If you're spending any time in west Cornwall, be sure to take a trip with Kernow Coasteering. They are the UK's most westerly provider of this adventure activity, offering coasteering around St. Ives, Lands End and Penzance.
If you don't know what coasteering is, it is an adventure activity where you combine swimming, scrambling, climbing and cliff jumping to explore a stretch of cliffs, and the cliffs around west Cornwall are simply stunning. It's incredible fun, suitable for all the family, and thanks to the experienced, qualified guides, you can do this activity in safety. They also provide wetsuits and top quality safety equipment.
Quite simply the best fun you'll have on your holiday!
This pub has an unbeatable location overlooking Harbour Beach and externally is a hell-of-a-looker with its inviting doorway and window looking out onto the view. Internally this is so obviously a pubco pub but, and it is quite a but as normally being a pubco pub would be enough to prejudice my experience, I found this a very warm, comfortable, characterful and welcoming boozer.
There was a very mixed clientele on the late afternoon I was there which gave the place a pleasant buzz. I think there was a large-screen TV somewhere but that wasn't particularly intrusive. There was a sort of games area with a pool table and there were a lot of people eating but I found a quiet corner at the bar and just enjoyed the overall ambience over the course of a couple of pints and just sort of shot the bull with the barman and an odd Hi and smile with others coming to the bar for drinks.
OK by now I was pretty laid-back myself and more forgiving of any faults or other shortcomings but I still retain the ability to know when a pub is a pub and yep The Lifeboat is a pub ;-HIC!
Now this was much more like it!! The Castle is a traditional-looking pub from the outside with its mullioned srtained glass windows through which the diffused subtle lighting, along with the propped open door were immediately inviting. A friendly welcome from the characterful barman (who may actually have been the manager) a good selection of, mostly local, beers and a general laid-back atmosphere all served to make me instantly at home.
Inside this is an attractive and characterful pub with its low beams, subtle nautical themeing, traditional pub furniture - ie a little bit battered - and best of all bar stools where both the barman and the couple of regulars actually included me in their conversation.
Definitely a two-pint pub and if I'd had more time could've been a full-on session pub ;-HIC!
From the outside this loked like it was going to be a proper pub but inside was a total disappointment. Admittedly I'd dropped in late lunchtime and most people were eating but I didn't get a particularly warm welcome from the barman and the place felt a bit souless - there was no local feel to it.
If I remember correctly they only had one real beer available, Sharp's Doom Bar, which isn't one of my favourites. The decor and furnishings are modern, but not particularly trendy, except the sofas around the fire, and the attempt at adding character with the old St Ives photos merely make the place even less inviting to my mind.
So another one where I just had a single pint and moved on.
I didn't have time for this on my afternoon visit but I'll definitely make the time for it when I next get down this neck of the woods and probably double up with the Barbara Hepworth museum. It's interesting to note that you get a £1 reduction on the entrance price if you have a public transport ticket and so that's a quid towards one of my beers!
In the meantime I'll just make do with browsing the website.
Having stuck to my principle of never having a drink until I've done something either creative, constructive or energetic I reckoned my wanders around the town pretty much fulfilled all three criteria and so it was definitely BEER TIME.
St Ives' oldest pub is the Sloop Inn, which dates from 1312. It is, of course, an ex-smugglers haunt, as are they all - the whole population of coastal Southwest England was involved in the trade, unless they were wreckers or even both.
Its present incarnation is as a fishermans' and artists hang out, as well as being a bit of a tourist trap but I suppose my out-of-season visit let me catch it "au naturel" (seeing as I'm being arty) and the tiny public bar is indeed atmospheric and buzzy. The beer was good, although expensive, service was friendly but I found the locals a bit cliquey and so it was only a one pint visit before moving on.
Nice building though!
Unfortunately this was shut when I visited - it closes down between the start of November until the beginning of April - but it does look like an interesting little local history museum.
It's only £2 entrance and the exhibits focus on things like the fishing industry, the arrival of the railway, agriculture, mining and various other bits and pieces relevant to the town and the area. It claims to be child and dog friendly and local school pupils get free admission (normally 50p).
Website has details of opening times etc.
St Ives town centre is a maze of narrow streets, some cobbled, others not and even the main shopping areas of Fore Street, High Street and Treganna are cosily compact. This makes it a delight just to wander and see what you come across - usually a pub or/and an art gallery. It is very accessible too with only a few gentle hills and much of the centre is pedestrianised.
Even though my only visit, so far, has been a November one I couldn't help but be impressed by the golden-sanded beaches here. There are four distinct stretches of sand, extending over a mile in total, and each has its own character:
Below the train station there's Porthminster which has its own mini-bay-within-a-bay which makes it ideal for families with half-a-mile of fine sand and safe bathing.
The harbour itself becomes a beach at low tide and is ideal for watching the working boats and with all the town's facilities close by.
Heading towards the Island (the promontory jutting out into the sea) there's the cove of Porthgwidden, once again finely-sanded, with its beach huts, cafe and toilets.
Finally, past the Tate Gallery, there's the more open Porthmeor which is especially popular with surfers, having its own surf school. By all accounts this is the best of the beaches for catching the summer sunsets over the ocean but only having been in winter I can't attest to that.
All the beaches are Blue Flag standard and during the summer are manned by trained lifeguards.
