Monday, October 13, 2014

English Countryside, Part One

St. Mawes, Cornwall

If you believe that places can be muses than you would love Cornwall. An Englishman we met during our trip to England used a phrase to describe what we were looking at one day which has stuck with me. He described the scene as "achingly beautiful." I agreed. When you combine glorious weather, the English countryside and picture postcard scenery, you have a winner. The beauty is simply off the charts. Somehow your heart gets involved and you fall in love with a place. This happened to me in Cornwall.

Checking into the hotel in the early evening

I couldn't wait to get to Cornwall. I knew that it was a muse for Virginia Woolf. She had spent childhood summers in St. Ives and "To The Lighthouse" was based on her happy memories of those vacations. The lighthouse of the novel is based on the Godrevy lighthouse in St. Ives.

Other writers had been inspired by its beauty. Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" had been set there. There were also the swashbuckling "Poldark" books. I remembered a dashing hero, devious smugglers, battles over the land, betrayal and romance. They were made into a popular television series which I watched many years ago. And more recently there was "Doc Martin," a television series I loved. But still, I was unprepared for the beauty I would discover.

 St. Mawes

After six days in London, we drove to Cornwall arriving late in the day. Our drive had been on narrow, winding roads bordered by hedgerows and the countryside was storybook. We checked into our hotel and unpacked. It was a short walk to dinner as we were eating in the hotel that night. The next day we awoke to foggy skies and the sound of seagulls and a fog horn. A walk outside revealed the view (see photo above), though admittedly it was much grayer and more overcast than this. This is what it looked like in the afternoon. The experience reminded me of the scene in "The Enchanted April" when the English women, who arrive in Italy at night, throw open the shutters the next morning to discover the stunning view. This is the road leading into the little village of St. Mawes where we would be spending the next three days.

The road to town

The first day was spent exploring the village. The main road is lined with quaint cottages, art galleries, and little shops. We walked into town passing little cottages along the way. It looked very much like the setting of "Doc Martin."

Each cottage is out of a storybook

They all have names; this is the Pink Cottage

We stopped at St. Mawes Dairy to see the selection of cheeses
Miss Muffet looked enticing

And arrived at the little harbor

There were benches for sitting and taking in the view

We stumbled upon The Idle Rocks, a beautiful hotel right on the water. Lunch was on the terrace and while we ate our meal the sun came out. This was a place to linger. As the afternoon progressed, more and more boats appeared, the water began to sparkle, and it became a scene to inspire a painter.

The lobby was lovely, with an understated elegance

 Next was a walk through the countryside, passing St. Mawes Castle on the way

We took the path along the sea, passing beautiful homes and huge hydrangea bushes

I loved the lush hydrangeas against sparkling Falmouth Bay

As the afternoon wore on, more sailboats began to appear -- another painting

We opened this gate

Leading into a neighboring field where we had a lovely walk

We retraced our steps back to this hydrangea-lined lane leading to the castle

 We bought a ticket and went on the tour

St. Mawes Castle is known as Henry VIII's most picturesque fortress. Built in the sixteenth-century, it was one of the king's defenses against European invaders.

 It's hard to beat a castle on the water; the views were incredible!

The flag was flying

There were cannons

Narrow stairwells

A clover-leaf design

And tiny doors

We walked through the gun rooms, governor's quarters, barracks and kitchen.

So far Cornwall was proving to be deeply atmospheric. Between the castle, the ancient stone walls, diminutive cottages, seagulls, foghorns, blue skies, puffy clouds, sparkling water and sailboats, this was a magical place. It was easy to imagine a writer or an artist coming here for inspiration.


The next day we went to St. Ives which is about an hour away. We were headed to the Tate St. Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum to see the art. I was also hoping to get a glimpse of Virginia Woolf's lighthouse. The drive was lovely through narrow and winding roads bordered by hedgerows. We passed miles of untouched green countryside that looked as if it were out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

We took a ferry across the River Fall which we were told is very deep. This is the view from the car. We continued driving on the famously narrow Cornish roads, finally arriving at beautiful St. Ives.

St. Ives

St. Ives is a port and resort area that was the center of the fishing industry in the 19th-century. It was also a gathering spot for artists who were inspired by the beautiful light. Today it continues to be a community for artists and art lovers.

The Tate Gallery in London opened a small branch here. This beautiful little museum is a beacon of modern art with a breathtaking setting right across from Porthminster beach. If you go, be sure to take a leisurely stroll through the museum and then visit the cafe on the top floor to enjoy the panoramic ocean views.

Barbara Hepworth Museum

Our next stop was The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is located in her home in St. Ives. She was a sculptor at the center of the mid-20th-century arts scene in this Cornish town. Her art is beautiful and fits so perfectly in this space. We walked through several rooms containing her abstract works.

The lush garden contains some of her larger works

It was a lovely place to linger

Each piece is enhanced by the garden setting

The charming town of St. Ives

The town of St. Ives is a warren of little streets lined with tall and narrow buildings, a very pretty church, candy stores, an excellent book store, a war memorial, and little gardens. Everywhere you look you can catch a glimpse of the stunning seaside.

Some Cornish Specialties

Sea Salt is a wonderful gear store with everything you might need for the inclement weather

The St. Ives church with its pots of flowers and a glimpse of the ocean

The war memorial

 We even spotted Virginia Woolf's lighthouse before leaving!

