Cornish Harbours

It’s hard not to fall in love with Cornwall where a magnificent coastline wraps itself around 300 miles of diverse landscapes. The big skies and wilderness of Bodmin Moor to the north with walking trails and prehistoric remains, further south the sun turns the sea turquoise and the land is scattered with Bronze age standing stones and Celtic crosses where the natural light is so blinding. In the west there is a special art scene and Cornwall is becoming a real foodie heaven with top-class chefs producing gourmet menus, daily offerings of fresh fish and seafood and local produce such as cheeses, wine and meat widely available from delicatessens, farmers’ markets and roadside stalls, not to mention Cornish pasties and well-loved clotted cream teas.

It has had a place in my heart since I was a child when I holidayed on the north coast near Bude and was mesmerised by the wild Atlantic rollers hammering the cliffs. Now it attracts me because it has one of the mildest climates in the UK, I like the closeness to the coast and the long sandy beaches which remind me so much of the western Cape where I spent my twenties and there is a slightly bohemian feel to the towns which appeals to me.

Cornwall’s harbours are best known for their white-washed or granite fisherman’s cottages with tiny secret gardens and net lofts huddling together along narrow lanes steeply leading to the sandy beaches where sunbathers lounge and surfers ride the waves on turquoise waters, or where fishing ports are filled with colourful fishing boats and yachts, so it would be remiss of me not to mention a few of these Cornish harbours that we visited during our recent trip there.

Closest to Penzance and indeed easily walkable along the south-west coastal path around Mount’s Bay is Newlyn. One of the busiest ports in the country Newlyn’s fishermen bring back all types of fish and shellfish and unsurprisingly there are a number of wet fish shops selling to the public. Newlyn was also popular with artists in the late 19th century and even today if you look beyond the busy harbour you will find a complex of narrow cobbled lanes and rows of Victorian granite cottages which influenced the particular style of painting ‘en plein air’ that became known as the ‘Newlyn School’. Although the movement ceased to exist in the early twentieth century the area still has a reputation as a colony for artists.

Not surprisingly Newlyn’s many attractions include several art galleries and craft shops, pubs, restaurants and a very good cheese shop. On the seafront near the Newlyn Art Gallery is a bronze statue of a fisherman in memorial to the fishing industry and those fishermen lost at sea. And the Tolcarne Inn close to the oldest bridge in the village has a reputation for live jazz music along with the Sunday roast.

A little further along the coast around the bay you come to Mousehole [Mowzel] the archetypal image of a Cornish fishing village with granite houses rising in tiers above the harbour. Today it is mainly home to holiday-makers and second-home owners who come to enjoy the pretty, safe and sandy harbour beach at low tide, the art galleries, studios and craft shops hidden among the narrow alleys and tiny lanes and traditional pubs and restaurants along the harbour. The village is famous for its Christmas lights which illuminate the harbour in the depths of winter and for Tom Bawcock’s Eve, a traditional pre-Christmas celebration commemorating a local hero who saved the village from famine by bracing the stormy seas to bring back fish for the starving villagers. Locals mark the event by baking the famous Stargazey Pie made with mixed fish, egg and potato with fish heads poking out through the crust.

And finally St Ives. Although this fishing village lies across the peninsula on St Ives Bay, it is only ten miles from Penzance and easily accessible by public transport. The twenty-minute ride on the train, changing onto the branch line at St Erth, is probably the best way to arrive as it snakes around the golden coves into the town. We ate lunch at two fabulous beach cafés there – one on Porthminster Beach with views to Godrevy Lighthouse and the other on Porthmeor Beach with great sea views. There are two more beaches in the town, Harbour beach and Porthgwidden and it all feels like a subtropical paradise. St Ives’s arty reputation is reflected in the number of studios, exhibitions, art galleries and craft shops and of course the Tate Museum and Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden. Behind the 14th century Sloop Inn on the Wharf and the Harbour beach there is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and fisherman’s cottages.  This is the heart of old St Ives, known to the locals as ‘Downalong’.

I do not advise driving into St Ives unless you are a confident driver. Rather use the train from Penzance or St Erth or the Park ‘n Ride from the Lelant Saltings, or the large Park ‘n Ride car park at the top of the town. You can walk into the town from there or take a shuttle bus (not free) one or both ways. It is a steep climb back to your car!

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

60 thoughts on “Cornish Harbours”

  1. Good enough for the Cornish Tourist Board Jude! Great travelogue and photos as always, and wafting fond memories of manner summers at Penryn my way too.
    Regards from Norfolk as always, Pete. X

    1. I’d love to have a job with a tourist board 😀
      I don’t know Penryn though – I guess you must have spent a lot of time “messing about on the river” 🙂

      1. No river trips Jude. We stayed with an uncle who lived there, and we used to go to Perranporth, Praa Sands, (a pre-surfing) Newquay, and many other places. Always hot and sunny then, so I recall, with cream teas and Cornish ice cream! X

  2. Thanks Jude – you’ve just given me my Cornish ‘fix.’ There is something magical about the place which you have captured so beautifully in your words and pictures.

  3. Great travelogue Jude. It seems to cover a lot of the sights and culture. It reminds me of the TV series, Doc Martin which is set in Cornwall.


    1. Port Isaac where Doc Martin is set is in North Cornwall, but also an archetypal fishing village – though probably known more for the series now. It is much wilder on the north coast, with steep cliffs, but very beautiful too. Maybe I should write another post about the north of the county.

  4. I wish I hadn’t read this at lunchtime, I would love one of those Cornish pasties just about now!

    I have a photo of my hubby standing right outside the entrance of ‘The Mousehole’ from when we visited four years ago, the last time we were there. You can tell what lovely weather you had during your visit!

    Thanks Jude for what is once again a delightful post, beautifully written and with gorgeous photos of a place, and places, to which we hope to return quite soon for a little visit 🙂 xx

  5. Some cracking photos Jude, be great to see them larger. I haven’t been to Mousehole since I was a kid, I don’t remember it being all holiday homes then, lots of fishermen back then. Did you go up to the old lifeboat station to the memorial garden.

    A bit of useless info for you, the Ordnance Survey use the sea level at Newlyn as the datum against which height on their maps is measured.

    1. Hi Kev, if you click on a photo it does enlarge and you can scroll through the gallery too. I shall have to look up that garden on my next visit – is that at the Penlee lifeboat station?

      1. It’s at the old Penlee lifeboat station on the coast road between Mousehole and Newlyn, it commemorates the 8 RNLI crew of the Solomon Browne who died in 1981 trying to save the crew of the MV Union Star.

        Thanks for the tip about the photos.

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