Friday, August 08, 2014

Summer Holiday in Cornwall

Cornwall has its own magic. Whether it’s the nostalgia of endless summer holidays, the ancient legends of King Arthur or the fabled light and skies that always attracted artists to St Ives,  there’s an air apart about Cornwall.

Driving down from Somerset, through Devon, all sleepy lush lanes, verdant hedgerows and trees, trees, trees, there’s a point when the rolling hills open up to brisk sea winds, when solitary wind turbines dot across the landscape and villages are built from stoic grey stone to withstand winter storms.

For some reason we never came west on childhood holidays in my family. Grandparents were in Edinburgh and Norfolk, and it was always north and east on day long car journeys, testing parents’ patience with the eternal refrain of ‘how many more miles?’ So heading there with  our combined families wasn’t a nostalgic return but rather a new discovery for my brother and I, taking our kids there for some bucket and spading and family togetherness.

We were near Polzeath in a big house with ample room for us all up on  a hill above the Camel estuary. There were several beaches within walking distance  (even for my three year old niece though she demanded a shoulder ride every now and then) and it was a wonderful novelty for our farm kids to be able to get about on foot.

I loved the lanes edged by dry stone walls overgrown with flowers, the contrast between the vivid green of the hills and lanes and the steely grey of the local slate, the layers of history that are present everywhere.

The big painterly skies are a common thread with South Africa, but here they were delicate cloudscapes, as the weather blew hot and cold on us, a rainstorm hurtling across the horizon at lunch time, brilliant sunshine for an evening walk.

And we had the kind of weather when you put extra clothes on to go to the beach, but go anyway, only the adventurous going right in for a swim, the rest paddling and defying the waves with sand fortifications and spades.

Another short diversion on the way to the beach at Daymer Bay on the River Camel estuary was to St Enodoc’s church with its appealingly crooked spire and green grassy churchyard.

Apparently it was almost buried by the sand dunes for a couple of centuries before being excavated again in the mid 19th century. There’s a John Betjeman poem about Trebetherick that about sums up the kids on holiday feel of this particular corner of Cornwall.

Four nights was all too short, we could have spent another week or two there.

Girls at Polzeath beach more interested in observing stranded jelly fish than surfing.

The lane leading down to the beach at Daymer Bay
We stayed in Evergreen Lodge, which is perfect for two families or a group of friends - lots of space, big kitchen, long tables, big sofas and a nice enclosed garden. Hope we can go back there one day!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

England and Tintagel

We’re been back home long enough that England and summer seem a distant memory. We’ve acclimatised back to winter rains, winter sunshine and chilly nights, got used to school mornings of getting up in the dark and leaving before sunrise. There’s been a loss in the family, my husband’s oldest brother, who after a long degenerative illness was taken by a short sharp bout of pneumonia. Most of the family were luckily able to spend time with him before he went  and they will all be together next week for his memorial service.

It’s a light relief from sadness to be able to go back over the photos from our holiday, revisit the time spent with my family, getting to know my nieces and sinking into the soft pillow of English countryside, hedgerows tall and summer green, trees more than I ever remember, hills rolling, lanes winding, West Country accent soft and unhurried to my ears, now re-tuned to a South African wave-length.

The kids got a highly skewed view of England, all idyllic Somerset countryside, Cornish beaches and historic houses. No cities, no malls, no grim industrial landscapes. So if they get a shock when they encounter London as young adults, it will be all the fault of an unashamedly rural family holiday taken at an impressionable age!

The Cornish stone walls of the ruined castle at Tintagel

There were so many beautiful days that can’t all be crammed into one post, so maybe I’ll spread them out and start off with our visit to Tintagel in Cornwall. The craggy remains of an ancient castle perched high on a headland, it’s a romantic enough spot already, but at some stage someone decided it needed an extra dash of PR spin. To draw the crowds, a legendary connection to King Arthur has been inflated out of very little – supposedly he was conceived there. – and you can now buy plastic Excaliburs outside every little shop in the village, buy Merlin crystals and goodness knows what else. However much of a grockle (tourist) trap the village is, the castle itself is unspoilt, with dramatic views down the Cornish coastline and you can see why it was such a fantastic stronghold over the centuries – no-one would be able to creep up on you unawares here.

A further reason that Tintagel repels invaders of sedentary coach parties... the steep and narrow climb to the castle gate is enough to challenge anyone but a mountain goat. So though there were plenty of visitors when we were there, it never felt crowded and there is the whole headland to spread out onto once you’re up.

Of course once we were up there we realised that it was the perfect place for a picnic and that we should have grabbed some Cornish pasties at the ‘Genuine Cornish Pasty’ shop in the village and hauled them up with us. We managed to keep the kids going on the secret stash of mint imperials in my bag, long enough to appreciate the views, give parents heart failure by peering over the edge, investigating wells and walls and wildflowers.

When the brisk breeze became a little chillsome, we made our way back down the precipitous path, passed a whole lot more people struggling up and went down on to the beach to see the caves, perfect for smugglers.

And then there was a less thrilling walk back up to the village. The youngest member of the party got a lift up in the Landrover, which ferries the exhausted back up the road. The pasties once I'd queued for them, were huge, tasty and sustaining, even if they were crimped on top, which the internet has assured me was not a genuine Cornish habit but a Devon interpretation, and not one child balked at eating the swede (must be the only way in the world to make it palatable to kids!). They even said that my attempts at Cornish pasties were almost as good as the real thing!

Then it was back in the van to face the ever windy, motion sickness-inducing lanes and re-join my husband who had stayed home to make the bread, read his book and recover from a dose of flu which had caught up with him after the flight.

Tintagel is a gorgeous place and well worth a visit if you have strong legs – go in the morning before the crowds arrive and take your pasties and picnic up with you!

The cousins together at Tintagel