escape, travel guide

Travel: St Ives

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‘It still makes me feel warm; as if everything were ripe; humming; sunny… The gardens gave off a murmur of bees… The buzz, the croon, the smell… it was rapture.’ Virginia Woolf

I’ve been sharing a couple of my stops from my recent trip to Cornwall and the South West in the past few weeks, and this is the final one, the beautiful town of St Ives. The seaside town, just north of Penzance, arcs around a sweeping harbour – fishing boats bob up and down as the tide drifts in and out, children build sandcastles on its strip of golden sand, while cobbled streets lead to picture postcard cottages behind. The stretch of sea is remarkably crystal clear and bright blue, while the smell of sea salt and fish and chips, freshly wrapped in newspaper, lingers in the air.

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St Ives is a town steeped in art and culture; it attracted artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth in the Thirties, while writer Virginia Woolf holidayed in the town as a child, until her mother died when she was 13. She stayed at Talland House at the top of the hill; interestingly, the view across the bay to the lighthouse on Godrevy Island inspired her novel To the Lighthouse, a story about transience and loss.

There’s also art gallery Tate St Ives, which opened in 1993. But – top tip – until the extension is unveiled next year (with an exhibition on the Bloomsbury Group), skip the Tate and head straight to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden. It’s a little oasis hidden away among the winding streets and white cottages. It’s reason enough to visit St Ives.

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We had a lovely lunch at Porthmeor Beach Cafe, sitting outside in the sunshine, overlooking the white sandy beach on the opposite side of St Ives to the harbour. I had a warming bowl of fat and juicy mussels, with big hunks of crusty white bread – just perfect for the seaside setting.

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We stayed at a B&B right at the top of town, there was a little bit of a walk up the hillside but it was oh so worth it for this view from our window, simply breathtaking. Fancy living with that beautiful stretch of blue sea everyday…

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And finally, the Barbara Hepworth Museum, such a delight every time. When Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson at the outbreak of the Second World War, she lived and worked in Trewyn studios – now the museum – from 1949 until her death in 1975.

‘Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic’, wrote Barbara Hepworth. ‘Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.’ Now, visitors can see the studio just as she left it, with big blocks of stone and wood ready to be carved, works in progress, chiselled and pot-marked, and her overalls still hanging on the back of the door. Outside, in the idyllic little garden, there are her finished bronzes, positioned to frame views of the abundant plants and flowers that flourish in the mild St Ives climate. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

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All images: cate st hill