Thursday, 20 October 2016


When I was growing up in Penzance I used to love jumping on the No. 17 bus to St Ives for the day (incredibly, several decades later it is still the No. 17).  In truth, St Ives was a bit on the tacky side in those days, not that it bothered me as a child.  However, that certainly cannot be said now, with a host of smart restaurants and upmarket accommodation options gracing the town.  I read somewhere recently that St Ives is the most expensive place to stay in Cornwall, even outstripping Padstein, though there are still some affordable options for those on a budget. 

The main factor that propelled the town into the touristic stratosphere, apart from its stunning appearance, was probably the opening of the Tate St Ives, the Cornish outpost of the famous London art gallery, which occupies a position overlooking Porthmeor Beach and which boasts a top floor cafe with sea views.  St Ives was the obvious choice of  location for the gallery, given its long-standing artistic pedigree.  The town, which has always been celebrated by artists for its exceptional light, has for years it been a magnet, and not only for painters.  One of the most famous names from the art world to live in the town was the sculptress Barbara Hepworth.  Although she died in 1975, her memory lives on in the form of the Barbara Hepworth Museum and SculptureGarden, which comes under the umbrella of the Tate.  There is much to inspire artists living in and visiting the town, especially in the old quarter bordering the harbour, where ancient whitewashed fishermen’s cottages line the winding alleyways.  Needless to say, a large proportion of these cottages have been turned into holiday homes.

The other big draw for visitors to St Ives is the town’s fabulous beaches.  As well as the above-mentioned Porthmeor Beach, the other main beach is Porthminster, just below the railway station.  Both beaches are gloriously sandy, and both have smart restaurants for more upmarket grub as a change from the ubiquitous pasties and fish and chips.  In between the two is the harbour, with another small beach, and then there is the ‘Island’, not actually an island but a small promontory with a chapel on top.   The diminutive St Nicholas Chapel, also known as the Island Chapel, dates back to at least the 15th century, though no-one is sure when exactly.  Seals and dolphins can sometimes be seen from the area near the coastwatch station on the Island.  Back in the fishermen's quarter, the St Ives Museum, occupying a building once used for pilchard curing, is a treasure trove of memorabilia from the town's past. 

As is to be expected from such a popular tourist town, there are a plethora of takeaways for those wanting to enjoy a bite to eat al fresco.  However, I feel I must issue a word of warning for anyone tempted to indulge in takeaway food outside, particularly in the vicinity of the harbour: seagulls!  The seagulls of St Ives must surely be the biggest in the country, and they have acquired an almost mythical reputation for their voracity and their brazenness in their quest for free grub.  As an example, a few years ago I was wandering by the harbourside tucking into an ice cream.  Suddenly a gull appeared from behind at great speed and snatched the ball of ice cream from the cone.  I was just getting over the shock of that when another one came along and snatched the cone, leaving me with nothing.  The only consolation was that it provided a good deal of entertainment for a little boy passing nearby with his dad.

St Ives hosts a number of festivals and other events throughout the year.  For a list of events in the town see here.

Map of the area. 

File:St Ives Harbour over the rooftops - - 1206991.jpg
Photo by Sarah Charlesworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 13 October 2016


When I was growing up in West Cornwall, my mother packed me off to Sunday School each week.  Every summer the Sunday School took us all off to Carbis Bay for our annual day out on the beach.  Part of the deal was a lunch consisting of a pasty and a saffron bun.  For those not in the know, a saffron bun is a Cornish delicacy, basically a large yellow-coloured currant bun.  To this day I think of Carbis Bay every time I see a saffron bun, a happy thought indeed, this being a delightful spot on the West Cornwall coast.  The beach is sandy, overlooked by a leafy subtropical backdrop and with exceptionally calm waters, unusual for the beaches around here.  The village can be reached by train via the branch line from St Erth to St Ives.  Carbis Bay is just around the coast from St Ives, and there is a pleasant coastal walk  linking the two.  The village itself has a small selection of places to eat and drink and a range of holiday accommodation.  The church is dedicated to St Anta (the saint who gave rise to the name of neighbouring Lelant – see previous post).

