Winter: the season in which Cornwall shuts up shop. When tourist towns come to a standstill while establishments close for R&R (rest and refurb). Or do they? Not anymore they don’t. For that was a Cornwall of yester-year, before we realised that the county’s mild climate and dazzling scenery would beckon visitors year-round. In fact, under the beguiling winter light and without the summer crowds, a winter day out in Cornwall can beat any day out here in July or August. Especially in St Ives.
Arriving on the St Ives Bay railway – soaking up views of miles of sand curling to the iconic Godrevy lighthouse – I’ve no doubt that winter’s my favourite time of year to visit this artists colony and fishing village that’s become one of the UK’s favourite family holiday resorts. Even on a January day the air can feel balmy, and rich coastal hues twinkle under the magical light.
Disembarking at St Ives station, Porthminster Beach greets us with deserted, pristine sands. In fact all of the beaches lie naked in all their pearly glory, without the windbreaks, beach towels and bucket-and-spade brigades of summer. In town most of the boutiques, galleries and eateries are open, but the cobbled streets are eerily quiet and it’s easy to bag a sea-view table at even the most popular restaurants. There’s still a smattering of tourists eating ice creams and pasties, some building sandcastles and braving bare feet on the sand or in the sea.
Nudging the ocean, I walk around to Porthgwidden Beach, hunkered at the foot of ‘The Island’. Rows of coloured beach huts have indeed closed their doors against the winter storms, yet the door to the Porthgwidden Beach Café stays open year-round. Inside, a handful of diners tuck into the likes of sea bass and brill, savouring the staggering ocean views between each mouthful. I opt for coffee and a homemade brownie, and take a pew on the terrace where I watch waves lap the shore while the winter sun tints my cheeks.
Strolling around ‘The Island’ that juts into the Atlantic, there’s no sign of the dolphins so often spotted here. And where the swell pounds the shore at Porthmeor, today there are no surfers riding the huge, frothy waves. A few figures come and go from the Tate St Ives, listening to the echo of the ocean bellowing in the entrance and making the most of the exhibitions before the temporary closure of this famous landmark until May 2013 (it’s usually open year-round).
Wending back through the narrow lanes, there are plenty of cottages, cafés and B&Bs beckoning people in to eat, drink and stay. On the harbour-front a couple of hikers sip pints in their private suntrap outside The Sloop Inn, while a few savvy visitors take in the scene over alfresco tea and cake. Albeit beating at a more sedate pace than during the summer months, St Ives is most definitely open for business this winter. And what’s more, it reveals a wild beauty that can be masked in the crowded and colourful holiday season.
For a comprehensive guide to eating, drinking and staying in St Ives, checkout my Cool Guide to St Ives on www.coolplaces.co.uk
Our other favourite winter days out in Cornwall include:
National Maritime Museum Cornwall: www.nmmc.co.uk, www.coolplaces.co.uk/places/uk/england/cornwall/falmouth/619-national-maritime-museum-cornwall