Penzance at dawn

The end of August was full of glowing light at dawn, making the granite streets of Penzance resemble those of Southern Italy. See your country first never felt so true.

Photos I took before my early morning commutes to work.

Bread Street.

Bread Street.

 

Adelaide Street.

Adelaide Street.

 

Albert Street.

Albert Street.

The Crown pub, Bread Street.

The Crown pub, Bread Street.

Branwell's Mill, Station Road.

Branwell’s Mill, Station Road.

06:45 to London Paddington at Penzance station.

06:45 to London Paddington at Penzance station.

Royal British Legion, Bread Street.

Royal British Legion, Bread Street.

Bread Street.

Bread Street.

Sunrise from the rooftops.

Sunrise from the rooftops.

 

May Horns and the spirit of Penzance

Listen to this while you read this post: 

West Cornish towns have been precocious in holding onto, or reviving, ancient customs marking and celebrating changes in seasons, particularly those of May. On Wednesday 8 May it is Helston Flora Day. Today was St Ives May Day which has taken on somewhat of a regal flavour. In our home town, Penzance, it was May Horns, held every year on the Sunday of the May Bank Holiday weekend.

We experienced our first May Horns last year. It was the first event we took part in that made us feel truly at home. It was traditionally celebrated on 1 May when early in the morning children, usually boys, made “tinny music” on tin horns around the town but girls too joined. Edgar Rees recalls how the plumbers’ shops along Causewayhead had tin horns and whistles handing from the entrances, a familiar sight at the end of April. “Feepers” or rudimentary wood whistles were also made out of sycamore–locally known as May. In 1933, apparently, after complaints whipped up by a new resident fed up of the cacophony, the local authorities including the corporation and police put a stop to such practices and it fell into abeyance.

About ten years or more ago this brilliant tradition was revived, albeit taken over by mainly older kids blowing on whistles, horns, banging drums and making noise to bring in the summer. We spent the afternoon making our green decorations, from our own hazel, herbs and some scrumped sycamore, ivy and horse-chestnut.

Dressed for May (credit: Sorab Bhote)

Dressed for May (credit: Sorab Bhote)

We met at the Tolcarne Inn, dressed in green and white, crowns decorated with newly bloomed boughs and flowers, carrying our noise-making gear. We’re led up to the borner between Newlyn and Penzance when we are told that our ‘procession’ becomes an illegal rabble and should we wish to follow the leader to the Admiral Benbow on Chapel Street, it was entirely at our discretion, but it was not a parade (it still technically being forbidden). The video below shows this from 2012.

Last year we traversed town via Alexandra Road and past Penlee Park, making even louder noise up Alexandra Road as that is where the disgruntled resident is said to have lived.

This year we carried on down Penzance Promenade, much to the delight of large numbers of bank holiday tourists and locals, stopping their walks to take photos, waving at us from the hotels and bed and breakfasts and generally touched by what they were seeing as we skipped and danced, warbled, whistled and percussed our way towards the Jubilee Pool. There we stopped and did some Guise Dancing. Even I had a go!

Guise Dancing at Penzance May Horns, Promenade.

Guise Dancing at Penzance May Horns, Promenade.

Then it was up Chapel Street to the pub. Outside the Admiral Benbow which traditionally gives over the upper floor, all decorated with green boughs and flowers, we were greeted by more tourists who were so happy to see us they welcomed each of us into the pub with a smile and a ‘welcome’! And then came upstairs to join the impromptu sing-along that followed.

It’s events like May Horns, like St Piran’s Day, Golowan and Montol, that feed the spirit of towns like Penzance. At a time when many townspeople feel a bit down, whether it’s about shops closing, the cost of houses or the spectre of unwanted development, traditions and customs is what truly keep a community nurtured and help retain our distinctiveness. And you could see that spirit rubbing off on those that cheered us along.

Bring on Golowan 🙂

 

For more, see Lee J Palmer’s amazing May Horns 2013 photographs.

You were listening to an impassioned rendition of Big Head Pirate Cat of Cornwall, a new folk song sung to the tune of Bound for South Australia. Part of the sing-song and general jollities at the Admiral Benbow following the May Horns of Penzance.

Old Big Head is a pirate cat heave away haul away

A treasure chest and a tricorn hat

The pirate cat of Cornwall.