Map of the area. 

File:Carbis Bay - - 1003367.jpg
Photo by Alan, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 7 October 2016


Lelant is a popular spot with birdwatchers, occupying an attractive position on the Hayle Estuary.  There is a Park and Ride car park at Lelant Saltings, which also has a station on the St Erth to St Ives branch line.  Several species of gull rub along with migrant waders in the estuary, and winter brings large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Wigeon.  Some of the rarer species occasionally seen here include Lesser Yellowlegs, Pied-billed Grebe and Cattle Egret.  The whole estuary is an RSPB bird reserve as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.   There is a beach at Lelant, but due to its position on the estuary care should be taken when swimming there.  There is a golf course between the beach and the village.

Lelant was an important port in Mediaeval times, but after the silting up of the river mouth only the local mackerel boats were to be seen, giving their name to the Mackerel Boats beach near the railway station.  In the village itself is the church of St Uny, dating from the 12th century and with a solid square granite tower.  However, it was probably another saint, St Anta, who gave rise to the name of the village, although it is the church in neighbouring Carbis Bay which is dedicated to St Anta.  There is a 13-mile walk from Lelant to Marazion on the south coast called St Michael’s Way, based on an old pilgrimage route, and directions can be found on a board outside Lelant church.  

Map of the area. 

Photo by Waterborough, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 23 September 2016


The geography of Hayle and its surroundings is dominated by the estuary of the River Hayle, which flows into St Ives Bay.  The town has an industrial past stretching all the way back to Neolithic times, when it was an important centre for the tin industry.  The port serviced trade with nations as far away as the Eastern Mediterranean, a fact which is proven by pieces of pottery from that part of the world found in the area.  More recently, the town played an important role in the Cornish mining industry, with the foundries of Harvey & Co making the machinery which kept the mines going.  A reminder of that time remains in the form of Foundry Square, with a railway viaduct towering over it – the square used to be the western terminus of the Hayle Railway.  The estuary is a magnet for birdwatchers, being frequented by rare species such as great northern divers.  More exotic species of bird can be found in the long-standing tourist attraction Paradise Park, just off the road leading round towards St Ives.  The town itself has always struck me as rather strung-out, mainly running alongside the main thoroughfare.  Recently the assortment of small shops, food outlets and other businesses were joined by a massive Asda superstore, dominating the waterfront to the extent that my husband and I were totally disoriented the last time we drove through the town.  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Roger Geach, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 17 September 2016


A few years ago, on one of our many trips down to Cornwall to visit the folks back home, my husband and I turned off the A30 and made our way to Gwithian, from where we followed a National Trust sign along a minor road around to a parking area with a wonderful view of Godrevy Lighthouse.  I had only ever seen the lighthouse from a distance before.  It was a lovely sunny day, and with the lighthouse in one direction and endless stretches of surf  looking towards St Ives in the other, I was captivated by the view.  Godrevy Point is an excellent spot for looking out for dolphins and porpoises, and Mutton Cove is home to a large colony of Grey Seals.  The lighthouse was started in 1858 and lies on a small island just off Godrevy Point.  The main purpose of the lighthouse is to warn seafarers off a reef called the Stones reef, a long-standing hazard to shipping.

Gwithian beach is backed by sand dunes and is set among the Gwithian Towans Local Nature Reserve, also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its diverse flora and fauna, including skylarks and butterflies, gullemots, razorbills and cormorants, while Common Seals can be seen near the beach.  The word ‘Towan’ comes from the Cornish ‘tewyn’, meaning sandhill or dune.  The surfers who flock here are catered for by a couple of laid-back cafes, one of which occupies a former 19th century coastguard lookout.  There are also rock pools and caves for the kids to explore.  

Map of the area. 

Live webcam of Gwithian Beach.

File:The foreshore and lighthouse at Godrevy - - 1545322.jpg
Photo by Andy F., via Wikimedia Commons