I got the chance to visit St. Ives, Cornwall, at the end of September. It seemed a bit late in the season for a beach-town visit but sometimes you have to say “why not?”… What I found was blue skies, quiet streets, wide open beaches, and tables readily available at the best restaurants.
On Sunday night I boarded the Night Riviera train at Paddington Station. I booked a sleeping compartment imagining I was in a Miss Marple story. I arrived early the next morning rested, and fortunately, no one had come to a mysterious end during the night.
After dropping off my bags at Trevose Guest House with owners Angela and Oli Noverraz, I headed across town to the St Ives Surf School on Porthemore Beach. Learning to Surf was really my main objective on this trip, but I must admit I have never engaged much with bodies of salt water. I was born in a land-locked country. I appreciate the beauty of the sea but more from an aesthetic point of view, well above sea level.
I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in. The instructor for my class, Simon, also happened to be on hand when I arrived, and he and Katy expressed such certainty that all would be okay and that I would be riding waves by the end of the lesson, that I had no choice but to believe them.
My fellow students were a diverse bunch: different ages, men and women, and all different fitness levels. And everyone seemed as excited as me about the prospect of riding a wave for the first time.
Simon first gave us a safety rundown, taught us what the flags on the beach meant and, most important, showed us the hand signal to indicate that you’re in trouble – arm straight up with fist clenched, in case you are wondering. Then, he taught us some physics about how to distribute your weight on the board to avoid a nose dive, shared the two techniques for standing up, and we were off to the surf.
I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in.
Simon shouted encouragement and tips from waist-deep water as we struggled to keep board, wave, and body all going in the same direction. Two hours later, completely exhausted, we all had a few decently ridden waves under our belts. I have to say the experience was absolutely exhilarating. I am hooked, as were the others.
After drying off and getting back into some warm clothes we were off to the Portemore Beach Cafe, next to the St Ives Surf School, for a good cup of tea. What a great feeling.
I settled into my comfortable bed at the Trevose Guest House early that night. I was completely knackered. Apparently there are some muscles you use in surfing that are not generally used. I really was sore.
Next day, after enjoying Oli’s fantastic breakfast, he and Angela invited me along for a tour of the studio of the late artist, Sandra Blow. Each Thursday her studio is opened to the public (by appointment and for a small fee to keep the estate maintained) by trustees Jon Grimble and his partner Artist Denny Long. Everything is just as she left it. Various materials and art supplies lie in place, her abstract paintings adorn the walls, and her eccentric wardrobe still hangs on a coat rack in the studio.
Like many artists Sandra Blow moved to St. Ives for the amazing light. Jon, her long-time friend, talked vividly about the beginnings of her art career in Chelsea, and her creative process. I found that part the most interesting. A fabulous morning.
For lunch I met up with Australian Chef Michael Smith, owner of Porthminster Beach Cafe. I had read about him and have his cook book, so I was eager to meet him.
The restaurant is on the second floor of a white Art Deco building lovingly restored to house the restaurant. I’m told that in summer the place is buzzing. Now, everyone seems to be enjoying a bit of a breather from the crowds. Michael uses only fresh local ingredients so seafood figures prominently on the menu. I had the Monkfish Curry, one of his signature dishes, and ate the Sticky Braised Pork Cheeks with wasabi puree, peanuts and prawns. A modern take on surf and turf.
The temperature was pleasantly cool. Sometimes warm when the wind was calm and a bit chilly when the wind picked up. Most people were still out in flip-flops and shorts. I’m always cold so I stood out a bit, dressed in my winter garb. The locals have an interesting theory about the temperature this time of year. The air temperature declines at a much faster rate than the sea and it is around this time that they equal out. So the theory goes that it actually feels less cold than in the summer because you feel the same in or out of the water. I was skeptical, but after my firsthand experience, it did kind of work that way.
Over my three-day stay I would constantly run into people I had met: My fellow students and I would exchange sore muscle stories, I got the thumbs up from the real surfers that have seen me floundering about in the surf, and even some of the shop owners I frequented got to know my name. St. Ives has a quiet charm in the off season with a lovely mix of people.
On the train ride out of town the track winds around the edge of the bay until it heads back inland. With the sun setting the light was, as usual, magnificent. It is easy to see why, for many years, artists and surfers alike have been drawn to make St. Ives their home.
To arrive via the Night Riviera Sleeper train:
Depart from Paddington and change trains in the morning at St Erth. From there it is a short trip to St. Ives which is at the end of the line.
For the best guest house accommodation in St. Ives: www.trevosehouse.co.uk
For breakfast, lunch or tea on Porthmeor Beach:
For breakfast, lunch or dinner on Porthminster Beach:
To arrange a private visit to the Sandra Blow Estate:
Call Jon Grimble 011 44 (0)1736 756 006. Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Tours can usually be arranged each Thursday.
For surfing lessons:
Telephone: 011 44 (0)1736 793 938 Cell: 011 44 (0)7527 477 492 Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger
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