A New Year in Penzance and St. Ives, Cornwall

It was New Year’s Weekend, and instead of sitting idly at home wasting a free holiday from work, Jeff and I decided to hop the train from London to Cornwall–Penzance to be precise. It was a six-hour trek, and for my birthday, my dear husband got me the best gift imaginable: seats in the Quiet Carriage. After spending a lot of time with screaming babies and drunk and teenagers, this cabin was sheer heaven.

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We chose Penzance as our destination because of the direct train stop. In hindsight, we should have looked at one of the other small towns in the area. There isn’t much to do in Penzance, especially in the dead of winter. The winds on the beach were atrocious. My picture of Jeff came out so blurry, so I can’t bring myself to post it, but he was able to stand at 45 degrees with no trouble because the wind was so strong. It also rained persistently through the weekend.

Cornwall is one of those picturesque areas of England for its beaches. I will absolutely agree that the ocean and beaches were gorgeous, but I can see why it would be best to visit in the summertime when the sky is blue and the ocean is warmer. But, the “pro” for traveling at this time of year was no tourists or crowds. We had the small fishing village to ourselves.

Our AirBnB was certainly full of character with painted floors and a fireplace in the shape of a bird. Duckie fairy lights were our source of light upstairs and a little rubber duck was on the end of the pull string for the bathroom light. It was a good thing we could never be bored in this crazy abode because we did find ourselves holed up in the flat for several hours due to the weather. Each morning, we looked outside and had a frank conversation if we wanted to brave the wind and cold for a few hours.

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Our first night, we took stock of Penzance itself. It was New Year’s Eve, so not a lot of places were open, but we did find The Admiral Benbow pub. The waitresses were dressed up in their New Year’s finest and the place was not only packed full of people but also pirate regalia. They took that “Pirates of Penzance” thing very seriously. But the food was great and exactly what we needed. We even enjoyed a glass of port to finish and toasted to the impending 2016.

The next morning, the ocean, while terrifying, was mesmerizing, and no matter where you went in the town, you had a view of it. We found ourselves at St. Mary’s the Virgin Church bright and early, which marks the end of the historic Chapel Street. According to history, the avenue is largely unchanged since the 17th and 18th centuries, and this church was a pillar since the 13th century for the town. We were unable to go inside, but we gazed at the beautiful facade and the historic graves.

Another restaurant we tried was the Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar. The place was open and welcoming with light blue and white walls and fairy lights decorating the trim. We walked in and sat near the window and were served some of the freshest seafood we could have imagined. I had a lovely scallop caesar salad and Jeff enjoyed crab cakes. This place is only open seasonally, so we were lucky to have been able to eat there. If you’re in the area, this place is a must for a casual and light lunch. It wasn’t all fried fish and potatoes on the coast!

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The next day, we hopped back on the train for the 20 minute ride to St. Ives, where the famous and most picturesque beaches are. The weather was awful as we trudged through the wind and rain and tried desperately to imagine what it was like in the summertime. Despite the gusts, it really was picturesque.

We walked around the dock and saw a mermaid swimming in the frigid water. Yes, it was just a woman in a sparkly fishtail, but to me, she was definitely not of this world to swim in that water without a wetsuit.

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Mermaid, ho!

The beaches were truly lovely, and the town was the definition of quaint. Quiet and reserved, this coastal village is a piece of paradise far away from anything else. I can see why it is mostly artists and writers in the area. The vast majority of the storefronts were for galleries showing off coastal paintings and depictions of various lighthouses and horizons.

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Before heading back to Penzance, we did stop for a bite to eat at Alba Restaurant. What a fun spot! The windows on the top floor were massive and gave a panoramic view of the angry ocean. The decor was in the style of prescription labels saying 20mg of chicken or 400mg of beans and chips were medicine. But the food was also quite incredible. I had a risotto cake full of fresh seafood, and we split a perfectly portioned creme brulee. As much as I love the cooked cream dessert, I can’t tell you how many times I regret ordering it because of the massive size. But this was the perfect taster at the end of the meal.

We spent just enough time in St. Ives to see what we wanted to see before heading back to Penzance. The weather turned so bad by the time the sun set, but instead of facing another night of cabin fever locked inside, we decided to check out a film at the Savoy Cinema: In the Heart of the Sea. We actually thought it fitting to see a movie about whaling out of Nantucket in a small fishing village off the coast of England.

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Blue skies and St. Michael’s Mount in the distance.

On our last day, the sun finally came out. Disappointed that we couldn’t have had better weather the previous days of our trip, we wanted to make the most of it. We grabbed our bags and walked the 3km to St. Michael’s Mount in Marazion. The causeway to get from the tiny town to the castle island was closed as was the castle itself for the season, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to see it.

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St. Michael’s Mount with a sea-covered causeway.

This tiny fortress and civil parish is a world wholly dependent on the sea. Depending on the tide, it’s completely cut off from England. The population on the mount is only 35 and accessible through a man-made causeway only visible during low tide. But in the winter, the mount is closed to visitors, so we walked around Marazion and enjoyed a final meal at The Godophin Arms where you have white table cloths and it’s completely acceptable to walk in with boots caked in mud. “All folks wanted here!”

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The Godolphin Arms Hotel and Restaurant in Marazion, UK.

The castle on the mount, perfectly visible from the massive windows in the restaurant, has been there since 1650 with other buildings and formations dating back to the 12th century. But there has been some proper radiocarbon dating done on the island giving evidence of foliage from 1700 BC! What it must have been like so many years ago.

There is a counterpart to this island off the coast of Normandy, which we will be seeing next month. According to history, it was given to the Benedictines (the religious order on site) by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century.

Another fun fact for the area, was this little bed and breakfast right across from the restaurant housed Prince Charles (later King Charles II) during his escape from English rebels.

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We made it back to Penzance for our 3 o’clock train and settled in to the quiet carriage home. While we didn’t get to experience all that Cornwall had to offer and the weather was tumultuous, we had a nice weekend getaway to the end of the world among the pirates and fish.

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Other places of note in Cornwall:

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If you have visited any of these wonderful looking places, please leave a comment!
Make us green with envy we didn’t get out there. 

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