diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Cornwall is a historic/beautiful/isolated/deprived county at the tip of southwest England. Penzance is the westernmost town, a few miles from as far as you can go, and the end of the line anyone travelling by train. Newcastle's actually further from London, but getting to Penzance takes twice as long thanks to the dawdliness of the Cornish railway. I took advantage of a pair of £12 rail tickets and booked three nights away, using the town as a base to explore... a Kernow safari I will now proceed to describe at length.

PENZANCE is an old fishing town with a population of about 22,000 (which for those of us with a SW Herts mindset makes it approximately a Rickmansworth). Penzance faces the English Channel on the rim of Mounts Bay, a sweeping 40-mile curve of rock and sand, its understated harbour no longer a driving force, nor indeed especially attractive.



The main drag is Market Jew Street, from the Cornish 'Marghas Yow', meaning Thursday Market. These days the Market Hall is closed, and occupied instead by Lloyds Bank, but its dome still provides the dominant feature at the head of a downhill run of high street shops. The big statue in front of the former Guildhall is of Sir Humphrey Davy, who was born in a house alongside in 1778 before moving up country and transforming chemistry. The northern pavement is raised above the roadway, and accessed via a series of tiny stone staircases, which must cause the occasional tumble. Amongst the traders are the usual Sports Direct, WH Smiths and Santander, but also several minor independents and charity shops, and a heck of a lot of shops that sell pasties. Warrens has three branches on the same road, the Mounts Bay Pasty Company displays its awards on a chalkboard, and Lavenders is the place for a more deli-artisanal bite.

Leading further uphill is Causewayhead, a pedestrianised shopping street, where the Indoor Market used to be. Partway up is the Savoy, opened in 1912 and allegedly the oldest continuously running cinema in the UK (if you discount the recent temporary closure which saw screens two and three combined). I was hoping to pop in and enjoy a screening, but it turned out the only decent film on the schedule was one I'd accidentally seen in Hackney earlier in the week. An even older business is Pengelly's Shoes, established in 1899... but whose closing down sale is alas currently underway.



For something a little more historic try Chapel Street, which wends down to the harbour via the parish church, and is where all the boutiquier establishments hang out. The most striking building is the Egyptian House, a triumph of eccentric post-Napoleonic style, built as a geological museum, and whose upper floors are now three holiday cottages. Smugglers used to operate from the cottages and inns further down, which may go some way to explain the presence of a man in a tricorn hat outside the Admiral Benbow on Saturday evening. Chapel Street's top prize for business name goes to a Mac repair business called Apple Crumble. And right down at the bottom is the town's gold pillar box, celebrating rower Helen Glover's 2012 Olympic success.

The ferry to the Isles of Scilly leaves from the harbour, offering a potential sub-£40 day trip if your stomach can tolerate the swell. I might have been tempted except that the first scheduled ferry of the year departed on Monday, and I was already on the train home before it returned. I was also thwarted in my attempt to enjoy a slap-up fish meal at the main harbourside restaurant, which it seems doesn't open at 6.30 every evening as the sign on the door promises, so those local scallops alas went ungulped.



Neither is March the right time to visit the Art Deco Jubilee Pool, an outdoor lido on the seafront. It's currently closed so that geothermal power can be piped in to heat one section, the funding provided by that pesky European Union which the majority of the local populace voted against. Instead a bracing walk along the promenade is the best that's on offer, although I don't recommend trying this in a driving blizzard - conditions which thanks to the Gulf Stream beset the town with exceptional rarity.

Indeed Penzance's temperate climate makes it one of the few places on the English mainland where sub-tropical plants can thrive, with Morrab Gardens a prime example in the heart of the town. Thick-trunked palm trees droop brazenly, the camelias are already past their best, and in one corner I was impressed to see primroses in bloom long before April. The other central park is less jungly, but does contains Penlee House, Penzance's museum and art gallery. I missed out on most of the art, thanks to a badly-timed rehanging, but the museum's very informative, so I now know all about the local archaeology and why the town's historic coat of arms features a decapitated head.



I was in Penzance long enough to be able to explore some of its lesser-trod streets, from the tightly packed terraces on the slopes above the high street to the broad thoroughfare of guest houses leading down to the shore (Sorry No Vacancies). I think I passed a drug deal on creepy Bread Street, and the well-wrapped old lady sat outside the art gallery was definitely smoking pot. A very mixed community lives here, with unemployment high, and it was noticeable on Saturday night that Wetherspoons was packed while the higherbrow restaurants sat mostly empty.

No doubt you'll be wanting to hear all about the railway station. I stayed just across the road in the Longboat Inn, which I can recommend as a place to stay if you're ever in town. A pub with a restaurant and an internet cafe and a left luggage facility ticked all my boxes, the staff were chirpily polite, and the cooked breakfasts continue to register on my bathroom scales now I'm safely home. Let me also recommend Penzance as a base for exploring the surrounding area - relatively accessible, not so posh as to be expensive, and just characterful enough to make a stay a pleasure.

» 20 Penzance photos


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream