Amongst the dollops of clotted cream and generous helpings of Plymouth rain during August, a few days away in Cornwall yielded a chance to dabble in classic British seaside family holiday territory, complete with dollops of rain and generous helpings of Brummie. Staying in a cosy cottage up an unfathomably narrow lane on the fringes of St Agnes, the benefit of this traditional British seaside holiday was that it was not entirely British or overly traditional. There were French people for a start and – well – the experience was less Blackpool bucket and spade and more scenic coastal delight. On a good day and some bad, the Cornish coast is difficult to surpass.
The trip started very much in the traditional way, departing Plymouth on a train in pouring rain, invariably teeming and spitting and drizzling all the way to Truro. And while this particular band of summer holiday weather cleared as a double decker valiantly wound its way to Perranporth, the emerging sun only served to bring out the windbreaks and ice creams and Brummies upon the beach. United in ice cream dedication, I then turned my back upon the human speckled sands and headed up, up and away.
What followed was a predictably exquisite walk along the coastline to St Agnes, despite the scarred residue of mining and the eroded zigzagging of ambling ramblers and rampant rabbits. Loaded with a backpack of clothes I could easily have been mistaken for some intrepid adventurer myself, hiking the entire perforated coast of the southwest and growing a beard in the process. I was happy for this facade to stick, passing impressed day trippers with their miniscule handbags and inappropriate footwear on their traditional summer holiday.
Navigating plunging cliff lines and sapphire coves, the thought of lugging a full backpack over days and weeks lost some appeal with the steeply unending climb up from Trevellas Porth. However, contrary to popular exaggeration this did end and it was with some joy that my muddy shoes and sweaty back made it into The Driftwood Spars for a prized pint of Doom Bar. I could, indeed, get used to this.
Reunited at the pub with the French family, my fraudulent pretence of long distance exploration could no longer be maintained. More traditional holiday pursuits – such as rock pool pottering, cheese eating, and children not really wanting to go to bed – amply filled the remainder of the evening. And I, with the rest of them, settled in for a comfortable night of sleep in the little cottage up the unfathomably narrow lane.
The next day offered something of a repeat of the previous, albeit more family-friendly and with one of those pathetic little daypacks on my back for company. What was unchanging however was the beautiful scenery, from the generous sands of Porthtowan to the charming cove of Chapel Porth. There and back again over heather and gorse, the curls of Atlantic surf peppering the craggy headlands and sweeping up empty beaches enjoying their day in the sun. Ice creams and sandcastles and paddles in the undeniably frigid sea were add-ons at the end of the day, as the summer clouds again gathered over the abandoned relics of this heritage mining coast.
Red sky at night, ice cream vendor’s delight, so the ancient saying goes. And true to this cliché, the next day dawned clear and blue, generating a fervour of ant-like humans engaging in traditional seaside holidays upon the sands of Perranporth. There were windbreaks and Brummies and disposal barbecues and the inevitability that is a once-loved but now abandoned flip flop. Plus, of course, ice creams in abundance.
Thankfully the tide at Perranporth was out and the beach here thus stretches on and on and on, offering enough room for everyone to enjoy their own holiday. Space to paddle in pools and throw Frisbees; dry sands on which to lay, wet from which to build; high cliff tops concealing the congregation of brooding clouds, the lofty rocks a sufficient shield to pretend briefly that this is actually summer.
It is in moments such as these that the appeal of the traditional British seaside family holiday becomes clearer, particularly if it happens to have a French twist and things proceed a little less in the Birmingham tradition. It is an appeal embellished of course with the delight that is being in this part of the world, with these people, and with the prospect of a rainy day yet again ahead, on the return to Plymouth tomorrow.