It was 32 degrees in London recently, pollution levels were high and I began to croak and wheeze. I just had to get away and breathe some sea air. That’s my excuse anyway. I checked the weather forecast, packed a small suitcase with wet weather gear just in case – British holiday habits die hard – and set off for the south west. My Penzance B&B room was tiny, more like a ship’s cabin, but that suited me because I could lie on my narrow bed and immerse myself in the blue dazzle of sea and sky.
It just happened to be Unicorn Derby Day at the nearby Art Deco Jubilee Pool (of seawater). I counted at least 31 unicorns racing to the sound of the Ride of the Valkyries blasting out on the PA system.
The next day there was a fund raising race round Mounts Bay, watched by the Lifeboat and various kayakers.
I got into big time gambling at a little boy’s stall nearby, trying to balance a coin on a lemon – impossible! The boy and his friends accompanied my feeble attempts with a joyously yelled countdown.
A life sized effigy of Lord Nelson stands by the entrance to the Union Hotel on Chapel Street in Penzance. It stands inside a glass fronted wooden cabinet overlooked by CCTV. I asked the young woman serving behind the bar if she knew anything about it. She didn’t. I thought it looked rather like Tim Rice.
Later discovered the news of the Battle of Trafalgar in 18o5 first reached Penzance here, and was announced from a balcony at the back of the Hotel – once a theatre. Nelson’s death mask hung below the balcony. tricky to photograph so here’s a photo of light fittings in the hotel’s rather grand Trafalgar Room instead.
Penzance locals told me the sea was warm – it wasn’t, not for this city dweller anyway. My birthplace was almost in the sea so perhaps I should be a better swimmer. The sea was about 4 minutes walk from my B&B, with stone steps leading straight into an unusually placid high tide. Bliss. There’s nothing quite as delightful as floating in the blue, even if it’s only as long as I can bear the cold.
The number 16 bus takes you north from Penzance across the Penrith Peninsula to the Atlantic coast and St Ives, one of my old haunts. A sea mist came down and the temperature dropped. I headed for the Tate gallery in St Ives to see the new extension, and an exhibition by local artist Patrick Heron, rather spoiled for me by pretentious quotes about his own paintings.
I said hello to work by one of my favourite artists Alfred Wallis whose tiny house I’d passed en route to the gallery. An enthusiastic young woman was setting out paints in the Tate’s activity room, ready for children to take part in a workshop. As there weren’t any children around just then, she kindly let me use paint and paper, while we chatted about art, life etc., as you do, before I headed back to Penzance.