Sunday, 10 March 2013

Things to do IN Penzance - 21st Century edit

Whist recently doing a spot of research on things to do in Penzance I was more than a little surprised on how out of date much of the information on the internet was. For example, out of the Lonely Planet Guide’s suggested points of interest no less than 5 had closed down, including Coco’s which ceased to exist about 7 years ago. And this ranks #5 in Google?! For the record the Penzance Maritime Museum, the Trinity House Lighthouse Museum and the Geological Museum have all ceased to exist. I have to say that none of these are a huge loss, but it does reflect a changing holiday market.

Other guides seem to treat Penzance as 10 mile radius around Penzance including everything except the town itself! The number 2 ranking site on Google is very much guilty of this featuring not a single thing to do actually within Penzance itself! The ‘official’ Tourist Board website fares little better.

So what’s wrong with Penzance that these websites can’t provide a half decent list of things to do IN Penzance for someone visiting, possibly on foot? I have to point out here that having lived in Penzance for around 30 years I have managed to keep myself amused most of the time!

Chapel Street

My first suggestion would be to take a stroll down Chapel Street. This is often described as Penzance’s most historic street, and it is. Running from the centre of town to the harbour this is where the town of Penzance began. The headland at the bottom of Chapel Street which is called Battery Rocks was the original Holy Head(land) from which the town gets its name.

Chapel Street, Penzance
Penzance's historic Chapel Street
  Chapel Street is an eclectic and in some cases, unusual mixture of buildings mostly dating back to the 18th century but with some much older. It is an attractive street and contains a range of interesting shops, bars and pubs. Perhaps the most curious building on Chapel Street is the Egyptian House with its lotus columns and sphinx like adornments. Dating back to 1835 it is said to have been inspired by the Temple of Hat-hor in Egypt.

Most of Penzance’s best pubs are located on Chapel Street including the oldest, The Turk’s Head. Just a few doors down is Penzance’s best known pub - the Admiral Benbow. As much a maritime museum as a pub, with décor including cannons, diving finds and ship’s figureheads. If that wasn’t enough there is a smuggler straddling the roof with musket in hand!

The Jubilee Pool

Built in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of George V this fantastic art deco lido is still worth celebrating. Perched on the rocky headland at the eastern end of Penzance Promenade the Jubilee Pool is a marriage of form and function. Designed to withstand the battering of winter storms yet featuring the elegant sweeping curves you would expect from an art deco structure, the pool does not disappoint. It is both the largest lido and largest seawater pool in Britain too, in case you needed further reason to visit.

Penzance's Jubilee Pool
The Art-Deco Jubilee Pool
The Jubilee Pool is open throughout the summer and is a great spot for soaking up the sun out of the wind. And believe it or not, it’s a great spot for a swim; outside of the school holidays it’s never busy in the water and there is a small, shallow pool for young children too.
If all that isn't enough then there is a fantastically positioned café here overlooking both the pool and promenade. This is without doubt the best spot to enjoy a coffee or lunch on a calm summer’s day.

Art Galleries

Penzance has a rich artistic heritage dating back to the late 19th century when the Newlyn School came into being with artists such as Walter Langley, Stanhope Forbes and Dod Procter to name a few. Since then the area has been draw to artists of all styles and media. The artistic credentials of West Cornwall are further qualified by its proximity to St Ives with its artistic heritage and more recently the Tate St Ives.
Whilst St Ives may get the limelight, Penzance has not only what is probably the oldest established gallery in Cornwall but a host of other nationally and internationally recognised galleries.

The Exchange Gallery, Penzance
The Exchange Gallery
The Newlyn Art Gallery opened in 1895 as a place to exhibit the works of the Newlyn School artists. These were considered the avant-garde of their time and the Newlyn Art Gallery has stuck with its roots continuing to exhibit contemporary art. Many of the works from the Newlyn School are now located in the Penlee House Gallery and Museum including perhaps the best known, Norman Garstin’s “The Rain it Raineth Every Day”.
The newest of Penzance’s big galleries is the Exchange. Built in 2006 this provides what is described as a major contemporary art space. The gallery has allowed larger scale works to be seen in the region that was previously possible. The building itself is a feature; a former telephone exchange, the ground floor external wall has been replaced by a 30 meter long undulating window containing an array of coloured LED lights. So even when the gallery is closed in the evening, it is well worth a visit.

Morrab Gardens

The 3 and a half acre Morrab Gardens stretch from the town centre down to the sea front. The name “Morrab” itself means sea shore. Once the private garden of a local brewer the gardens were bought by the town council in 1889.

Sub-Tropical Morrab Gardens
Penzance's sub-tropical  Morrab Gardens
The gardens are attractively laid out but it is their reputation for being home to a range of sub-tropical species rarely seen in the UK that makes Morrab Gardens worthy of note. There are tree ferns, Japanese bitter orange and even banana plants to name but a few examples. It is the mild West Cornwall microclimate that allows such plants to thrive with their rarely being a frost.

Montol and Golowan

 Over recent years two Penzance traditions have been revived; Montol and Golowan.
Montol translates to ‘winter solstice’ and involves a costumed procession through the town culminating in the ‘Lighting of the Mock’ (a bonfire) on Leskudjack Hill, Penzance’s most ancient site. Whilst I have seen it written that the procession resembles that of the Venetian Masquerade’s ‘Rivers of Fire’ parade I think this is getting a little carried away!

Mazey Day / Golowan
Mazey Day - Part of the Golowan celebrations
Golowan, or the Feast of St John, is a much bigger affair taking place around the opposite solstice in June. Like Montol, Golowan kicks off with a torch lead procession with more than a nod to its pagan roots. At the head of this procession down to the quayside is Penglaz, a sinister looking figure with a horse’s skull for a head.

The main event of Golowan is Mazey Day in which traffic is banned from the town centre and a day of parades, street entertainers and market stalls commences. One of the high points of the day are the processions of local school children accompanied by a spectacular array of giant effigies based on the year’s theme.  If you don’t like crowds then Mazey Day might not be for you as it is pretty busy affair.

Throughout the Golowan period there are a host of activities on the fringe. These range from musicians and entertainers from all over the world to the ‘Mock Mayor’ elections, a celebration of the ridiculous. Other favourites include the Mazey Boats Regatta down at the boating pool in which home made model sailing boats race it out.

So, there we have it. A few suggestions on what to do actually in the town of Penzance, and one that only lists things that are not closed down or 5 years out of date! Even if you do nothing mentioned above it is worth a walk around the town and harbour. Penzance is after all a historic market town with an artistic heritage and strong local community working to keep the town as vibrant as ever.


do not forget Humphrey Davy in Market Jew Street and the spectacular Market House opened in 1836ish. The Morrab independent library ranked 6th most important in the country.several lovely streets and Squares not just Chapel Street, Causewayhead for shopping too. Finally I must mention my own Rosevean Antiques

Yes, all true. To be honest it was Sunday afternoon and it was getting close to dinner time so I had to keep it short. Also, dependent on what photos I had!

I was a paper boy once when your shop was Rosvean Stores. That was a while ago....

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