The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

New Year in Cornwall

Published Wed, Dec 30th, 2015 in Cornwall · Follow: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterst, Flickr« · »

After a long year of work that was terribly short on breaks, Phil and I both had a lot of vacation days to “use or lose” before 2015 drew to a close. And since neither of us had any intention of forfeiting our hard-earned holidays to Corporate America, we booked the last week of December at a cottage in Cornwall. We were thrilled to get the reservation—in previous years, the cottage has been booked from well before Christmas until long after the New Year. We know this because we’ve attempted to schedule a year-end holiday at this cottage several times before.

Thus, after spending the Christmas weekend with family in Wales, we returned home to drop-off presents and pack the car for our vacation. Bright and early Monday morning, we set off for our little rented cottage on the Cornish coast. It’s a familiar (and long) drive. As we drove, I reflected on our past trips to Cornwall and calculated that we’ve been visiting this same cottage for nearly ten years. Our previous visits were in February 2006, October 2006, March 2007, March 2009, and November 2011. This would be our first visit in four years.

Some small cottages in St. Ives, Cornwall
Some small cottages on a side street in St. Ives (not where we stayed, just thought they were cute).

We arrived late Monday evening and relaxed after the long drive. On Tuesday morning, after a good night’s sleep, we ventured out to buy groceries and to explore. We spent much of the day wandering St. Ives, a quaint seaside village a dozen miles down the road from our cottage. We were surprised to find St. Ives buzzing with tourists. We asked a shop owner about the reason for the crowds and learned that each year at this time the town comes to life for a fantastic New Year’s Eve celebration—fancy dress, parties in the streets, a Mardi Gras kind of thing. Unfortunately, as exciting as the festivities sounded, it wasn’t at all what we had in mind.

Seagull watching over the St. Ives harbor
Seagull watching over the St. Ives harbor

The party atmosphere in St. Ives put a crimp in our plans because we had hoped to enjoy the town in a more relaxed manner than would now be possible. Given the crowds, we would find it difficult to get dinner reservations. In fact, we’d be lucky to get a reasonable place in the queue at the local chippy. Most problematic, it was a battle to find parking—the lots around town were overflowing and parking on the narrow streets was out of the question. Our only option was to revise our plans and come up with some alternate excursions for our visit.

Bicycle outside shop in St. Ives, Cornwall
A bicycle-sign boasting “Doggy Friendly Dining” at the nearby coffee shop. Always a good thing.

On Wednesday, the weather continued to be as wet, windy, bitter, and blustery as it has been for weeks all across Britain. But on the coast the weather was especially raw—the southwest coast is notorious for rough weather especially in winter, which makes sense since this is where storms make their first landfall after gaining momentum over several thousand miles of open sea.

We nonetheless braved the elements to venture out to Land’s End. It’s only a short drive from the cottage to Land’s End. Upon arriving we were greeted by the same gloomy skies, pelting rain, and frigid gale force winds that we had hoped to leave behind at the cottage. Any desire we had of walking along the rugged South West Coast Path vanished as we staggered against a petulant headwind from the car park to the lookout point.

Land’s End, or Pedn an Wlas, if you speak Cornish.

Determined to make something of our visit, I snapped a few pictures and recorded a couple of short video clips. But in less than ten minutes, my whole body began to shake from the damp and the cold. My coat was marginally windproof and not at all waterproof so the bone-chilling gusts went right through me. I was getting soaked by something. Rain? Sea spray? Probably both. I signaled to Phil I was ready to go back to the car. He nodded in agreement and we turned back.

Sennen Cove

As we drove away from Land’s End, Phil suggested we try to visit Sennen Cove where he thought the weather (or at least the wind) might be a bit less tempestuous. To our delight, it was much calmer and even slightly warmer in Sennen Cove. We were able to take a short walk along the shore and we stopped by an art gallery to browse the local art. Before leaving, we also visited the RNLI lifeboat station. As I contemplated the fierce weather outside, I tried to imagine the type of grit necessary to be an RNLI volunteer. It must take some considerable courage and will to go out on a lifeboat in rough weather along the south west coast to attempt a rescue. The RNLI lifeboat crews are really quite amazing.

After our visit in Senen Cove, we stopped in St. Just to pick up some Cornish pasties. We then headed back to the cottage, started a fire, warmed up, and enjoyed a late lunch.

Fishing boat at Sennen Cove, the RNLI lifeboat launch is in the background.
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