 Is there a place that has cast its spell on you? And can you imagine it inspiring writers and artists?
Please send me your recommendations for books that are set in Cornwall. I can't wait to read more!


  1. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

    1. Oh, of course. How could I forget that one? I read it years ago. Thank you!

    2. Oh! I love the Shell Seekers. First book that led to reading all of her books...

  2. You have probably read Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn.But how about Emma Smith's autobiography Great Western Beach? As for Poldark, it's being remade for TV - not sure when it's due, though.
    What a lovely trip you had. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to make me appreciate what's here in my own country. Did you spot the B&B where Daphne du M stayed as you wandered around St Ives? I think it's called Cornerways.

    1. Mary, thank you! No, I have never read anything by Mary Wesley and I am now going to find a copy of The Camomile Lawn. Also the second book you mentioned. Great suggestions. I am so excited about a new Poldark. And I wish I had known about the B&B that Daphne du M stayed in. Next time...

  3. Wow - so gorgeous. Not the architecture, but the feel reminds me so much of Martha's Vineyard. Thanks for sharing such beautiful photos, and of course, I want to see the Barbara Hepworth museum. Wondering if we could take a train trip to St. Ives for the day, as we're planning a trip in late March.

    1. Kathy, I think you would need to spend the night if you are traveling from London as it is about a five hour trip. If you could come to the area for a couple of days and explore, that would be better.

  4. What a wonderful post! I could linger on every single photo... We've been to London several times, but never get much beyond Bath, Oxford, the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon, etc. Time to plan another trip, I think.

  5. Enchanting. Simply enchanting. I eagerly await Part 2.

  6. How totally wonderful this area is. Love it all. Have you read The Mousehole Cat - It's a fabulous book, meant as a children's book but adults rave about it, as well. Mousehole is not quite in Cornwall but on the way back down the coast a bit.

    Saw The Camomile Lawn in DVD once and loved it. Especially loved the idea of the actual camomile lawn they the owner planted instead of grass... gave of the nicest aroma! and easy to care for.

    We (from across the pond) have been to England/Scotland 8 times but never got into Cornwall, always driving north and staying in our favourite spot, North Yorkshire. Whitby is highly recommended for a must-see, especially if you love harbors and fishing history. Also, check out web sites on Frank Meadow Sutcliffe photographic gallery in Whitby, all his old photos have been restored and are just wonderful captures of a time long gone by. Thank you for this page. We miss England so very, very much.

    1. What wonderful suggestions! Thank you so much. I have not been able to find a copy of The Camomile Lawn book, so renting the DVD sounds like a great idea. And thanks for letting me know about Whitby. I do love harbors and fishing villages. I hope you make it to Cornwall next time.

    2. What wonderful suggestions! Thank you so much. I have not been able to find a copy of The Camomile Lawn book, so renting the DVD sounds like a great idea. And thanks for letting me know about Whitby. I do love harbors and fishing villages. I hope you make it to Cornwall next time.

  7. Gorgeous photos! I so enjoyed armchair traveling with you. What a beautiful trip!

  8. The best half-hour of my day! The views, the books, the galleries, the landscape...sigh. I've been looking forward to a bit of peace around here so I could catch up with your travel posts. You're a wonderful guide, Sunday!

  9. What a GORGEOUS photo tour. My husband has begun traveling back and forth to Bristol, England. I keep fingering it on the map hoping to become a stowaway on his upcoming trips! So glad you had a picture postcard experience.

  10. The first St Mawes cottage you photographed was actually for sale when we were there. I was ready to pay out a down payment! It would be so amazing to get to wake up to the view there every morning. Looks like you had some good weather. Isn't Cornwall fantastic?

    Paul and I went to the beach at Godrevy a couple of times. It was amazing.

  11. Coming Home and other novels by Rosamunde Pilcher.

  12. How wonderful! I love everything you shared here. I haven't been to Cornwall yet, but as a huge du Maurier and Doc Martin fan, I simply must get there sometime!

  13. Beautiful photos of your trip. So fun seeing you coming through the small door! Such paint worthy views. I love small museum/studios like the B Hepworth museum. Thank you for sharing your wonderful vacation.

  14. Love this post! I know Cornwall pretty well but I've never been to St Mawes. You can sea why Cornwall has inspired so many writers and painters. Have you read The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley?

  15. Wow! Sunday...what a trip. You did it all! We have not been to Cornwall..but hope to one day for all the reasons you mentioned in your post. I love Barbara Hepworth's work, do glad you made the visit. Thank you for all your wonderful photos...taken by a true Anglophile. :)

  16. Cornwall remains as one of my absolute favourite corners on earth, ever since my first visit to it 4 years ago. I did not see St Mawes then and am so grateful for the beautiful photos you've shared here. We spent time at Penzance, St. Ives, Mousehole, St. Michael's Mount, Minack & Lands End. Did you go right up the Lands End, by the way? Spectacular views. You might be interested to check out Derek Tangye's 'The Minack Chronicles' ( :)

  17. I second all the previous book recommendations and would add Summer in February by Jonathan Smith (the book and the movie).

    Thanks for sharing your lovely photos!