Well, strictly speaking I guess it should be retina, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it! After a week exploring yet more of south Cornwall I felt compelled to pen some prose about all things Cornish.
Cornwall reminds you in sometimes very bleak, stark terms, that away from urban spaces humans are vulnerable. Exposed to the elements we are at the mercy of nature, but for the most part, we are furnished beyond measure with every conceivable bucolic blessing.
Ancient, Celtic landscape demands attention and respect,
Ethereal, translucent light, any roaming spirit lifts,
Illuminating land of lighthouses, coast of craggy cliffs,
Treacherous, rocky graveyards to long wrecked ships,
Barrels of rum and sailors drowned, washed ashore…
Looking out to the Longships Lighthouse at Land’s End
“Cornwall is very primeval: great, black, jutting cliffs and rocks, like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn. It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful…” ~ D. H. Lawrence
I’ve only been back home for a day, but now that I’ve unpacked and caught up with most of the laundry I thought I’d share some of our holiday experiences and wax lyrical about the many charms of Cornwall while it’s still vivid in my mind.
I also have a new craving, well, strictly two: Cornish ice cream and cream teas.
Cliffs at Lizard Point.
We got to see some of the legendary Cornish coast, with its dramatic, flower covered cliffs, clear, azure seas, surfing beaches and small sandy coves, abandoned and ruined tin mines, undulating fields with cows aplenty, the occasional hungry seal, and, as is the case with most visitors to the south west of Cornwall, a windswept photo opportunity at Land’s End, Britain’s westernmost point.
One of the things about the latest BBC adaptation of the eponymous Graham Winston novels (apart from the rugged looks and solid acting of Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark), that has captured my imagination has been the stunning locations.
View from the church towards Gunwalloe Cove
I was naive enough to think it was shot in one area, but in reality there were 14 different Poldark filming locations throughout Cornwall; and being something of a period drama fan I was glad to see three of them during my stay.
The first location was Gunwalloe Church Cove on The Lizard (a really stunning but treacherous stretch of coastline), that has a small medieval church to the right of the beach. As well as being the site of many real-life shipwrecks, this was the beach where they filmed the night-time scene of Ross and the villagers helping themselves to the spoils of a Warleggan shipwreck.
Here is the scene shot on Gunwalloe Cove from the current Poldark series:
It seemed entirely plausible to me, we were there in early August, the sky was vanquished behind foreboding dark clouds, the wind was biting and relentless, the roar of the ocean as the waves crashed onto the beach approaching high-tide was immense. So much for summer!
Cliffs on either side of the beach provided rocks for rough seas to pound as well as potential caves.
It was also the first time my daughters had ventured into the surf, clad in their new, unbaptised wetsuits, armed with determination, excitement and curiosity to try body-boarding. In reality the brutally cold temperatures and power of the Atlantic Ocean prohibited such an activity for my little dudettes, but they did wade in up to their knees and let the tide chase them, screaming and whooping onto the beach.
Later in the week when the weather had improved we ventured back to the Lizard Peninsula and to the supremely beautiful Kynance Cove and another filming location – Lizard Point (the most southerly point in England).
Kynance Cove at high tide
A large white lighthouse and museum sit at the top of the headland, and if you wander down to the edge of the cliff and down into bay there is an old Lifeboat station (built in 1914), with an interesting history depicted on its doors. The girls sunned themselves here for a while…
View from the old lifeboat station at Lizard Point.
Chatting to the owner of the delightful café with an outdoor terrace offering a great view of the bay, we learnt that he had trained the local seagulls to fly to a nearby field where he feeds them twice a day.
We didn’t get dive-bombed, see or hear a single gull whilst having our delectable cream-tea. It could be a possible solution for the beleaguered tourists and locals in St. Ives, who have to endure birds with a penchant for Hitchcock type behaviour towards people and their food!!
On the last day, with the car packed-up and bursting at the seams, we headed out to the mining town of St. Agnes on the north coast between St. Ives and Newquay. It’s a very pretty village with a nice beach, and you can drive just out of the town up to St. Agnes Head: a heather clad heathland bluff, providing dramatic views towards St. Ives in the distance and also north up the coast.
The scent wafting from the heather as I wandered along the cliff footpath was delightful, as was the vibrant hues of pink, purple, violet and yellow of these ubiquitous and hardy flowers, which contrasted beautifully with the bright blue ocean and spewing white foam of the waves against rocks.
I tentatively climbed onto the stone ledge to take this shot!
Also near St. Agnes is the historic site of Wheal Coates, a tin and copper mine on the site of mines dating back to the 16oo’s.
Wheal Coates, St. Agnes
However, the Victorian mine was permanently closed down in 1914. The coastal views of the Towanroath Engine House (a grade II listed building), perching on the side of the cliff with the surf crashing onto Porthtowan and Chapel Porth Beaches below just took my breath away.
Towanroath Engine House
I suspect the impressive view and pristine coastline was not at the forefront of the miners’ minds as they toiled in what would have been trying conditions.
