Queen of the South
The back end of winter left us a little treat. Valentine’s week started with three days of fun at the best reef in the south and after a swift commute three days at the best reef in the north. In honour of this I bring you two complementary articles on our two finest chunks of surfing real estate. First up: the Lev then a hop and a jump north to Thurso.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Porthleven was just a quaint Cornish harbour town famous for occasionally getting pasted by big southwesterly storms.
Which is in part true. Along with Porthcawl and Sennen it’s the storm chasing news shooters go to spot for those newspaper front page friendly dramatic shots*. The classic image of huge waves breaking over the famous clocktower (and no it ain’t a church, it’s the Pickford-Smith Institute) are legion.
Funny thing is Lev is a harbour town, the most southerly in the land, yet faces into the prevailing southwest wind, which kind of goes against all ‘where to put a harbour’ advice. Shelter is key. Turns out that’s why Lev developed, as a harbour to escape storms, as Mount’s Bay was a bugger of a place to get trapped in a hoolie. After the navy frigate HMS Anson went down off Loe Bar in 1807 with 130 souls lost an act of parliament decreed the need for a harbour sanctuary in Mounts Bay.
One bridge removed, bit of blasting through the reef and the marshy cove of Port Leven was transformed to the very definition of any port in a storm. The harbour wall as know it was built in 1825 and the inner harbour by 1858. Prisoners from the Napoleonic wars did a lot of the work (you’re welcome to that one pub quiz question setters). The stout Cornish granite has stood fast against the storms ever since.
This winter there were plenty of days where spray was blasting deep in to the town, not so many when it was blasting out of perfect barrels. You wouldn’t know it was the gem of Cornish surfing. It has, in short, been a bit of a shocker. The kind of winter the sailors of old would’ve proper shat themselves at. Relentless sou’wester gales blowing right into the various, intriguing, sharp, unforgiving rocks from the Lizard down to the Mount.
The Valentine’s weekend swell was, in the words of long time local Mole, ‘The first time it’s been any good all winter…’ and of course as Mama Nature has a sense of humour it was pumping on a weekend. But thanks to a really strange chart it wasn’t an obvious call on the Saturday and was relatively quiet considering how many folk drop everything for a pop at the Queen of the South. It was standard Lev, always a bit of a wait, some odd ones that are good size that don’t barrel, funky ones that don’t look like much that do, and every 40-minutes or so a wedgey nugget with a roll in that if you were on the spot and got into it and then hit the accelerator you had a slim chance of making the barrel of your winter.
The Lev is a fickle beast. Prone to every nuance of swell direction, wave period and infuriatingly rare offshore winds. Most folk are still waiting for the day. That day when it really does do what we all know it can do. Maybe once in a a lifetime it’ll be six to eight foot, light offshore and every set will be flawless gaping barrels. But then again maybe not. It’s the devilishness of the Lev that brings us back time after time. Often to witness a flat ocean or a very onshore supposed to be offshore wind. No matter. It’s a special place. A community cut from the ocean. Sure it’s a rinsing the tourist dollar these days but if you’ve got the heritage to flaunt then go for it. It’s also getting a name for itself a somewhere to go eat, and not just the legendary pasties.
It’s a tease, but every visit to the town, whether you score or not, you come away with a smile on your face.
*Yes, hands up, I’ve had newspaper front covers from Sennen, but not Lev, still never seen it in a big hoolie. This session was responsible for Mike Lacey’s epic cover of Carve also…