St Ives

In St Ives and wonderfully lost. All the winding cobbled streets are idosyncraticaly identical, and any attempt to navigate to any specific place is doomed to failure. The best solution I have discovered is just to wander randomly and enjoy what you stumble upon. And you always end up back at the harbour eventualy.

I’ve found a great room, right over Fore Street which is the main stretch through the town, for only £20 a night! It’s run by a real old Cornish couple who are incredibly sweet. However, at such a bargain rate I’ve been wondering if perhaps they lure unsuspecting Outlanders, butcher and sell them for meat. Unlikely, but should this be the last you hear from me then you have some clues as to my fate.

I cheated and took the bus to St Ives. Even if I had stayed in St Agnes it would have been way to far to walk in one day. I’m glad I did, I like St Ives a great deal and I’m glad I’ll be able to spend a few days here. Also, my terrible, unwaterproof Merrell shoes are still soaking wet.

My family has a history with St Ives. My mother, at the age of 19, worked a season as a maid in a hotel in the town. I imagine it was hard work but she rembered it fondly, and when I was about 10 we (my mum, my big sister and me) came for a holiday here two years running. I remember Porthmeor beach being enourmous, but it is really quite dinky, and certainly dwarfed by the magnificent Perran Sands. Because they are golden sand beeches however, when the tide is in the sea is glittering turquoise like a tropical island. When my mother came here to work (that would have been around 1959 / 60) St Ives was an artists haven. A far flung outpost of bohemia by the sea, which would have suited mum very well as she would have just finished art college then I think.

(Coincidentaly, I am part way through reading the account of Duncan Thaw’s time at art college in Lanark. I’m finding the novel keeps giving me prickly moments of recognition as parts of what Gray depicts resonate with my own life experiences.)

St Ives is not quite bohemia any more. As often happens, artsists give a place bohemian cool, people come to experience it, prices shoot up and the penniless artists have to find other places to be. (I think this could happen in Leicester over the next decade or so, in a very different way.) The art in St Ives now is beautiful, decorative and safe. Now it’s really a tourist town, and sells the kind of art tourists like, in which regard it reminds me a great deal of Sorento.

I’m going watch the sunset on the beech now and maybe write. Tommorow another cliff walk on a circular path perhaps.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.


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