West Cornwall and St. Ives
Let’s face it, my dears, whether you are hopping onto a train or getting ready to drive all the way towards Land’s End, you will have an almighty trek ahead of you. Allocating at least a few hours for the journey is essential and, to be quite honest, once you get down here, our local roads are not exactly to motorway standard either. It does sound like I am trying to put you off…but I do not want to do that, do I?
Actually, even in the height of summer, things are not quite as bad as the newspapers, telly and that ‘Sally-Traffic’ try to make out. Naturally, the traditional tourist beaches and harbours at Newquay and Looe are what draw the crowds. However, once you get past the ‘kissme- quick’ hats and candy floss, you enter a part of Cornwall that can promise an unrivalled warmth of welcome and you will not spot a piece of sticky rock anywhere, unless you look really hard.
We are actually quite a civilised lot down here. Our cream teas are just to die for but, best of all, while it might be cold and damp in the nation’s capital, it is more likely to be warm, dry and sunny in Kernow (that’s our name for our neck of the woods). Our ‘capital’ is Truro, our only city, with its beautiful cathedral, and you will notice that we fly a lot of our own flags down this way too. It’s not that we are being disrespectful to Her Majesty, just that we have always been something of a race apart, sharing as much of our cultural past with other Celtic nations, such as Scotland, Wales, Ireland and even Brittany in France.
Having traipsed down to the south-west, I want to make a few recommendations to you. Some of them might be the ideal bases from which travel around West Cornwall, while others will be places to be sure that you visit. Of course, with a coast that wraps its arms around us, north, south and west, we have got bays in abundance for lovers of sea and sun. Come to think of it, even when it rains here, the bays adopt another aspect to their characters to make them equally photogenic, even though they can glower a bit at times.
Personally, I think you will have a great time, were you to stay somewhere close to St Ives Bay, on the north side. With fine golden sands that stretch for five miles from Carbis Bay to Godrevy Point, you might even contemplate walking along the upper sections of the South West Coastal Path, from which you will get spectacular views across the water.
Venture into the towns and you might receive a shock. If you have never been here before, or it is a place that you might remember distantly, since you were a little one the last time you visited, then you might not understand how unspoiled they are. St Ives itself is a modern enough place, with friendly drinking establishments, a good range of international eateries and all the modern conveniences, but it has lost none of what it has always stood for.
There is a strong fishing community here. Always has been. You do not have to peer too far behind the shop fronts to appreciate that its narrow back lanes, cobbled streets and picturesque cottages come from an era that some other coastal towns might be trying to forget. I like to think that we present a simpler image to visitors and, if that means ‘unspoiled’, then I am perfectly happy for it.
Let me tell you that St Ives has a grand selection of hotels and most of them source their produce locally too. Of course, the fish is about the freshest in all of Great Britain, as much of it is caught that morning, delivered to the harbour not long afterwards and can be on the lunch plate less than an hour after that and you can take your pick from all manner of sustainable catches. The restaurants all have a great reputation and most will offer you a real ‘taste of the west’. There are plenty of B&Bs and self-catering types of accommodation, from flats to cottages.
If you like a bit of outdoors fun, there is a lot of gig racing takes place in the bay. A gig is a 32-feet long, clinker-built boat of a type that used to ferry passengers and crew out to their larger vessels moored offshore. You can watch the training most evenings but the six-manand-cox races take place at weekends. While you are wandering around in the town, you might spot the Joannies, which are the traditional, ten-inch tall wooden dolls that fishermen used to whittle for their children. They represent the people of the town and you can buy replicas in several of the gift shops.
If you want to visit somewhere really special in this area, just move about a mile east of St Ives and you will come across Carbis Bay, which I mentioned earlier. This is a bit of what I like to term as ‘undiscovered Cornwall’. Its gorgeous sands are patrolled by lifeguards, just in case. Although the bay is very sheltered, which makes it ideal for families, should the wind get up, it provides a great place for surfing and also for water and jet-skiing. You might have reached Carbis Bay on the train, in which case, you will have travelled on one of the UK’s most picturesque railways.
