Watch the lifeboat
If you're anywhere near St Ives when the lifeboat is called out, you'll know! There are two cannon blasts which sound around the town. Shortly after, the lifeboat itself is towed into the water as everyone crowds to the pier to watch. Depending on where the tide is, it can take quite some time to launch. You have an even better view of activity on the boat when it returns, as the little tractor comes out to pull it up to the slipway, the lifeboatmen all jump off to help manoeuvre it onto its trailer, and it gets hosed down and cleaned of salt water.
I didn't see them rescue anybody, but it was pretty interesting even without any special drama!
The main harbourside pub
The Sloop is always busy - it's right on the harbourside, with outside benches at the front that we have never yet managed to get a seat on. There are also some tables at the back in the car park. Inside there are plenty of tables, some in booths, and the walls are decorated with paintings by local artists, which are for sale.
We ate there on Sunday lunchtime, but drank in there a couple of other times across the week, and the menu seems to be the same. They also had a range of specials, plus sandwiches etc - quite a large menu.
As a guide to prices, a pint of Old Speckled Hen was £2.90 which I would say is about average. I had Green Thai seafood curry with Cornish white fish, mussels, local sole and prawns served on a bed of saffron rice (£8.95). This was a very large portion, but beware if you're not prepared to get hands-on, as the mussels and the prawns' tails had their shells on.
My partner had Mussels with a baguette and butter (£7.95).
Both excellent meals.
Ice cream heaven
There are several ice cream parlours in St Ives' harbour, but this is my favourite even if I also like the locally maid Moomaid of Zennor. At Jus' Desserts, they have loads of flavours of both ice cream and sorbet, all displayed in the Italian way with fruit and nuts etc. on top of it to make it look extra appetising. It is open until well into the evening so you can try it not only on a gloriously sunny day when you are an open target to the swooping seagulls, but also when coming out of the neighbouring harbour amusements in the evening with the kids. Clotted cream - this most Cornish of ice cream flavours is at its best here. I also like the toffee one and the surprising mojito sorbet. I'm sure you'll find something too.
Geevor Tin Mine - A World Heritage
Not in St Ives but in Pendeen on the way to St Just and Land's End, this is still very much a "must see" and easily done even by bus (those to Land's End stop here but there is also the detour via Penzance in low season). Cornwall is well known for its tin mining and traces of it are everywhere in the landscape so it would be a shame to miss all this local history just because you want to surf all day. These days Cornish mining even has World Heritage status.
Geevor opened in 1909 after merging with other mines around it, and was one of the biggest employers on the whole Penwith peninsula until it finally closed in 1991 when the international tin price had fallen too much for politicians to want to save it. Luckily, it was possible to open the mine to visitors instead a few years later and it has since become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. We decided to spend one of the rainy days here and were not disappointed. The bus that took us here also offered a return ticket including entrance to the mine and off we went.
To start with, there is a general mining exhibition in the entrance building but we were eager to see the underground part first whilst there were only a few visitors. We therefore skimmed this and went on to the Mill where you get to wander through a set course on your own along the machinery where minerals where shaken and sorted. At the end, you end up in the area where the underground tours start (and where kids can also do some mineral panning) and you don a hard hat and protective coat before entering a 17th century mine shaft with a former miner as your guide. This part was smaller than I expected coming from a mining country myself, but it was fun to walk through what was older than things I've come across at home in Sweden. If you are claustrophobic you might want to consider it twice but don't worry in general, I'm a big lass and I could climb through it all though low and narrow. Afterwards, it was fascinating to see how swallows had made the mine their home and the guide pointed out nests and we got to see ancient parents flying in and out of it with food before we returned uphill to the rest of the mine. In future, it is hoped that more modern sections of the mine will be opened to the public (there are sections going underneath the Atlantic nearby and all sorts) but so far a lack of funds have stopped the security and comfort work needed for this to happen. Let's see if a bit of Lottery money and regional development aid can do it eventually.
The Victory Shaft is perhaps the most visible thing on the site and seen from the road and here you can see the waiting room where miners would await their turn to go down the mine, perhaps with cup of tea. The rainy day certainly added to the atmosphere. When we had looked at it as well as rooms for rescue operations and first aid, tool repairs and such, we entered the most moving part which is The Dry. This is where workers signed in, got changed and washed, and what is so moving is that things have been left like they were, as if the workers are all just on a tea break. Lockers with stickers, coats on doors and the peculiar green soap in the spartan showers all add to a feeling of sadness that this was all left to die. You can write messages to the mining guides in a book here and many have done which shows how moving it all is. The walls are also full of boards with schedules for dynamite jobs down certain shafts and things and it brings it all home somehow...
After this, we needed a bit of cheering up and went for the excellent Mineral museum that has been created next door and which has the story on what is actually mined in Cornwall but also elsewhere. You get to study all kinds of rocks with mineral and then come to rooms with information on society in general around the Cornish mines. What the tin was used for, what women and children did in the villages and for the mines...excellent stuff and it also had a hands on section for children and a film showing the mine in action. When we had exhausted ourselves, we meandered back to the entrance via the huge machinery running it all, and ended up outside in the very good souvenir shop and restaurant. We never tried the food since we had a bus back to catch, but it looked nice and the shop was full of useful things that you actually WANT to buy, including literature on Cornwall.
What could be funnier than painting a bit yourself if the art aspect is your main reason for visiting St Ives? This is just one of several art schools but it may be the most famous one. Courses run for most of the year and can be anything from once a week class to a full week intensive or just a day course focusing on something special. The cottage is their centre but you will of course find yourself wandering around town looking for things to paint.
If you have creative children in your company on a rainy day, you might want to try St Ives Ceramica instead: http://www.stivesceramica.co.uk/