No pirates in Penzance these days, but a mild climate and funky atmosphere!
In South West Cornwall is the town of Penzance. A short distance beyond the harbour fishing boats shelter in the inner dock and you’ll see the occasional visiting tall-masted sailing ship against the granite quays. But rest assured that these sailing ships have not lured here or plundered – there aren’t any pirates in Penzance these days (unless you count some of the relatively few tourist shops).
The name Penzance comes from two Cornish words, ‘pen’ and ‘sans’, meaning ‘holy headland’. The holy headland in question is just opposite the Jubilee Pool in St. Anthony Gardens, where the tiny 6th century chapel of St. Anthony once stood.
The climate in Penzance is wonderfully mild – you’ll see palm trees and other sub-tropical plant life in the beautiful Morrab Gardens (well worth a visit). It’s also possible to catch views of St Michaels Mount from this busy harbour town.
Things to See
Like St Ives, Penzance also has a reputation for having been an artists’ haven (in the 19th century) and still boasts an interesting art gallery. Wander around this busy working town to see its lively mix of artists and discover some nice shops and restaurants near the harbour, including the Michelin starred Abbey restaurant. Market Jew Street is the busy shopping street that connects with the harbour area through the Wharfside Shopping Centre. (By the way, Market Jew Street has no connection with Judaism. The unusual name for this main shopping street comes from the Cornish ‘marghas yow’, which means ‘Thursday Market’.)
Also explore pedestrianised Causewayhead and Chapel Street. Chapel Street has a few interesting buildings, including the flamboyant Egyptian House with its painted facade and lotus bud decoration and the Admiral Benbow Inn which has a pirate perched on the roof, looking out to sea.
At the top of Market Jew Street is the Market House, a large domed building . In front of this stands the statue of Sir Humphrey Davy, Penzance’s famous son. Davy was born in Market Jew Street in 1778 and was famous for inventing the miner’s safety lamp which detected lethal gases. His greatest achievement though was his discovery of calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).
Some other points of interest in Penzance include the Penlee House Gallery & Museum and the Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre. On the seafront, also check out the Dolphin Inn, round the corner from which is Battery Rocks, the place where a small fort and gun battery was built in 1740. Next to this is the art deco Jubilee Pool.
In June each year, there’s the Golowan Festival, a ten day arts festival that includes Mazey Day, a colourful pagan midsummer ritual with carnival processions, dancing and fireworks.
There is no shortage of affordable Penzance accommodation if you’re looking to stay for a night or two or for a longer Penzance holiday – there are many Penzance bed & breakfasts offering a fair stay for reasonable fees or you could stay in one or two of the higher end hotels in Penzance such as the Abbey Hotel.
Out of Town
Some two miles from Penzance is the pretty village of Mousehole (pronounced “Muzzle”) – many believe it to be one of the most attractive fishing villages to be found anywhere in Cornwall. One of the famous (if eccentric) dishes that mousehole is famous for is “Stargazy Pie” – a fish pie made with whole fish (and the heads sticking out of the pastry)!
Also very close to Penzance is Newlyn - a little town that (aside from being a pleasant fishing port) is known best for art. Newlyn started to be a hub for artists towards the late 18th century and it was a little later that the Newlyn School of Art was opened.