A Rainy Day Activity In Cornwall

PK Porthcurno is a dog-friendly telecommunications museum positioned a very short walk from Porthcurno beach. It was forecast to be wet and windy and so we thought we would take our office dog, Toast, for a rainy day walk on the beach followed by an educational few hours around the first-ever telecommunications hub in the world. To think that our little corner of Cornwall (which is paradise by the way!) pioneered the way for the world to communicate with each other within seconds, unlike 6 weeks that used to be the case if you wanted to get a message from the UK to India!

It started with a rainy morning beach walk..

Our morning started with collecting Billie from the Orange Roofs office in St Ives so we could describe the journey from St Ives to Porthcurno for all those who book a holiday cottage in St Ives and want to get their car and explore what West Cornwall has to offer. Ideally, you have booked a holiday cottage with parking so you don’t have to stress about finding a parking space in St Ives but if you’ve chosen to have a St Ives holiday between November and March, the car parks are rarely full and spaces are much easier to find closer to self-catering accommodation in the centre of the town. This article suits anyone who has booked a dog-friendly holiday cottage in St Ives and is bringing their beloved dog as we took our very own Toast to Porthcurno for some beach fun and a walk around a very interesting museum!

The drive from St Ives to Porthcurno took us 40 minutes as we took it easy in the rain. Leave St Ives and head to Penzance via Nancledra and then once in Penzance, follow the signs towards Land’s End and more specifically Porthcurno. The road becomes more winding and narrow in places from Penzance to Porthcurno so remember to pack travel sickness tablets if you have a queasy passenger. The further west we travelled, the more rural it got with striking countryside and ocean views over hedges. It was raining but still very beautiful. It all felt very … Poldark!

As you approach Porthcurno via a sweeping downhill lane into a 20 mph limit zone, the beauty of this very special valley is breathtaking. It will be a case of who says ”I can see the sea” first. Parking for PK Porthcurno is practically at the bottom of the valley and you know you are close when you see their huge red squid – Morgy – in the garden in front of the huge white building of the museum. Parking can be paid using the App ‘Ringo’ or by calling the number provided on the signage in the car park and following the instructions. Don’t worry if have no reception, PK Porthcurno have (of course) got that technology covered by offering free WiFi. I opened my phone settings and selected the network PK Porthcurno Free WiFi which I had to give my email address to enable the log-in but you can opt out of any marketing emails at that stage. I was able to make the call and pay my £2.35 for 3 hours of parking within an easy couple of minutes. There are public toilets at the exit of the car park before heading to the beach which is coin-operated (although it was open without needing coins when we visited in March).

The footpath to Porthcurno Beach is short and fairly level before reaching a sandy slope carved between two dunes which lands you divinely on soft sand looking out to the most striking sea colour ever. The beach is sheltered on either side by granite rock faces (where you may find boulderers practising their rock-climbing moves in the warmer weather).

We learnt a little morse code..

You are first welcomed to the museum by Morgy the squid. A huge red interactive tool of a squid to be more precise! He works much the same way as tin-can phones that our grandparents used to play with. Try chatting down one of his tentacles and listen for what you hear in return.  On entering the museum, we were greeted by a very friendly receptionist who greeted us and Toast (the dog), we passed through the shop area where you will find a National award-winning ‘Best Product’ Morse Code blanket made in collaboration with Atlantic Blankets – with the motto ‘Oceans will not divide us’. There are gifts for everyone there so be sure to browse before leaving. We paid our entrance fee of £10 per adult and also paid Gift Aid which means we can go back as many times as we like in the next 12 months. We started our tour by taking the stairs up to the main museum and were greeted by an information board charting the time it takes to communicate to the rest of the world.

Fun fact:

Before the arrival of the telegraph station at Porthcurno it was practically uninhabited. In 1877, the operational staff were 4 married men and 32 bachelors and between them an average of 600 messages were handled daily.

The museum walks you through the discovery of electricity and how this was harnessed to make practical use of it. It charts the invention of the electric telegraph in Britain in the first half of the 19th century with an immaculately preserved first-ever five-needle telegraph instrument invented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone. In 1832, Samuel Morse wanted to overcome the delays in long-distance communication after tragically his wife was taken ill while he was working away from home and, by the time he had received the message, she had sadly died and he even missed her funeral. Morse produced his first telegraph instrument in 1837 and teamed up with two other inventors; Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail to simplify the initial design to produce the dots and dashes we recognise today as Morse code. Billie and I had a go at communicating via Morse code and managed, after much effort and hilarity, to say ”hi”!

In 1845, a dark and sinister event pushed the telegraph into the public awareness. A man called John Tawell travelled by train from Paddington to Slough with the intent to kill his ex-lover. He committed his crime and made his escape by hot-footing it back to London on the next train disguised as a Quaker. He had felt certain, once on the train, that he was going to get away with the dastardly deed. But, what he didn’t know was that he was seen getting on the train and Slough was one of the few stations with a telegraph office! His description was ‘cabled’ through to London and he was caught and arrested when he arrived in London.

A large screen towards the back of the museum plays an information packed video on a loop so don’t worry if you walk in when it’s halfway through. It charts the history of the telegraph station from inception through the war years and then as a telecommunications college in the 1990’s.

In 1911, the below quotation was written when Porthcurno was the hub of Britain’s communications network.

At every minute of the day and night Porthcurno is in communication with some portion of the Empire or the world at large; into the peaceful cove where the cables rise from the sea flow messages which have travelled thousands of miles under tropical oceans and across burning deserts

The museum is interactive where you can get hands-on and make sense of the information given. From lifting a tiny section of cable to appreciate its weight, communicating morse code, getting to grips with electromagnetism, communicating with flags and crawling into cubby holes, the museum is a perfect way to entertain the family of all ages. We highly recommend it!

We finished off with a coffee and cake..

PK Porthcurno has a cafe serving hot drinks and cakes so along with Billie and Toast, I ordered two oat lattes and a slab of beautifully moist ginger cake where we were able to absorb all of the information we had taken in before going to the gift shop where I picked up a copy of Changing Places which is fascinating and above all easy reading to fully-appreciate the great inventors in our history of telecommunications and how important a role Porthcurno has played over the last 150 plus years.

PK Porthcurno won Gold for the Best Small Visitor Attraction at the South West Tourism Awards 2022/2023 and won Silver the year before so we aren’t the only ones who think this is a very worthwhile visit given it’s also a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

Article written by Sam Sheppard

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