Coastal view from St. Agnes Head
Some of the other filming locations that I didn’t get time to see were the World Heritage Botallack Mine, Levant Mine and West Wheal Owles in St. Just, Pedn Vounder Beach, Stepper Point, St. Breward and Bodmin Moor and Charlestown Harbour (perfect as the 18th century Falmouth Harbour).
Land’s End – 301 miles from home
We arrived here at about 6.30 pm, perfect timing to avoid the crowds. I hadn’t been back to visit Land’s End since my first trip when I was eighteen, and found that there was a lot more here to entice families than just a sign.
There is a hotel and restaurant perched on the hill, as well as a small Aardman Animation ‘Shaun the Sheep’ theme park and gift shops which were thankfully all closed up by the time we arrived.
Also the site of many a shipwreck, the Long Rocks Lighthouse gives out light every ten seconds these days, and we stared in awe at the sheer bracing, rugged beauty of the place.
Long Rocks Lighthouse beneath the sun at Land’s End.
We decided to stay and have dinner at the hotel so that we could watch the sunset. The skies had been clear when we arrived, but as the sun gradually sank into the horizon it became mostly masked by cloud. It was still a magical evening.
This popular seaside town nestles into a protected horseshoe harbour, and comprises many steep, narrow lanes lined with art galleries, boutiques, gift shops, surfing outlets, pasty shops (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried one from Pengenna), although tasty, it was so huge I could barely finish it. The local ice cream is to die for, and the town is bustling with tourists, artists, surfers and families. There isn’t much room for the crowds and the cars, so it can get a bit hairy with young children.
The pristine Carbis Bay
Parking is a total headache, and on the second day we were there we parked in a church car park just up from the Carbis Bay British Rail station and got the train into St. Ives. This has to be the most scenic train station in the UK. It pulls up behind a large sandy beach and you can walk from there to the centre of St. Ives in about ten minutes.
We spent quite a few hours on the crowded but very nice Porthmeor Beach, full of sunbathers and body surfers alike. Emily and Ruby managed to get their first taste of riding a wave and seem to have become adrenaline junkies overnight!
We’ll have to do the Shanty Baba evening Pirate Ghost story and walk next time we’re there.
Our boat trip to Seal Island wasn’t the highlight of our holiday, but I suspect it will be long remembered. We booked onto a later trip thinking it would be fun to go out in calm seas (it had been a gorgeous day up to that point), but by 4.45pm when we stood on the harbour wall watching three local seals who had ventured into the shallows and were bobbing up for fresh fish being thrown down to them by the locals, wondering if it was worth an hour and a half out at sea when they were literally at our feet!
Emily doing her seal impression.
It turned out that our doubts were founded, as our boat, the Cornish Crest, was a small fishing vessel that was both uncomfortable and slow, and by now the seas had grown choppy so we got quite wet too. We sat patiently as our cheerful captain skilfully took us out to Godrevy Lighthouse instead of Seal Island due to the worsening conditions.
Godrevy Lighthouse St. Ives
Bigger, faster, more comfortable boats sped past us. When we reached the rocks off the lighthouse we caught a glimpse of two black heads barely above the waves, and I couldn’t wait for the boat to turn around and take us back to the harbour. What with the cool wind whipping around us, the waves sloshing over the side and the lack of seals it was an experience that left us wishing we had stayed on the beach!
Mugs of creamy hot chocolate and homemade food at Pels Café on the harbour front helped to warm us up as we quickly readjusted to having our land legs back…
The Eden Project
The whole of Cornwall was drenched under a massive downpour on the Thursday, so after a lazy morning we visited the Eden Project near St. Austell. Lovingly nurtured from a disused giant china clay pit, the ecological vision of the charity’s creators has achieved astounding success. We spent a few fun and educational hours wandering through the massive biospheres and around the moving, lifelike dinosaur exhibit, which really captured their iamginations.
It was wonderful strolling through the world’s biggest greenhouse, home to the world’s largest indoor rainforest, hearing the rain pelting onto the biosphere.
It was hot and steamy inside, so raincoats and jumpers came swiftly off.
The girls absolutely loved it, and the word “awesome” was frequently used. I managed to get onto the sky walk viewing platform before it closed, which offers panoramic views across the dome. It’s somewhat disconcerting though, that the steps sway as you climb high above the green canopy.
Don’t look down!
It was wonderful for adults and especially children, to learn about coffee, tea, chilli, cocoa, banana, the fair trade concept and the importance of the rainforest in the planet’s ecosystem. I even saw a Trumpet Tree which was consumed by natives as a pick-me up and appetite suppressant stronger than coffee.
Model dinosaurs caught up with us in the Mediterranean biosphere, which really captured their imaginations. All in all a great day out, despite the many visitors and the wet conditions.
A week isn’t long enough to explore the many spectacular beaches, coastal walks, historic houses, harbours, tin mines and many other attractions.
We spent some time on Holywell Bay before driving home, the surf was impressive. A taster of Cornwall’s best beaches:
I have a great excuse to go back in the not too distant future…
When I get a chance I’ll add a small photo gallery of some of the sights.