Last year The New York Times recommended Penzance, England, as a destination. It rated it #14 among its 52 choices. We went to this port town in Cornwall on Mount’s Bay to see if TNYT was right and really liked it. David Shaftel, who wrote the recommendation, focused on Poldark and Penzance’s growing reputation for culinary newness. Aside from a couple of restaurants, the only attraction he mentioned was the Jubilee Pool. There lots to see both in town, like the Jubilee Pool, and not too far away, like Land’s End, where England stops and the Atlantic Ocean begins.
The Jubilee Pool, an art deco lido swimming pool on a seaside promenade, is beautifully situated. It extends out into Penzance’s fine harbor and has become one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions. St. Michael’s Mount, another huge tourist draw, can be seen across Mount’s Bay from this pool. Now a rare survivor, the Jubilee Pool opened in 1935; so it has been a local treat for more than 80 years and over time has become the largest seawater pool in the United Kingdom. Jubilee suffered structural damage in 2014’s storms and had to be expensively restored. We didn’t get to experience it because the Jubilee Pool still hadn’t opened for the season, which usually runs from late May to early September like public pools in the U. S. A few locals told me that they had not been to it recently because entry had gotten rather expensive.
Travel writer Kirsty Fergusson says that Penzance often has a pirate gathering in late May, and she compliments this town’s year-round “gritty vibrancy”. This phrase gets Penzance exactly right. Its main shopping street is called Market Jew, a name which bothered me until I learned that its name derives from “jow”, the old Cornish word for Thursday. Chapel Street has a number of pubs and antique shops. Among Penzance’s many 19th century houses is the one Maria Branwell, mother of the Bronte sisters, once lived in. It seemed to me that most of the small shops in city center sold pasties.
Seen through many windows, pasties, like displays in a historic fast food franchise, were the only local culinary treats that we got to try. They are convenient but doughy meat pies filled with beef, onion, and potato that hard-working miners used to take down into Cornwall’s once ubiquitous copper and tin mines. The pie makers, usually the miner’s wife or mother, carved his initials in one corner and crimped the dough to create a clean handle.
Unlike us, if you rent a car to get around Cornwall, you can see 2 of its so-called better attractions, the Eden Project and the seasonal, seaside Minack Theatre.