Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Cornish Adventures Part One: St. Ives and Seal Island

Our first full day in Cornwall kicked off with a visit to the beautiful seaside town of St. Ives, just a half hour drive along the coast from where we were staying in Perranporth.

If you're not familiar, St. Ives is a picturesque seaside town in North Cornwall, which I personally think is one of the most beautiful places in the country. It's iconic high street, filled with galleries, tasteful gift shops, and places to eat, edges around an idyllic working harbour and a small beach, and it looks like a scene from a watercolour painting. It's one of my favourite places in Cornwall, but I hadn't been back for a visit since my late teens, so I'd been looking forward to our trip for months. I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint.

Being a popular tourist spot, it's notoriously difficult to find parking in the harbour, so we parked at the top of the hill, and took the shuttle bus down to the high street, which was just a pound each way. It's walkable if you're fit and in good health, but I'd recommend taking the bus if, like me, you're not, or if you just can't be arsed to walk more than you have to because it's quite a steep walk.

Once we were off the bus at the bottom, we headed along the narrow Cornish streets towards the harbour, drifting in and out of gift shops and surf wear stores on our way. I was on the hunt for a new pair of Havianas, but wasn't wowed by the designs I saw, and decided to hold off, knowing I would find the perfect pair elsewhere. I'm glad I did as I ended up finding the coolest sushi print pair in Padstow later in the week.

We followed the streets along and made it out on to the harbour which looked exactly as I'd remembered it. It's funny how well you can remember a place you haven't been to in fourteen or fifteen years, but very little had changed. In the centre was the large harbour filled with all kinds of boats from fishing vessels to canoes bobbing on the water, accompanied by flocks of seagulls waiting for an opportunity to steal food from unsuspecting humans. In one corner, people were making the most of the warm weather on the tiny harbour beach, and the streets edging the harbour were bustling with people and their dogs doing just the same, milling in and out of the eclectic mix of businesses bordering the roads. The water was glistening in the sunshine, and most of the sky overhead was a flawless stroke of blue. (We'll ignore the fact that the sky behind us was filled with thick grey clouds). It looked so serene, and even though it was ridiculously busy, it actually had a really pleasant, relaxing atmosphere, so I didn't mind the crowds too much.

We'd only been on the harbour front a minute before a woman selling tickets for a boat excursion managed to grab our attention. She was promoting an hour long trip out to Seal Island, which offered a good chance to spot some seals and potentially other sea life as well. We'd been planning to take a little boat trip while we were in Cornwall, so we only needed a minute to think about it before we decided to take her up on her offer. The tickets were just £14 or £14.50 each, which we thought was really reasonable, so we booked ourselves on to the 1pm excursion, which gave us forty-five minutes to make our way around to the dock on the other side of the harbour to board the boat.

Of course, no walk in Cornwall is complete without an ice cream, so we stopped at a Kelly's ice cream stand along the way, and each treated ourselves to a cone. I went with the salted caramel which was absolutely delicious, although it doesn't beat the blackcurrant ice cream I got from them last time I was in town, and I left wishing I'd gone with that one instead. Tip: If you want the real Cornish experience, you need to try an ice cream with clotted cream on top!

It took us about half an hour to dawdle our way around the harbour, eating our ice creams, taking photos, and enjoying the views, so we had time for a rest before the boat docked. When it arrived, we joined the queue, and watched the previous group exiting the boat... and then I began to worry.

What I hadn't thought about when we booked our tickets was how I was going to get on and off the boat with my back and mobility being the way they are. I was concerned when I saw the flight of stone steps leading down in to the water (stairs are my Everest), and watched the people awkwardly disembarking the boat, but I was determined not to let my conditions stop me; I was getting on that boat one way or another! Thankfully, it wasn't as difficult as it looked. The steps weren't too steep and we only had to walk down about seven or eight to reach the vessel, where a couple of members of the crew were lending a hand to help passengers safely climb aboard. They had moored the boat very close to the edge, so the gap between the steps and the boat was almost non-existent, and I barely had to duck to get beneath the canopy, where a couple of make shift steps helped us safely transfer on to the deck.

Our boat was a small navy and white passenger transfer boat called the Dolly P, and we were three of just ten passengers aboard, including adults and children. I've been on larger boat excursions with dozens or hundreds of other passengers in the past, and I've got to say, it was lovely being part of a small group because nobody was on top of each other or getting in each other's way and ruining the view. Everybody had room to stand looking over the side.

Before we set off, the captain gave us all a quick briefing about safety and the excursion, and asked everybody to remain seated while we made it out of the harbour and out to sea. We took our seats on top of a rectangular block, and the Dolly P set sail. We swiftly weaved our way out around the other boats in the harbour, and started picking up speed as we glided past the rugged cliffs of St. Ives, and headed further out to sea towards Seal Island.

Once we were away from the harbour, we were allowed to stand up and move about if we wished. I attempted to stand a few times, but trying to balance as the boat bounced over the choppy waves took a lot of effort, and was too much strain on my broken old lady back and weak newborn giraffe legs, so I didn't stay standing for long at a time. I decided it was best for me to stay seated, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the journey or the gorgeous Cornish scenery, and it was hilarious watching the sister and brother-in-law getting splashed while I escaped the same fate. Being a total water baby, I loved being out on the open sea, watching the waves crash and cascade over the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs in a spray of white, and seeing the huge expanse of water stretching out around us- especially in the sweltering Summer sunshine. It was blissful, and I felt so content. I'm always happiest near the sea; I swear I should've been a mermaid.

