It was a bright and sunny morning as we pulled back the curtains in our hotel room and after tucking into some tasty bacon sandwiches we were back in the car for another day of sightseeing. Our starting point was to be Land’s End, the headland that sits at the most westerly point of England and juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.
It was 9.15 a.m. when we arrived at the car park which charges £7 for all day parking. The Land’s End attractions don’t open until 10.00 a.m. but as the car park is open earlier, it’s a good idea to get there soon to be able to enjoy the nature undisturbed. There is no additional charge to enjoy a walk on the cliff tops along this wild and rocky coastline.
We were so lucky to have arrived in good weather as the area is exposed and is often blowing a gale. There are numerous walks available, each of them on well maintained footpaths. We began with a stroll in a northerly direction on the 200 feet high granite cliff tops, admiring the rugged coastline. Cormorants and guillemots could be seen perched on the rocks, sheltering from the large waves of the Atlantic crashing onto the shore.
It’s sometimes possible to see the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles away but it didn’t appear visible on our visit. It’s hard to believe that looking out to sea, after that small group of islands, the next landfall is America.
Thinking of distances, we’d just arrived at the iconic Land’s End signpost which has been a familiar sight since the 1950’s. Visitors can pay to take home a unique record of their visit as hometowns, distances or a personal message can be slotted into the vacant section of the signpost. There’s normally a large queue but as we were there so early, we had the place to ourselves and could snap away happily.
Continuing, it was just a short uphill walk to reach the whitewashed First and Last Inn which is one of the most legendary hostelries in Britain. This inn has been a haven to smugglers and ship wreckers since the 17th century. The smugglers may have long since gone but it’s still a welcoming pub with its low beamed ceilings and roaring fires.
There are some fine views of the coastal landscape to be had from near the inn and walkers then have the choice of continuing along the coastal path to Sennen Cove, around 30 minutes away, or taking the loop trail back towards the visitor centre. We selected the latter, and then decided to continue along the cliffs in a southerly direction.
Along here the weathered action of waves and wind has produced some dramatic rock arches, rugged cliffs and sea stacks. The stunning Enys Dodman rock formation can be seen after following the path for around 15 minutes. This coastline is an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and enjoys the same protection status as a National Park.
We returned via Greeb Farm which is a 200 year old farmstead typical of those that were once to be found along this part of the coast. It’s now one of the Land’s End visitor attractions and home to a collection of small animals, sheep, goats, llama, pigs and miniature ponies.
From there, we wandered back towards the Lands End Hotel where guests were enjoying unrivalled views whilst sipping their morning coffees. Back near the visitor centre, the attractions had sprung into life. These buildings were added in 1998 and feature interactive exhibitions and family entertainment. Of particular interest was the End to End Story which celebrates the amazing stories of the many people who have completed the 800 mile challenge between John O’Groats and Land’s End raising much needed money for charities.
On returning to the car, the previously deserted car park was now starting to fill up as we set off for Porthcurno, our next destination of the morning. Roads in this part of Cornwall were not built with the car in mind and are extremely narrow and winding so we cautiously made our way along through Sennen to the village of Porthcurno.
For such a small place, Porthcurno has much of interest, with our first stop being at the Minack Theatre which offers free parking to visitors. Tickets to explore this famous 700 seat theatre built into the cliffs are £6 for adults and half price for children. Along with most other attractions, it’s best to pre-book a timed entrance slot to avoid disappointment.
It is one of the most remarkable theatres in the world and although it looks as if it’s been there for ever, it’s actually less than 100 years old. It was planned and built by Rowena Cade and since its first performance in 1932 the Minack has evolved into a spectacular open-air theatre.
The Minack (meaning rocky place) is built into the cliffside with steep steps and terraced concrete and grass seating. It’s a place I’d long wanted to visit as the small town where I live is home to a talented amateur dramatic company who are regularly invited down to The Minack to perform their plays. Performances are staged from April to October each year whilst the theatre is open to visitors at other times. Names of past productions are carved into the stone steps and seat backs providing a reminder of the wide variety of performances that have taken place.
The theatre has a stunning natural backdrop but is sheltered from the worst of the weather permitting performances to go ahead. Rowena Cade created the theatre from her own garden and it is a joy to behold.
The steeply terraced garden reflects the nature of the site and being sheltered allows for the growing of tender plants. From an information board we discovered that there is usually something in flower for much of the year.
From one corner of the theatre there are absolutely beautiful views of Porthcurno beach which made us feel as if we were somewhere in the Mediterranean rather than in the far south west of England. In the turquoise blue sea we even spotted a seal near the shoreline and spent some time watching people surfing in the bay.
Leaving the theatre, we moved our car nearer to the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum where we were heading next. There are two car parks serving the beach and museum which are close together. The larger one charges a daily rate of £6.50 but as we didn’t wish to stay so long, we opted for the smaller car park slightly further away where we paid just £2.10 for a two hour stay.
PK Porthcurno is the world’s only dedicated museum of global communications. It documents the story of our inter-connected world in the very place where it all begun. The telegraph museum was recently refurbished and is offering free admission until 31st March 2021.