Base yourself at Carbis, perhaps even at the much-loved Carbis Bay Hotel, and the well-protected town of Penzance, on our south coast, is just eight miles away. Now, you can drive there in a trice, although the train can take the strain otherwise. If you enjoy a round of golf, the local links course is a match for Arbroath or even the home of golf, St Andrews, with its natural challenges, the rye grass and sandy bunkers. It will not take long for you to settle into Cornish time.
We are several country miles away from the hectic pace of London and, while adjusting to our more relaxed pace of life might take a night or two, I reckon it will not be long before you cease to worry about getting up early, unless it is to watch the fishermen coming into the harbour. Rushing a drink at ‘last orders’ tends not to happen down here. Even driving at more than the speed limit is not a local practice. The air is clean and you can breathe easier, because you have the time to do so.
Stretching the legs
After you have taken pictures at Land’s End (it has to be done), just look at what else is on offer locally. Not built by the Romans, which is what so many visitors think upon first acquaintance, the Minack Theatre was created by Rowena Cade on its spectacular cliff-side spot, Porthcurno. Needless to say, WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s wonderful comic opera, ‘Pirates of Penzance’, remains a firm favourite but the programme of shows changes regularly and, in May this year, Midge Ure, Nerina Pallot and local superstars, Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, are topping the bill on different nights. However, plays, musicals and talks are on throughout the season from March to late-September.
Having mentioned ‘the Pirates’, it is worth pointing out that a lot of our coastline is riddled with caves, where real pirates used to hide and store their ill-gotten gains. While you will be unlikely to find buried treasure, visiting the caves and coves is a memorable activity in itself and there are several ways to do so, from thrillseeking to more casual visits, all the way east from Mousehole to Lizard Point.
Porthleven used to be Britain’s southernmost port, which became a safe harbour for sailing vessels that might shipwreck locally. In fact, even today, swimmers and surfers are warned about venturing too close to rocks just off Loe Bar. However, travellers ought to investigate the other nearby fishing coves at Mullion, Kynance and the Lizard. There is some really good coastal walking in this area, so you should ensure that you have some sturdy walking shoes or boots with you, no matter what time of year you come down.
Goonhilly Downs sits on the high ground above the Lizard and, if you know anything about outer space, you might be aware that this was where the UK’s largest satellite earth station was based. The first dish was erected in 1962 and Goonhilly Earth Station was central to communicating the 1969 moon landings and even major events like 1985’s Live Aid concerts. However, its owner BT decided to move most of the hardware to Herefordshire. More recently, another company has moved onto the site to open a deep space science centre and the tourist information facility is said to reopen soon.
Although it used to be at the heart of Cornwall’s once thriving tin mining industry, Camborne is now just a lively town of moderate size, if you prefer the hubbub from places of that type. Located just off the main A30, which brings most of the traffic down to West Cornwall, it is within easy reach of Redruth and Falmouth, while still being just ten miles away from St Ives. The next time you decide to head to The West Country, instead of stopping short, take those final few steps down to ‘God’s Country’. I can promise that you will not regret it and that you will return, because that is the kind of heart tug that we exert on people. We look forwards to seeing you.
Access - of course, you can fly to Penzance but, apart from seasonal heavy traffic, why would you not want to drive? Both the A30 and A38 conclude in West Cornwall.
Accommodation - there are places to stay that suit all budgets, throughout the year. Naturally, it is always best to book beforehand, or at least make a call to check, as both sports and holiday seasons seem to be extended every year in this part of the UK. Some useful websites are:
Sights to see - apart from its lovely and varied coastline, West Cornwall possesses a long and colourful history, with a strong Roman past, a marvellous mix of activities prior to and during the Industrial Revolution and an equally thriving present, with an eye to
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit West Cornwall and St. Ives.