We all know gulls are fond of north London – but nowhere are they as fearless as in St Ives.
On a busy late September Monday lunchtime, as tourists slow-marched along the waterfront, we watched one swoop down to grab a pasty from a woman’s hands. She screamed as the bird dropped the hot snack from the air. And then a dozen more descended, flapping and shrieking, a Hitchcockian scene that swiftly dispersed ice cream-clutching holidaymakers. And this happens so frequently that signs warn visitors to be vigilant of feathered attacks at all times.
Until last week, I hadn’t stayed in St Ives for fifteen years and so have been itching to go back for a while. It’s something to do with the simple, scenic five hour train ride from Paddington; and stepping out onto golden sands. Our hotel, Headland House, was in Carbis Bay, a half an hour walk (or three minute chug on the local line) along clifftop paths and woods above the turquoise sea. Carbis Bay Hotel itself, which incidentally does a fine crab sandwich, looms visibly over the sands – and, literary fans, was where Virginia Woolf stayed to recover from a breakdown in the 1920s.
But back in the town itself, the nest of pedestrianized streets is easy to navigate, with Fore St the bustling main drag. Plenty of shops to potter about in, too: we liked the Vintage store & coffee room on the waterfront (1 Rose Lodge Studios) and, particularly, Beatengreen (St Andrews St), which is selling some brilliant works inspired by naive St Ives painter Alfred Wallis.
As a peninsula, there are three good beaches: Porthmeor is the surfers’ choice, all crashing waves and energy, with tapas bar, on-trend West Beach Bakery and the Tate Gallery; on the other side is Porthminster, a sleepy cove with lush foliage and golden sand; while Porthgwidden, the smallest, lies at the foot of what locals call the Island, a mound capped by the ancient chapel of St Nicholas. In the 1940s and 50s, when local parents rented out rooms in holiday season, teenagers would have to camp on its lower meadows. Which, of course, underlines just what a hot ticket this resort has always been.