St Ives, the jewel in the crown of Cornwall’s fishing towns, feels like a breath of fresh air.
Always a popular destination for holidaymakers, the Mediterranean light and natural beauty of the area has long attracted painters such as William Turner and James Whistler. When war broke out in 1939, sculptor Barbara Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicolson moved here. Hepworth had already made a name for herself as a modernist and lived in Trewyn Studio from 1949 to her death in 1975. Upon the request of this grande dame of sculptural art, her former studio was opened to the public as a museum and now displays her tools as artistic relics.
But it wasn’t until the establishment of Tate St Ives in 1993 that tourism began to dramatically increase. Now, the summer streets are packed with tourists and it’s easy to imagine yourself strolling through Corfu on a warm summer’s day.
The coastal road from St Ives to Newquay is sandwiched between steep cliffs. A sign alongside the road reads “Bedruthan Steps”. Could this be another prehistoric edifice? I can’t find it in my travel guide, but I do see a surprising number of cars parked here. A marvellous beach lies at the foot of a steep staircase, one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. It is more than a kilometer long and giant black granite rocks stick out of the sand. Bedruthan, I learn, was a mythical giant who planted these rocks and used them as steps.
Children work on an enormous sandcastle while others play bocce ball between the rocks. A few surfers are out in the sea, lying on their boards, waiting for the right swell to come along. But it is otherwise pleasantly quiet and still. Tiny mussels have attached themselves to the rocks and glimmer like black velvet. When the tide rolls in, they will be submerged once more.
Take me there!