Torpoint developed from the late 18th century as a naval maintenance base and ferry point on the River Tamar. Torpoint sits comfortably on the western side of the tidal Tamar, mainly on sunny south-facing slopes, sheltered from much of the Channel weather by the Rame peninsula. Its location makes access by water relatively straightforward but, by being at the south-eastern corner of the Antony peninsula, with St John’s Lake to the south and the Lynher estuary to the north, the town is quite awkward of access by land. There are two principal roads into the town, the A374 along the old 1760 Liskeard Turnpike and Trevol Road which passes HMS Raleigh. Indeed, Torpoint is one of the more invisible towns in historic Cornwall; it is a dominant feature of the scene viewed from across the water in Devonport, but only a handful of Cornish houses have a clear view of the town. Fleeting glimpses of Torpoint are gained from Saltash and it can be picked out when crossing the Tamar bridges. Conversely, when entering Torpoint from the west the great river is not very apparent, so that the town appears to be the outskirts of Plymouth. Only when the town centre is reached are glimpses of the river seen through the streets and between buildings.
The Antony peninsula is a low ridge (to 60m high) fringed by a mix of low cliffs, mudflats and shingle, with several small muddy coves. Torpoint lies between two of these, Thanckes Lake to the north and the cove of the former Carbeile tidal mill, off St John’s Lake, to the south-west. There does seem to have been a small tor from which the town was named: Tor House and Rock House are both close to lumpy sedimentary outcrops some of which are still visible, sliced and trimmed before being incorporated into the rear yard walls of Carew Terrace in Barossa Road.
North of Torpoint, on the northern side of the peninsula’s ridge is Antony House, home of the Carew-Poles, with its extensive parkland and Barton farm. This ornamental landscape, begun as early as the 16th century, set a tone of high quality design which the Carew-Poles applied to Torpoint itself. A closer, lesser and later country house at Thanckes (home of the Graves family), on the western edge of the muddy Thanckes Lake, had a smaller ornamental landscape. Although the house is gone, the remains of the park form a buffer between Torpoint and the large Yonderberry naval fuel depot, whose 28 tanks were erected in 1920. This depot, while appearing to be a dominant feature on the map and on aerial photos, is actually very well landscaped by bunds and trees and is barely noticeable from either the town or Wilcove, the riverside village to its north.
Farmland to the west of the town has been significantly altered in recent decades through boundary removal, but with its scattered farmsteads is medieval in origin, forming part of Cornwall’s Anciently Enclosed Land. Greater changes have been wrought to the landscape by the establishment of the naval installations at Yonderberry, HMS Raleigh and HMS Fisgard.