The ‘Wild West’ of Cornwall is generally quieter than the North and South coastlines and as such, it attracts the walking and camping crowd who come here for the craggy headland, ancient moorland and views to die for.
We managed to see Penzance, Lands End, the Lizard Peninsula, Mousehole, Porthleven and St Ives.
Arguably, Penzance is right up there in the top five most famous Cornish towns, known (if only in name and reputation) for myth and adventure!
We stayed in a lovely, cosy cottage in Penzance for eight nights during our Cornish break (comment below if you want the details) – so no better place to start this part of the blog than right here…
Penzance is the UK’s most southerly town and an old haunt of smugglers and pirates. Most of us are aware of the (rather naff) ‘Pirates of Penzance’ film, however the real piracy stories dating back to the 18th Century are far more sinister, which saw pirates invading the town and taking men, women and children as slaves, only to then be sent over the waters to North Africa. Eventually, the UK combined with America to put stop to barbaric piracy, although the process was too slow to save many.
Nowadays, it’s a town that has a busy shopping centre, a culture of art and crafts and boasts impressive Georgian architecture. Transport links are readily available from Penzance too, with a ferry port transporting people all the way over to the Isles of Scilly and a train station taking folk as far as London, should a day in the smog be on the cards!
Penzance really is a fascinating place to visit whilst you’re in the West of Cornwall. I won’t lie, it’s far from polished and less pretty than many other parts of Cornwall, but in turn, more honest and real. It turned out to be a great base for us for the week.
Apparently, Penzance is usually a hothouse and enjoys a balmy subtropical climate. This definitely did not feel the case during our stay in wet May, although there is an outdoor public garden in the centre (Morrab Gardens), housing exotic plants and trees from North and South America, North Africa and Australia, which acts as proof.
Of real interest is Penzance’s ‘Jubilee Pool’ – Britain’s longest surviving seawater lido. It provides a place for swimmers to safely train in the sea when the conditions may otherwise be too dangerous – and also has a smaller pool away from the swim lanes that anyone can use. My excuse: too cold at 9° on land, let alone what it was at sea!
Penzance offers many walks from the harbour. We opted to blow away the cobwebs on a Sunday morning and stroll along the Victorian promenade, routing through the fishing village of Newlyn and onto the super-cute Mousehole (more of that later). The walk takes around two hours there and back and means you’ll catch a glimpse of the famous pebbles and the Penlee Park Open Air Theatre.
You’ll also see the giant fisherman statue, paying tribute to all those lives lost at sea (you forget sometimes how dangerous a profession deep sea fishing can be). Penzance is clearly proud of its history with the sea and parts of the bay are designated conservation zones.
Of course, walking works up a thirst and appetite – and we did plenty of essential ‘research’ on the local eateries and drinking houses during our stay, which I’ll share below:
The Admiral Benbow pub has been in existence since the 17th Century and during its time, has received fame for appearing in the opening scene of ‘Treasure Island’. It has also welcomed famous guests such as The Rolling Stones and Gregory Peck. Today, it is set out as though you are on a boat, complete with reclaimed decor from shipwrecks such as figureheads and anchors. It could be argued that it’s a tad tacky, but nonetheless it’s a must-visit!
The Turks Head is also a pub that you must visit as it’s the oldest in Penzance, having been in situ since the 13th Century, when it allegedly housed a smugglers tunnel leading directly down to the harbour. Equally historic, the Dolphin Tavern is one to check out as it was allegedly the tavern that Sir Walter Raleigh first smoked tobacco on English soil (and it serves a mean burger and chips!).
As for eating, absolutely everywhere we went for food was good, but especially ‘The Old Lifeboat House’ purely for its interesting surroundings and ‘The Artist Residence’ for quirky dishes in gorgeous rooms. But just topping the lot was ‘Mermaid Alley’, an intimate little place, themed to the nines and serving excellent mackerel pate and seafood chowder – not to mention cocktails to sink the sturdiest sailors!
Lands End is literally the last stop in the UK before you fall off into the Atlantic sea!
It’s the final destination – or first port of call depending on your direction – on the UK’s longest road trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End. As such, it came as no surprise to see groups of cyclists taking selfie’s to prove they had made it – or we’re starting the 1407 km trek! Rather them than me.
As a tourist attraction, there’s not a great deal to see at Lands End, other than a few expensive gift shops and some children’s entertainment. Even the famous landmark sign post is now controlled by a company that charge £15 for a photograph alongside it. A bit of a shame in all honesty as I vaguely remember it being a good day out when I was a kid in the 90s. Then again, it doesn’t charge admission so what can you expect?
