Cornwall or bust…

The last time I had a family holiday was back in 2007 just before the recession hit and I found myself among the unemployed. Most of my “holiday time” was spent sat at home vegetating and wondering when my next break would come from. Since getting back into work some 3 years ago taking a family holiday was something of an Olympic sport in that you couldn’t always get the time off you wanted because of your work’s requirements.

Yet this was no joke and no-one was laughing…

Most of the time my holidays would fall when my children were still at school and rarely the summer holidays. So I would spend several weeks off doing mundane things like decorating (oh joy..!) while the rest of my family went away to stay with their grandmother. Staying in Somerset was a great experience as I had done this over the course of the last 20 years. In a lot of ways it was just like a “cheap” holiday where you could stay somewhere else without worrying too much about the cost.

This year I decided to launch a pre-emptive strike and secure 2 weeks off just after the school term had finished. Thanks to a “secret stash” courtesy of HMRC for overpaid taxes while I was out of work I had got some money back and had some left over after Christmas which was going towards an overdue kitchen refurbishment but as it was nowhere near the amount we needed I decided to announce that I (yes that’s right me) desperately needed a real holiday.

So after some research I had settled on Cornwall as our destination. Cornwall beckoned to me as it had spectacular views of the rugged coastline and being right down South it was further than I had ever travelled in England (ok apart from our honeymoon in Weymouth!).

Driving past vast open fields and winding roads carving their way through the landscape.

The thing about Cornwall is that there is so much to choose from that you can sometimes be afraid to choose where to stay in fear of not liking it. I loved being by the sea and hearing the roar of the waves and the sea breeze so I settled on the village of Mullion Cove as our destination. It was close to lots of other places to visit an would serve as a great base for exploring the South West.

Mullion Harbour 2

I had been looking forward to this break for weeks and had because I had to work the weekend just before going away I had arranged to go down a few days early to spend some time with my mother in law in Wincanton, Somerset. It would serve as a nice opener to a much needed break for us all.

Slowly but surely the days would count down and I was getting ever ready to break free from work and just get away from it all. And then it happened…

Thursday the 18th of July was a day that I’ll never forget. I was in the final stages of winding down for the holidays and with only a few days to go made my way home only to see the utter distraught look on my wife’s face, tears rolling down her cheeks when she said “Mum died!”. For a split second it was like one of those moments when you do a double take and wonder if someone is playing you for a fool, yet this was no joke and no-one was laughing…

With only a few days to go England was in the throes of a heatwave and my mother in law had after complaining about the heat and lack of proper sleep had gone upstairs for what would be her last time. Later that day she was found lying on the bed in front of a fan slumped to one side by a relative and was pronounced dead of what would turn out to be an undiagnosed heart condition. Put simply it was a time bomb waiting to go off and the combination of heat and tiredness merely speeded up the process.

Now under circumstances like this most people would just cancel a holiday and consign themselves to spending what should have been a happy time dealing with the pain and sadness that bereavement brings. However we were told that we should continue as planned as there was nothing else that we could do and just try and spend some time away.

Part 2 – Traffic

We left Wincanton on Saturday bound for Cornwall. Driving past vast open fields and winding roads carving their way through the landscape. All of this reminded me of “Cars” and places like “Radiator Springs”, little towns and villages that would otherwise be lost if a motorway was there.

I had heard about the great summer exodus to the South and the long traffic jams in the past. Never did I expect that we’d be part of one ourselves. Just on the outskirts of Bodmin we ran into our first traffic jam. It took some 45 minutes of crawling along the A30 just to get through. Although a police car had screamed past us there was no sign of any accident or the usual “gawpers” who have nothing better to do then to slow down past an accident with their smartphones taking pictures. We had planned to stop off and see the Bodmin Steam Railway as we couldn’t get into our bungalow until 3pm but the delay just ate into the time and we decided best to plough on ahead and make our way to Mullion Cove before anything else happened.

After leaving the A30 and going through the nearby town of Helston we took what can best be described as a long winding trip on a single track road towards the village of Mullion and ultimately the Cove itself. On arriving at the cove it was a glorious sunny day and the harbour view looked fantastic. Our bungalow “Kittiwake” was located on the top of a large cliff just behind the imposing and luxurious (and expensive) Mullion Cove Hotel. The bungalows was part of a development of 12 and I had spotted one for sale a snip at £170k if you can afford it!

