THERE ARE some things that, on visiting Cornwall, just have to be done. Eat a Cornish pasty? It would be rude not to. Wolf down a calorie-laden afternoon tea of scones with jam and clotted cream? Why, yes. Stand gazing at the sky from a golden beach and say: “The light is so amazing here?” Well, naturally. It’s the land of artists.
In fact, this southern peninsula is so steeped in romance, art and literature that it is easy to feel like you know it before you even arrive. It inspires dreams of Swallows and Amazons-style adventures; wading round craggy rocks to find long-lost pirate treasure, or — as local author Susan Cooper would have it — the Holy Grail. In other words, it carries a huge weight of expectation.
Arriving at St Erth station, a six-hour train ride from London’s Paddington, I began to understand all that literary excitement. Crossing a few paces from the mainline platform to the small Brunel-designed line to St Ives is like stepping back in time. Even the small station shop, its walls lined with vintage posters, was belting out 1940s music.
And as the train rattled its way towards our four-day destination, the track began hugging the coastline, opening up a view of sparkling waters and pristine beaches just waiting to have a name written on them.
I was staying with my family at the Hawke’s Point apartments in Carbis Bay – a beautiful semi-circle of white sand just a few minute’s train ride, or a 20 minute walk, from the more famous St Ives.
The luxury apartments are owned by the family of Cornwall-born Charles Ziar, a former advertising copywriter who realised his dream a few years ago of quitting London and returning to his Celtic roots. His family built the apartments in 2009 on the site of a former hotel and, as luck would have it, his wife Louise is an interior designer, so was able to furnish them in what she describes as “French boutique Hamptons” style.
The result is a slightly nautical, hi-tech and high spec apartment – the type of uncluttered and modern look I can only dream of maintaining at home.
While I was “oohing” and “ahing” over the Villeroy and Boch china and Dualit toaster, my children were more taken with the Wii and large-screen TV. Thankfully not even Super Mario could distract them for long from the amazing view over the sea from the front lawn – or the scones, jam and clotted cream which are left for guests, along with a bottle of champagne.
But, of course, we hadn’t only come for the food. With only a few days to see the sights, we’d had to narrow down a long wish-list of things to do in Cornwall. Day trips to see The Eden Project, The Lost Gardens of Heligan or Land’s End were all tempting, but as we’d come by train and were using public transport, we decided to stick to the local coastline and save those for another visit.
By 8am the following day we were back at the train station down the hill and off to Penzance for a three-hour marine discovery expedition.
On board the catamaran Shearwater II, crewed by husband and wife team Duncan and Hannah Jones, we hoisted sail and went in search of seals, dolphins, porpoises and sharks.
The seals, lolling around the rocks offshore the picturesque village of Mousehole seemed to pose for our cameras – and after spotting them, our children began eagerly hunting for more wildlife.
They were rewarded with glimpses of porpoises jumping a good distance from the boat, though sadly, this time, the dolphins stayed well away.
Still, the kids were more than happy to spend an hour or so jumping around in the catamaran trampoline. Meanwhile I got more of a thrill from an offshore view of the world famous Minack Theatre, carved into the rock face, and a sneak peek at reclusive author John Le Carre’s cliffside home.
Back in Penzance, we wandered along the quay and fetched up at local pub The Dolphin for delicious fish and chips. That was all it took for my husband and children to decide they wanted to put a line out for themselves. They swiftly booked a fishing trip on board the Celtic Fox and headed back out at sea.
Meanwhile, I went to visit scenic Marizion, which claims to be the oldest town in Britain.
It’s a beautiful spot and, even in late October, the sun was gleaming on the water and families were out in force with their buckets and spades.
At low tide you can apparently cross the causeway to Saint Michael’s Mount, but with just a couple of hours to kill, we were happy to watch the ferry crossing to and fro from the island to the mainland, look at the local art galleries and craft shops, and enjoy a beer in the harbour view pub.
