Cornwall offers stunning views of the Celtic Sea
In this day and age it’s risky to make travel plans at the drop of a hat. But when we spotted a rare English summer day when the sun was out, a friend immediately began to put together a harebrained scheme to head off to Cornwall. So, with five friends in tow, I sallied forth — without bookings.
We finally managed a bed and breakfast booking after extensive research online during a coffee break in Bath (what would we do without the Internet?). But then disaster struck when one friend decided, on the way, to refuel one of our diesel vehicles with petrol. The result: We reached Longcross (our B & B in Port Isaac) after midnight much to the disapproval of a surly host.
To reach Longcross we drove along narrow country lanes on a pitch dark night and one of the rooms included an upgraded garden suite called the Love Shack. The small ivy-clad cottage, secured by a coded gate that opened into the garden path flanked by tall manicured hedges, gave me the jitters. With no lights whatsoever to mark the way and a fat black tabby for company, I was ready to take flight. In the morning however, the quaint little hotel showed up in a different light, overlooking as it did some 20 miles of the North Cornwall coast.
Our stop in the picturesque village of Port Isaac was at a sprawling strawberry farm, where we found ourselves at a table laden with a hearty breakfast of blue cheese and chutney paninis, scampi and burgers.
When you are in Cornwall, do as the Cornish do. Dig into their traditional side-crimped pasties that have their origins in the mining days when Cornish miners carried them as packed lunches. Wash them down with a hearty, local beer (Cornish Knockers, Doom Bar, Heligan Honey are a few).
Cornwall is delightful for anyone with romantic sensibilities. Steeped in legend, Tintagel Castle, positioned strategically above rugged cliffs, sets the senses on overdrive. If my imagination was stoked by the Arthurian legends — Tintagel is believed to be the birthplace of King Arthur — I was rendered breathless not just by the castle’s surrounding views but literally by the 200-odd steps that lead up two cliffs housing the ruins of the castle. But the rigorous climb is made worthwhile by the view — a many-hued Celtic Sea with colours from brilliant turquoises to emerald greens and navy blues on a bright sunny day.
Then there was Merlin’s Cove which we explored even as the tide slowly set in. Its dark, damp interiors took me back to childhood days spent reading Enid Blyton and her pack of young adventurers who almost always managed to get caught in caves like these with backpacks stuffed with tins of peaches, ham and boiled egg sandwiches.
Now if you like hunting down souvenirs to take home, like I do, go for piskies (read: pixies outside of Cornwall). Cornish folklore introduces them as small old men with wrinkled faces and red hair. And don’t forget: there’s even a Piskies Cove near the Lizard Peninsula which is a secret backwater of sorts in the south of the county.
But if you want to go where well-to-do Londoners do, head for St. Ives in the South West.
Our first sight of St. Ives was dramatic. Descending in our car down a rather steep incline, I couldn’t help squealing with pleasure at the vision of the turquoise waters. The beach itself was full of curly-haired tots playing with sand, men and women sunbathing, and young girls playing in the waters which were so icy that I could not feel my legs after wading into them. A small note of caution: from experience I can say that skipping down the wet stones of the cliff is a strict no-no unless you want to risk slithering down those mossy steps all the way to the beach.
(Above) the vintage motor fairs of
Porthleven town make it a delight for tourists; the castle town of Tintagel
(first and second from top) is steeped in
Arthurian legends as itís believed to be
the birthplace of King Arthur
Originally a fishing village, St. Ives today is a seaside resort crammed with artists — in fact, Tate, St. Ives was built seven years before London’s Tate Modern. Look out for a mix of local shops, art shops and cute little bakeries.
Need a leisurely tea break? I would recommend cream tea, that is, tea had with scones, clotted cream and jam. Even though rare now, keep an eye out for the traditional Cornish way of having cream tea with the ‘Cornish split’, a slightly sweet white bread roll instead of a scone.
Meanwhile a wonderful place to watch the sunset is Britain’s most southerly point, Land’s End. It’s here that the north coast meets the south coast and the Atlantic Ocean stretches right to the shores of America.
What it all winds down to is that there’s no prescription for a marvellous trip. We ended up staying in rooms on a university campus near Penzance, scampered off to vintage motor fairs in Porthleven, and post-midnight, wolfed down meat doners in Turkish joints along with drunk students in old mining towns like Redruth — but there’s no other way I would explore the land of the piskies and the pasties.
Getting there: If you’re driving, take the M4 motorway from London to Cornwall. Trains run from London Paddington station including the Night Riviera Sleeper service to Penzance. You can fly in too to Newquay Airport.
Where to stay: Book in advance at the Dean Court Hotel (www.deancourthotel.com) in St. Ives for sea view bed & breakfast rooms or at Tintagel’s luxury Camelot Castle Hotel (www.camelotcastle.com).
Photographs by author