Mullion Cove Hotel Kittiwake 1
Kittiwake 2 Kittiwake 3
Kittiwake 4 Kittiwake 5

Our bungalow was in fairly good condition, clean and with a compact (you need serious choreography skills for two people!) kitchen. There were two separate bedrooms, one with two single beds and one double bed. The double bedroom was a bit smaller but at the end of the day you don’t go on holiday to spend all your time in the bedroom (that’s what honeymoon’s are for!). It serves as a great base form which to explore the coast and nearby area.

The cove reminded me somewhat of the French seaside town that featured in Jacques Tati’s masterpiece comedy “Mr Hulot’s Holiday” in that everything nearby appears to shut around 5.30pm. This however didn’t stop people from making their way to the cove from the other holiday homes in the area. The one thing that I ought to mention is that your legs will ache after several ascents & descents back to either the hotel or bungalows.

Part 3 – Sunday

After the long journey and arrival at the cove we decided to set off in search of essential supplies in the village. Mullion is a typically Cornish village, lots of little shops serving the locals and visiting tourists.The local Spar was a lifesaver with a cash machine on the premises and a good selection of things to keep those who are mostly self catering stocked up. There were also several pubs and a surf shop opposite a well equipped park. My children enjoyed the zip wire the most. One thing that surprised me was how well looked after the park was. Where we live most of the apparatus would have been hogged by drunken teenagers and vandalised.

Boat in Harbour Mullion Cove 2

We spent most of the day around the cove just walking around the harbour and enjoying the view.

Part 4 – Monday & The Lizard

Our exploration of the area began at the nearby Lizard Lighthouse. We made our way there through driving rain and once at the Lizard point we spent some 20 minutes sat in the car waiting for the rain to blow over from the coast. Shortly afterwards the sun came out and it brightened up a lot.

Visitor Centre 1 Lizard Lighthouse
Visitor Centre 2 Visitor Centre 3
Visitor Centre 4 Lighthouse 2

We took the tour of the lighthouse which was still in active use. There is an interactive museum where you can find out about the history of lighthouses and see some of the things used. The lighthouse itself was quite short stubby one so there weren’t too many stairs to climb, but they were steep, almost like climbing a ladder at times. While the tour itself was short it was informative but have done with having something else added to it to justify the entry price.

Part 5 – Tuesday OMG I’m a tourist.

Continuing our exploration of the coast we journeyed to the village of Marazion and St Michael’s Mount. Marazion is a lovely town full of winding roads and shops galore.

It was also home to Philps Pasties where you can get real Cornish pasties sent to you by mail. Now you may see Ginster’s pasties in your supermarket claiming to be “proper” Cornish pasties, well don’t believe a word of it these are the real deal. Real Cornish pasties are made with steak and have a distinctive dark colour to it. There are also variations on the traditional recipe. Rowes (local Cornish bakers) also make a “Reggae Reggae Chicken” pasty which was very tasty and unique!

Maraizon’s main claim to fame was the founding of a church on the nearby mount which over the course of history had been transformed into an island stronghold.

St Michael's Mount

Due to the high tide in the early afternoon we took a short boat trip across to the island. The harbour an buildings were interesting to look around. We didn’t decide to tour the castle (sorry Karen!) as the walk up to the castle was on uneven steps which my other half would have had trouble with, not to mention the cost of everything when you’re a family of four and need to watch the pennies!

On returning to the mainland we were greeted by blazing sunshine and I managed to get sunburnt which proved to be quite painful the following day! I seriously underestimated the power of the sun when it does decide to make an appearance.

One thing that struck me was that while wandering around the town I had become a tourist. Nearly every other person I saw was carrying some sort of Digital SLR while I was going retro with a new acquisition of an Olympus Trip 35 loaded with Agfa film from Poundland (£1 film, very very cheap..!). I was still carrying my trusty Samsung NV3 compact as a digital backup.

Returning back exhausted from the day’s activities we retired to the Mount Bay Inn in Mullion Village for a meal and a much needed pint of Cornish ale.

