It’s normally fairly late in October when Rosemary’s and my workplaces decide on their Christmas and New Year opening hours, and the staff holiday availability. With this determined, we realised we would be able to take a break in our caravan for the New Year.
Where to go? Well, we had previously spent Hogmanay in Edinburgh, where we had an amazing time, but the weather really wasn’t kind, and threw everything from snow to gales and driving rain at us.
With this in mind, we were attracted to St Ives, Cornwall – partly because the release of fireworks at midnight from the harbour , which would be reflected in the water below, sounded wonderful. But also on the promise of a milder climate.
The only trouble was that many other people seemed to have had the same idea earlier in the year, and we soon discovered that the closest campsites to St Ives had been fully booked for some months.
However, we were not defeated that easily, and further searching revealed Higher Penderleath Caravan & Camping Park, about three miles outside St Ives, still had a pitch with electric hook-up available.
A rather early start on the morning of 29 December saw us complete the 279-mile journey in a little under six hours, and we arrived with plenty of daylight left to get pitched up and connected to the electricity and water – and for me to sit down after the drive and relax with some creature comforts (beer, chocolate and a good book).
I could happily have stayed like that for the rest of the day, but Rose wisely pointed out I’d be disappointed if I ended up with no photos and nothing to write about.
So we got back into the car and drove into St Ives, just as dusk was falling.
Fishing and mining
Like many towns on the Cornish coast, St Ives started out as a fishing port. It’s thought to have been established as early as the fifth century, but it really began to grow in the early 19th century, when it became a centre for the export of locally mined copper and tin ores.
Then two further things happened to put the town firmly on the map. First, the acclaimed artist JMW Turner painted the local landscape in 1811. A thriving arts scene was established and developed over the years, and today, St Ives also has its own branch of the Tate Gallery.
Equally importantly, the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1877 cemented St Ives’ popularity as a holiday destination, which has continued to this day.
But even though the fishing has now declined and the dependence of the local economy on tourism is clear to see, the town has managed to retain its character.
Walk the narrow and sometimes still cobbled streets and it’s easy to imagine seafarers strolling around here, bringing their catch to sell and then stopping for a drink at one of the local hostelries.
But it was after dark that St Ives really started to feel special. The street lighting, enhanced by Christmas lights reflecting in the water in the harbour, was breathtaking, and we began to feel excited at the thought of seeing brilliant fireworks doing the same thing in two- days’ time.
We occupied the next day with a visit to Land’s End, which was everything you might expect a tourist attraction to be in December. Cold, wet and mostly shut – as were many of the attractions, closed for refurbishment for the following year.
Thankfully, though, the local photographer was still in residence and we were able to have our picture taken under the signpost that has become something one an icon since it was first established in the 1950s.
The owners have calculated distances to thousands of towns and cities worldwide, so your personalised photograph can show the mileage to your hometown.
Towers and tin mines
On our journey back to the campsite, we were looking out for the amusingly named Booby’s Castle, which on our map, was on the road between St Ives and Penzance.
We thought we might have found it when we came across a ruined tower, but later discovered this was in fact the remains of a tin mine. We were, however, delighted to realise we could see our caravan from the entrance to the tower, if we looked hard!
What we couldn’t see was that a large motorhome had become bogged down in the soft ground while trying to manoeuvre onto the pitch next to ours. We did our best to help the owners free it, and then offered them a cup of tea after they were finally able to pitch up. They told us they had been coming to spend New Year’s Eve in St Ives for several years, and that tradition dictated visitors should wear fancy dress.
We had brought no such thing with us. But Rose was determined that we should join in, so she spent next morning scouring Penzance for costumes.
She returned with some rather hideous ponchos and sombreros. My problem was that, being a scuba diver, my awareness of the need to prevent the spread of plastic in our oceans meant that I couldn’t simply chuck the hat into the sea.
The other problem was that the narrow streets of St Ives don’t lend themselves to any form of outdoor entertainment in the run-up to midnight. And with the pubs so crowded, it was difficult to even get into them, never mind fight our way to the bar. We felt at something of a loose end, until we eventually managed to find a seat in the corner of a busy bar.
Thereafter, the evening passed quickly as the drinks flowed until, suddenly, it was 10 minutes to midnight. The tide was low, which meant there was plenty of beach for the crowds to spread out across.
The weather was indeed just as mild as the internet had claimed it would be. And the fireworks were every bit as spectacular as we had hoped for – a wonderful sight.
I woke the next morning to discover that spending much of the previous evening in the pub had had the inevitable result.
But that was not a problem, – I had learnt from experience that an effective cure for this condition is a cold-water swim. I had also discovered just such a thing would shortly be happening at the Jubilee Pool in Penzance, which is a splendid Art Deco lido filled with seawater.
Rose went in up to her knees and decided that was enough. I was not to see reason so easily, and the sensation of the cold water as I bravely (or madly?) went right in was, let’s say, very refreshing. Actually, let’s be honest and say freezing. But my hangover was relieved almost instantly!
After quite a lot of hot chocolate and a warm shower, it was time to head home. We stopped for lunch at Jamaica Inn, which has been a famous landmark ever since Daphne du Maurier stayed there in 1930 and was inspired to write her much-loved novel of the same name.
Today, the venue milks the success of the book for all it’s worth, even to the point of having a sign in the bar to mark the spot where Joss Merlyn – who is fictional – was shot. We didn’t care, though, because the food and drink was excellent and the views from outside were spectacular.
Air one point, I found myself scanning the horizon for smugglers. Perhaps I hadn’t sobered up as much as I’d thought…
And that marked the start of a new year for us.
Way to go
Like most visitors from the Midlands, we took the M5 and A30, before following the campsite’s directions from the A3074. The route can be very congested in the summer, but gave us no problem, at this time of year.
When to go
We really enjoyed the New Year celebrations at St Ives. Check online for details of the event.
Where we stayed
Higher Penderleath Caravan & Camping Park
- Towednack, St Ives, TR26 3AF
- 01736 798 403
- Open all year
- Charges (pitch+2+hook-up) £39 (high season, including Christmas and New Year)
Find out more
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It's easy to imagine seafarers strolling around here, bringing their catch to sell and then stopping for a drink at one of the local hostelries