Penzance, the last town in England

Penzance, the last town in England

Positioned in the far west of Cornwall and literally at the end of the (railway) line, Penzance is the most westerly town in England and the last stand before the wilderness of West Penwith and Land’s End. Cloaked in myth and legend, where old traditions are alive and well and you might glimpse a pirate or two, Penzance is a charismatic town with a hint of the Wild West about it, Cornish-style.

I love Penzance. It might not have the glamour of St Ives or the famous residents of Padstow, but it can’t be beaten for its authentic, last-man-standing feel where it’s easy to see how life would have been years ago, when fishing was the lifeline of the community and still is in Newlyn. It might not be as picture-perfect as others, but it has a genuine community feel, not completely given over to visitors, making it a fabulous place to explore during your holiday in Cornwall.

That’s not to say the town has nothing to see, far from it. Starting by the coastline, the wonderful promenade that runs between the town and nearby Newlyn is just perfect for a stroll, and it’s also a favourite spot for skaters, cyclists, and skateboarders, but don’t worry; there’s space for everyone. It’s also interesting to note it’s part of the South West Coastal Path – a far cry from rugged clifftop walks! Gorgeous on a sunny day, it’s even more impressive during stormy weather when the waves come crashing over the top and on to the road. You can continue through Newlyn and on to Mousehole for a longer two-mile walk, with fabulous views over Mount’s Bay.

The stunning Art Deco edifice of Jubilee Pool struts out over the sea from the promenade. A magnificent triangular pool, the largest in the UK, is surrounded by gorgeous, curved walls and the recently built geothermal pool (heated to between 30 – 35 degrees through a natural geothermal well) offers a gently heated dip whilst the main pool brings in fresh sea water. There’s a fab café too, overlooking the pool, for a post-swim snack.

The town centre is large with plenty of shops, but it's Chapel Street which fascinates me. Running from the centre to the harbour, most of the buildings date back to the 18th Century or earlier. Buildings of note include the Grade I-listed Egyptian House (built in 1880’s), and the Turks Head and Admiral Benbow, both very old but the former said to date back to 1233.

For those seeking a more tranquil escape, Penzance is blessed with parks and gardens, mainly built during the 1800’s and making the most of the subtropical climate. Penlee Gardens lies over 3.5 acres and is home to exotic plants such as banana trees and Japanese bitter orange trees, whilst Morrab Gardens, surrounded by imposing granite houses, offers a leafy escape on hot days. Trengwainton, on the edge of town, is managed by the National Trust and boasts walled gardens dating back to the Elizabethan times, whilst Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens is contemporary in design with stunning views over St Michael’s Mount.

Penzance also has a rich artistic history, to rival that of St Ives. Penlee House Gallery showcases the work of the late 19th century art colony based around Newlyn – Walter Langley, Stanhope Forbes and Lamona Birch are a few of the artists on display there who beautifully illustrate what life was like for the fishing community. Today, Penzance is home to a plethora of galleries showcasing more contemporary work and are well worth a visit.

If you time your visit right, Penzance is host to two fascinating festivals. Golowan (meaning feast of St John), is known as the celebration of midsummer. Revived in 1991, the festival includes music, dancing, food, and the St John's Eve Parade, among other attractions. Montol is a much darker event, taking place on the 21st of December to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the sun – expect torch lit processions, masks, and parading mummers late into the night.

All in all, Penzance can give you a glimpse in to the rich, mysterious, and sometimes dark past of this Cornish outpost, where artistic passions run hand in hand with a wild streak, and its townsfolk hold fiercely true to their roots.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury cottages in Cornwall here, and our Penzance collection here.

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