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davidx Penzance - A travel report by David
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Penzance,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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davidx's travel reports

South Coast of ‘West, West Cornwall’

  14 votes
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I have called this report ‘Penzance’ but most of it is about other places on or near the south coast of the westernmost peninsula of Cornwall and England.


Porthcurno's fine beach
Porthcurno's fine beach
Some of the allocation of places into my two reports of ‘West West Cornwall,’ these being this one and Saint Just, will be pretty arbitrary and, if you’re interested in the area, you could do worse than look at them all. The term ‘West, West Cornwall’ is not officially recognised but it gives an indication of the area covered. In general, though it is perhaps least obvious here at the far west, the south Cornish coast is far gentler than the north with huge picturesque river estuaries and inlets, though the north scores on sheer magnificence of cliff scenery and for surfing. North is the open Atlantic. South is what we call the English Channel. I don’t know a lot about Penzance as such. Cornwall was an early area for British tourism and Penzance was for years the terminus of two noted trains, the Cornish Riviera from London and the Cornishman from the Midlands. It enjoys some fine Regency terraces and squares and has a small but very good farmers’ market on Saturdays where delicious local breads and cheeses can be obtained. Its bus station is the major transport centre for the area. The south formed what was known as ‘The Cornish Riviera’ whilst for a long time the north was regarded as ‘blighted by mining.’ Three places near Penzance that get no further mention here are Newlyn, Mousehole [pronounced Mowsul] and St Michael’s Mount. All are beautiful but they are particularly well known and the object of this report is to familiarise some other places. On the coast we will visit Lamorna, Porthcurno and Porthgwarra and inland we shall see some fine churches and the lovely gardens at Tregwainton.

Favourite spots:
Porthgwarra - could a child resist these tunnels?
Porthgwarra - could a child resist these tunnels?
The three coastal spots mentioned above are taken from East to West here. Lamorna is approached by a narrow road through a steep wooded valley, reminiscent of many farther to the east in Cornwall and Devon. We had thick mist there and hence didn’t try for views on the nearby headlands. I have no doubt they were fine. We were luckier at Porthcurno, which we viewed from the approach to the Minach Open Air Theatre. The beach is sandy and eminently suitable for families with young children. Porthgwarra probably suits slightly older children and adults better. If youngsters vanish, you can be fairly sure you only have to go through the enticing tunnels in the cliff to find them. On a short and easy stretch of the south-western coast path, the views were good though a bit restricted. However the real treat was seeing a peregrine falcon close up on the rocks. They have recovered considerably, since they became protected, from being close to extinction here but they’re still rare.

What's really great:
Mermaid design on the topograph
Mermaid design on the topograph
Tregwainton Gardens, owned by the National Trust, lie a bit inland not far from the road to St. Just. This was clearly not the best time of year because the number of azaleas and rhododendrons denote a marvellous show in the Spring. However, the vast walled gardens – several adjoined – are most impressive, although why they were built to the biblical dimensions of Noah’s Ark is not immediately obvious. [Not one of my exaggerations!] The first trees, planted mid 19th century, ensure protection from the westerly gales and the temperature is never very low. Hence some delicate tropical trees can grow here and nowhere else in England. An unusual feature is a topograph, a large slate with directions to places of interest and fine carvings. A particularly noteworthy tree is a very large 'Magnolia sargentiana robusta' on the lawn near the [private] house. Australian bamboos, New Zealand tree ferns and many flowering hydrangeas contributed to an enjoyable visit.

Sights:
Rood screen at St Buryan
Rood screen at St Buryan
I mentioned churches in the introduction. The mother church for Penzance is at Madron, a nearby village and it has some very interesting features but sadly it was the one church we found locked. For lovers of church architecture it is far more worth noting that visitors here find so many fine churches open.

One of them is Saint Buryan. Here you can see a magnificent rood screen with some of its original bright colouring still just visible in places. There is also a 15th century font with some interesting carvings of angels and shields. One story has St. Buryan and St Just hurling rocks at one another. If they were standing anywhere near their respective churches, Homer’s Telamonian Ajax must have been a weakling in comparison!

