Salty Tales has a guest blogger this week! My companion in adventuring, travel and life in general, Jonathan, writes about our visit to Cornwall, his “spiritual home”.
It is rare that three brothers, all in their sixties and living around the world, are able to gather with their partners in one spot to enjoy some time together. So it was particularly enjoyable that my brothers and I were able to meet up in Cornwall, our mother’s birthplace and scene of countless childhood memories.
West Penwith is a small but incredibly picturesque corner of the Cornish peninsular that includes Penzance, Land’s End and St Ives.
We parked our van at the village of St Just Rugby Club which provides a wonderful spot for vans and campers to base themselves.
After walking up the hill to the village, Dot and I caught up with my two brothers and their partners in the Plain-an-Gwarry. This is thought to be a Medieval meeting place which consists of a grassy amphitheatre in the middle of the village. An historic place to meet and eat our Cornish Pasties whilst sitting on the lush grass enjoying the sunshine.
We noticed the granite blocks against which we leant our backs were full of holes. Apparently these dated from Cornish tin miners holding drilling competitions in the 19th century- the blocks of granite are still there bearing silent witness to noisy tournaments. Maybe my ancestors took part!
You are never far from a good pub in the UK so we adjourned to the Trewellard in St Just Square for drinks before heading off to Pendeen Lighthouse to visit Boat Cove and Portheras beach – possibly the world’s finest and least known beaches and scene of many ship wrecks.
It was low tide so the three brothers decided to re live their childhood and climb across the rocky peninsular separating the two beaches.
This trip was completed countless times when our ages were measured in single figures. Granite is a tough unchanging rock and so slightly arthritic fingers had no trouble finding familiar handholds from sixty years ago. However, the rock hopping might have taken slightly longer!
Our partners took the more circuitous and safer route over the cliff path and arrived to find their “boys” dozing quietly in the sun at the far end of the beach.
It is perhaps sobering to remember that our Mum and Dad would walk along these same beautiful cliffs during WWII and watch as oil tankers were attacked and aerial dog fights – which were common place in this busy shipping lane – buzzed overhead.
That night we parked up in Penzance to enjoy my older brother’s birthday celebration at his and his wife’s rented apartment overlooking Penzance harbour.
Penzance is steeped in maritime history so we felt very much at home wandering the old harbour lanes. The many pubs and winding streets still echo with sounds of Spanish raids, and later the smugglers carousing after a successful trip avoiding the excise men.
Penzance with nearby Newlyn and Mousehole (pronounced “mowz all”) were favourite haunts of the naval press gang as they wanted the sailing skills of the locals. Many a hapless fisherman was plied with “free” grog only to find himself waking at sea aboard a naval man of war.
My brother decided his birthday treat would be to take the tourist open top double decker bus from Penzance harbour to St Ives, haunt of many famous 20th century artists.
The trip was amazing for many reasons, not the least being the incredible skill of the driver who negotiated the bustling Main Street of Penzance with its unique (and very old) raised pedestrian walkway called Market Jew Street, to narrow country lanes lined with granite walls and twisting, equally narrow village roads.
The experience was both thrilling and unnerving. Taking our camper van down these lanes was quite tense – driving a double decker bus full of passengers seemed to be on another level altogether.
It was a beautiful day and the stunning views over the moors went forever. From our high perch on the bus this ancient landscape gave up a few of its secrets not visible from a car, including the “Merry Maidens” stone circle dating from the Neolithic/early Bronze Age.
The bus stopped at Lands End which held little attraction for us with its rather tawdry tourist attractions but we did get out for lunch at nearby Sennen Cove a large surf beach with the village of Sennen at the western end.
Once a bustling herring fishing harbour Sennen now relies on tourism for income. The round house art gallery originally housed the human powered capstan which used to haul the fishing boats up the beach. Next door is the RNLI volunteer Lifeboat which has saved many lives over the years in the treacherous Atlantic waters.
We had a great lunch at a new cafe on the beach whilst the bus miraculously managed to turn around in the village in order to continue the journey to St Ives.
The coastal road between St Just and St Ives is considered by many to be one of the best coastal drives in Europe and the open top of a double decker bus is the finest way to see it (in sunny weather of course!). On the way we passed the beautiful little village of Zennor where my maternal grandmother was born and raised.
It has a beautiful church with a very old model of a sailing boat hung from the rafters. We also saw this oddity in churches in the Brittany region of France and also in Scandinavia. Apparently “votive ships” are common throughout Scandinavia and Europe, and are often presented by sailors who have survived a shipwreck.
St Ives is built on the sides of a wide bay and is so picturesque that in the middle of the 20th Century it became a magnet for artists.
After a thoroughly enjoyable walk around the steep and achingly picturesque streets with tantalising sea glimpses – we had a bus to catch.
The trip home largely followed the main A30 Road into Penzance providing great views of the famous St Michaels Mount.
St Michael’s Mount
The road from the rugby club at St Just where we camped, continues on down towards the sea through the Kenidjack Valley past farmland and old long abandoned mine workings.
Eventually the road becomes a footpath with old mine workings beautifully maintained by the National Trust.
These buildings deserve to be preserved as a reminder to future generations that this peaceful landscape was once torn apart by massive steam engines belching toxic smoke, making the Valley echo to the non stop hammering of the ore crushing equipment (called “stamps”). It also provided a great example of nature’s ability to recover if left alone.
The walk ends at the ocean with spectacular views across to the more well known and touristy Cape Cornwall. That spot would have to await another visit, my trip down memory lane in the land of my West Country ancestors was over – it was time to move on.