Sunday, 3 January 2010

Penzance pleasures

We spent the New Year with a great friend down in Penzance. Despite its reputation for being a bit rough around the edges - it's literally the end of the (railway) line and is reputed to have something of a heroin problem - I found the place terrific. Lots of life, a real working port with plenty of good pubs.

I don't think I've been anywhere that's had more of what the political scientists call 'civil society'. Just about every street seems to contain its own club or society. Without really seeking them out we stumbled across an arts club, a film club, a private library, a swimming pool association (for the amazing, huge, sea-fed Jubilee Pool), and a gentleman's club.

Walking through the town centre on a couple of evenings I was struck by the number of single men walking from place to place. Perhaps paradoxically I interpret this as a sign the place is friendly and well-integrated. It suggests there are plenty of pubs where you can expect to find a group of people you can fall in with just by turning up. The sign of a town where people don't know each other as well, where pub life is more transient, more shallowly-rooted is when you only see people walking around in groups from place to place.

It also happens to have some fine Georgian and Regency terraces and villas and some lovely small parks and gardens: historically it was always fairly prosperous, providing services for the local centres of mining as well as being an important commercial port. It's now rather frayed around the edges and is more ruggedly handsome than pretty. But doesn't that have its attractions? Anyway you can always look out to sea and across Mount Bay if you want a taste of the picturesque.

I suppose I'm building up to recommending it as a decent base for a Cornwall holiday: it's a short drive away from some of the best beaches around, such as that at Sennen Cove. And a darned sight cheaper than St Ives.


worm said...

happy new year Gaw! and glad you liked Penzance - I think that along with Falmouth and Truro it is definately becoming one of the most civilised towns for year-round inhabitants in Cornwall! What with the pub scene and the buildings, I always felt it had a sort of 'Irish' feel, and reminds me of places like Waterford or Kinsale.

St Ives is a place I always take friends as the beaches are so nice, but I find all the galleries and girly tea houses kind of overdone and kitsch

Gaw said...

That sounds a very compelling comparison. I've never been to Waterford or Kinsale but I have been to Dublin a couple of times and I feel I know what you mean.

Agree about St Ives - we had a lovely day out there but it felt a bit theme park and, I gather, it's heaving in the summer.

We went to Padstow and nearby Trevone last year and whilst liking the places, think there's incomparably more life in Penzance. You 'get' Padstow pretty quickly, rather like St Ives, and Trevone is just a beach.

Which part of Cornwall are you from?

worm said...

My family were just down the road from Padstow in Wadebridge, now on Bodmin Moor.

Never rated Padstow much!!! But I spent most of my youth surfing every day around trevone (harlyn bay and constantine)

Although a north coast chap, I actually have come to prefer the softer, greener south coast, especially sailing round the Helford river!!

Gadjo Dilo said...

Well, thanks chaps, that's another "unspoiled" holiday destination now well and truly spoiled - Penzance will be heaving with your blog readers next summer! I once cycled around Cornwall (incl. Penzance) with some friends, but our schedule was so tight that I think I never saw anything much except the tops of my handlebars :-(

Brit said...

Happy new year to you, sir.

The last time I stayed in Penzance was as a stop on an epic episodic walk from Land's End to John O'Groats with my old man (in 6 years we have so far made it to North Devon). Bloody seagulls kept us awake all night with their hideous shrieking.

Gaw said...

Happy New Year to everyone!

Gadjo: I'm flattered that you think my blog is going to influence Cornwall's tourist market. But if it helps one person to have a nice weekend in Penzance it will all be worth it.

Brit: I've been to Penzance once before and seagulls crashed onto the roof above me and scratched like chalk on a blackboard down it. These noises were enough to wake me, let alone the squawking.