Cornwall’s West Penwith: a quick guide
Here’s a prejudiced and personal guide to holidaying in Cornwall’s fabulous West Penwith.
We rented a stylish stone cottage (Sixpenny Barn) in the tiny hamlet of Mulfra, up a lane off the B road from Penzance to Zennor. Its garden was a Japanesey wonder and the mobile reception on Vodaphone and 02 a bit better than the owner said, modestly. Up the track from us were moors and private-seeming micro-Stonehenges (this also being a stone’s throw from Chysauster), but long before that elevation a walk revealed a view across to St Michael’s Mount.
Zennor means a lot to me (my father was brought up in part in what is now the Folk Museum there, along with his boyhood friend, the composer George Lloyd ). The Tinner’s is a marvellous pub: civilised but not fancy and excellent food. The Backpackers’ cafe in the ex-chapel next door is good value and more sophisticated than it looks. The Gurnard’s Head Hotel looks as though it might take the biscuit for dining, but I didn’t feel like ponying-up to find out.
The coastal path is heaven anywhere near here, but Zennor gives a very good “time from car park to cliff-top” ratio. On the coastal path, turn right toward St Ives, and there are one or two opportunities for zig-zag paths sliding half-arsewise down to deserted swimming coves.
For lazy bones thrill-seekers, park at Pendeen Lighthouse and a few steps deliver vertiginous cliffs with wild waves at their feet. Turn right toward Zennor and there are opportunities to get down amongst the spumed rocks.
I prefer Newlyn/Penzance to St Ives. The Newlyn Art Gallery had a dullish show this spring (2011) but often it’s splendid if you like that sort of thing (themed as it were with Denmark’s Skagen). Besides, N/P aren’t even thinking of competing with St Jean de Luz, a place I love but don’t want imported.
If in Newlyn, try the Red Lion: there’s a fish soup there that owes nothing to the Mediterranean. The pub’s bar is salty with business being done on mobiles. After supper, cross the street to explore the fishing harbour, where rusting muscular near-wrecks are moody and the new small plastic craft show signs of money being made. You might get thrown out of the harbour, but don’t scream around and it doesn’t look likely.
If in Penzance, La Luna Rossa has a good menu and is clearly a happy place to eat, though it was having an off-night when we went. It didn’t spoil our pleasure much: I’ve waited too long for lumpy pasta in much worse places.
If in St Ives, the Seafood Cafe is bright, elegant and affordable and you are served a scrumptious menu by cheerful girls. I saw more replete, happy eaters that lunch time than anywhere else and that’s saying something.
For days away, I’d say Falmouth is the big must. The maritime museum makes up for its not being very serious by its being full of evocative boats – and of joy: noisy kids taking full advantage of proper interactice displays. The cafe was too busy and noisy, though, and we found Harvey’s Wharf just next door with good snacks, great views and a buzzy ambience which was well short of school dinner hall riotousness.
It’s a good town (more Penzance than St Ives, but arty with it). Just up Arwenack Street, a step from the museum, there’s Bookmark, a very good boaty secondhand bookshop. The owner Tash Berks did me the favour of recognising me from the telly and remembering that I’m a screaming right-winger.
Cornwall is ripe in houses and gardens, but I’d give Trierce a miss. It’s just what old grumps don’t like about the Fiona Reynolds NT. A house boring in and out and a desperate attempt to thrill anxiously improving middle class families with dressing-up boxes and drums (yes, bang ’em loud bloody drums) and whistles. The cafe looked beyond gloomy and there was a medieval kitchen, knot or herb garden which looked so lame in the near distance I couldn’t be troubled to walk on and see how wrong I might be.
Now West Penwith is rather chic, you may take comfort from touching base on the coast onward from St Ives, Hayle-way. More hoi ploi and sand, so altogether more bucket-and-spade.