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In praise of Penzance

The Abbey slip and inner harbour

Penzance has been in the news recently. Muddy Stilettos and The Times both named it as one of the best places to live in the UK. Naturally, that also makes it a great place to visit. "This Cornish corner's wild spirit and down-to-earth locals make it a buried treasure ready to be rediscovered," said The Times, describing it as both quirky and unpretentious.

Penzance tends to be overlooked in favour of prettier St Ives and Mousehole but we've been fans since we moved to Cornwall a decade ago. Just six miles from Middle Colenso, it's our local town and we frequently just pop in to buy groceries or have a coffee or a bite to eat. True, it's grittier than Cornwall's more popular tourist spots but that's exactly why we like it; it doesn't feel like Disneyland and there are people here year round.

Like many provincial towns, Penzance's high street was hit hard by the advent of internet shopping and Covid and first-time visitors may be disappointed if they don't venture further than Market Jew Street, its main thoroughfare. It's home to a few big names such as Boots and WH Smith and the excellent Edge of the World Bookshop but it also has a lot of charity shops and empty units although things are changing. The iconic neoclassical Market House at the top of the street, the dome of which dominates the skyline, has just been bought for the community by the Penzance Town Deal and there are exciting plans afoot to create a food hall, cafe and events.

Turn right at the top of Market Jew Street and you find yourself in Causeway Head, home to Britain's longest continuously running cinema, The Savoy. A number of new shops and businesses have opened in the last few years such as Barton Books, clothing store Seven Stones and florist Zennor Wild which sells coffee and smoothies alongside locally-grown blooms. Local distillers, A Pocketful of Stones have recently opened a shop and bar while The Roundhouse at the top of the street has been transformed from a taxi rank into a little coffee shop.

Walk in the opposite direction, towards the harbour and you'll find yourself in historic Chapel Street, home to some of Penzance's finest buildings, including the distinctive Egyptian House and a number of independent shops. These include the clothing stores Handworked and Fishboy, Pure Nuff Stuff which sells handmade toiletries and The Planted House which positively overflows with houseplants. We can never resist a trip to Daphne's, a proper old-fashioned antiques shop which always has a beautiful range of glassware and chairs. Tucked away behind Chapel Street, you'll find 45 Queen Street, home to Tinkture gin and a gloriously quirky bar, restaurant and deli.

In the centre of town you'll find Morrab Gardens, a beautiful sub-tropical garden created in the 1880s. With its curved walkways, fountain and bandstand, it's a lovely spot for a wander. Cut through and make your way to the Prom which was at height in the Victorian era but has undergone recent restoration. The jewel in the crown is The Jubilee Pool, a spectacular Art Deco seawater lido which. The new geothermal pool means visitors can enjoy the facilities even during the colder months and the little cafe is excellent.

Penzance has a well-deserved reputation for being a bit arty and bohemian. We're regular visitors to Penlee House Gallery & Museum which holds a number of paintings by artists of the Newlyn School and hosts a range of exhibitions. The curious will find themselves fascinated by the collection of Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society upstairs which includes everything from prehistoric arrowheads to Art Deco textiles produced in Penzance. The town also boasts contemporary art gallery The Exchange, the sister space of the Newlyn Art Gallery.

For live entertainment there's nothing better than watching an outdoor performance on a summer's evening at Penlee Park Theatre while The Acorn Theatre, housed in a former Methodist chapel, is a hub for live music and the performing arts.

Excitingly, we've just bought a flat in one of the town's most distinctive buildings, The Bell Tower. You can see it to the right of the first picture. Built as The First National School in 1834, the building was converted into flats in the 1980s but has been sadly neglected. Along with the other three current owners, we're investing in the fabric of this beautiful building and, of course, renovating the flat. Ultimately, we plan to live there but for the foreseeable future it will be a holiday let. Keep your eyes peeled for updates.


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