 

 

Wind in your hair in West Penwith

Penzance from Albert Pier

Penzance from Albert Pier

Today had the feeling of the end of summer meeting the beginning of autumn. We often spend lazy Saturdays mooching around our favourite town in the whole world, Penzance. At lunchtime we headed to the harbour and joyously licked our way through two of Roskilly’s finest ice creams, salted caramel and toasted coconut, bought from the excellent Dreckly’s Steakhouse(and deli). We love to be tourists in the place we live. If you haven’t you should try it, wherever you hail from.

We fancied a punt on a boat trip. A number of boat trips of Mount’s Bay, the West Penwith coast and beyond are offered from Penzance Harbour so we headed to Albert Pier to see what was on. We were too late to get on a 3 hour Ocean Explorer trip with promise of seals, sharks and more but we were tempted with awaiting the weather in the coming weeks and going for a 4 hour reef and shoal trip along the north coast. Anyway it was just nice to walk to the end of Albert Pier. It’s one of Penzance Harbour’s best assets and at the moment it is a hive of sailing and boating activity.

You won’t get a better ride at a theme park.

Buses are sexy

There was still a lot of Mediterranean blue sky to be had so we weren’t about to head back indoors so we headed to the bus station a few yards away. We often play pot luck with bus destinations, although not always with success. But any ride in West Penwith is thrilling and one way or another gets your adrenaline pumping. Today was the penultimate day of this season’s run of First Kernow’s Open Top Bus, no. 300 service from Penzance to Land’s End. A family ticket is £12 but if you are pleasant and nice you can get away with being a family of just two adults. This gives you unlimited travel on First buses in the area whether or not you get back on the open top bus.

I had already eyed up our seats. On the right hand side behind the stair well. Heads are saved from branches and in this position you enjoy the exhilaration of the wind in your hair (and there was quite a bit of wind) with a view uninterrupted by the plastic windshields at the front. I felt perfectly vindicated when two tourists thought front was best and realised that the scenery through scratched plastic isn’t quite the same. Also, in the direction we were heading, east and north out of Penzance there was very little between you and the coast line.

You will not experience the drama of the West Penwith land and seascape in a car, on a train or on a bike in quite the same way as being so high up on a double decker bus. The west Cornish roads are often flanked by tall ‘hedges’ and so much of the route done by other types of road travel would completely miss out on the aerial view you get on the bus. I should also add that it isn’t just a treat for lovers of the rugged landscape and coastline here but also for the those who have a quiet appreciation of Cornish urban architecture. Walking around towns you don’t often look up. Here you can come face to face with the angel hoiked onto the facade of the Methodist Chapel.

Most of the photographs I snapped on my phone are of the coastwise aspect of the route we took but I must also mention the jaw-dropped beauty of West Penwith’s elegant hills such as Trendrine, Watch Croft near Rosemergy, Zennor Hill and Carn Galver and Mulfra in the distance. And of course lots of Cornish mining landscape to appreciate.

Who says buses are sad and for snotty teens and pensioners? You won’t get a better ride at a theme park.

Handy tips

Kids will love this ride. It would make a thrilling outing, especially if you swotted up on what you can see a bit beforehand.

Check the weather beforehand or take your cue from the wind direction and skies overhead on day of travel.

If you do this trip in the high season in July and August queue up early. Practise your polite but firm queuing. People will try and muscle their way in to grab the best seats. But don’t be put off. every sea from the top deck will enjoy something special. The bus is also used by local people to hop to the destinations en route so it will fill up and empty out.

If you want to do the whole route expect to spend over three hours on the bus. Unless you are particularly keen on buses I would recommend you timetabled a stop at St Ives, St Just or, if you are organised, the Gurnard’s Head.

There are several public transport options available to return to Penzance from St Just and St Ives but fewer at more rural stops. Remember you can use your ticket for unlimited travel on all of First’s other buses. For example, we hopped off at St Just, enjoyed a crab sandwich, gingerbread man and a beer before returning home on the half hourly no. 10.

Even on a sunny day wrap up. If there is a breeze blowing you will feel it. Don’t go to the hairdresser’s before this bus trip. If you have ear problems wear ear plugs.

If you don’t want to stop off for lunch or afternoon tea, take a bun and a bottle of water. It’s surprising how the exhilaration can make you hungry and thirst. It will also make the ride more fun.

We felt truly buoyed by the ride. I understood the West Penwith landscape so much better after this trip. I felt even more lucky that all of this was merely 6-10 miles from home.