Thursday – build me an ark

I’m woken by a cargo plane buzzing over the campsite as it prepares to land at the adjoining airstrip. It’s mercifully dry and I prepare to undertake the activity I have dreaded most, before the other campers wake and are able to watch. Yes, it’s time to put away the “2 second” tent that I pitched yesterday in 2 minutes (I opted to attach the optional guy ropes). It was perfect for one night but far too pokey for anything longer, and not for claustophobes or (laughably) the second occupant they suggest it would additionally accommodate. My only previous attempt to wrestle the tent back into its bag was in my back garden. It took 15 minutes and lots of industrial strength swearing. Progress – today its back in the bag within 5 minutes with only moderate foul mouthed mutterings. Next time I will challenge myself to 2 minutes and light cussing.

Next on todays agenda, in as far as there is one, is breakfast at Jamie’s “Fifteen” restaurant at the beach. It’s first come first served from 8:30am whereas lunch and dinner require booking months in advance. Out of sheer optimism (in retrospect that’s all I can put it down to) I decide to trot down hill without any waterproofing or umbrella. It will stay dry by the power of positive thought. For such a high profile restaurant (google it if you don’t know about it) it’s very hard to find the way in! There’s a sign in the general beach car park pointing in the wrong direction and that’s it. Turns out you have to walk to the dingy far corner of the car park and descend some unheralded staircase which I only found after 5 minutes. Perhaps this is some deliberate ploy to deal with the over-demand, by ensuring 50% of their potential customers just give up trying to find it in the end. There is still plenty of space when I arrive and I am ushered to a window seat though most of the tables are window facing due to the open plan design. Full English doesn’t appeal today – though it looks “pucka” – so I go for a cereal / yoghurt / fruit compote thing which is very nice, although the Beach Hut Café downstairs does something similar for half the price with views almost as good. In fairness it’s a pleasant environment and the staff are great. It would undoubtedly be a special place for an evening meal as the sun sets. Instead I’m about to leave and it’s cats and dogs outside.

A 20 minute walk up a steep hill in the rain doesn’t appeal so I wait for a bus under the canopy of a surf school. A couple of young families are getting suited up for a lesson and today is probably a good day to jump in the sea. When the Newquay to Padstow bus finally arrives I’m almost too embarrassed to ask to travel one stop up the hill. Fortunately the driver is too embarrassed to ask me for a fare so he lets me travel for free in return for me clearing the mist from his window that is obscuring his wing mirror.

What do you do on an unremittingly wet day in Cornwall? Well here’s what I did – drove to some pretty coastal villages, saw some great looking gnarled old pubs (from the outside only) and parked up in Newquay in an effort to find shops that didn’t sell surf gear. Fat Face and Animal would go bust if Newquay iced over. Eventually I found a gentlemens outfitter stuck in a wonderful Grace Brothers style musty time warp where I purchased some ludicrously cheap waterproof overtrousers. Suits you sir! The weather forecast is for rain forever so at least with the final element of body waterproofing in my armoury I can go walking in the face of whatever is thrown at me.

Onto Tollgate Farm campsite at Perranporth where I pitched my large tent for the final time this week, and then sat down to incongruously listen to the first day of the second ashes test match at sunny Lords. The farm sits on a hill and apparently has a range of animals for visitors to visit & feed, though my only sight was of a soggy llama with a look of bemusement if such a thing is possible. I wonder whether this is a sign and I should start building an ark.

Tollgate Farm - today
Tollgate Farm – today

Quick camp stove food does the job but only just. It’s mid evening and further canvas internment will only lead to death by dampness so I conjure up the image of a cosy country pub with an open fire and see what my OS map has to say on the subject. Many of the pubs in Cornwall are hundreds of years old and full of character – the sort of places you could happily spent an evening. The first two I find however have full car parks and the notion of a 50m dash from some space further afield is not tempting. I’m pulled over to check the map again for barely 15 seconds and the passenger door is opened by a single toothed man materialises from nowhere to ask if I am lost. In Nottingham this sequence of events is a prelude to car jacking, soliciting or a drugs score but I think this is a selfless act of kindness to a stranger from a local – something that used to exist further north. He advises me about where to go and I advise him never to visit Nottingham. The Plume Of Feathers in Penhallow is a marvellous eatery, except I’ve eaten. Luckily it has real ale, 80s music, cosy seats and a roof. Confusingly it also has a covered pool table with a sign stating “please do not use this pool table” and a dart board sporting the notice “sorry no dart games”, but despite these paradoxes I’m sold. I sit down with a yummy pint on Magik ale from the local Redruth brewery and it occurs to me that after taking 190 photos in the previous 4 days I have taken none today. Tomorrow I will walk and take photos regardless of the weather. And drink beer. Hmmm beer.

