The South West of England: Pt 21 – Penzance, Cornwall

After leaving the famous Land’s End, we made our way back towards Dartmouth in Devon via a few places in Cornwall, starting with the nearby town of Penzance…

Penzance:

Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: St Michael’s Mount, Penzance Harbour, Egyptian House, St Mary’s Church, Dry Dock, Wharfside Shopping Centre, Old Lifeboat House, The Battery, War Memorial etc

Pen 1

Our journey began in a Car Park we found near the main Harbour, where we could gaze out at the various boats awaiting the return of the tide. The Harbour is open to the sea, but a series of Sea Walls help to shelter it. The town is a thriving fishing port, and boats also regularly sail from here to the Isles of Scilly out past Land’s End. We set off around the inner Harbour wall, made up of Wharf Road, which becomes the Quay further round, to explore the rest of the town.

Pen 2

Across the road from the Car Park is the Wharfside Shopping Centre, taking its name from the quayside it inhabits. The centre opened in 1999, and contains all of the major high street shops you would expect. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the quayside, with an old style stone entrance, and the remainder of the building looks similar to some of the original buildings here at the front.

Pen 4

On the way out of the Car Park we passed the “Old Lifeboat House Bistro”, which, as the name suggests, is based in the Old Lifeboat House, constructed in 1884. This made the town the 1st in Cornwall to have it’s own lifeboat, and you can still see the 2 terracotta roundels either side of the upper window, which both bare the crest of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) who owned the building at the time. Sadly by 1913 the boat had been moved to Penlee in the next town along, called Newlyn, which we would get a great view of further around the seafront. The Lifeboat Station then closed 4 years later in 1917, having been bought by the local Council. Today it is of course the Bistro,and the historic building is the perfect place to stop for a meal. You can visit the Bistro’s website here.

Moving further along, we got a great view of the stone bridge that crosses the smaller Harbour which leads into the towns Dry Dock. The Dock is the oldest in both the UK and Europe, dating back to 1834. Just to the left, out of shot, is the rest of the bridge, where traffic is stopped and the bridge rotates to allow access for boats. The Dock is open 365 days a year, and regularly services boats, tugs and ships. The Dock was empty when we visited, and the water level had been dropped, exposing the stilts that the various boats are set down on for maintenance work.

Pen 5

Thanks to our current position by the Dry Dock, we were opposite the main Harbour entrance, in between the large sea walls. Beyond it lies Mount’s Bay, which stretches from just west of Penzance near Newlyn, round to Lizard Point, nearly 28 miles away. Lizard Point is situated past the end of the outcrop of land visible in the distance past the sea walls on the above picture.

Pen 6

We kept going, and arrived on the promenade, where we got a spectacular view of what is perhaps the most famous inhabitant of Mount’s Bay, which also provided it’s name, St Michael’s Mount, a large tidal island around 366 metres off the coast towards the small town of Marazion, further around the Bay. When the tide recedes it uncovers a man made causeway that provides a direct link to the mainland. Atop the rocky outcrop on the island itself stands a large Castle, the most recent addition to which was completed in 1878. Prior to the present building, the history of the Mount goes back to 1070 when it was gifted to the monks of Mont St Michel, over in France. By 1135 they had built a stone Church here, and it was in regular religious use by the Monks until 1535 when Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) began the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the Monks had left the Mount by 1548, although ruins of the Abbey did survive.

Due to it’s obvious tactical position, it played a part in a number of conflicts, from use as a beacon to warn of the advancing Spanish Armada in 1588, to 4 years worth of siege during the English Civil War, starting in 1642. It soon passed into the possession of the Aubyn family in 1659, when Colonel John St Aubyn (1613 – 1684) purchased the Mount and made it his home. The St Aubyn Barony (of Clowance) was later created around 1645 and inhabitants of the Mount held the title until 1830 when Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet (1758 – 1839) passed away. Interestingly, all 5 Barons had the same name, John St Aubyn. The title was later revived in 1887, this time as Baron St Levan, and still exists today, with James Piers Southwell St Aubyn (born 1950) being the 5th and present Baron.

The family do still live on the Mount, in the new Victorian Wing of 1878 that I mentioned earlier, although the rest of the Mount was gifted to the National Trust in 1954. The Mount, along with the Castle, makes for an incredible site, and it is open to visitors all year round, via the Causeway.

