As far as getting away from it all goes, Cornwall ranks up there with some of the best places in the country. Although the myriad of Ryanair flights to nearly-but-not-quite-there-ville seem tempting to most of us looking for some last minute sun, there has been a trend in recent years for people to forgo an expensive summer holiday in favour of a quick, cosy and ultimately chilly but life-affirming trip to the sea in the depths of the low season. What’s not to like – it’s more affordable, you get to be surrounded by like minded people and the fresh sea air does everything in its power to wipe away your worries.
Saint Ives is the ideal candidate not only for a retreat when the weather’s good, but also as a cosy bolt-hole of a town in the winter. As you’d image the beaches are sparse, but the pubs are crowded and the restaurants are in full swing with an increasing local population and a fair amount of off-season visitors alike.
Courtesy of bespoke accommodation providers Cornish Secrets, No. 4 Island Road was to be our property for the weekend. Two nights of near seclusion in what most people agree to be a fairly isolated town during winter at the best of times. It was perfect; the ultimate getaway to a place shrouded in mystique and the harsh winter wind.
The cottage itself was well proportioned and laid out – with the attention to detail you come to expect from a place exhibiting the best of a certain lifestyle. A well fitted kitchen, a fantastic living area and three good size yet cosy bedrooms added to the sense of being in a place where the owners cared about how you feel. They knew St. Ives was going to be a place people would fall in love with – and they’d decorated and designed the cottage appropriately.
Exploring from Island Road couldn’t be easier. The cobbled, twisted streets of St. Ives’ Downalong area where the fisherman used to live are in easy reach – and the seafront no more than a few steps. The wonderful Porthgwidden Beach and associated Restaurant are a must visit – looking out beyond this sheltered cove at the breakers out to sea, even during the depths of winter you feel cocooned and protected from the wilds of nature evidently out there.
Fore St, the main cobbled thoroughfare of St Ives, is still relatively busy in winter. Pubs, cafes and a good selection of shops vie for attention – the always bustling Firehouse Bar & Grill for example is certainly worth a visit for those who want local culture without the associated tourist pomp and ceremony. During the winter St. Ives genuinely feels devoid of the arrogance that surrounds it during summer. Normal people are here, normal things are happening and if you’re a tourist most people don’t care where you fit into the equation. As a local, I find winter in Cornwall a very humbling experience – nature and the sea rule everything and even the culture-vultures stop and appreciate it.
The second day of our visit was spent driving to nearby Godrevy Beach. It’s somewhere I’ve grown up with and appreciated all my life, and with the stunning lighthouse and golden sands of Hayle not more than a few miles away from St. Ives, it’s definitely worth a visit. Winter brings out the true community spirit of this place – a range of surfers, dog walkers and the like come here all year round literally because they cannot face not seeing the sea. It’s a calming influence in winter no matter how crazy the weather. Wrapping up warm is the name of the game, and cold weather surfers from all over the county come to Gwithian to sample some of the best surf in the area during this time of year. The place is alive no matter where you are and when you go.
Evenings were inevitably spent cooking and consuming wine in the cottage. One gets a sense of duty to do this when in Cornwall in the winter….there’s a sense of togetherness – especially when the weather is bad. Very few people head outside but the lights are on in all the cottages in the area – everyone else is having their own sense of comfort and cosiness and in a place as small as St. Ives it’s nice to have downtime and lock yourself away for a bit.
Places like St. Ives are not too far away for a short weekend break, and contrary to popular belief the weather need not be a deciding factor. There may not be attractions or events to attend during winter, but what you get instead in Cornwall is a sense of escape and that everyone is in it together. Communities, locals and visitors alike all share the same sense of wonder at the winter landscape…it breaks down barriers and ensures that no matter who you meet, they understand why you’re there and what you’re doing.
Of course, one of the other side-effects is that the pubs are brilliant…..