Penzance Smiles

There is a fellow called Ian Thompson (see article below) who goes around painting the 700 milestones that are found in Cornwall. In the last few months he seems to have excelled himself in the Penzance area as a number of milestones seem to have appeared (in fact Ian has just made them more noticeable) as if from nowhere. He has also written a book about them to be found at

One that caught my notice is the one seen above (at Canonstown on the A30). I thank Ian for inspiring me to write a poem about it…and dedicate the poem to him.


ODE TO A CORNISH MILESTONE (dedicated to Ian Thompson)


There’s a milestone on the A30;

Out at Canonstown – all painted white

(By a kindly chap who keeps things nice);

That tells me home is almost in sight.


The words are succinct in their detail;

Hand-carved by some Cornish stone mason.

You know you’re just five miles from Penzance –

That’s in the direction you’re facing.


It also says in another ten

Out Land’s End you’ll find yourself straying.

Then there’s an icon called a benchmark

Which is useful when you’re surveying.


It pleases me whenever I pass

For I know it’s bang on the money,

Because what I see is ‘Penzance Smiles’

And what looks like ‘Land’s End is sunny’.


© gray lightfoot

PZ Smilesmy



IAN THOMPSON – MILESTONE HERO (from West Briton 10 Dec 2008)


As the nights get ever drearier and visibility dims in the narrow, unlit lanes of deepest, darkest Cornwall, spare a thought for one man who is single-handedly bringing light to motorists lost in the mists of Morvah, Menheniot and Morwenstow.

Ian Thompson has made it his mission to repaint Cornwall’s entire complement of more than 700 stone way-markers in bid to preserve them as historical monuments and ensure they continue to provide the service for which they were originally designed.

And six months into his task, Ian is already on course to reach a target of 70 scrubbed and painted milestones a year.

Ian is a member of the Milestone Society, whose subscribers hail Cornwall as the best place in Britain for avid spotters of these mini monuments to transport through the ages. Cornwall County Council maintained the stones from 1889 until 2000, when an anonymous penny-pincher decided to scrap the regular spring cleaning regime and implemented an “emergency repairs only” policy.

Saddened by the rapid deterioration of milestones along Cornwall’s highways, the Milestone Society stepped in with an offer of a public/private “painting partnership” agreement to spruce them up through a rolling programme of conservation.

Ian Thompson, armed with wire brush and paint pots, now aims to refurbish every milestone once every 10 years, which means visiting 70 roadside spots a year.

“The first task for each milestone is to find it,” he said. “During the summer the undergrowth became an increasing challenge. I use hand tools to clear the area of grass and weeds and a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush removes dirt and lichen.

“The next step is to apply a coat of white masonry paint. Cornish granite is a hard, stable stone on which smooth Sandtex paint gives a good finish.

“When the white paint is dry, the inscription is picked out with an artist’s brush in black acrylic paint.

“I’m delighted to say, as Christmas approaches, the target of 70 milestones in the first year certainly seems achievable.”

Councillor Adam Paynter, Cornwall’s executive member for environment and heritage, added: “The days of the mail coach and the pony and trap may be over, but the milestones remain to remind us of this gentler age.”