Here’s a tip: Don’t park up at Lands End and waste £7. Instead, park a mile and a half at Sennons Cove and walk in and out. Save yourself some beer money and enjoy a nice walk along the cliffs, with stunning panoramic ocean views instead! Don’t miss the shipwreck midway either.
The Lizard Peninsula
Whilst on the theme of walking across wild and craggy headland, a favourite spot with walkers and campers is The Lizard. For someone who has an irrational fear of lizards and all things reptilian, I wasn’t sure I trusted the name. Turned out that I needn’t have worried….not a gecko in sight!
Perched on the Lizard peninsula is the well-known Kynance Cove. It is usually a gorgeous spot if you love a white sandy beach and turquoise waters. You only need to check out all the Instagram pictures there are out there to see how popular a spot it is.
We happened to visit on a day that was more than a little wild, with raging winds and driving rain battering down – the crystal blue waters replaced by thick, brown foam…
Like all of the coastline in the West, you can walk for hours on Lizard, if that’s what your heart desires. You could holiday all week here and still not run out of paths.
Be sure to reward your walking efforts with one of the best pasties in Cornwall – Ann’s – and it’s not just me who says so – apparently Rick Stein is a huge fan! So it must be true.
Did you know? The good old Cornish Pasty has protected status – yep, it’s that treasured in these ‘ere parts!
No, it’s not Mousehole, it’s Mouwzal…
I did say I’d come back to this, didn’t I. Unlike some of the villages on the West coast, Mousehole (and St Ives – but more on that later) look like they belong more with the chocolate-box-society of the South.
With seaside cottages, winding lanes and an old granite harbour, it’s a little gem of a place. But it’s only titchy tiny, with a handful of pubs and cafes, as well as a few independent shops. Oh and you MUST buy a ‘Tiny mouse of Mousehole’ like me. Call me a big kid, I don’t care.
For anyone (like me) who has a dangerously sweet tooth, there’s no better place to enjoy a delicious Cornish cream tea than by the harbour side in Mousehole. Honestly, it was the best ever!
Did you know? In Cornwall, the rule of thumb is that jam goes on first, clotted cream last. If you’re in Devon, however, it’s the other way around. Get it wrong at your peril!
As one thing neatly leads into another, we dropped into Porthleven to sample the delights of Kota Kai, one of two restaurants owned by the new ‘celeb chef on the block’, Jude Kereama.
Such tasty food! I opted for some light bites: the asparagus arancini with wild garlic and the duck bao bun with hoisin and peanuts – which I washed down with a ‘Pure Passion’ cocktail. Craig opted for a more traditional plate of fish and chips – posh style, of course!
It was a rainy old day in Porthleven unfortunately, so we didn’t stay long – but long enough though to notice that Michael Caine also has a restaurant here too. Expect to see Porthleven contend with Padstow in the foodie wars in the future!
Let’s finish my whistle stop tour of the West with a true beauty spot!
If Newquay is Cornwalls Capital of Surf, then St Ives is the heart of the art scene. It’s the only place in Cornwall to have a Tate Gallery and – here’s one for the pub quiz – Barbara Hepworth set up studio here in the 1920s. When you see how gorgeous St Ives is, it all falls into place as to why it’s an artists playground.
For a different experience, we decided to take the train from St Erth to St Ives as I’d heard that it’s one of the prettiest train rides the UK has to offer, offering stunning views across Carbis Bay, Porthminster Point and St Ives itself. It only took 15 minutes and cost next to nothing.
Once you reach St Ives, you’re met with a jumble of cobbled streets lined with galleries, cafes and shops to appease the souvenir lover.
And it’s quirky too. You’ll see some interesting street names such as ‘The Digey’, ‘Salubrious Place’ and Teetotal Street’ (couldn’t live there 😱). Art comes through at every corner too, from the galleries, to the window displays, to the tattoo parlours.
When we arrived at St Ives the tide was out at Porthminster Beach, meaning that we were able to walk across the sand to get into the town. Just two hours later as we went to leave, the tide was fully in. Who knew it worked so fast?
We decided to stretch our legs (after yet another afternoon tea) and walk part of the journey back to St Erth, picking the train back up at Carbis Bay. The sun made a welcomed appearance, making the views even more spectacular.
Don’t forget there’s loads more to read from my Cornwall trip – click the link below.