East Looe is somewhere that needs to be explored, and as such this stroll around town isn’t meant to be a definitive trail, but a guide as to what can be seen when wandering around.
With this in mind, the bridge that connects East and West Looe is still a good place to start, as it’s probably the first thing that visitors will see when entering the town for the first time, as well as being one of its most important historical features.
The first bridge to be built across the river was a wooden affair in 1411, but by 1436 a sturdier stone bridge was erected to join the two towns.
In a wall on the West Looe side of the bridge there’s a stone reminder of this bridge showing that it was repaired by the county in 1689. It sounds as though this medieval bridge was quite impressive, but of course time took its toll and the one we see today replaced it in 1853.
If you’re tempted to walk along the river’s edge through the car park, then try not to miss the New Guildhall in Fore Street if you’re a first-time visitor. It’s a fine Victorian building with a neo-gothic tower, but the main reason you shouldn’t miss it is because the Tourist Information Office is located right next door and although it’s not very big, you should be able to find all the information you need about Looe and the surrounding area.
Wandering along the riverside isn’t quite like it used to be when you could see the fishing boats land their catch on Buller’s Quay and watch the market in action, but as is the norm these days, the market is out of bounds for the casual visitor.
Another thing that isn’t on display any more is the ritual of shark weighing. The ‘Shark Angling Club of Great Britain’ was formed here in 1953 and for many years visitors were mesmerised by the sharks being hung up to be weighed. The club still exists and shark fishing still takes place, but thankfully these days the sharks are caught, measured and released.
If you like the idea of going out on a fishing trip, then there are several options available from Lower Quay. I used to enjoy those trips, but nowadays, as much as I like eating fish, I’d rather not see them being caught.
If you’re a hypocrite like me, then you may prefer Fish ‘n Chips to fishing trips and there are a couple of such places on the quayside that will help satisfy your needs. One word of warning though – if you know where you can get Fish ‘n chips, then you can bet your life that the seagulls do too.
If you’re still with me it won’t come as any great surprise to learn that the quayside ends where the River Looe meets the sea. Here you’ll find the beach and Banjo Pier, the focal point for many day trippers and holidaymakers.
The beach needs no explanation, but maybe the Banjo Pier does.
It was built in the first instance as a groyne to prevent the Looe River from silting up but was only partially successful. The engineer, Joseph Thomas, came up with the idea of rounding off the end of it, and was so convinced that it would work he offered to stump up the full cost of it if it didn’t.
Fortunately for him it did and was successfully constructed (1896-97) with a lamp erected at the end of the pier paid for by the Chairman of the Harbour Commissioners, Admiral Riley.
Apparently, it was the first pier with this design anywhere in the world, so you might expect it to have been called the Joseph Thomas Pier perhaps, but the powers to be decided that it was to be called Riley’s Pier instead.
Whether it was actually named that or not I can’t quite work out, but what seems to have happened is that two local girls were overheard saying “My dear, it do look exactly like a banjo, don’t it?” – and the name has stuck ever since – and it still stops the river from silting up.
I’ve wandered along the riverside to the beach with the intention of walking through the old back streets to the centre of town.
One of the pleasures of visiting the coastal villages of Cornwall is just wandering the quaint back streets with their tiny fishermen’s cottages. Most of these villages started out from humble beginnings and gradually developed over the years into a rabbit warren of tiny streets and alleyways. Looe, on the other hand, was laid out in a grid pattern which began as far back as Tudor times.
This must have been quite unique for this part of the world and if you look at a map of the centre of East Looe you’ll see that the area enclosed by Buller St, Higher Market St, Church End and Lower St fits nicely into an organised series of straight lines.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t get confused walking around these back streets though, but it does mean that you won’t get completely lost either – which is why it’s best to forget the map, just wander around and take in these lovely old streets.
In Higher Market St is the former 15th century Guildhall and gaol which houses the present-day museum of Looe. There’s all manner of stuff in here to keep you occupied, but make sure you don’t miss the gaol. There are two cells, one of which is supposedly haunted by a female ghost. Apparently, Jennifer was a pretty young girl who caught the eye of one of the town’s burgesses. He saw to it that she got locked up in one of the cells for a night, but it seems like things didn’t go according to plan because she was never seen again. Some people have felt her presence there and the curators of the museum always acknowledge her when opening up and closing down for the day.
Looe is one of those sorts of places that as you wander around the streets you tend to find an excuse to stop for something to keep you going. Some people stop for an ice-cream, some prefer to stop for a Cornish pasty and others have to keep stopping for a drink – I have to stop for all three. I don’t need any of it of course, but it’s compulsory when you come here – especially stopping for a pint of beer, and my favourite watering hole has to be the Fisherman’s Arms, which is conveniently situated right opposite the museum.
Eventually, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in Fore St where you can find more pubs and other places to separate you from your money. Following the road to the end brings you back to the bridge, and even though I’ve lost count how many times I’ve wandered around Looe I’ve never begrudged spending a single penny. I think that says it all really!