Friday, 17 July 2009

Day 5 - South West Coast - St Ives - some more...

St Ives is popular today as an artist town, and it has been since 1811, when the famous JM Turner (I didn’t know who he was either – but check out his work to see if it's your thing) moved to St Ives. The first official tourist arrived in 1877 when the trainline was extended.

And now that I’ve had some more time in the town, I’ve realised how much St Ives, in particular, relies on tourism. The pilchard fishing industry, which was once so prolific, has died, and overfishing left the fishing boats unused in the harbour. To give you an idea of how many pilchards were caught, Tim Tait from Cornerways showed me the basement of his B&B, which used to be a pilchard press ( smells better now!)

“They used to throw the pilchards down a shute, into the press, extract the oil, and send it to London to light the street lamps. There was just so much of the stuff...” One estimate, according to the local tourism brochure, is that every year 100 million fish were transported out of St Ives. And it didn’t take long for the stock to run out – by 1924 the industry had almost died.

The town relies now on its bygone charm as a working fishing town to draw the tourists. There are lots of boutique clothing and fashion stores, and a lot of upmarket restaurants. Sure, there are fish and chip shops too. The charm is still there, and it’s great. I just hope that it doesn’t become too trendy.

Well, it may be too late, because the Tate art empire has got a St Ives branch, which you pay about £5.65 to get in. There are 30 other galleries in the village, hosting a wide range of paintings, sculptures and photography. If you're an art fan, then go to St Ives.

Here are a couple more things that you can do, courtesy of Tim, and Madeleine at St Ives Tourism (The office is very helpful - a clear sign that they know how important the industry is to the town.)

- Take a guided tour of the town with Valerie Hurry, who offers two versions: one for folk interested in all the art, and one for those who want to know more about the history and quirkiness of the place. Contact Valerie on Prices are $5 a person, and tours last about 75 minutes.

- Visit the St Ives Museum down near the harbour wall. Yeah, yeah...I know what you didn't go on holiday to see a museum. And it is run-down and poky, but according to Tim at Cornerways, it is one of the unsung attractions. It has an enormous amount of archival material that even ardent non-historians might find interesting. Like how Saint Ia (a lady!) from Ireland founded the town in the 5th century, after sailing across on a dingy made from animal hides! Wow. There's a lot of quirky stuff as well.

- Go to Trewyn Gardens, which isn’t touristy, and are very pretty. They sit right next to the Barbara Hepworth museum, which houses much of her modern sculpture work. Tim says it’s a “must-do” if you’re that way inclined. I didn't know who she was.

- Try Saltwater Restaurant in - you guessed it - Fish Street! Tim says it’s got the best seafood, and is a “special occasion” spot. Other famously good restaurants are Porthminster Cafe & Restaurant, which is apparently nationally famous. And Alba, which got 10/10 from the Daily Telegraph food writer and is located in the old lifeboat house and has panoramic views of the ocean.

- Bringyour walking shoes. The coastal walks are fine. Tim says his favourite is to walk the three hours south to Zennor, have lunch at the popular - and only - pub, the Tinners Arms, then take the open-top bus back to St Ives.

- For diferent accommodation options, check out Old Salthouse, which is a luxurious studio apartment, and Gowerton Guest House, a less pricey spot (£30 a night incl breakfast) run by a South African lady called Zelda Bennett. I know I keep going on about how great the views have been, but her view has set the new standard. Her three storey fishing cottage is part of the breakwater, and you look out your window onto the sea directly below.

St Ives Internet Cafe...

Art deco poster of St Ives

...and one for Cornwall too.

St Ives on a stormy morning...hey, I also wish the weather was better in July!


  1. St. Ives, Cornwall is indeed beautiful. I fell in love with St. Ives in my last visit and I tried to find more about the luxurious hotels in Cornwall and I fell in love more.

  2. Love the old posters! Where can I get some?