Pen 7

Continuing to move around the Seafront, there are a number of landmarks easily visible. The 1st of these you may have spotted already on the Harbour picture at the start of this post, and is of course the tower of the Parish Church of St Mary. It rises high above the town, and is one of the standout features of it’s skyline. Construction began in 1832 to designs by Charles Hutchens, and was completed 3 years later. New areas were subsequently created inside the Church, with an area below the West Gallery converted into a lobby by 1986, leading to a Chapel at the far end of the North Aisle also created around this time.

The exterior of the building is clad in Penwith Granite, Penwith being the name given to this area of Cornwall, made up of a large peninsula and extends from Land’s End, past Penzance and further East. In 1974 Cornwall was split into districts with councils, governed overall by the County Council. One of these districts was Penwith. The districts were later abolished in 2009 and Cornwall became one large Unitary Authority, under control of the County Council.

Pen 8

The 2nd landmark is the Jubilee Pool, a large swimming pool which opened in 1935. It was built out over a popular bathing point on the shore, in honour of King George V’s (1865 – 1936) Silver Jubilee, celebrations of which were sadly cut short when he passed away a year later. The pool remained popular in the town until the 1990’s, when it was found to be in a bad state of deterioration, leading to a revamp in 1994, when it was re-opened for all to enjoy. When we visited it was shut, mainly due to the damage done to the promenade by the storms in late 2013/early 2014, but it is still a popular public amenity.

To the left of the Pool is the 18th century Battery, built out of Granite. The Battery was built after war with Spain became a real possibility in 1739. The Penzance Corporation was worried that invasion by sea could happen, and petitioned the Government for defensive guns, with the Battery to house them. It also had a dual role, protecting the town from rough seas. A number of cannons were installed, 5 of which remained as late as 1910.

In 1922 the Battery was given a new addition, in the form of the town’s War Memorial, designed by Sir Edward Warren (1856 – 1937) and built by W.H. Snell & Sons, in honour of the fallen of Penzance during World War I. During World War II the Battery would again became a defensive stronghold, with larger modern guns placed there in case of attack by the Germans. All of these landmarks can be found on Battery Road, built in 1923 to enable better access into the town.

Pen 9

The rocks below are accessible from the Battery, so we wandered down to take in the views. This shot was taken looking from the Rocks at the base of the Battery back towards the 3rd Harbour, another smaller one that sits near the opening of the main Harbour, and along with the Dry Dock Harbour makes a trio along the front, although they all share one large entrance to the sea.

Pen 10

Looking West up the beach, we spotted the town of Newlyn in the distance. The town also has a large Harbour, the outer walls of which you can see above. At the edge of the walls is a small lighthouse, and a similar one sits in Penzance harbour as well, warning ships approaching the shore. This is also the town I mentioned earlier where the Penzance lifeboat was moved to, RNLI Penlee.

Pen 12

We started heading back towards the car, using Battery Road, and on the way we passed a Gold Post Box. For anyone who isn’t resident in the UK, normal British Post Boxes are painted Red. In 2012, London held the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, and in honour of every British athlete who won in a gold medal, Royal Mail painted a Post Box in their home town Gold. This particular one is for Helen Glover, who won Gold in the Rowing: Women’s Pairs. You can find out more about the Gold Post Boxes, and others that we have found, by checking out Gemma’s dedicated post here.

That was the end of our trip to Penzance, and as we left the car park, we passed the Train Station, located at the other side of the car park. It is notable as one of the terminus’s of the longest direct train journey you can make in the United Kingdom, from Penzance, through Cornwall towards Bristol, Birmingham and the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East of England, finally arriving in Scotland via Edinburgh, at it’s final destination, Aberdeen. This service leaves daily, and takes in most of the major towns and cities in the UK as it goes. Penzance station is also the most Southerly train station in the UK. Aside from the long haul services heading North, trains also run to London, local destinations in Cornwall, as well as places like Plymouth in Devon. Local buses also run to various places, including regular buses to Land’s End itself. Land’s End also has a small airport, where you can fly out to the Isles of Scilly, or of course you can take the Penzance ferry to the islands. Although we didn’t have time to do everything in the town, if you visit you could also go and see the famous Egyptian House in the centre of town, as well as the fabulous old Market Hall, now inhabited by a branch of Lloyds TSB.

Penzance is a pleasant town, and the most Southerly major town in both Cornwall and the UK. It has plenty of history, beautiful sea views, and some splendid architecture. If your planning to visit Cornwall, Penzance, along with the local area which includes Land’s End should surely be on your list. For us, the next stop was Cornwall’s only city, and administrative centre, Truro…

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