In the footsteps of Virginia Woolf: walking the west Cornwall coast to the Badger pub

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Starting in arty St Ives, this route takes in a hill the writer ‘staggered up’ in 1909, the lighthouse that inspired her novel, and finishes in a pub she loved

From St Ives station, there’s a view of sand, palms and, across misty blue water, a lighthouse on a rocky island. Virginia Woolf and her sister, artist Vanessa Bell, saw this view as children from the house their father rented. It later featured in Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, set in the Hebrides but clearly inspired by St Ives. She describes “the great plateful of blue water” and “hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere in the midst”. Images have lingered ever since I read it years ago at college, and my pub walk is something of a literary pilgrimage.

Five minutes after leaving the station, I’m in front of Talland House, a big white early 19th-century building with wrought-iron balconies looking out to sea from between evergreens. A plaque records that Woolf spent 12 summers here from 1882, when she was born. I’m planning to walk to the Badger in Lelant, a pub that Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) enjoyed around 1909-10. But first I’m ambling round St Ives to soak up the art.

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