More often than not, I travel to Penzance by train, and every time I arrive I always feel that I’ve reached the end of the line – and that’s because I have. It’s the final stop on Brunel’s Great Western Railway and the most southerly railway station in the country. Land’s End is less than ten miles away and when you come out of the station and see a sign that says Pensans A ‘Gas Dynergh (Welcome to Penzance) you know you’re somewhere different than where you started out from.
Nestled in the shelter of Mounts Bay, the town has a similar population to Newquay, but that’s where the similarities end. Penzance may have a beach, a prom and a harbour, but it’s all very low key in comparison and the pace of life is much more genteel.
Instead of amusements, discos, and surfing, think art galleries, parks, and sub-tropical gardens instead, but this doesn’t tell the whole story because in amongst the palm trees and fuchsias is another side of life to this enigmatic town.
It’s true that some people will come here to retire, but Penzance is also somewhere that people need to work, and the decline of traditional industries such as fishing and quarrying has left pockets of unwanted poverty and deprivation. The triple whammy of high unemployment, low wages, and inflated house prices have left its mark on the town.
It may sound that Penzance isn’t a particularly inspiring town, but I actually like it. There are no high-rise buildings, large shopping malls or luxury apartments, but it does have some interesting corners to explore, pubs with character, and friendly people.
In some ways, Penzance to me seems a bit like a microcosm of Cornwall. It has everything in one hand, and nothing in the other, and even though it may not have an impact the first time you step off the train, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to wait until the next time you can travel to the end of the line.