WHAT’S IN A NAME?
It’s an odd one, isn’t it? Looe. Apart from the obvious – and clearly incorrect! -connections, bound to raise a chuckle here and there, have you ever wondered how our lovely little town got its unusual name?
It’s actually way more obvious than you might think at first glance. Cornwall is fiercely proud of its Celtic roots and traditions and it’s in the Cornish language – part of the Celtic language family along with Scottish and Irish Gaelic and others – where the name originates.
If you think of the river carving its way to the sea between steeply-sided hills, you’ll pretty soon see the connection with the Scottish ‘loch’ – as in Loch Ness. Just stretch the vowel a little, soften down the ‘ch’ to a whisper and it’s an easy transition to ‘Looe’. On older maps, it’s written as ‘Loo’ – the ‘e’ may have been added by oh-so-genteel Victorians in an effort to disconnect their town from its lavatorial connotations!
We may not have our own Nessie to bring the tourists in but each year at Christmas our resident sea monster Muirin appears as part of the exceptional display of festive lights festooned around the harbour.
SMALL TOWN, BIG FUN
For a small coastal Cornish town, Looe packs quite a punch with what it offers to residents and visitors alike. In spite of its relatively small population and compact layout, the list of annual events is long and varied. Looe really does offer something for everyone and not, as you might think, just during the summer peak visitor season.
Pole position clearly goes to Looe Live!, but there are plenty of other community events year round, enjoyed by residents yet extending an enthusiastic welcome to visitors.
The West Looe May Fayre brings the whole town together for a fun-filled weekend including maypole dancing, music and stalls.
The annual RNLI Raft Race in early June sees many community groups and brave (foolhardy?) individuals taking to the water in homemade rafts and attempting to paddle to the bridge and back. The less seaworthy the craft – and some of them barely make it off the beach – the more fun for spectators, who pelt passing rafts with jelly. All good harmless fun!
The Looe Lions Carnival in August once again brings the community together and puts a smile on the faces of visitors and residents. The week-long program of events starts with the traditional Cornish ‘furry’ dance and culminates in the Carnival Procession, when dozens of decorated floats wind their way from Hannafore to East Looe beach.
You really have to experience Looe’s legendary New Year’s Eve fancy dress extravaganza first hand to truly appreciate the joy and the madness of it. This special evening is book-ended by the two – yes, two – magnificent firework displays on the Banjo pier and there aren’t too many places which can offer that! Why not come and stay for New Year and find out what all the fuss is about?
We can offer the ultimate hangover cure on New Year’s Day: the RNLI charity swim. Dozens of hardy souls, many still in fancy dress from the night before, plunge into the icy water off East Looe Beach – pure Looenacy.
These are the highlights but the fun goes on all year round in lovely, lively Looe!
NELSON THE ONE-EYED SEAL
There aren’t many places which would go to the trouble and expense of immortalizing a seal but Looe likes to do things differently.
The grey seal, Nelson, became an iconic marine personality over the 25 years or so that he visited the harbour, delighting visitors and locals alike. Since he had only one eye and bearing in mind the town’s strong maritime connections, the choice of name was obvious. He spent much of his time enjoying the peace and quiet of the waters around Looe Island but he’d pop over to the harbour regularly, sure of a good meal from the fishermen and plenty of appreciative spectators along the quay.
Nelson was a real character, truly a ‘grand old man of the sea’ and it was a sad day for the town when he died in 2003. Such was his popularity that a life-size bronze sculpture was commissioned, which you can find on Pennyland Rocks near the entrance to the harbour. The formal unveiling of the sculpture was marked by a Royal Naval Air Squadron flypast in Nelson’s honour. How cool is that?
Nelson now guards the harbour like a sentinel, appreciated by all – a permanent reminder of Looe’s connection with the sea, fishing and the precious marine life that surrounds it.
SNAPSHOT OF LOOE
If you haven’t visited the town before, you might like to know a bit more about the home of Looe Live!
Nestled in a steeply-sided valley in south-east Cornwall, with its houses laid out in picturesque tiers that descend to the quays lining both sides of the river, Looe is a small town of about 5,500 souls. The town actually comprises the twin communities of East Looe and West Looe, each with its own unique ambience and character – and a healthy dose of friendly rivalry, of course! (Click here to hear a song about this rivalry, written and performed by The Changing Room: A River Runs Between.)
The town’s history stretches way back into the mists of time – local legend even has it that Jesus Christ himself may have visited Looe Island as a young boy when he accompanied his uncle, Joseph of Arimethea, on a tin trading mission. There aren’t many places on these shores with such a claim to fame! Torched by Spanish raiders in the 15th Century and later losing large numbers of its young men to the Barbary pirates to end their days as slaves in North Africa, Looe has seen its fair share of drama, worthy of any Netflix blockbuster!
The town’s fortunes have gone up and down over the centuries as dependably as the tide but Looe has always looked to the sea for food, income, trade and, more recently, leisure. The working harbour is still the beating heart of the town, with the colourful fleet of fishing boats large and small landing their daily catch on East Looe quay.
Thousands of visitors flock to our little town during the busy summer season in search of sun, sand and seaside fun, with the safe, gently sloping sandy beach being the biggest draw. The historic narrow streets and alleyways of East Looe, all decked out with floral displays created by the volunteers of Looe in Bloom, are thronged with happy holiday makers making their way to and from the beach. They feast on some of the best pasties you’ll find in Cornwall, the freshest fish & chips and lashings of delicious ice cream, learning how to dodge the hungry seagulls as they go!
And when the Cornish weather doesn’t deliver the sunshine the visitors are hoping for, there’s a cornucopia of independent shops, restaurants and cafes where they can shelter from the elements. Visitors with an interest in the town’s heritage can visit the town’s museum in the ancient Guildhall and the recently opened Old Sardine Factory heritage centre in West Looe, both jam-packed with artefacts and historical displays.
No matter what the weather, lovely Looe has something for everyone.