Part 6 – Wednesday Kynance Cove and the Lizard

As it was midweek and payday for me we decided to take in some local attractions. We visited the chocolate factory at the local craft centre where we had a look at how chocolates were made. I enjoyed looking at the art gallery where you could have a taster session trying out some art techniques, sadly there are no pictures as they were a bit touchy about people taking pictures and I can understand why as the works on display were fantastic.

With the weather being a lot cooler we headed off to Kynance Cove some 4 miles away. Unknown to us we took the hard way down to the cove going over a lot of stone steps and walking on wobbly/slippery stones down the bottom of the cove.

Kynance Cove Lilac Lizard

The cove is fairly small and the sea was very choppy when we visited so there was little opportunity to lounge around on the beach. We decided to take a break at the Kynance Cove Cafe for a much needed coffee. We then discovered that there was an easier way to get back up to the top around the back of the cafe which was much easier than trying to negotiate wobbly rocks.

Part 7 – Thursday & Land’s End

Thursday saw us make the trip to the most western point on the map, Land’s End. As places go it is about the most tourist in nature. You can even pay to have your picture taken along the famous signpost! Still I can see the attraction.

Lands End

While we were there I took a long walk along the coastal path and grabbed a few more pictures.

I wished I could have stayed there for a least another week if not forever.

On the way back it had become quite busy so we decided that it was time to leave and make our way in search of ancient megaliths but that was before the search for something far more important… petrol!

Finding a petrol station in that part of Cornwall was a race against the petrol gauge. From Land’s End we headed towards St Just and then onto Morvah where we finally came across something you don’t see these days… a two pump station with attended service! There’s nothing like the personal touch!

From Morvah we went in search of the road to the neighbouring village of Madron where we finally reached our destination of Lanyon Quoit.

Lanyon Quoit

The quoit (or dolmen) were the remains of an ancient burial ground which dates back to around 3000BC. While there had been some damage to the original structure back in the 18th Century. The local farmers had rebuilt the quoit using the remaining stones. In a lot of ways it’s more interesting than Stonehenge in that you can get right up to it and touch it as long as you can avoid the numerous cow pats around!

Part 8 – Friday

With Friday being our last day we went back to the Lizard village and take a look around as well as taking the path back to the lighthouse where we indulged in some fantastic Cornish ice cream, Pimm’s Sorbet and Very Cherry made a refreshing combination on a bright sunny day. I wished I could have stayed there for a least another week if not forever. I think you can tell that I have fallen in love with the Cornish coast!

Part 9 – Homeward bound

Saturday was the first day I decided to get up really early (6am) to take one last look at the cove and catch the morning light. Although there were some hills nearby the sun had started clearing the hills and for a few minutes the harbour was bathed in a quality of light that you don’t get any other time of the day. After grabbing as many different pictures that I could as well as capturing some video of the harbour we decided that it was time to make our way homewards.

I thought that the journey down was bad enough but nothing prepared me for the 5 mile tailback on the outskirts of Bodmin. We were crawling along more than 2 hours before we started to pick up some speed. The Bodmin branch of the Rotary Club were even waiting along the A30 with cooler boxes with bottled water for £1 each! Talk about enterprising!

On the way back we were both getting so tired that we had to pull up at a service station and get some coffee to keep us awake. Now I’m not a fan of Starbucks but their filter coffee was so strong it could keep you awake for a week!

Finally 8.5 hours later we finally reached home and after getting ourselves unpacked ordered a take away. We were thoroughly exhausted after that marathon journey.

Cornish Ale

Looking back on our time in Cornwall before the memory fades away I am thankful for the chance to finally get away and enjoy the spectacular views and places we have seen. It has made what was a very sad and difficult times a bit more bearable and I can’t wait to return…

Final Thoughts

Here are some of the things I have learned about staying in Cornwall:

  • A typical 10oz steak will set you back around £15.
  • Cornish beer costs around £3.50 a pint.
  • Pasties are awesome!
  • Get a copy of the tide times so you can plan trips to beaches at low tide & do other things at high tide.
  • Join English Heritage before travelling to get free parking and entry into the most popular attractions.

Dedicated to the memory of Kay Smith 1941 – 2013

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