Should we go? Shouldn’t we go? Mad to go! Mad not to go! Outside the window the snow drifts … ominous and unsettled.
“If we can get out of here the middle looks quiet.”
“No storm here yet,” they assure us in St Ives.
We study the A303 and the storms that threaten over the sea. London has snow but the rest of the journey does not … not yet. The worst of the weather is due to reach the tip of Cornwall in the afternoon. Five hours … we can do it.
So we do do it – but only just.
We arrive in St Ives with the snow, and by the time we find our way into and around the local supermarket the roads have turned to ice.
It looks beautiful. Stormy sea to the front, iron grey and restless, ringed by the curved dip of the town as it drops towards the shore. The steep roads, scattered with families and toboggans, are ungritted, the wind is high and the temperatures frozen.
The Beast is closing in on Emma.
Our rental cottage is on the beach around the point from the old harbour. It seemed like a great idea at the time, the only problem is that right now it’s down and we’re up, and many steep and twisted streets away. They roads look beautiful, all laid out like white lace, but that’s not much help when the lace is made of ice.
We have two options. The first is several treacherous staggers down the hill laden with belongings, and the second is to try out the never-used snow chains, still with us from the mountains in the south of Italy.
The decision is easy – the snow chains. Frozen fingers adjust them into place, then we nose into the wind- driven snow. We ‘kerthunk’ through the outskirts, past abandoned vehicles and wind-swept locals; we briefly kiss a wall, slow and gentle; and then grind on down towards the stormy harbour. Thankfully the car park by Porthmeor beach is only a few hundred yards further on. Nerves knotted we turn into the ‘destination road’ with relief. We’re here.
The next few days are vivid. Two of storm – of steel grey and ice – and the remainder of light so clean you can feel it dance. It bounces off the water and across the beaches, in amongst the boats and dogs and families. It plays as Emma sulks inland and across the moors.
There aren’t many visitors in St Ives over weekend, but there are plenty of locals, and the shops are open just in case. We wander, and chat, and join in. We lose the pub quiz; we love the sea shanties; we find our favourite pasties; we squeeze, astonished, around Kudos; we chat to a lone canoe polo player in the late night dark; we visit the Tate; and Zennor … some of us even swim.
We learn, from everyone, that snow is unusual in St Ives – and inches of it, frozen for longer than a few hours, is way beyond ordinary. It should be, in fact, a once in a life-time memory reserved for the older members of the community. A lady in her eighties, who we meet on our way to the Tate, tells us about the storm that hit the town when she was a teenager.
We meet many locals over the Emma weekend, and even discover an elephant connection in a small shop in The Sloop Craft Market, where Deborah Martin, wrapped up against the cold, finishes an order for some stained glass ornaments. A small boat with red sails catches my eye.
“That’s Jumbo,” she tells us.
“Jumbo?” We study the pint size craft tucked in amongst its bigger cousins.
“The big ones are luggers,” she says. “Built in St Ives, and then someone had the idea to make a smaller one and called it – ‘Jumbo’ – after the giant elephant in London Zoo. A few were made and then the fishing industry collapsed. That would have been the end except they’re bringing them back now.”
“Really? Jumbo … after the elephant?”
“Fits the sense of humour here,” she smiles.
We buy two of the little craft, my head full of Jumbo the elephant, and the documentary by David Attenborough. I’d just written about the original Jumbo …
What a time to visit St Ives, to batten down with the locals as the Beast from the East and Emma romp through the waves, and close off the roads. And, even better, to still be by the sea when the sun comes out …
The final feather in our snow flurry is to be in St Ives on St Piran’s Day.
Thanks for the music Bamaluz Bootleggers!
View from the old church above Porthmeor Beach, St Ives
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018