Sunday, 30 August 2015

'Where you to?': Not Abroad, but in Cornwall

The UK may often be snubbed by many, particularly those of us who live here, as a potential 'holiday at home' haven. However, as I discover in West Cornwall, there are parts of it that truly transport us away from the normal drab tourist traps.

'Dreckly', 'Where you to?' and 'Emmet'; some of the Cornish slang that truly confirms its cultural niche , the latter of which I am about to become. 'Emmet' refers to those folk who are not local, who flock to Cornwall in the summer months, and quickly disappear in the winter, rather like ants. My very quick trip will be a snapshot of the very best that West Cornwall has to offer in terms of spectacular beaches and harbours.

Penzance is the 'hub' of this part of Cornwall, with the main train-line terminating here. It really does feel like this is where the rest of the UK gets pushed aside. Penzance has suffered a decline in its fishing industry, but an increase in tourism and retail. Property prices have soared here over the last decade and in the surrounding areas. The sea glistens in the background as hordes of tourists arrive at the station by the harbour.

Mousehole, or actually as with many Cornish words pronounced differently to how it appears - more like 'Mouzul' - is a small fishing village nearby. Perhaps most known for its Christmas illuminations around the harbour, and the associated book, 'The Mousehole Cat'.

Dodging Americans wielding large cameras, wandering around the harbour feels like a movie set. Plant pots left trustingly outside, visitors stepping over a sleeping cat in the ice-cream parlour doorway, and bright green seaweed strewn contrasting the light Cornish sand on the small beach, lined with coloured surfboards.

The only thing lacking seems to be the presence of locals. Besides the many American and Asian tourists, sadly while walking past the quaint 'local' cottages, I hear unmistakeable London accents, chattering as they go in and out of their homes. The reality is that many of these homes are simply now unaffordable for locals and are predominantly owned by wealthy out-of-towners, buying into the dream. The locals have been squeezed out, to be replaced with 'emmets' seeking permanent residence. The realness seems jaded. A real-life movie set, perhaps, but still beautiful none-the-less even on an overcast day.

Porthcurno beach is widely regarded as one of the best in the UK. This narrow beach is accessible via a small path and set of steps down the hillside. Historically the area is known for its connection, quite literally, to the cable industry, exemplified by the presence of the Telegraph Museum. International underwater cabling used to connect to the building now exhibiting Porthcurno's old industry.

Stepping on to the beach at the bottom, the sand gently slopes down into very clear looking waters. Not many people chance swimming, due to the presence of strong rip tides. The dramatic cliffs either side make for a protected beach and micro-climate for sun lovers.

Further along is Sennen, a much longer beach stretching along the coast. This allows for the increased presence of bars and restaurants, being much more accessible, but less secluded that Porthcurno.

The water seems to have a special quality only found in this part of the UK, with saturated blue hues lapping against the light sand. I prefer it here to Porthcurno, mainly owing to the accessibility, despite how heaving it is.

Somewhere more tranquil is Cape Cornwall, the UKs only cape. Following the trend of encroaching outside purchasers, unfortunately only part of the cape is accessible now that land has been bought surrounding it, however its beauty can still be appreciated.

Topped with a mining chimney dating back to 1864, the rugged cliffs and pounding waves make for a refreshing experience.

Some international tourist destinations have a magical quality that cannot be bought, and St Michaels Mount in Marazion is one of them. What makes it so special is the man made causeway that mysteriously appears for a few hours when the tide is low, allowing the many tourists to traverse out to the imposing castle on an island.

There are in fact quite a few tidal islands in the UK alone, but this one allures with charm and intrigue. Once on the island, one can explore the harbour, occupied only by those that work in the castle, or pay an entrance fee to go inside, or another fee to explore the gardens... I do think it's a shame that charging is necessary, although National Trust annual membership can be bought, which could prove to be worth it for UK residents at least.

St Ives is the final beach on my list. The train journey in itself is an attraction. St Erth Station Buffet is a throwback to the classical days of British rail travel, with old posters adoring the walls advertising glamorous destinations, and tea served in floral cups. The train will be here 'dreckly' - meaning shortly, as far as I understand...

The train journey offers stunning coastal views on the right, and to the left golf courses and countryside. The posters in the cafe don't seem to lie, as it feels as though the journey to St Ives truly takes me further than the short stretch of rail track. Looking out at the vivid turquoise and clear waters, I feel as though I've gone abroad.

Leaving the station with hundreds of tourists, there is a large pristine beach directly opposite to head for. Although completely packed, I find it hard not to appreciate how far removed this is from what we expect a UK holiday to look like. Heat seems to radiate in a micro-climate, and coupled with the wonderfully bright colours I feel I could easily be in the Pacific somewhere.

Carbis Bay, the train stop before, looks to offer a similar experience, yet perhaps a little less packed.

St Ives is known for its local artists, drawn here because of the unusual quality of the light. The colours bounce off the jewel-esque sea, creating a unique and ethereal atmosphere. A further walk down reveals a harbour lined with shops and restaurants, again framed by the luminescent waters. This feels more Caribbean than Cornish!

The UK's coasts, especially Cornwall's, still sizzle as a hot tourist destination - how long this can be preserved for though is uncertain, as 'emmets' monopolise the beauty and traditional culture of Cornwall. However, evolving into a primarily tourist driven industry isn't necessarily a bad thing, and perhaps motivates locals to preserve its wonderful scenery. The second home purchasers and landowners have an obligation to fully integrate into the Cornish way of life, share it with others, and actively maintain it - one can't remain an emmet forever, after all.

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