Back in the summer when the sun was shining and the pubs were busy I was on my annual trip down to Cornwall, exploring some pubs along the north coast. From my base in the south in Porthleven, a sensible start time allowed me to get a bus to Penzance. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that you can travel round Cornwall by bus, and it costs less than 4 quid a day if you buy a weekly pass, but timetables tend to be a wishful thinking rather than a statement of fact, but my first bus was punctual enough to arrive in Penzance in good time for the 1110 A17 to St Just. Which, true to form, was late.
Seventeen minutes late, to be accurate, which normally would have annoyed me greatly, but on this occasion less so: a staff member phoning in sick meant the first pub of the day was half an hour late opening, so I had less time to kill waiting for the door to open.
My destination was St. Just's oldest inn, the Star Inn, a fabulous granite house, reputedly once the lodgings of John Wesley. The beamed and atmospheric main bar is full of interesting nautical and tin mining ephemera; flags of the Celtic nations adorn the ceiling and the floor is bitumen coated as if to emphasise the seafaring theme. Now I’m always a bit apprehensive about having the first pint of the day from the pump: how long has it sat in the pipes? Has the barman pulled anything through? After all that travel and anticipation, will it be disappointingly shit?
Well, on this day, the person deputising for the missing staff member was none other than the landlord, who’s reputation for serving fine ales is well deserved, as the first pint of St Austell Proper Job out of the tap was one of the finest pints I’d had in a while, and on reflection, was probably the best beer of the day. I was the only customer at this time, and I explained my planned pub crawl plan to him as I sat at the bar and he prepared for a day’s service – it’s a wet sales pub only – so that involved cutting up some fruit and restocking his fridge. I’m not sure whether his reaction to my plan was based on the number of pubs involved or my total reliance on public transport.
When the time came to depart, I bid him farewell and he wished me luck. The bus ride to the second pub was short, and thankfully the bus kept reasonable time, denying me any foolish notion of walking there. It’s only about five minutes down the road (well, up and down some steep hills) to the Queens Arms in the small village of Botallack, famous for tin mining and as a location for Poldark. The bus drops you outside the front door.
I was the first customer of the day here too, and the two staff members were busy laying tables for food. I ordered a pint of Skinners Lushingtons and retired to the front garden to leave them to their work. The beer was good; not as good as the Star, obviously, but good nonetheless. It felt a foody pub rather than a drinking pub, hence my decision to sit outside rather than try to engage the staff in beery conversation. I have to say I prefer drinking pubs.
The plan from here was to walk to the next pub, and armed with a crumpled OS map (old, but metric) I attempted to follow the dotted green pathways on the map through farmyards, across fields, stiles, gateways and through hedgerows, none of which was signposted and all of which seemed to be leading me closer and closer to the sea rather than the pub. Eventually I gave up, crossed a field or two in a direct path to the road and negotiated a barbed wire fence and dry stone wall to get back to the road, from where it was plain sailing. My route today was following the north Cornish coast heading roughly (walk aside) in a north-easterly direction, and my third destination was the Trewellard Inn, which happens to be in the village of Trewellard.
There were two other customers here, which made it the busiest pub of the day so far; both of them were watching a darts match on the television where the audience at the match was not much greater than that in the pub. The bar had an array of interesting beers, from Cornwall and beyond, and I plumped for the Harbour Brewing Harlyn Bay IPA at a hefty 5.4%. And once again, a Good Beer Guide pub delivered good beer.
I was now once again at the mercy of First Kernow’s fictional timetable, and my 1418 bus arrived at 1435, seventeen minutes late again. During the summer months the services here are operated by open top buses, so I sat upstairs to take in the sea air and also to take in the spectacular views: the sea to the left, rugged moorland and farmland to the right, with a smattering of disused engine houses and plenty of sheep.
With more time, you could stop off at Pendeen for the two pubs there (both St Austell), but I travelled on to Zennor. The bus stop is on the main road and you walk the short distance to the Tinners Arms, a quaint old stone pub next to the church. This is very much on the tourist trail and was busy, too busy in fact to sit in the cosy, ancient bar, so I took my Skinners Lushingtons into the garden and into the sunshine.
“At Zennor one sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock-mingled colours, and the gorse is sunshine itself. Zennor is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high shaggy moor-hills and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean… It is the best place I have been in, I think”, wrote D. H. Lawrence when he came here in 1916. He wasn’t wrong. History doesn’t record, however, if he arrived here by bus.
The bus service is roughly hourly, so I had plenty of time to enjoy my beer and the views across sun-drenched gorse before continuing my journey to St Ives. Late again.
My regular haunt in recent years in St Ives has always been a lunchtime at the Castle but seeing as it was now much later in the day, that meant the town’s only micro pub, the Pilchard Press, would be open. It’s located down an anonymous, and, frankly, a pretty dubious-looking alleyway off the harbourside, which leads you past a few fire exits and wheelie bins to a doorway that is the entrance to this small, one roomed pub. Formerly an office, and originally a pilchard press (of course), there’s a rough-hewn timber stillage behind the bar that sells up to five real ales on gravity, and there was an eager crowd here to drink them. I tried two Cornish brews from Redruth and somebody else who I failed to note, and enjoyed a quick chat to the owner and some of his customers. So glad I’ve eventually made it here.
The Malakoff bus station offers a fine view of the town and harbour from its elevated position; today sadly it was closed and would-be passengers were mingling at the roadside awaiting a bus to take them onwards. I caught a bus, not the one I was expecting, but a bus nevertheless that took me to Crowlas and the Star Inn, a former Kernow CAMRA Pub of the Year. I normally visit this when in Cornwall, but often mid-week and mid-afternoon, when I’m the only customer. Today, on a Friday at after work time, the pub was heaving with people and merriment, celebrating the weekend, which when you’re on holiday is less of an event. I secured a good seat at the bar to join in the fun, and took two pints of one of the house brews, Potion No 9, by the on-site Penzance Brewery. Their beers are good – the brewer is ex-Cotleigh – and the pub also has a few guest beers, displayed on the blackboard and numbered to keep a tally of just how many they have served.
It had been a long day, and I had a big brewery day out planned for the Saturday, so I resisted any temptation to continue on to Penzance for more ale, and changed buses at Long Rock to connect to a service to Porthleven, which thankfully was on time to take me back along the south coast to home. There’s always time for one or two before bed in the Ship Inn, an old smugglers pub sitting on a rocky outcrop and accessed by a steep staircase next to the harbour of Britain’s most southerly port. The lively bar serves four beers, including a local guest from Harbour, Tintagel or Penzance, but I usually go for their hoppy, strong pale ale, Skinners Porthleven. Well, when in Porthleven, it’s rude not to.