Porthcurno is a tiny village with a giant personality on the south coast of Cornwall. The name of the village has come about from the earlier spelling of ‘Porth Kernow’ or ‘Porth Curnow’.
In the Cornish language ‘Porth-Curnow’ meant ‘Port (or Bay) and even now there is some evidence of early commercial port activity from the remains of man-made stone tracks for horse-drawn vehicles which may have provided access to the beach, visible on the footpaths near the south side of the car park ascending the east side of the valley.
Porthcurno is unusually well known because of its history as a major international submarine communications cable station. In the late nineteenth century, the remote beach at Porthcurno became internationally famous as the British termination of early submarine telegraph cables.The concrete cable hut, where the cable shore ends were connected to their respective landlines, is a listed building and still stands at the top of the beach.
In the Inter-War years, the Porthcurno cable office operated as many as 14 cables simultaneously, for a time becoming the largest submarine cable station in the world, with the capacity to receive and transmit up to two million words a day!
The cable office closed in 1970, 100 years after the first cable was laid, and the college closed in 1993. After the closure the award winning Porthcurno Telegraph Museum was opened. This museum has been featured locally and nationally on educational programmes including the BBC TV documentary series What the Victorians Did for Us and Coast.
What to do in Porthcurno?
Walkers have plenty of miles to keep them strolling on the South West Coast Path, being about two hours walk from Land’s End or about four hours walk from Penzance for experienced cliff walkers.
Of course there is the world famous Porthcurno Telegraph Museum which is clearly worth a visit.
Another gem in Porthcurno’s crown is the Minnack Theatre, just out of sight of Porthcurno beach, in the cliff face to the west is a unique open-air theatre with a stunning stage backdrop of Porthcurno Bay and the Logan Rock headland.
It is a spectacular setting for plays staged during the summer months ranging from the traditional Shakespeare to the more contemporary. It was built virtually single-handedly by the late Rowena Cade who worked there into her eighties with the support of local labourers. Today the Rowena Cade exhibition centre, coffee shop and theatre are open to visitors for most of the year except during performances.