It’s this type of mooching about that Cornwall caters for so brilliantly. St Ives, too, is full of tiny lanes and a mix of designer shops and quirky knick-knack treasure troves that draw you in for hours of browsing. Locals complain the UK-wide newcomers – Superdry, Cath Kidston, Pizza Express et al – are taking over what used to be a homegrown market. But as a tourist, I enjoyed the fact that one minute I was eyeing up Joseph Joseph cutting boards, the next poring over hand-made brooches and earwigging on the church hall volunteers’ earnest debate about which Knebworth concert was the best.
Local food highlights were the six beautiful haddock that came home from the fishing expedition, delicious Cornish pasties one lunchtime and a late-night stop for Roskilly ice cream.
And as we had settled in so quickly to the local cuisine, we thought we’d burn a bit off with the local sport – surfing.
We were going to have to move a lot to stay warm on what was, technically, the first day of winter, complete with freezing wind and icy temperatures.
Wrangling the whole family into St Ives Surf School’s thick wetsuits was a good warm up, but sadly still not enough to stop my seven-year-old daughter from looking like surfer smurf within minutes on the windswept beach. She retired to the shop to warm up.
Having long ago tried – and failed – to master the art of standing up on a board, I wasn’t expecting to achieve much. But our instructor carefully explained how to paddle before the wave, pull up to kneeling position then flick ourselves up to our feet. It took only a few minutes for him to realise what none of my surfing gang in my native New Zealand ever spotted – I was trying to stand up with my front foot first, rather then steadying myself with the back foot. Why did I not take a lesson years ago?
With my new top tip I managed one wobbly ride for a few seconds, almost crashing into my son who had taken to surfing like a duck to water.
I would say we returned to dry land, except the weather had packed in, with driving rain and hail. It seemed an ideal time to check out The Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.
The sculpture garden, tucked away behind a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it door in the middle of the town, looked incredible, even under the downpour. In fact, the oversized wood, stone and bronze sculptures may have been improved by all that rain dripping off them. “Wow, she must have been really strong,” said the junior art critic, as he tried to resist running a hand over the smooth surfaces.
What the Barbara Hepworth Museum lacked in grandeur was more than made up for by the imposing three-storey Tate St Ives, towering over Porthmear Beach where we’d been surfing.
Like the Tate in London, it is home to a modern collection, which polarises art lovers and critics. No doubt I’m not the first to find the most inspiring picture was the view from the balcony of the beach and raging surf outside.
My children too, were a little underwhelmed by the art, though they did love the children’s workshop where they spent a happy half hour doing crayon rubbings.
Finally, I managed to drag them away for a longer tour around the gallery, where seven-year-old Eloise stood staring in wonder at Bela Kolarova’s framed line up of paper clips, which are said to be a playful arrangement showing chance and order through the use of similar items. “But I could do that” she exclaimed, proving that not all ubiquitous comments on this holiday needed be about Cornwall.
NEED TO KNOW
For more information or to book a stay, visit www.hawkes-point.co.uk
or call +44 (0)1726 884072
Three nights in a Sea Garden Apartment sleeping four starts from £320 and seven nights start from £520. Three nights in a Penthouse Apartment sleeping four starts from £430 and seven nights from £790.
Half term deals (Monday 18 February to Friday 22 February 2013) include:
Four nights in a Sea Garden Apartment sleeping four for £476, saving £204, plus 30 per cent off February2014 half-term stays. Four nights in a Penthouse Apartment sleeping six for £730, saving £270, plus 30 per cent off February 2014 half-term stays.
Hawke’s Point works alongside “food4myholiday”, a local company which offers a wide range of the freshest Cornish produce with a chef’s eye for quality, plus all your store cupboard staples.
www.food4myholiday.com / 01503 240992
Marine Discovery Penzance operates from early March to the end of October and offers the opportunity to explore some of the UK’s most incredible coastlines by catamaran for an inspiring marine safari experience.
www.marinediscovery.co.uk / 01736 874907 or 07749 277110
Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
01736 796 226
St Ives Surf School, Porthmeor Beach
www.stivessurfschool.co.uk / 01736 793938 firstname.lastname@example.org
MJ Marine fishing trips, on board the Celtic Fox