My family have holidayed in Cornwall for well over a decade. Every year, come mid-February, all tools are downed in favour of quiet beaches, coastal rain and cosy towns. The Southwest in the winter time is a very different story to high season when the masses descend upon the beaches, car parks and restaurants in a seething wave of sunburn and screaming children. In the winter time the beaches are deserted, speckled only by the odd, distant dog walker or an occasional bobbing seal. On most days the coast is shrouded in a low, dense cloud that gathers and runs off your cheeks in rivulets, on others the sky is such an endless, crystal blue it’s hard to comprehend the presence of biting wind it brings.
The coastal paths are muddy and unstable, the fields and hedgerows unkempt and sodden. We walk our herd of dogs along the windswept beaches, their bottle brush tails wagging as they climb rocks and scavenge in rock pools. In the towns locals are relaxed, flitting to and from each others galleries and cafes, using the quiet working days to catch up on gossip and prepare for the surge of spring. Delis and shops begin to open tentatively, not on regular hours until Easter.
Cornwall has an abundance of local producers and a culture for small-scale farming. Farm shops sell locally produced cheeses, clotted cream and soil-dusted vegetables. In delicatessens you will find local honey, jam, biscuits, eggs, oils, butter and flour. Artisan bakers produce saffron buns, scones and pasties. There must be a farm shop, butcher or baker for every square mile of the county. Cafes, pubs and restaurants boast the use of locally sourced ingredients and seasonal menus.
St Ives is my favourite Cornish coastal town. In the summer it is overwhelmed with footfall but during the quieter months the winding streets and white stone walls are something to nestle within and relish like a good book. The ever-present tourist tat shop lurks on every corner but, in the nooks and the crannies, wait some excellent retailers with smart ideas. Look past the generic pasty shop or bakery chain and seek out something little and independent. Ignore cafes with huge tourist menus and visit the hidden streets for excellent delis and cafes. In the quiet winter of St Ives try The Scoff Troff for hearty breakfasts, The Digi for a locally sourced lunch or The Tearoom for their excellent cake and coffee. The St Ives Bakery generates pedestrian rubbernecking with an entrancing window stacked with huge meringues, sourdough loaves and slices of tiffin. A little further up Fore Street, in the Allotment Deli, you’ll find a thoughtful selection of local produce and Vegan baked goods. A quick flight of stones steps will take you to Mount Zion Coffee where you will be provided with some self-assured and tenderly made coffee to clutch along the windswept harbour side or head around the corner to The Pier Coffee bar, a small-scale gem run by a young Italian couple.
Cake and Coffee at The Tearoom
A short drive outside of the town is Scarlett’s Wines, a low-ceilinged, wood-burning kind of establishment. The kind of place you collapse into, removing your outer layers and basking in the cheek-flushing warmth. A read of the menu is a pleasure beaten only by an investigation of the deli produce; boxes of praline coated almonds, tins of La Chinata smoked paprika and ribbon tied packets of pasta. Local cheeses and smoked fish jumble amongst well-sourced luxury import products. The cake and coffee are superior in crumb and brew, whilst wine and tapas are served for sipping and lingering. Locals chatter quietly in the corners, fresh bread for sale sits crustily in a basket and books, magazines and wifi welcome the lone diner. Scarlett’s represents an attitude towards food, drink and pleasure that I can only wholeheartedly support. This is the type of establishment I seek out and frequent.
Fresh bread at Scarlett’s Wines