If you plan to tour Cornwall with transportation included, fine. Ruth & I didn’t. I tried to pre-book from home but finally gave up trying to arrange bus and train travel weeks before leaving. “We’ll figure it out when we get there,” I told Ruth, who doesn’t like unpredictability. We made it to every planned destination. One of our better days was a tour of the Penwith Peninsula.
Penwith is England’s most southwesterly landmass. We took a local bus on its daily route, circling it for £12 each. That’s a bit more than $15. The bus went everywhere any tourist would want to go, even St. Buryan where the classic film Straw Dogs was filmed. We got off wherever we wanted and caught the next bus. They were frequent. We left Penzance mid-morning and were back for dinner.
Penzance is Penwith’s biggest town. It’s gritty and lacks tourists, who go instead to St Ives. When we told people we were going to Penzance, the typical reaction was, “Why?” We were there 3 days and liked it, but it did surprise me that I never once heard the word “pirates” while there.
Cornwall, said to be the poorest county in England, is scenically splendid. It used to be a place of many tin mines, but they’re all gone. The last one closed about 40 years ago and is now a heritage site. Cornwall now seek tourists looking for Poldark, like Ruth. Mining towers dotted the landscape like abandoned parts of old castles. Tourism is increasing in Penwith but it’s not yet explosive, except in St Ives.
It rained the morning we took the circle bus. This was not a negative because it made the landscape even more green. The rural, sometimes single-lane roads cut through potato fields and small villages with very narrow streets. Along the difficult-to-drive highways were “luxury” b&bs, hedgerows instead of fences, lots of wildflowers, ancient churches, etc.
The first stop with tourist appeal was Land’s End and a lot of the passengers, including many young Asians, got off. We didn’t. Many of the locals had told us that Land’s End had been ruined. One woman called it an amusement park and told us that she used to take visitors there who could walk out to the western most point of Cornwall on a visually stunning promontory. Now you have to pay. There are some interactive attractions available–Shaun the Sheep, a 4D film, The Lost World, Arthur’s Quest, and Greeb Farm. None of these sounded particularly amusing to us.
The landscape changed after Sennen Cove, where I saw a teenager sitting on a picnic table playing his guitar and clearly enjoying the freedom of a cloudy morning in a spectacular place. The views beyond Sennen were more windswept, more influenced by the ocean. There were lots of abandoned mining villages, and the only real town for miles was St Just, England’s most westerly community. A few art galleries were there, but St Just is largely for locals, not tourists, unlike St Ives with its crowded beach, Mediterranean look, Tate Gallery, steep streets, buskers, and shops.
Between St. Ives and Penzance, the roads were full of rush hour traffic that made me admire the skill and forbearance of bus drivers.