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


  1. I'm doing my best - and failing - at not being jealous... but I'm so glad you got to go, and take your family! I was fortunate enough to go to Scotland once, on my own, and I agree - hitting the castles early in the day is the ticket to feeling like it's all yours! In the US, all the attractions are full of warning signs, fences, directions, and restrictions. I was amazed when I went to Scotland and, later, Ireland, at how uncontrolled the tourist areas are. They seem to trust to people's common sense a lot more over there. It makes it a lot nicer, enjoying the views and things without a bunch of manmade junk in the way.

  2. There were a few notices telling parents to keep children away from the edges, but nothing intrusive and if our children had really wanted to hurl themselves over the edge they could have done...! But it wasn't quite straight down so they probably would have been able to grab hold of a tussock or two to break their fall! My brother and family also remarked on the lack of fencing (as on Table Mountain back in Cape Town, equally unhemmed in by fences) - they live in Australia and it sounds like they are extremely safety conscious over there too.

  3. Ooh...have always wanted to go there! And the whole point of vacations is to leave vast misconceptions in our minds! I spent a summer in Wales once--they were having a drought and it was gorgeous and hot and sunny every single day, and you can't convince me they don't have lovely summers there even though I know in my head it's not true :)

    1. I hope you get to go there one day, edj, it's a beautiful and wild place. My memories of Wales are nearly always wet. We went on a school camp to my uncle's farm in West Wales where it rained every day, though I don't remember that being a problem, we must have been used to it back then!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!