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My Cornwall


I was 19 when I first went to Cornwall and that trip is forever burned into my subconscious, a memory stick of cider, Rodda's clotted cream and sharp, salty air. The drive from London seemed to take hours, it felt as if we were travelling to another country. And when we got there everything was alien too, but in a good way. We walked across the clifftops of Trevose Head and stared down into the blow hole, on Constantine Bay we slid down the sand dunes on our stomachs and ate Kelly's ice cream.

This was my boyfriend's world and for a while it became mine too, belly boarding at Booby's Bay, buying fish and fudge at Padstow, eating in Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant which was crazily grand even then.

A few years later I fell in with a local crowd who seemed to have a perfect life and somehow knew the value of keeping it simple. By day we'd pick mussels off the rocks and go for walks where my friends knew the names of all the wildflowers in the hedgerows; when the darkness closed in you never knew quite was going to happen, just that it would be fun. We'd drive the 5 hours down from London on a Friday night, arriving at midnight to the mother of all kitchen parties, in the morning after little sleep you'd be shunted off to the beach to find lobsters.

There was the annual wild-eyed, up all night, men in dresses madness that was the Surfer's Against Sewage Ball, 500 hedonists crammed into a tent on the top of a cliff.

One particular party from this time stays indelibly stamped on my mind. It was midsummer's night and the party was down at Sally's Beach, which can only be reached by boat or a 200 ft drop down a sheer cliff face. Needless to say there was no boat and I suffer from extreme vertigo.

I hyperventilated my fear, unable to move up or down, clinging to the rock face, squeezing the balls of my feet onto to a tiny ledge.

'What will happen if I fall?' I asked my fearless friend.

'You'll die,' he said cheerily, holding my hand in a grip of steel.

I can still feel the victory of that climb down, can remember the thrill of being cut off by the tide til morning, wading through caves in the pitch black, eventually sleeping by the embers of our fire.

Much later we chose another part of Cornwall, holidaying in the fishing village of Newlyn, a week of intense white heat, the glare of the sun Ibiza-like and unfathomable, except that the beach was stippled with those universally British striped windbreaks.

At night we slept with the windows open to the sound of masts clinking in the harbour, by day we swam at Porthcurno, clambering over the rocks to more and more private bays until we were completely alone. I think of some of the far flung holidays I've been on - Thailand, Bali, Australia - and none can quite capture the unfettered joy of that week in West Cornwall.

'Let's move here,' we said, the beginning of a 5 year fantasy which culminated with us having an offer accepted on an idyllic isolated house.

'But I have a full time job in London,' my husband said as we opened the front door of our terraced Clapham home and the fantasy splintered around our ears.

My sister lived the dream, though, she moved to the South Coast and a whole new side of Cornwall became ours - buckets and spades on the soft white sand of Pendower and Porthbeor, taking the King Harry chain ferry over the Fal River, then back for halves of cider at the Philleigh Inn, New Year's Day walks on the beach in the shadow of Caerhays Castle.

Our children are growing up with their own memory stick of Cornwall and I'm glad. It feels like a place that should be handed on.

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