After about fifteen minutes or so of travelling at speed along the coast line, we arrived at our destination. Seal Island. It wasn't exactly an island, more like a couple of big expanses of rocks jutting out of the sea. The captain steered us as close to the rocky island as was safe, and came to a stop. 

At first, the only wildlife we could see was a group of seagulls perched on top of the rocks, but then we spotted a lone, well-camouflaged grey seal asleep on the rocks to our left, totally unphased by the boat full of land folk watching it sleep. It actually looked like it was snoring! How it could sleep on a bed of jagged rocks and look so comfortable and content is beyond me! 

It wasn't long before we were greeted by another seal swimming close to the island, which multiplied to three in the fifteen minutes or so we were there. It was lovely watching them swimming around in their natural environment instead of in a zoo, and behaving the way wild seals should. They weren't even bothered by the boat, so they must be used to people coming to gawp at them every day, and were happily swimming around and bobbing their heads in and out of the water. Sadly, I wasn't quick enough with the camera, and didn't capture any good shots of them- it's actually pretty hard to take photos on board a boat being rocked by waves, especially when the subject is alive and moving- but getting to see them in the wild was such a lovely experience and one I won't forget in a hurry. I did take a little video to look back on, but the footage is kinda shaky, as I have the shakiest hands ever.

I think the seals we saw were grey Atlantic seals, although I'm not one hundred percent certain because we weren't told much information by the captain of the Dolly P. It wasn't a guided excursion which was a shame because it would have been interesting to hear some facts about the area and the animals from a local, but we were mostly left to our own devices. There were identification cards for different sea animals pinned up on the boat with a little information about them, though, and the captain happily answered any questions when anybody asked. We did learn that there are about forty-five seals living in the colony on Seal Island, but of course, being wild animals, the number of seals you'll see will vary, and it can't be guaranteed you'll see any. We saw four in total, but for all we knew, there could have been dozens of them basking on the other side of the rocks. There's also the possibility of spotting other sea life like basking sharks, dolphins, and porpoises, as the Cornish waters are surprisingly home to a variety of large sea creatures. Apparently there was a pod of dolphins in the area in the morning, so I was really hoping we'd see some because I've never seen a dolphin in real life, but we weren't so lucky. Still, the seals were adorable, and seeing them made the entire trip worthwhile.

After about fifteen minutes at the island, the boat started up again, and it was time to leave. For some reason, it was easier to stand up on the way back, so I was able to stand looking out over the side of the boat as we headed back along the coastline, past the cliffs and the beach, and back in to the harbour. By the time we were heading towards the dock, my face, glasses, and arms were coated in a layer of salt from the spray!

The boat docked at the other end of the harbour this time, near the lifeboat station, which I was soooo pleased about because I didn't have the energy to walk all the way back around the harbour again. It wasn't as difficult to depart the boat as it had looked, and again, the captain and a member of the crew were stood either side of the boat to help us safely on to the steps.

When we were all safely back on dry land fifty minutes after the trip began, we all agreed it had been such a fun experience, and we all really enjoyed ourselves. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Cornwall- but we didn't need to wait until the end of the week to know it would be! It was well worth the £14 we each spent. If you're ever in St Ives and you're able-bodied, I'd highly recommend the trip out to Seal Island with the Dolly P. (You can find out more about them here).If you're in a wheelchair or can't walk up or down a flight of stone steps and climb aboard a boat, I'm afraid it isn't the boat trip for you. Still, if you can find an excursion with disabled access, you should go for it because the coastline around St. Ives is so beautiful, and you never know what sea life you might spot.

After our boat trip, I was pretty tuckered out, so we decided to head back instead of stopping for a bite to eat and walking up to the beach like we had originally planned. That didn't stop us from browsing gift shops and bakeries on our way back, though. We picked up some really delicious Cornish pasties, and cakes from a couple of local bakeries that I can't remember the names of, and desperately scouted out some cold drinks because it was scorching hot, and we were so over-heated. It seemed to take forever to get through the queues, which was torture because I was flagging, and struggling to remain standing, and after a fifteen minute wait for the bus, I was so relieved to get back in the car and take a load off.

On our way back to Perranporth, we made a pit stop for munchies at Marks and Spencer's, and then headed back to the caravan for a lazy afternoon watching movies, before an evening spent watching the 'One Love' Manchester concert for the victims of the terrorist attack on TV. It was a really lovely start to our holiday, and I'm so glad we took advantage of the sunshine that day and went to St. Ives, because it was the best weather we got all week- the very next day it did a complete 180, and transformed in to heavy rain, and gale force winds. 

I've still got plenty more Cornish adventures to share with you, so look out for the next post in the series which will be all about our trip to Newquay Zoo! Coming soon!

Have you ever been to St. Ives or seen sealife in the wild?


  1. Oh Louise, what a beautiful post this was!!! You sound like you had a whale (seal?) Of a time!! It sounds my type of trip! The photos are wonderful and make me long to visit there!
    I've not seen seals in the wild but I did go to see the penguins in South Africa on New Year's day (I'll try to find the link for you later as they are really cute and I know an animal lover like you would appreciate them!). I also saw Red Squirrels in Northumberland and on the Isles of Scilly which are Amazing!

  2. These photos make my heart sing! I so long to see places like this in the UK. It's like this crazy pull I've had ever since I was a teen. It looks so magical and beautiful, I can't even imagine the history. Also, cute seals! Those pictures reminded me of when I went to Tasmania! Thank you so much for sharing!


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