As Mrs Smith and I trudged up the hill to the Boskerris Hotel, I turned to her and, whimsically, said ‘As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives...’
She was unimpressed. ‘Wrong St Ives. You’re thinking of the one in Cambridgeshire.’ Her brow darkened. ‘Also I don’t like the seven wives bit. Are you suggesting polygamy?’
Reader, one Mrs Smith can be enough at times, let alone seven. So it was a welcome relief that the whitewashed walls of the Boskerris came into view and saved me from answering awkward questions. Although it bills itself as ‘Boskerris Hotel St Ives’, it’s about a mile and a half outside the main area, in the picturesque setting of Carbis Bay. This proves a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s a good deal quieter than many of the tourist-hungry establishments that dominate the coastline a little way along; on the other, it’s a bit of a walk into town, although only the lazy or fainthearted would not thrill to the trek.
We entered the hotel to a warm welcome from a delightful lady. Belying the mundane exterior, which isn’t the best guide to the hotel, the interior offers a vague New Hamptons feel, with whitewashed walls and floors, a cosily compact bar and downstairs sitting room with vistas of the bay and a sweet little dining room where one can enjoy lavish breakfasts and Mediterranean-styled dinners. After a helpful, rather than boringly pedantic tour, we were shown up to our superior room complete with sea views, and, more bizarrely, a look at the neighbours’ immaculately kept lawn. (We looked hard for garden gnomes, but didn’t see any. Perhaps the nearby seals had made off with them.)
Our bolthole wasn’t enormous, but it had all the trinkets that we required, from an iPod dock and bouncily comfortable bed to a surprisingly deluxe bathroom, complete with invitingly opulent bath. Mrs Smith indicated her satisfaction at this state of affairs by retiring to it, while I amused myself with a nibble of the excellent homemade shortbread and reading one of the selection of magazines provided. Alas the local newspaper, The Cornishman (sample headline: ‘Six St Ives public toilets to close this year’) was not on offer.
Refreshed, we braved the clifftop walk into St Ives. We’d been told that it was mainly flat, which was accurate... After a steep climb up that left both of us red in the face and panting, while still trying blithely to deny that our decadent hill-avoiding metropolitan ways were to blame for our torpor. Still, the sea air braced, and various amusements enthralled, including spying the most incongruous pair of yellow-lycra-clad joggers, grimly running up and down like a pair of sweaty bananas.
St Ives, on the coast of the Celtic Sea, certainly doesn’t lack for places to feast, guzzle or sip. We are now particularly big fans of the Blas Burgerworks, an unpretentious little place that has furniture fashioned entirely from reclaimed materials; it also serves the best burgers we’ve ever eaten, from Mrs Smith’s halloumi monster to my fabulous beef creation dripping in Cornish blue cheese. The Sloop is a harbourside pub offers grizzled charm (and the notorious local cider, Rattler, which has been known to send men mad), which many of the regulars seem to have been coming to since its inception in the 14th century. There’s also the famous Porthminster Beach Café, which veers closer to fine dining, with excellent dishes including a sticky pork salad that offered melt-in-mouth succulence at far more sympathetic prices that you’d get in a bigger town.
This seaside town just north of Penzance is also renowned as a centre for the arts, what with the Tate’s outpost and the Barbara Hepworth museum both attracting droves of culture seekers. We weren’t personally blown away by the Tate’s current exhibition of abstract modern art (Mrs Smith even harrumphed a couple of times), but the recently opened Hepworth museum, set where the sculptor used to live, offers a poignant overview of the Modernist’s work and her life. She died aged 72 in a fire in the studio, which has been painstakingly rebuilt, and the overall effect looks as though she’s just popped out for a moment. Perhaps, one rather hopes, for a Blas burger.
We headed back to the Boskerris by taxi (and our jovial driver told us of his own tribulations the times he’s had too many Rattlers), where we’d booked to have our farewell dinner downstairs in the 15-room hotel. The evening menu is simple and decently priced, offering old favourites such as Greek salad for a starter and excellent fish and chips for a main, the copious size of which defeated even my hearty appetite. As the end of the meal loomed, Mrs Smith adopted a faraway expression and said, wistfully, ‘I can see the fireworks...’
I saw this as the precursor to an evening of high romance, and adopted an amorous expression. ‘Where, my sweet?’ She looked at me with that dear smile that she adopts when I’ve done something silly. It’s a well-worn expression. ‘Outside the window, you nit.’
The sky was alight with pyrotechnics of every colour and hue, glittering and shimmering away. The friendly waitress confirmed that this did happen from time to time, to celebrate a party of some kind or for good luck. But as we gazed over the darkened bay, lit only by the iridescent hues of cheap gunpowder, this moment of my weekend felt as transcendent as anything I’d experienced in ages, and I felt heartily, humbly grateful for this rare moment of peace. Carbis Bay, we’ll be back.