Prussia Cove is a peaceful and rather otherwordly place, right on the edge of Cornwall and nestled between Land’s End and the Lizard Peninsula. The clear blue waters of the Atlantic lap against the shingle of a sheltered beach, flanked by moss-covered rocks, and a large grey house sits above the cove, its windows looking out to sea.
In winter, you’ll often have this beautiful hideaway all to yourself; in summer, picnicking families come here to bask in sunshine and jump off the rocks into the sea. Wandering here now, you’d never have an inkling of the chequered history of the cove and its inhabitants, the notorious Carter family.
Prince of pirates
Once known as King’s Cove, the little inlet is now named for its most famous resident. John Carter was given the moniker the ‘King of Prussia’ for his resemblance to Frederick the Great, who ruled those lands and whom he much admired.
But Carter himself was not royalty – he and his brothers Harry and Charles were notorious Cornish smugglers
in the 1700s. They eschewed a life working down the tin mines and instead took to making a tidy profit by smuggling spirits and other contraband in to England, using the remote cove as their operation centre. John Carter was known as the brains behind the racket, living above the cove and even building a secret tunnel into the house on the rocks to help vanish away his precious bounty when it came in by boat. The brothers were so prolific that in the 1780s, half of all the brandy drunk in Britain was said to be smuggled through Prussia Cove. By the time the King mysteriously disappeared in 1807 they were legendary, known locally as ‘honest’, even gentlemanly pirates, despite the occasional skirmish with a revenue boat in the waters between Cornwall and France. They once even broke into the Customs house in Penzance to steal back the contraband goods they’d had confiscated.
The tale of these fearless rogues has always fascinated visitors, who arrive keen to hunt out traces of the deeds done here under cover of stormy nights. I love to walk along the cliffs from Perranuthnoe, while looking out at the seas once so treacherous to approaching ships.
Walk: PERRANUTHNOE TO PRUSSIA COVE
From Perranuthnoe beach follow the South West Coast Path along the coast to the right – you’ll find a sign to Prussia Cove. It’s an easy two-mile stroll that takes you past Stackhouse Cliffs. At Cudden Point, follow the path uphill and across the headland to Prussia Cove.