collecting tins of the Sisters of Poor Clare. Their convent was at Thornhill Avenue, a property formerly owned by, and presumably bequeathed to the Clares by, the Kelly Family of Celtic FC fame. Meanwhile, at the other end of the Union, one of the wealthiest and most interesting of the Clares passed her final days at Looe.

Amy Elizabeth Rosalie Pollard was born on the 6 October 1870. One of the Demerara Pollards, she was born in British Guiana where her father, William Branch Pollard, was Queen Victoria’s Auditor-General of the colony. The family seat was the Spring Hill plantation on the east bank of the Demerara River. Amy’s mother died when Amy was an infant and her father when she was a teenager.

Adopted by William Imrie, the owner of the White Star Shipping Line, which built the Titanic, after his death she inherited a large fortune. Despite her riches, the now Miss Imrie was not content with a life of luxury. She trained as a nurse and served during the Boer War in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. Her experiences there greatly impacted her, leading her to join the St John Ambulance Brigade.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Sclerder Abbey
© Google Street View 2023, Google.com

In 1904, she gave up her worldly possessions and joined the Roman Catholic order of the Poor Clares in Sussex, becoming both Sister Mary Clare and the wealthiest nun in the history of England. She used her fortune to build the Tyburn Convent in London, a grand structure that still stands today as a symbol of her faith and dedication.

Just before she entered the convent of the Poor Clares at Hertford, she also founded St Mary of the Angels Church in Fox Street, Liverpool, on behalf of the Sons of St Francis of Assisi so that they might assist the poor of the city. Famously she noted that if the poor people of the city couldn’t go to Rome then Rome should come to them.

She died on 2 April 1944 at the Poor Clare Convent, at Sclerder near West Looe, where she was the Rev Mother Abbess. She is interred behind the altar of the abbey.

Then and now

Three years later, my grandparents visited and took the photograph at the top of this article. The presence of the breakwater and River Looe shows the photograph to have been taken from Hannafore Road, at or close to an existing layby car park. You can have a look around here.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
East Looe from West Looe today
© Google Street View 2023, Google.com

The scene is reassuringly familiar but more than half a century of global warming presents a cold-looking, deserted beach. It was not always so. A July 1947 Cornish Guardian column informs us:

Traffic in the narrow streets of Looe is becoming increasingly congested. Those in East Looe were almost packed solid and a Polperro window cleaner on a ladder cleaning a window 20 feet above the road was knocked from his ladder by a car. He fell on his feet, rolled over, and was apparently unhurt.

The previous Sunday had been a recond day. Car parks were full to overflowing. The beach was a mass of people. The weather was all that holidaymakers might desire. Catering facilities were taxed to the utmost with many people having long, fruitless waits in queues. But it wasn’t a good day for boatmen as a sea mist made it unsafe to send out unaccompanied boats and the meddlesome tide struck again by being wrong for river trips.

© Always Worth Saying 2023