It owes its unique heritage to the remote beach at Porthcurno, which became internationally famous as the British termination of early underseas telegraph cables, the first of which landed in 1870. This was part of an early international link stretching all the way from the U.K. to India. By the 1930’s Porthcurno was the largest cable station in the world with the capacity of receiving and transmitting up to two million words a day.
Reading about this fascinating museum prior to our visit, it piqued our interest and we couldn’t resist exploring it for ourselves. The museum is located in Eastern House, the former telegraph facility which was built in 1904 as the heart of the operation.
After passing through the entrance hall/ gift shop area we set off on our voyage of discovery. It’s newly styled galleries tell the story starting with the first practical use of electricity to how we communicate today using fibre optic cables that still run beneath the sea. There are samples of cable designs, exhibits documenting the history of submarine cable laying ships as well as a working collection of equipment. A second gallery chronicles Cornwall’s history at the forefront of global technology from Victorian times through to the Second World War whilst a third documents the stories of the Cable & Wireless staff who worked at Porthcurno and at other cable stations around the world.
Our self guided tour continued underground through a series of tunnels into the secret WWII bunker which was dug out to house the entire telegraph operations. The allied communications were protected by armed guards and bombproof doors. The bunker has been preserved as it would have been whilst in use and is very interesting to see.
Our tour ended with a trip to the Cable Hut which stands a short distance away on the edge of Porthcurno beach. It was to this small, unassuming hut that undersea telegraph cables came ashore from all corners of the world. The Porthcurno cable hut is the only one of its kind in the world complete with fixtures and fittings.
Visiting PK Porthcurno had more than lived up to expectations and I would highly recommend combining a visit to the telegraph museum with a few hours on its idyllic beach and a visit to the Minack Theatre.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Porthcurno we hopped back in the car and headed to St. Ives, taking us approximately 35 minutes. With its congested, narrow streets finding somewhere to park can be difficult but we struck lucky and found some unrestricted street parking along Treverbyn Road just a ten minute walk to the town centre. Large car parks are also available, one of which operates a park and ride service for an additional charge.
St. Ives is a charming seaside town with steep, narrow streets leading down to the harbour. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we popped in one of the inviting cafes for a panini and coffee before starting our tour of the town. Fore Street is the town’s main shopping street which houses lots of lovely little shops and cafes including green grocers which are sadly becoming something of a rarity on our high streets.
The focal point of St. Ives is without doubt its pretty little harbour with its sandy beach and bustling seafront shops and cafes. When we arrived the tide was out but with the spring tides, the view soon changed as the tide came in rapidly.
We wandered the cobbled streets with their quaint fishermen’s cottages now home to cafes and galleries. St. Ives has long been favoured by artists but since the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden opened in 1976 followed by Tate St. Ives in 1993, the town has gained worldwide notoriety and boosted tourism in the area. Our visit to St. Ives was all about enjoying the outdoors and breathing in the fresh air. The town is located on a narrow peninsula surrounded by four sandy beaches all within walking distance of the centre, each with its own charm and character.
We strolled through the Down-a-long, the old part of town, built on the narrow ridge of land separating the island from the rest of the town. Along here we found a jumble of cobbled streets lined with whitewashed cottages, many of them now attractive holiday lets and small independent shops.
Walking along the coastal footpath, it didn’t take us too long to reach the small beach of Porthgwidden which is midway between the harbour and Porthmeor. Despite not being as popular as the town’s other beaches I thought it looked very pretty with its sheltered position surrounded by a row of two storey beach huts.
After a little more uphill walking we had reached the island which confused me at first as it’s not really an island. It’s actually an imposing headland jutting out into the sea from the spit of land separating the harbour and Porthmeor beach. In ancient times there was a promontory fort on its hilltop but it’s now the location for the coastguard lookout.
It’s definitely worth making the effort to climb to the top of the headland as there are splendid views all around. We also came across the tiny chapel of St. Nicholas which dates back to medieval times. This simple, single roomed granite building was constructed to look after passing sailors.
From there, Porthmeor beach came into view with its long stretch of golden sand. It’s home to the iconic Tate St. Ives building which overlooks the bay. The beach attracts surfers as it faces the full force of the Atlantic Ocean yet is sheltered for swimmers and sun worshippers close to the shore by the rugged headlands surrounding it.
We then took a different route back to the harbour where we strolled along Smeaton’s Pier. Along here we watched some fishermen hauling in their catch and noticed how quickly the tide had come in since we arrived. The harbour is sheltered by a pier at both ends and a haven for its colourful small fishing boats and pleasure craft.
St. Ives harbour beach is also very popular as it’s in the centre of town and backs onto the Wharf with its many bars and cafes. It’s also good to know that the harbour beach shares the same fine golden sand as the town’s other beaches even though it is also a working harbour which adds to its undoubted charm.
It was then time to climb up the steep roads back to where we had left the car and return to our hotel in Camborne reflecting on what a lovely day we had just enjoyed.
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