DAY ONE (Land's End, St. Michael's Mount, St. Ives)
An exotic setting with turquoise seas and white sandy beaches sounds like the tropics, right?
Try Cornwall. Yes, that Cornwall. In England.
The color of the sea was the first thing I noticed. It had taken about an hour to get to Land’s End from our holiday cottage in St. Newlyn East, and the last 15 miles of the 40 mile drive was a seemingly endless series of narrow lanes filled with nerve-wracking close encounters with double decker tour buses, trucks and construction vehicles.
But once we arrived, it all melted away. The water was such a brilliant shade of blue, that it was difficult to believe this was the UK as we had been to the seaside in the north, south and east where the water was always a muddy gray or brown color. The crystal clear waters of Cornwall beckoned me to ‘come on in’, but outside the car, the crisp spring air reminded me that this wasn’t swimming weather.
After a short walk, we found ourselves standing at the cliff, where I was mesmerized by the sound of crashing waves.
The area around Land’s End is a strange blend with majestic natural views sharing space with a cheesy tourist center featuring a horror attraction (‘For the whole family!’) and a 4D theatre playing a low budget King Arthur film. Tintagel, Arthur’s castle as the legend goes, is about 2 hours to the north, so I considered this to be a bit of a stretch.
The most famous landmark at Land's End is the signpost, but since they charge 9 pounds just to pose (plus the cost of the photo), I took a shot of this Filipino family instead.
After a long hike, we snacked on some local delicacies- a Cornish Pasty for Paula (I’ll eat anything wrapped in pie crust, including turnip) and a Cornish Milk Shake for Perry (they add clotted cream, so that makes it authentic, right?), then headed to St. Michael’s Mount. By now, the sun was high and bright and the water seemed to shimmer as we descended the road from Penzance into Marazion.
Land’s End was spectacular, but I enjoyed St. Michael’s Mount even more. An island that also houses an eponymous castle, St. Michael's Mount is special because it has a manmade granite stone causeway that connects it to the mainland, allowing you to walk out during low tide (and prompting me to imagine how fast I could run if the water came up unexpectedly).
Once on the island, it felt oddly out of place in Britain- more tropical hideaway than your typical gray and serious castle location, with palms, lush greenery and fragrant flowers.
The climb to the top follows a steep and somewhat treacherous footway, but you can stop at intervals and photograph the path of British fairy tale legend Jack the Giant Killer. Once at the top, you are rewarded with picture perfect views that even my poor photography skills can’t help but capture.
The castle is small and cosy- even the Great Hall seems oddly intimate!
We closed out the day by making the short drive to St. Ives. A former fishing village, today it has a thriving artist community (including a branch of the Tate Gallery) and is a popular holiday resort.
St Ives is set into a steep hillside, but the good news is that when you climb the hill to leave, you will burn enough calories to enjoy a second glass of wine with dinner, as I did that night.
DAY TWO (Perranporth, Holywell Bay, Crantock)
After all the fresh air on the first day, we slept well that night in Willow Cottage, St. Newlyn East. The next morning, we decided to have a potter around the town.
It is a quiet and lovely village and I'm convinced the one track lanes bordered by earthen hedge walls are meant to keep it that way. If you encounter another vehicle, you must move your car into any nook or cranny you can find and hold your breath as if you are sucking in the car as the other one passes. Below, Perry is standing in a two-way street. For real.
After our leisurely morning, we decided to head to Perranporth first as it was furthest south, and make our way north hitting up Holywell Bay and Crantock before heading back to St. Newlyn East. The drive down the hill into Perranporth is lovely, but tight with hairpin curves and the village itself is bustling with life. But once you get to the beach, the wide open space will make you forget everything. Ahhh!
Popular with surfers and sunbathers alike, the beach is significant due to its size and perfect sand, which is great for walking. Once again, I found myself drawn towards the crystal clear water, so I waded in a short distance but it was so cold, it made my feet tingle.
You can also climb the cliffs which hold footpaths for even more spectacular views.
After all that fresh air, we headed over to Holywell Bay for a fantastic lunch of fish and chips (at the seaside, it would be wrong not to) at the lovely St. Pirans Inn.
In contrast to Perranporth, Holywell Bay contains grassy dunes which help it feel very secluded and romantic. When you climb the dunes, you are rewarded with another perfect beach and Caribbean-esque waters.
Crantock was the last stop of the day and after a suggestion from our host Roger, decided to walk one of its famous footpaths. It would prove to be our most adventurous outing of the weekend.
We parked in the middle of town and walked less than a mile to Crantock Beach, which helped us avoid the carpark fee. It was a lovely, shady walk and I felt a bit smug- until a bird crapped on my head. After a quick clean up (thanks to my compulsive habit of carrying napkins or paper towels at all times), Perry met me at the kissing gate and we started our hike.
Crantock Beach is unusual in that it is part of an estuary called the River Gannel, which is tidal, such that at low tide, the beach extends for miles. You can walk the river bed, but know the tide schedule because the water comes up very quickly. Ask Sue about that sometime.
Homes are built into the side of the hill with interesting stairs down to the water, creating an odd fire escape look.
There are several walks near this beach and we chose the Crantock/Gannel footpath which incorporates both the beach and green pastures. It turned out to be a warm day and yet we were alone on the footpath with just the birds that serenaded us.
Once we left the beach trail, the pasture walk soon became a bit dicey. We lost the trail and meandered across a hilly field that seemed to go on forever. Luckily, it was a warm and sunny day, so we didn't mind getting lost and eventually found our way back to town with a bit of color. Not island holiday color, but color nonetheless.
DAY THREE (Bideford, Gloucester Services)
So, Day Three is technically not in Cornwall, but since it is a 6 hour drive back to Peterborough, our activities are worth mentioning.
Bideford is in Devon and you won't confuse it with a holiday destination. However, it is the namesake of Perry's hometown of Biddeford, Maine, and as we did not get there when we lived in the UK, it needed to be checked off the list. We had a nice lunch with the friendly folks at The Kings Arms, but when we asked what we should do in Bideford, they politely replied 'Well, nothing really'. They were right. According to Perry, this Bideford is on par with the other Biddeford, but I personally think Maine edges it at the finish by a nose.
Gloucester Services rounds out our tropical theme which may seem a bit odd, but this is a roadside rest area that is more resort than service station. Instead of holding your breath while you hover to pee and grabbing questionable food that will require Tums later, Gloucester Services is a place where you actually WANT to linger, with elegant modern design and an upscale farm-to-table food concept. Yes, go ahead and read that again.
After waiting out Birmingham's rush hour, we said goodbye to the oasis and tucked our gourmet goodies into the back seat along with our sandy shoes and sunscreen, souvenirs from the British tropics.