break free from a car in west Cork

The fields ahead are yellow with daffodils and the soft sea breeze smells of seaweed and smoked fish. I’m on an open bus over Newlyn harbor near Penzance, where I arrived by train this morning. Through that train window, I passed a frozen wonderland of icy floods and frozen trees, but west Cornwall feels like another country: lush ferns, palm trees and bright pink camellias flourish in coastal gardens. There are ancient crosses where green lanes meet, and the tallest standing stones in Cornwall, the Pipers, cast evening shadows like a giant sundial. Just behind them, there’s a perfect top-deck view of the Merry Maidens stone circle. It may seem counter-intuitive to explore by bus in a county known for convoluted lanes and summer traffic jams, but it’s reliable and cheap as well as sustainable.


One of the great things about this amazing three-hour ride on the Land’s End Coaster, which runs around the edge of Cornwall to St Ives and then across the country back to Penzance, is that it only costs £2. The bus is part of an ongoing scheme across England, which caps many individual fares until March 31. Even when the scheme ends, a day ticket in Cornwall will cost just £5 for unlimited travel across the county on buses run by any company. The circular Land’s End Coaster helps reduce traffic at honeypot sites and – as a year-round service – is useful for local transport. Many people go up and down with shopping bags, and three dog walkers board at the saffron-walled Gurnard’s Head Inn.

Beyond Land’s End, the views get even better, with rugged moorland and lichen-encrusted stickleback trees. This is the Tin Coast: as well as around two million tonnes of tin, in the late 19th century it produced most of the world’s copper and much of its arsenic, zinc and lead. There are ivy covered towers and chimneys from the old mines, earning this area Unesco world heritage status. The landscape is also interwoven with a field system that is thousands of years old and is still farmed today. The sea air is rich with freshly churned clay and cow dung.

As the bus heads towards St Ives, there is a psychedelic sunset. The colors fade, the temperatures drop and I think about moving away from the cold top deck. But as the bus starts back towards Penzance, I see the stars coming out and the Milky Way drifting faintly overhead like the wake of a ship. West Penwith (the peninsula in far west Cornwall) has been designated as an international dark sky park in 2021, the seventh area in the UK to be recognized under the scheme and the second in Cornwall after Bodmin Moor.

The next morning, I stroll across Penzance harbor to spend a relaxing hour in geothermally heated salt water at the Jubilee Pool (£11.75 adult, £5.50 child). The elegant 1930s lido, the UK’s largest seawater pool, reopened in 2016 after storm damage. Although the main pool is filled by the tides and is not much warmer than the sea, the geothermal section, which opened in 2020 and is the first of its kind in the UK, is naturally heated by a deep well drilled into the rock below. This morning, it’s 31C and blue water vapor in the winter sunshine. There are only three other swimmers, who warn me how cold it will feel when I get out. A white man celebrates a birthday with us for a while, pretending to shake theatrically on the steps while his wife takes photos.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance. Photo: Cameron Smith/Getty Images

The walls of the warm Penlee Gallery (£6 adults, 18-26s £3, under 18s free), a few minutes away, are hung with works by artists from the Newlyn School depicting local lives and landscapes. There is an oil painting by Stanhope Forbes of Abbey Slip, a dune bayside street I climbed this morning, and another by Norman Garstin of a rain-slicked seashore. Upstairs, I encountered a prehistoric gold collar in the local history section, a pilgrim’s flask, and pine cones from the nearby submerged forest. Outside, in subtropical Penlee Park, birdsong is everywhere, tall crimson rhododendrons already in full bloom in January and yellow mahonia with the scent of lily of the valley.

St Michael’s Mount doesn’t feel far away like Gondor or Camelot, like a fantasy movie set

I pick up a rosemary vegetable pasty from the Cornish Hen deli around the corner and head along the coastal path towards Mt Michael, knowing I can catch one of the regular buses back from nearby Marazion. The island on top of the castle has been hovering on the horizon since I first saw it out of the train window. It has been an orange sunrise, a mist among seagulls, compiled for me, and through the fading evening with dog walkers in a shiny sand foreground. In winter, it is free to visit the harbor and the village, crossing the causeway during low tide. A new art trail, Gwelen, recreates the nearby drowned trees with 85 oak sculptures.

From afar, St Michael’s Mount feels unreal like Gondor or Camelot, like a fantasy movie set. It’s just as dreamy to walk towards it over soft sand and then wet cobblestones with a patina of pine and tops, but the National Trust’s souvenir shop and prosaic displays don’t break the spell a bit. In a free gallery of Newlyn School paintings, there is a scene of tulip pickers working in reverse in the coastal fields.

The next day I head to St Ives again for more art and a coastal walk. Bus 16 takes half an hour to roll from Penzance through a wide green landscape with sea views at each end. The arched windows and roofless gables of the old Giew tin mine stand like a ruined castle on Trink Hill. In the town by the sunny sea, there is a smell of baking. Little red-footed stepping stones are picking up pastry crumbs from the footpaths beside the quiet quay. Tate St Ives (adults £10.50, under 16s free), with works such as Ben Nicholson’s abstract seascapes and Barbara Hepworth’s bronze coastal forms range through cool white rooms and curving corridors, charges £1 entry for visitors arriving by bus or train.

The beautiful railway line between Penzance and St Ives makes it easy to walk the winding coastal path and then hop on the train from St Erth to return. I’m staying right next to Penzance bus and rail stations at a new Premier Inn in a converted mill. It’s not the most impressive hotel in town, but it could hardly be cheaper or easier (single room doubles from around £50). Beryl e-bikes are also available for hire from the harbor car park opposite (£5 for 100 minutes).

It’s my last day and it’s raining so I take an hour bus ride over the gray moors to Falmouth and the National Maritime Museum. Bus U4 starts out along the coast, past St Michael’s Hill and the nearby golden reeds. On the edge of the cabbage fields of Cornwall’s Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty, there’s much to see: seagulls and geese on a lake at Helston, misty bus window views of distant rocky coastlines, and granite church towers with corner spires sticking up like together. hare ears.

In Cornwall you are never more than 17 miles from the sea, half that in the west of the county. Falmouth Maritime Museum (£15.50/£7.75 for a year), purpose-built in slate and green oak in the early 21st century.St century, is part of a major coastal regeneration scheme and is a wonderful wet-weather haven. A hanging fleet of yachts, kayaks and dinghies floats in the three-floor central hall. In one of the galleries in Cornwall, with its shipboard soundtrack, there is a silver toothpick holder in the shape of a pig confiscated from a sea captain. Seaman inquiries from 19thFalmouth shops from this century include dried seahorse, pickled lampreys and a Georgian bedpan possibly used by Horatio Nelson.

The museum cafe looks out across sailboats and gray water to the wooded Roseland peninsula. Ferries cross the broad River Fal throughout the year – one for foot passengers (return adult £10.80, child £6.30, 20 mins) and, further up, the King Henry ferry (approx £10 per car, 5 min) – saving millions of miles worth of carbon emissions every year. If I had more time, I’d take the boat over to St Mawes or a bus to one of the great waterside gardens near Falmouth, such as subtropical Trebah with its mimosa and honeysuckle in winter bloom, or National Trust Glendurgan, reopening on. February 11, with colorful camellias and a winding laurel-hedge maze. But it is already getting dark and my train leaves early tomorrow; I’m looking forward to him racing east along sunrise estuaries with seabirds on their banks.

GWR to Penzance advance train tickets start at £5 each way from Plymouth or £40.70 from London Paddington. Penzance is also served by CrossCountry trains

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