50 Gems of Cornwall by John Husband
As I was preparing to write my first book, 50 Gems of Cornwall, it seemed deceptively easy to come up with a list of 50 places to include. After all, I have lived in the county all my life and have spent some 40 years photographing and writing articles about it, and there are not many locations I haven’t visited in that time. The biggest challenge turned out to be what not to include, for so many places are well-known tourist resorts and attractions. Eventually I decided not to include such well-known destinations as the Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the many National Trust gardens that are so well known. However, I felt that it was impossible to omit such wonderful spots as St Michael’s Mount, St Ives and Tintagel castle. The editor also allows events to qualify as gems, so Padstow gets a mention with its May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss celebrations which go back to the mists of time, as well as Helston Flora Day a week later. I also included a couple of railway journeys and a bus journey!
Cornwall’s tourism figures are currently enjoying a boost from the “Poldark Effect”, with locations such as Charlestown harbour and the so-called “Tin Coast” of West Penwith featuring prominently. Only recently, Charlestown took a delivery of another sailing ship to further enhance the harbour scene and provide a hands-on sailing experience for landlubbers. For those who wish to avoid the crowds and the more popular locations, there are plenty of less well-known gems in the book, and I include a few below.
You will definitely not be amongst the crowds if you take a boat trip to St Georges, or Looe, Island. The streets of the popular fishing port will be bustling of course, but if you sign up to the boat trip you will be one of eleven people who embark on the 20 minute crossing to land on the island’s deserted beach. After a brief talk from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust wardens, who live on the island, you can spend 2 hours exploring this mile wide paradise once owned by the Atkins sisters, Evelyn and Babs, whose books “We Bought an Island” and “Tales from our Cornish Island” can still be bought in the tractor shed just off the beach. You could also take a train ride to Looe on the Looe valley line, another gem.
Come in spring, mid-March say, and you should make a beeline for Caerhays Castle and Spring Gardens, on the south coast near Heligan. The castle was designed by John Nash and is a delight, but the glory of Caerhays are the magnolias which bloom in profusion here in March. The gardens and castle are closed after June, so spring is the only time to come.
I had to include my favourite road, the B3306 (and a bit of the A30) from St Ives to Land’s End along the rocky coastal toe of Cornwall. I recently discovered the best way to travel, on the top deck of the open-top Atlantic Coaster bus which runs every hour in summer. You can hop on and off as much as you fancy, just choose a sunny day and get to the bus stop in St Ives or Land’s End early to ensure a seat on top. The A3 route passes Zennor, home of the famous mermaid legend, St Just, Geevor Tin Mining museum, Botallack and the wonderful white sands of Sennen Cove.
Of the many special days in the county, few are as well-known as Padstow’s May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss revels. If you have never been, make a date in your diary (usually May 1st) and get to Padstow by 8 a.m. to see the childrens ‘Osses, when the streets are quieter. They will be much busier by 10 a.m. when the Blue ‘Oss comes out of its stable. Just remember that this event is not laid on for the benefit of the crowds but is deeply embedded in the hearts of all Padstonians, many of whom return home from all over the world on May Day. They would still dance in the streets even if no one came to watch!
Just across the Camel estuary from Padstow is a church which was almost buried in the sand until a century and a half ago. The little spire of St Enodoc hides among the dunes by the golf course and was celebrated in verse by Sir John Betjeman, who holidayed nearby and is buried here. Memorials to another famous author can be found at St Juliot’s church near Boscastle, which was surveyed by a young architect from Dorset, Thomas Hardy. Hardy stayed at the rectory and fell in love with the rector’s sister-in-law, Emma. An engraved glass window in the church is by Simon Whistler, son of Laurence Whistler whose engraved windows adorn the church of St Nicholas at Moreton in Dorset.
Finally, some updates. Of Tintagel Castle, I wrote that a new high-level bridge will be constructed by English Heritage over the winter of 2018 / 19 to take visitors across to the island and avoid the many steps they have to climb presently. Well, the bridge is in place and is almost ready for its opening, but until then the castle is closed. Sadly, I also have to report that one of my gems has closed – the Norman castle at Trematon near Saltash is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and was built by Robert de Montain who also built Launceston castle. It has been leased since 2012 by garden designers who cultivated a rose garden in the grounds and who opened the castle to the public. Alas they have departed and the gardens are closed for 2019 but you can still view the castle from the hill leading up to St Stephens-by-Saltash.
John Husband's new book 50 Gems of Cornwall is available for purchase now.