By B.J. Epstein
As my partner and I were planning our recent trip to Cornwall (in the far southwest of the English mainland), I was surprised by the number of B&Bs there that claimed to be “gay-friendly.” The last supposedly gay-friendly place we’d stayed at was a hotel in cosmopolitan London where, when we were checking in, the receptionist said, “Oh, I’m sorry! I misunderstood, I thought you wanted a double bed. Should I give you two twins instead?”
When we confirmed that no, we did indeed want a double bed, she gave us a strange look, as though she couldn’t understand why two women would want to share a bed. Since this took place in a big city, I was naturally a bit suspicious of how things might be in rural Cornwall.
Happily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We stayed in the lovely Tradewinds B&B, where we got a truly friendly and warm welcome from Julie and Colin. The B&B is in gorgeous Carbis Bay, just outside the artsy town of St. Ives, and we started each day with a yummy breakfast, served to us in our comfortable room. (photo above: Cornwall cliffs)
During the day, we explored St. Ives, which is filled with galleries and museums such as the Tate St. Ives (photo left) known for its great views of the sea and less great contemporary art. Nearby is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden , which is in the former studio and garden of the modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and has lovely sea-front walks.
In between our visits to the galleries and the local shops, we stopped for warm cider and Cornish creamed teas (pots of tea served with scones, jam, and local clotted cream) at tea shops like the delicious Digey Food Room.
(photo right: Cornish pasty)
In the evening, we ate fresh fish and seafood at restaurants such as the Mermaid (where the waitress placed a candle and a flower on our table, to make it “more romantic” for us) and the Seafood Café (where you pick out your own fish from a display and then choose sauces and side dishes), and then we retired to the B&B, which houses an extensive library of DVDs.
While we quite enjoyed St. Ives itself, we found other places a bit disappointing. The city of Penzance is gloomy and run-down; Land’s End has been turned into a tacky, overpriced, commercialized park, which takes away from the magnificent views, although the pub (called either the First Pub in England or the Last Pub in England, depending on if you are coming or going) has a good selection of local ales and ciders and a warm fire. Nearby is the Eden Project in St. Austell (the world’s largest greenhouse) which seems more suited to children than to adults and the biospheres are not as impressive as they look to be from the outside. (photo left)
In St. Ives, we quickly got used to being able to hold hands or show affection without anyone commenting, but when we went to the small village of Tennor, known for its 13th century pub, we were reminded of how non-gay-friendly so many places actually are.
The atmosphere in the pub was decidedly awkward and we ate our food and drank our ales and then made a swift exit, under the watchful gaze of the locals.
Still, there were other nice aspects to our trip. We loved the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, where they care for orphaned and sick seals and other marine creatures, and we bought cider and jam at Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm near Newquay (photo right). All told, we had a wonderful time in Cornwall and found it to be a mostly gay-friendly place to visit. There is a gay Cornwall guide that lists events and gatherings in the area. We would definitely return.
B.J. Epstein is a lecturer in literature and translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. She can be reached through A Way With Words Language Services: Translation, Writing, Copy Editing–Swedish Swedish, English, Norwegian and Danish.