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 live in the UK, but when I was younger I spent several years travelling the world followed by a period living in South Africa. I 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.

    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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. You captured some really great pics of Cornwall. I so enjoyed our week there in August. I think I could spend the whole summer there, and not get bored at all. There’s so much to see. Love the obligatory seagull pic. 🙂

    1. I reckon I could too Ad. Glad you liked the seagull, I think he posed nicely for me on that dinghy, should have used him in the Word A Week Challenge this week!

  6. I love how you have captured the essence of this special spot. I visited about 4 years ago (in the winter unfortunately), but I loved the “feel”, which reminded me of growing up in England. Even more pleased to see they were serving Sav Blanc even if it wasn’t from the Western Cape! xxxxxx, K

    1. Where did you live in England Karen? Cornwall reminds me very much of the Cape which is probably why I am so attracted to it. Can you recommend a good South African Sav Blanc to me? I usually drink reds, but must admit to getting a taste for a good gooseberry flavoured SB from NZ 😀

      1. Hello Jude, it was a long time ago I must add 🙂 but in Lancashire and Leicestershire. As a child I used to holiday in Cornwall and Wales with my grandparents. My aunt (83) still lives in the Yorkshire Dales. There are loads of great Sav Blancs around so it’s hard to single out one but I really enjoy two you can buy at Woolworths – the low kilojoule Spier one as well as the Cape Point Vineyards Woolworths 2012 one. Cape Point is just down the road from me. Also reasonably priced is the Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc (crisp with gooseberry and tropic fruit flavours and the Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc (think fig, lime, guava and gooseberry).

        These are the top 20 for 2013. See if you can get them at (your) Makro:-

        • Alexanderfontein Chip off The Old Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Boschendal Reserve Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Cape of Good Hope Altima Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Cape Point Vineyards Woolworths 2012
        • Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012
        • Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Franschhoek Cellar Statue de Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Graham Beck Pheasants’ Run Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Havana Hills Virgin Earth The Pepper Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Hillcrest Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Jordan Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Nederburg Private Bin D234 Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Ormonde Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Phizante Kraal Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Sumaridge Estate Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2013
        • Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2012
        • Vrede en Lust Casey’s Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2012

        1. Thanks for that list Karen. I shall try and work my way through it if I can find any of them. I think a trip to our local wine merchant is due tomorrow 🙂 Where is the Cape Point vineyard then? I haven’t heard of that one.

        2. It’s only a couple of years old, just off Silvermine Road in Noordhoek going up the mountainside and overlooking the start of Chapman’s peak. See

          One of their ranges (everyday range) is called Splattered Toad named after the rare Western Leopard Toads that breed in the area. They have a dam on the property which attracts them and every year there is s big hoo haa about people driving fast and flattening them. The view from the top of the estate over Noordhoek beach is stunning. I found a lot of really good export stuff in Makro when I was there 4 years back. Really good Export Quality Boschendal reds for about GBP5 a bottle so try there too. Also, Swartland winery in Malmesbury used to bottle especially for Tescos and I love their wines.

          Happy wine shopping!!

  7. I have to say I share your love for Cornwall. I’ve only visited twice but it is such a beautiful part of the UK, and it feels so far away from anywhere else! The coast, the small towns and the food are just fantastic. Great shots too, you’ve really captured the essence of the place!

    1. Thanks Ben – nice to have you wandering through my older stuff 🙂

      Trouble with Cornwall is lack of decently priced housing stock, lack of jobs, and the rain! Oh, well, nowhere is perfect.

  8. I have never been to Cornwall, but I immediately fell in love with this truly magnificent coastline when I read “The Shell seekers” many, many years ago. You present it exactly as I thought it’d be. You did a wonderful job on this one, Jude.
    Best regards, Dina x

  9. Jude I went to St Ives yesterday! I drove to the Saltings park and ride and got the train in. Had coffee at Porthminster beach café and lunch at the Tate roof top café, lots of sunshine!

    1. That’s a long drive for you isn’t it? We love taking the train in and having lunch at Porthminster beach café, our favourite place. What dod you think of the Tate? Or didn’t you go in to the exhibition? I have a post to do about the Barbara Hepworth garden – have you been there?

      (between you and me I think the Saltings park and ride may get used a lot in the future 🙂 )

      1. Two hours down and an hour and a half back, no problem! I love the Tate building and café but the current exhibition didn’t interest me enough to spend the money and too much of the day on. It’s the first time I’ve been to St Ives for years and I’ve never been to the BH, so I’ll look forward to your post, but haven’t heard anything too wonderful tbh, there are other places with far more interesting sculpture. We planeed to go to Tremeneere but it was such a perfect day it seemed a pity to rush off. Well there’s hint if ever I got one, good luck with it honey x:-)x

        1. Tremenheere is a delight, much, much bigger than BH and the planting is so different to the usual Cornish gardens. But the BH has some wonderful sculpture in it and is very intimate. If all goes well perhaps we’ll be able to meet up half way – somewhere around Bodmin 😀

  10. What a great mini travel guide to Cornwall! I love the sound of it – the artistic slightly Bohemian vibe, the beautiful coves and beaches, pretty cottage and cafes. I think I must look into adding a trip to Cornwall onto one of our Uk visits especially since we have family in the West Country (Somerset). I also love the history of the area – it must have been a wild place in its time! Beautiful photos too 🙂

  11. Reblogged this on Under a Cornish Sky and commented:

    After a night of gales and hail, awakening to white roof tops and a temperature that is very unCornish, I thought we’d go back to a warmer time and a re-visit to the pretty Cornish harbour towns down here in the south-west.

  12. No wonder you chose to live here Jude it sounds heavenly’ I briefly visited some of these places back in 1990 with Jack and we loved it too. I enjoyed going through your photos.

    1. Indeed. Even I have been caught out using Google maps. We plan to do a bit of exploring using the train this year to reach those places which are notorious for difficult parking. Should be fun.

        1. We shall give them a go. Easier than a long drive and then the frustration of finding parking. Newquay, Looe and Falmouth on the list 🙂

        2. Yes definitely stay. And I can recommend the Airbnb apartment we stayed, although it is an uphill walk at the end of the day. You could wait at the bottom of the street and get the OH to go up, get the car and come down to get you. Having said that, there was plenty of parking in town, you just have to pay for it. The Airbnb has an off street park, which is a bonus.

  13. Beautiful beaches, very nice images and a informative pos, Jude. We went to St Ives by car yesterday, I missed your part about the confident driver. Well, Kb is one, but the traffic and sharp turns on very tiny lanes is a trial. We have been to Mousehole and I think we go for Newlyn today now that I have read your post. 🙂

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