Exploring West Cornwall – rain or shine

With so many changing regulations regarding overseas travel, the south-west tip of England is proving more popular than ever this year as a staycation destination. But although West Cornwall enjoys a milder climate than the rest of Great Britain, you do need to be prepared for all weathers.

I’ve visited the area regularly since childhood, so here are a few of my top tips, remembering of course that my wet weather options are also worth visiting on sunny days too! For more information, go to www.visitcornwall.com

St Ives

This picturesque fishing village on the north coast has grown into one of Cornwall’s most popular resorts, also making worldwide headlines this summer as host of the G7 Summit. If you’re staying on the south coast, I’d recommend catching the train for the eight-mile journey from Penzance to avoid competing for a car parking space. St Ives, CornwallOr leave your car near Lelant station on the Hayle estuary and follow the coast, walking on the sand at low tide to the Carbis Bay Hotel – location for the summit meeting – and then joining the cliff path past some desirable coastal properties.

Sun: Stroll the arc of the promenade to enjoy that picturesque waterfront from every angle, but do watch out for opportunist seagulls if you’re enjoying a seaside snack! Take a boat trip to seal island for a close-up view of those wide-eyed residents. Or simply browse the boutiques, relax on the golden sand, or enjoy a dip in the waves. 

Rain: Opened in 1993, Tate St Ives features abstract art from the 20th century, a showcase for artists who have lived and worked in the town. A joint ticket also covers the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. 

Penzance

Mount's Bay, Penzance, CornwallLocated at the end of the railway line overlooking Mount’s Bay, Penzance was a popular holiday destination in Victorian times. Today it still boasts fine villas and public gardens where sub-tropical plants thrive in the mild climate, as well as an eclectic mix of craft shops, boutiques, and essential retail outlets. Take a trip to the Scilly Isles by boat or helicopter, or pick up a local bus from outside the train station to explore the peninsula and beyond.

Sun: Walk past the busy harbour to the open air Jubilee Pool, recently restored to its Art Deco glory; relax in the Morab Gardens, complete with bandstand; and browse the independent shops on historic Chapel Street, looking out for the dramatic Egyptian House and the town’s oldest pub, The Turk’s Head. Then stroll westwards round the bay to adjacent Newlyn, home to great small shops and eateries, including one of my favourites, the Mackeral Sky Seafood Bar. East takes you to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens Penlee House, Penzance, Cornwallfor woodland trails dotted with eclectic sculptures, and a tempting cactus shop and café. Beyond lies Marazion and St Michael’s Mount, accessed by pedestrian causeway at low tide, otherwise by boat.

Rain: Like St Ives, Penzance is an artistic hub. I love Penlee House, an intimate gallery that mounts exhibitions of 19th and early 20th century art from West Cornwall, including the famous Newlyn School and Lamorna Group. There’s a lovely café and shop too. Also in Penzance, The Exchange celebrates contemporary art, in partnership with the Newlyn Art Gallery.

Porthcurno

Minack Theatre, Pothcurno, CornwallTucked away on the south side of the Land’s End peninsula, Porthcurno Beach offers a combination of fine white sand and sparkling sea that turns turquoise in the sun. Fringed by high cliffs, it’s an idyllic spot to soak up the coastal scenery. Eagle-eyed fans of the BBC’s 2015 series of Poldark may even recognise it as Nampara Cove.

Sun: The delights of sea and sand speak for themselves, but don’t miss a trip to the unique Minack Theatre, high on the western cliff top. Built in the 1920s by theatrical visionary Rowena Wade and her gardener, it is open to daytime visitors all year round, but also stages a summer programme of al fresco productions.

Rain: In the tranquil valley leading down to the beach, the Museum of Global Communications tells the fascinating story of PK Porthcurno and the pioneering days of the telegraph. I was captivated by the story of how, in 1870, the first international telegraph cable was brought ashore here, connecting Britain to India and reducing transmission time from six weeks to nine minutes! Visit the secret bunker that was a vital communications hub in World War II and discover Porthcurno’s continuing role in international communications.

Porthleven

Porthleven, CornwallOpening onto Mount’s Bay between Penzance and Lizard Point, Porthleven’s narrow harbour is surrounded on three sides by boutiques, restaurants and heritage buildings. Boats are left high and dry at low tide, and on windy days, a barrier shuts off the inner harbour as waves break dramatically over the outer sea wall. 

Sun: This is a delightful place for just pottering about with its independent retailers selling quality clothing, artwork and food specialities. Amongst the many excellent eateries is Kota and its sister restaurant Kota Kai, run by Great British Menu finalist Jude Kereama. Walk up Cliff Road behind the seafront cottages to join the South West Coast path towards Loe Pool and the National Trust’s Penrose estate.  

Rain: Put your hood up, head to the harbour mouth and just watch those waves roll in! Then dive into those welcoming quayside businesses. They’ll be delighted to see you.

Lizard Peninsula

Jutting out into the English Channel between Porthleven in the west and Falmouth in the east, the Lizard Peninsula offers a spectacular coastline of rugged cliffs and small coves, whilst the picturesque Helford estuary slices inland across the top from Mawnan on the east coast to Gweek, near the small town of Helston. The Lizard National Nature Reserve is one of the largest NNRs in the South West. 

Lizard Peninsula, CornwallSun: With its white sand, turquoise water, and rock stacks, Kynance Cove is one of the most beautiful – and popular – spots on the Lizard, so visit early in the day, late, or out of season to see it at its most tranquil. Other local areas of coastline belonging to the National Trust are the Penrose estate and Loe Pool, Mullion Cove, and Gunwalloe with its bijou medieval church tucked behind the beach.  Garden lovers and walkers shouldn’t miss Trebah Gardens and Glendurgan (NT) on the north side of the Helford river. On the south side, the Trelowarren estate is home both to the Halliggye fougou, an Iron Age underground chamber that is free to visit and to the Lizard Art Gallery. 

Rain: Head into Helston, famous for its annual Floral Dance and heritage steam railway. Or maybe to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at Gweek, where the residents are more than happy in the rain! The lighthouse at Lizard Point marks the most southerly point on the British mainland and whilst, at the time of writing, tours have yet to restart after Covid-19 restrictions, the Visitor Centre is open. Or just pull on your waterproofs and absorb the panorama of dramatic seas and sky. A view well worth getting damp for!                                                                                                                            

For holidays in Cornwall, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Original Cottages and Forest Holidays. For escorted tours and coach trips, Grand UK Holidays, Shearings, Lucketts Group and Alfa Travel are recommended. For activities and adventures, go to Intrepid Travel.

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Gillian Thornton

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