St Ives, Cornwall: Musings on the Great English Seaside

What travel stories do you have?

Global travel blog that features travel stories on living, traveling and growing up in cities, villages and towns around the world!

St Ives, Cornwall: Musings on the Great English Seaside

When you imagine a holiday at the English seaside, does it fill you with longing or horror? Do you think of picturesque beaches, steaming fish and chips and sunny strolls, or do you shiver with the thought of bright arcade lights, sunburnt families and getting attacked by seagulls?

Now, I put my hands up and admit right here that I have never been to Blackpool or Newquay or Margate so it is highly likely that I am perhaps, just maybe, a little bit biased, but I have heard things. Enough things to make me never want to holiday at any of the above so as to avoid the hen parties and swarms of teens trying to make ‘spring break’ happen. St Ives is different. St Ives belongs to the former of my beach side descriptions, and it holds a very special place in my heart.

Summer holidays to St Ives have been an annual occurrence for my family for over a decade, with my dad’s side visiting almost continuously since they were kids. For me, having recently moved to Australia, these Cornish sojourns are no longer an annual possibility, and my envy is already very real for that fast-approaching August fortnight. As I remember to check my privilege and remind myself that I now live somewhere that rarely drops below 20°C, I find myself thinking of all of my dear St Ives memories and fantasising about what I would do this year if I were going.

Waking up to the sound of seagulls squawking; popping to the corner shop to buy a freshly-baked croissant, eating it on the balcony, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean.

There is something about the sunlight in St Ives as it pours into my bedroom of Piazza Flats, roused by the sound of seagulls and the promise of a good old Cornish summer. As I walk down stairs, the view of the ocean slowly reveals itself to me, filling the entire window, which itself takes up the whole beach-side wall. As I open the door to the balcony, the roar of the wind and waves is a further reminder that I’m not in London anymore, and I take up my usual seat on the balcony’s stone wall, directly above the sand of Porthmeor Beach. My croissant is buttery and delicious and tides me over until lunch when I will have my first Cornish pasty of the holiday. This is how I start my St Ives summer.

Knocking windbreaks into the sand, playing boules and going for a dip in the freezing sea; bringing steaming pasties back from the shop to eat on the beach.

st ives

The Sloop Inn, St. Ives

I throw the windbreaks down off the balcony onto the sand and jump down after them. As I hunt for a large stone with which to hammer them in, I realise why British beaches seem so strange to people from other (warmer) nations. We bring so much more than just a towel when we spend a day at the seaside. People around me are unpacking Frisbees, bat and ball, miniature cricket sets, picnic lunches – unfurling gaudy beach chairs and sand recliners, marking their territory for the day. We play game after game until we build up enough of a sweat to brave the Atlantic Ocean, a refreshing dip being the perfect way to prepare for a heavy lunch. After a hot shower, we walk to St Ives Bakery, on the corner of Fore Street and Virgin Street, as they focus on baking their pasties with original fillings. Whilst you can buy Thai green curry, or full English breakfast pasties elsewhere these days, St Ives Bakery offers both shortcrust and flaky ‘Traditional’ pasties (steak, potato, swede and onions), as well as some modest variations such as chicken and veggie. Straight from the oven, these scald our hands as we rush back to our beach camp, biting large chunks, steam escaping as the delicious peppery gravy hits our taste buds once again.

Wandering among Hepworth’s sculptures, appreciating her talent and pondering on her untimely death. An afternoon pick-me-up of coffee and fudge; taking in the harbour views.

Pottering about post-pasty, deciding between visiting the Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture garden, I choose the latter. This is not a difficult decision for me, for while the Tate overlooks the sea and displays some architectural feat, Hepworth’s is in a world of its own, like stepping into the secret garden. I walk through the timeline of her life, knowing that this museum is the exact place where she lived and worked and died. Up the narrow stairs of this Cornish house, I enter the main gallery, displaying some of her most renowned pieces – abstract representations of the sea, the sand, the coastline all around her. Out in the garden, her larger pieces are dotted around amongst the trees, hidden in corners or nestled within the ferns. I peer into her now-preserved studio and shiver as I remember that it was here that she died, aged 72, in an accidental fire, that remarkable woman. Walking down to the harbour I pick up a coffee at one of the many quaint little tea rooms and then pop into Myrings, St Ives’ best sweet shop, buying a sizeable chunk of freshly made Cornish clotted cream fudge. I sit on the edge of Smeaton’s Pier, looking back over the harbour, fudge melting, coffee warming. Better save space for dinner…

st ives

Barbara Hepworth Garden, St Ives

A drink watching the sunset over Man’s Head rock; dinner at The Mermaid. A quick round of the arcade and joining the family at The Sloop.

North-facing Porthmeor Beach means big waves and dramatic storms, huge swathes of open sky on sunny days and very low tides. We sit on the balcony in the evening, watching families play cricket on the now-visible hard sand and wait for the sun to dip below the western point of Man’s Head rock. As it disappears we marvel at the headland, appearing as though on fire, deep crimson merging into bright hues of orange and pink. We raise a toast before heading out to dinner, the narrow streets leading us to The Mermaid. The welcoming glow is like a beacon for the restaurant as I open the red door and we are seated at our usual table. Chianti bottles hang from the ceiling, punctuating the old fishermen’s nets and bank notes from all over the world. We eat well; proper British food – a hearty seafood stew, some Cornish mussels, beer-battered John Dory. For old time’s sake, I visit the arcade after dinner. Not the tacky, modern arcades of other coastal towns, but a small space, still filled with many of the traditional games and nostalgic tinny noises mixed with laughter and the sound of slotted coins. A couple of pounds down and I head to The Sloop, one of Cornwall’s oldest pubs, established circa 1312. My family are already there, drinking Cornish ale and reminiscing about old memories of St Ives. As the rain starts to fall, we settle down inside the saloon, enjoying this time together and feeling grateful for the great English seaside.

Alexandra Leyland-Collins

Alexandra Leyland-Collins

Alexandra is a digital nomad, registered as A.L. Collins, freelancing as a bespoke travel planner, writer and editor. She is currently working from Australia, where she has just moved, having lived in the U.K. her whole life. Having kept a travel diary since the age of four, Alexandra has always wanted to be a travel writer, something which is helped by the 28 countries she has visited to date... and counting!