travel · U.K.

The Cornish Coast: St. Ives

The town I had been most looking forward to was St. Ives. Known for its pottery, painting, and galleries, I had plotted my short 1 1/2 days wisely, starring shops and galleries along the way and narrowing down my prospects.


St. Ives has a little bit of something for everyone. One part boardwalk beach town, one part fine arts, one part artists’ collective, it hits every price point and every whim. Here, you can find a good handful of fudge and pasty shops, seafood restaurants, high end cafes, and ice cream shops all nestled in between knick knack stores, expensive galleries, UK homegrown clothing shops, and local crafts.


From our hotel, Tregenna Castle, on the hill, we overlooked the coastline and the town. It was a fifteen minute amble in to town (provided you didn’t try to get smart with Google Maps which won’t show you closed gates and foot paths) through a public garden featuring Jurassic Park like foliage. The asphalt path meandered down a stone cobbled wall separating nearby rental cottages before opening up into a marshy glen with 15′ palms with fronds like fern leaves and massive astilboides locally known as Cornish Rhubarb. The leaves were often larger than my arms’ span and towered over the walkway. I sat for a good ten minutes in awe of it all – the flowering moss, shimmering dragonflies, and these gargantuan ancient looking leaves. It was a half and half process of slow traveling and waiting for the other gawking tourists to get out of the shot.


At the edge of the garden was a little greenway tunnel capped by a metal garden gate warning me to be back by 11pm or else. I crossed the narrow, busy street and began the decent into town, zig-zagging through beach carparks that let me drop down level by level into the harbor. A half level up from the beach, brought me to the edge of St. Ives through narrow streets lined with white washed row houses. Each had its own front garden and its own uniquely painted door. Interspersed were tiny cafes and galleries, most keeping their own odd-timed laid back beach town hours. These streets were more intimate and local with fewer rental signs posted.


These tiny streets and alleys opened up to the bay with the town hooking around to form a harbor. Dotted along the way were park benches lined with visitors content to do nothing but eat an ice cream, pat their dogs, and gaze out onto the seafoam green sea and charcoal skies. St. Ives was very clearly a dog town. Nearly everyone had one, they seemed welcome everywhere, and all were off leash and remarkably well trained. Wet sea dogs trotted along beside their owners, tired out after a day of chasing gulls along the shoreline, diving after sticks, and romping with new friends.


I popped into a favorite – SeaSalt – to stock up on ethically made and locally designed British clothes. SeaSalt favors yarn dyed linens and cottons, producing breezy, well-crafted women’s clothing in relaxed cuts with punchy patterns. They had made my trusty yellow raincoat which was serving me so well and I had high hopes for a dress or two in classic cuts and fun patterns. I picked up a linen poppy top and a blue and white striped linen sheath before wandering off for dinner.

For dinner, I bumped into two couples from tour traveling together. The one was a folk music loving former pharmaceutical rep who was good for conversation; the other, a slightly skeezy overbearing retired engineer, and their two wives, both retired elementary school teachers. They insisted I eat with them – well, the engineer insisted I eat with him as his pharm rep friend gave him some serious side-eye. We went to The Seafood Cafe where orders are placed at the counter in a sort of Qdoba fashion – you pick your fish, then your style, then your sauce, and sides – and drinks at the table. After about 20 minutes of back and forth with the harried waitress, my companions figured it out and got it all settled. I opted for a bowl of chowder with prosciutto wrapped sea scallops in a balsamic glaze and dodged awkward questions about my marital status, life goals, and “what a nice girl like you is doing” doing well…anything. The engineer began insisting on paying for my meal and a cab back but I politely, firmly refused – he struck me as the kind of guy who would get the wrong idea or act like I owed him – so I paid up and took the long way home by foot. I wanted the quiet, a cool breeze, and some sea air.


The next morning, I treated myself to an early massage (well worth it) and headed back into town for brunch at The Searoom, St. Ives. Serving locally sourced food in a quaint little building overlooking the harbor, I had starred them months before as a must in St. Ives and wasn’t disappointed. I had house made lemonade with mint, a saffron crab tart with garlic and tomato with a citrus mayonnaise alongside a purple cabbage slaw and mixed green salad with pea shoots and sprouts. I followed it with scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. I debated their towering cakes and regionally famous Moomaid of Zennor ice cream but was just so fabulously stuffed I started to wonder whether I’d squeeze out of my little nook or find the food-coma hampered energy to keep on exploring. I opted for shopping and exploring instead.


After many of my leads left me a bit disappointed (all framed paintings, too expensive, or just not what I was looking for), I popped into The Blue Bramble Gallery. It featured regional artists at affordable prices – think quirky arts fair. I snapped up a pair of enamel earrings with a circus themed sketch in cream and charcoal with a slightly sad, goofy tiger and lion. They made me laugh and I loved them for it.


Skipping the major museums and high end galleries in search of things I could actually take home, I stumbled on Crowan Crafts, which was arguably the best find of my trip. Featuring only Cornish and only handmade, the shop was packed floor to ceiling with watercolors, ceramics, silver jewelry, antiques, fiberworks, and woodwork. I struggled to decide what not to buy. I settled on two silk painted and embroidered landscape miniatures (I now wish I had more) from Carol Bynoth. Both featured lanes similar to my walks into Cornish towns. She had beautiful coves and cliffs and even one of St. Michael’s Mount (which I was still recovering from) but I chose these as they felt most iconic and represented places I had actually been.


Alongside these two, I bought a foot tall  ceramic vase covered in poppies to cram into a backpack because I am a crazy person, a cheery seagull print, and a basket full of bright, happy ceramics signed only with a red dot.


Arms encumbered and the sun beginning to beat down, I began my ascent to Tregenna to catch a little bus to Land’s End, a secret beach, a stone circle, and Mousehole before nightfall.



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