St Ives is on the South West Coastal Path, Britain's longest footpath which follows the coastline for 630 miles from Minehead in North Somerset, round the point at Lands End and then onwards to Poole in South Dorset (or vice-versa, depending on your start point).
The town is ideal for a stop over as part of a major walk having all the facilites for either a meal break or an overnight stay. Or if visiting the town itself there are several short walks that you can take such as the circular one to the lighthouse at Godrevy Head or west, following the railway line and its magnificent viaducts, to Carbis Bay where you can pick up the train onwards (or backwards). The walking in the immediate environ of the town is fairly level and so is ideal for a post-repast, or in my case pre-beer, stroll.
I've given this one some thought with The Tate Gallery and some of the beautiful coastal walks but I decided by asking myself what would be the must do activity next time I go down so for me the Minack wins hands down!
A tip, in school holidays the performances are geaed towards children so for us with no kids, go Sept or May when you still stand a good chance with the weather (it is open air after all) and the production will also have a more adult theme, like Shakespear etc.
I find it wonderful that St Ives Harbour is left as a harbour and not ruined by row after row of amusement arcades. It is the most peaceful holiday town I know in this respect and whether this is down to clever council planning, a result of a lot of artists living here (and tourists wanting to see what brought those here rather than drift along arcades) or perhaps a combination of the two, I don't know. Still, when having a summer holiday in an English seaside resort, and especially with children, it is fun now and again to end an evening here before drifting back to your B&B after dinner. This is not a particularly big arcade at all but as I said, you have probably not come to St Ives for this anyway. There is a small adults-only section with real fruit machines, and then the open-for-all section with penny slotmachines and skill games. Note that only the skill games pay out tickets here, contrary to bigger amusement arcades where you can play for tickets in the slotmachines too (for those of you not British: there are usually tokens and decks of tickets to win inside the machines, and those are then exchanged for silly little gifts which kids love doing).
St Nicholas is the chapel you can see on the hilly peninsula called The Island that make up the far end of St Ives old town and which looks slightly desolate and on its own out there. It is said to be from the 15th century and has been used by excise men to look for smugglers later on. Bernard Leach, a famous St Ives potterer, has made floor tiles with fishing scenes under one of the windows, but I have not yet been able to see the inside other than a peak through the windows since I have come up here in the evening when the chapel is locked. You have a spectacular view from here and whilst the bus station offers you that postcard "old town and harbour" St Ives, up here you instead have the unbroken vistas into Carbis Bay and can also start to appreciate the wilderness of the hills beyond town on the rest of the Penwith peninsula that is south-west Cornwall. Not least you also have great views down to Porthmeor Beach and Clodgy Point.
Porthmeor is the biggest of the St Ives beaches and also the one most suitable for surfing since it is facing outwards towards the wild Atlantic and the waves here can get quite forceful. Due to this and its north facing position, the water is also quite cool and wetsuits are worn by most. I personally had problems standing upright one day at quite shallow stretches so this is for people who can swim and knows to go with the flow without panicking so to speak, there are also suddenly appearing little holes in the sand and if you put your foot on those at the same time as a wave breaks, you will notice.
During the summer season, there are lifeguards here all day long and you can see where they think it is safe to swim by their red and yellow flags and this is where families surf with childrens body boards and such. They also put up black flags for the more experienced surfers where the rest of us do well to stay away if we don't want to be run over by the fast and furious. The positioning of these of course vary depending on wind direction and weather patterns for the day, and the surf this gives. Red flags are for the places where you shouldn't swim at all but that's only there on extreme days and for instance with specific tide. You notice a big difference in high and low tide on this beach and the life guards move their flags accordingly of course.
This is our favourite beach in St Ives since it is wild and scenic and with the ever changing Cornish weather you also get some great pictures here such as the one on my intro page. It is also a favourite since my daughter has discovered surfing here, first with body board (easily bought in several places in town) and then with a real board. At the right side of the beach towards St Nicholas Chapel in the distance is a reef where at low tide you can see the top of the remaining boiler from a wrecked ship. Even when the tide is high you have quite a lot of beach to walk on here so there is no risk of getting cut off as such, but still be aware of the incoming tide. By the roadside near Tate Gallery at the back is a toilet block where you can get changed if you do not belong to those lucky enough to have rented a beach hut by the surf school which is also back here and where you can rent wetsuits and book lessons (our daughter loved her lessons here with qualified instructors and this is something we should have given her already at the start). Up here you also find a café at beach level, selling fresh juices, other drinks, snacks and beach toys, and with a small restaurant at street level above it (see tip).
Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI for short) has lifeboats in selected harbour towns all over Britain and relies on voluntary help and donations to finance its activities, not least rescuing people in trouble at sea. You recognise their navy blue and orange boats easily and here at St Ives, there has been a lifeboat station for 165 years or so, since this is a tricky bit of coastline to navigate with various reefs and undercurrents. To get to know more about the history, medals received for bravery and spectacular rescue actions, head for the town museum (see tip), but to see the boat itself when it is in, head for the lifeboat station at one end of the harbour any weekday during office hours, when you get to see the boat out of the water as long as it is not on a mission. There is also frequent practice runs and "wash days" when it is taken out and launched via its own slipway, something which attracts the crowds in the harbour and is a fascinating sight since various antennaes and things on the boat have to be folded up to get it into action mode, and it is taken into the water by its own caterpillar vehicle. Next to the boat hall itself is a shop where you can support RNLI through buying useful souvenirs.