The church of St Pol de Léon has an interesting history. Much of it was burned down by Spanish raiders in an attack seven years after the defeat of the Great Armada. Scorch marks can still be seen in the part that survived.




Accommodations:
Gwennap Head - between Porthgwarra and Land's End
Gwennap Head - between Porthgwarra and Land's End
We had no reason to worry about this because we were staying with a friend in her cottage at St Just but, because of its much longer history as a tourist region, there are far more places to stay on the southern side. Many people who are resident move into caravans in the summer to rent out their houses, although the proportion of houses owned by incomers and second homers is rising fairly quickly.

Nightlife:
Madron Church
Madron Church
We were always back in the north of the peninsula by nightfall but I should love to see a performance at the Minach Open Air Theatre [in good weather and having taken a cushion for the stone seats!]

Hangouts:
Lanyon Quoit
Lanyon Quoit
I have put information on the best antiquities we saw into my Saint Just report. However, one we didn’t get to see [you can’t do everything in a week!] was the ancient village and fogue at Chysauster [grid ref: SW 472350.]
Others that we did see in this area were Lanyon Quoit [SW 430337] and the ‘Merry Maidens’ stone circle [SW 433245.]
Of course I believe, as I’m sure you will, that they were real maidens, turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday!

Restaurants:
Good picnic spot at Porthgwarra
Good picnic spot at Porthgwarra
Since we carried picnics everywhere, we had no reason to use a restaurant in this area – but I remind anyone thinking of ingredients for a picnic here that the well known Cornish pasty makes a great contribution and I repeat that the breads and cheeses from the Penzance Farmers’ Market on a Saturday are great. Although yarg, with its coating of nettles, is the best known of Cornish cheeses outside Cornwall, I would strongly recommend you to try a variety of hard, smoked and blue cheeses.

For something to take away and cook, face the sea outside the farmers market. Turn and go right and you will shortly come to a fish shop on your right which sells more types of fish than I have seen on sale elsewhere.

Other recommendations:
St Levan's stone
St Levan's stone
Another church is St Levan whose name appears on different websites as Leven, Livin and Selevan. The old entrance with a coffin rest actually made in the shape of a coffin makes a fine spectacle and, again outside, ‘St Levan’s stone’ is an interesting phenomenon. It looks as though a single large stone has been split in two. Legend has it that St Levan did this with his staff [what kind of wood could it have been?] and then made the interesting prophecy,
‘When with panniers astride’
A pack horse can ride,
Through Saint Levan’s stone,
The world will be done.’

You may wonder why Land’s End has been omitted. When I was a boy in Plymouth, family relations visiting us frequently wanted to go there. I hated the trip, a long slow road that bored me through inland Cornwall, to what was even then a tourist trap par excellence. For me the asset of its superb cliff scenery is outweighed by its commercialism.

Some useful urls are ot be found in this section of my St Just report.

Published on Friday September 15th, 2006


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Wed, Oct 25 2006 - 07:02 PM rating by mistybleu

I've never been to Cornwall, and this is a lovely introduction.

Sun, Sep 24 2006 - 01:53 PM rating by st.vincent

I can't decide which I like best, North West West Cornwall or South West West Cornwall - two nice reports

Sun, Sep 24 2006 - 05:07 AM rating by marianne

David,
Another great report

Sun, Sep 17 2006 - 09:50 AM rating by terje

David, you are on the road again! When will you cover Tintagel in one of your reports! Maybe you are saving the trip to Tintagel to do it together with me... :-)

Sat, Sep 16 2006 - 04:06 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

excellent report and nice pictures

Fri, Sep 15 2006 - 09:14 PM rating by eirekay

Sounds like a wonderful summer retreat! Nice report with beautiful photos!

Fri, Sep 15 2006 - 04:59 PM rating by mrscanada

You should make a rubbing of the mermaid on the topograph.

If I ever come here I'll be eatting the bleu cheese first!

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