I was touched to receive an old, red Ward-Lock Guide to Penzance as a get-well present from my friend Sarah while recovering from surgery (I’ve started walking btw… like a duck, but you’ve got to start somewhere).

It’s hard to know exactly what date it was published as Ward-Locks apparently routinely omitted a date from all pages in order to look current but I’m guessing first half of 20th century… One can, should one not have a job, go on online forums where people endlessly discuss the possible publication dates of these old guides with impressive anality.

At the risk of romanticising my convalescence, which hasn’t been a walk in the park (literally no walks in the park!), I did indulge in several enjoyable afternoons of reading in the company of this book while watching the boats potter in and out of Newlyn harbour from my bedroom window and a) pondering how little Penzance had changed in the years that had passed since that book was written, and b) amusing myself with the things that had.

My top 10 highlights from the book:

1/ ‘Penzance is the metropolis of the toe of England – a town that has prospered amazingly considering its isolation for hundreds of years’.
Come on, I don’t think the use of the M-word has ever been appropriate.

2/ ‘Penzance shops close at 1pm on Fridays. On other days between 5pm and 6pm. On market days, some shops remain open later.’ Well, lucky old people of olden times. Can’t remember the last time I found a shop open a minute past 5.30pm.

3/ ‘To many the charm of the place, and the justification of a journey of some hundreds of miles, is simply that Penzance is–just Penzance.’

4/ ‘Mid-way along the seafront is the Pavilion Theatre, with a café and roof garden’
–ER, HELLO – PENZANCE HAD A SEAFRONT ROOF GARDEN? Who got rid of that and replaced with an amusement arcade?

5/ ‘Mousehole has no claim other than it is to-day as it was yesterday–an unsophisticated Cornish fishing village unreformed by artists and unspoiled by vandals.’
Thankfully still unvandalised though I think a few artists might be ‘reforming’ it.

6/ ‘After reading the effusive descriptions of the beauty of Lamorna Cove, handed down from writers of the past, many visitors express disappointment when they reach this pretty but over-publicised spot–particularly when they have seen more beautiful coves. Nevertheless, Lamorna is… very fine in its own wild, untidy way but is unfortunate in possessing a beach consisting entirely of granite boulders’
Ouch! Touch harsh on Lamorna.

7/ ‘What natural beauty Land’s End does possess is usually imperilled by the disgraceful amount of paper, cardboard and other debris of picnics cast aside by careless visitors’.
Oh well, better that than the unmovable debris of a sizeable theme park, no?

8/ ‘One arrives at Porthmeor Beach, a fine sandy bay, splendid for surf-bathing’

9/ ‘This peninsula combines the soft charms of a genial winter – and is, in fact, an invalid’s paradise, with a summer season of unvarying equability’.
Looking forward to its soft charms again as winter draws in… is he talking about mizzle?

10/ ‘A century ago, the journey from London to West Cornwall occupied something like forty hours… The world-famous Cornish Riviera Limited now runs from London to Penzance in about 7 hours’
Nice to see the coming of the 21st century has reduced the travel time by a whole hour. Maybe we’ll get it down to 4.5 hours by 2110.