Wednesday – a tale of two beaches

It’s time to up sticks and for the perennial camper you just hope for dry weather when unpitching. The omens during last night’s storm were not good but the morning breaks calm and sunny, the brisk wind having dried out the tent. Packed, I head off down the coastal road signposted Newquay on the lookout for a nice secluded beach. After a mere 2 miles Trevose Head entices me. It is a picture book Cornish cove village consisting of a mix of newish holiday rentals and old local stone houses. There is a combined store/post office, a socially active church and a minuscule village hall. Equipped with a take-out mocha I plant my fold up seat in a prime spot on the beach allowing me a complete view of the bay from a wind-shielded location.

Trevose Beach
Trevose Beach

This small sandy inlet provides a perfect bubble for young families who can keep an eye on the kids while soaking up the sun. One such family nests next to me and their youngest (James) sets about gleefully transporting shovels of sand to the base of my chair. Mum admonishes him but James is enjoying the game too much for that to stop him. A couple of hours drift by as I read a book and capture the odd gem of dialogue from my neighbours. My favourite was one father suggesting to another that they dig a pool – “for the kids”. Yeah.

It’s lunchtime and my stomach navigates me to the Tredea Inn with its great views down a valley to Porth Cothan beach. They have WiFi and I can help myself. When I ask them for the network key they don’t know it. “Don’t I know it?”. Fortunately the tourist trade is booming and the surrounding cultivated fields suggest a significant local farming economy so shortcomings in the IT skills market won’t keep too many people out of work. Apparently Orange are the major player down the coast as in many places they provide the only coverage, enabling roaming users to access broadband and with it such luxuries as streaming digital radio. For some the “digital switchover” will actually just be the “switch on”. Insights like these really interest me on my travels and locals seem only too eager to spare some time to talk.

It’s easy to forget that tourism is only one (albeit major) spoke in the Cornish economic wheel. Cross country journeys through unheralded small towns like St Eval reveal only minor concessions to tourists with schools, community centres and affordable housing the more prominent landmarks. This presumably is where the disenfranchised locals live, priced out of their ancestral coastal villages and reliant on tourism, farming and – decreasingly – fishing. None of this is headline news but it’s interesting to see how the community is re-inventing itself. The local papers dedicate many column inches to future economies (eg: renewable energy) and as you drive through villages it is common to see hand painted signs along the lines of “Pengelly – building work, car mechanic, calor gas”. People here are resilient, flexible and entrepreneurial.

It’s a one night stay at Watergate Bay Touring Park. I’m not sure when Tregurrian Bay was subsumed by Watergate Bay – maybe around the same time Jamie Oliver opened a trendy restaurant there – but the rebranding exercise is an example of re-invention in action. The bay is – oh dear, I promised myself not to use this word yet again, but here it is – stunning. Vast, golden , vibrant, powerful and made for the big screen.

Watergate Beach
Watergate Beach

It has clearly gone upmarket and there is a slightly different vibe here to the other beaches on my travels. There is a more affluent feel about the visitors with car parks full of Audis and more trendy single sex groups hanging out together. A group play boules nearby but probably call it “petanque”. There are also kite surfers and large groups playing cricket. If there is such a thing as a lifestyle beach this is it. It’s different but I like it because despite some airs of pretension it has soul and life. Like me then!

Afternoon becomes evening, the heat of the sun is on the wane and I decide it is beer o’clock. Doom Bar on a pub balcony – gorgeous! It’s named after an infamous sand spit at the mouth of the river Camel. Legend has it that many a sailor has found his vessel beached on this spit and had no option but to head ashore and get bladdered until high tide. The North Cornwall Guardian I’m reading is to be recommended if you want a grasp of local affairs. For starters it’s a daily rather than a weekly like some of the competition. Also it provides journalistic nuggets such as the major problem with under age drinking in Cornwall. Really?! Also a youth group is looking forward to a visit to Alton Towers. Is there really nothing similar a bit closer? A new cinema has been criticised as being vulnerable to terrorist attack. Let’s hope that Osama hasn’t picked up the Cornish Guardian from his local newsagent in the Pakistan border region (or Iran / Saudi / Texas depending on your conspiracy theorist tendencies) or you’ve just offered him an open goal. There’s nothing as entertaining as self important journalism in local papers!

As the sun sets I return to the campsite via the coastal path and the cliff-top views are breathtaking.

Watergate Cliff
Watergate Cliff

I really do need to work out how to set the camera mode for this kind of photography. It makes point and click easy but there are several menu drill downs to get to the interesting stuff. Back at camp a sign tells me about an apparently “unmissable” band in the bar tonight. Presumably they couldn’t make it and the mulleted 50 year old blokes twanging out soft rock are stand-ins. Unless of course they meant unmissable in an ironic sense – now I get it!