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Down Memory Lane - Cornwall, Jan 2022

January 29, 2022

Down Memory Lane - Cornwall, Jan 2022

There’s a lot to be said for coming to Cornwall in January.

First off, it’s an incredibly easy journey.  No hold ups around Stonehenge, no delays as the roads narrow from two lanes to one and an arrival time that is exceptionally reasonable.

Second, you can park exactly where you want to.  Outside of Rick Stein’s take away in Padstow?  Pick your spot.  As close to the steps down to Fistral Beach as you like?  No problem.  First row of the car park in Tintagel?  Of course.  Now that is impossible in August but January?  You can park with spaces either side!

The weather?  Well, when could you ever rely on the Great British Weather and, in fact, we’ve come on a dry weekend so we’re happy.

We’re staying in central Newquay which is not something I’d do at the height of summer.  Newquay is party central but the lure of winter making the place peaceful and a very reasonably priced flat overlooking Towan Beach have swayed me.  That, and if we stayed at the Headland Hotel (my preferred choice) it would almost cost four times as much, and that’s a fair old whack.

On the way down we stop in Devon to meet up with Rebecca for lunch.  She is a tour de force and has been part of the TOYL team for two glorious years.   Rebecca was recommended to me by one of the TOYL Wise Women, Sue Peart, who worked with her at You Magazine.  Rebecca is glamorous, insists on subscribing (and paying) for the TOYL box even though as part of our team I would happily gift it to her and is the owner of her own business.  She promotes TOYL in as many places as possible and you’ll see her hand across the TOYL world this year – I’ll keep you posted.

Now I have this rule that I’m never cooking again if I can help it – too many cottage pies and spag bols when the kids were young, it’s totally killed it for me.  That and seriously no time.  Happy to make a salad, grill a bit of chicken, reheat a Turner’s Pie (our local pie shop, now stocked in Harrods and they are fabulous.  You can get them online and yes, I pay full price for all my pies!) with peas, open a tin of tuna or cook a bit of steak but that’s it.  No more.  Rebecca is the same without the back story.  Her view is that life is too short and if you can order Cote (of Cote Restaurants) At Home then why cook?  I agree.

She serves up a fabulous lunch with much laughter and catching up, we plan 2022 within thirty minutes and then we leave her to walk up on the Dartmoor hills with her dogs while piling ours back in the car for flatter terrain.

An hour later and we pull into Fistral Beach.  This has so many memories for me.  Every summer, we’d have a week at the Headland when the boys were young for so many reasons, mainly because Dame Floella Benjamin (remember, of Play School?) recommended it in an article as heaven for kids.  Now, if you’ve travelled with kids you’ll know the challenges.  We used to go to France with ours and on our way down stop at the Disney hotel.  Not because it was a treat for the kids, but because their appalling behaviour would be totally tolerated.  You can’t have Mickey Mouse giving the kids a load of verbal – “Oi, you little tike!  Stop pulling my ears!” No, poor Mickey just has to make do although I’m recalling memories of Mickey having security – am I right?  On those meet and greets did he have two “helpers” to stop the kids getting too lary?  We digress, although let me just tell you that our low point at Disney was when our eldest ran amok in one of the restaurant kitchens having followed Tigger in there.  He’s never recovered from seeing the cast member take Tigger’s head off for a quick smoke.

During our era at the Headland there was a Harry Potter room (bit of an indoor climbing frame) that was brand new as Hazza was only just on the rise, a room with a few amusement machines in it, the outdoor pool (we never went in, why would you with the sea right there?), a billiard room and most gloriously of all, an hour and half at 6pm when they took the kids off your hands so you could bolt down a semi-civilised dinner, regroup, discuss the war wounds of the day before summoning the energy for bedtime with the kids.  That and they love dogs at the Headland.

When there, we met generations who had been visiting for years who told us stories of how the kids used to ride the hotel owner like a horse around the ballroom, racing others similarly mounted on their dads or unsuspecting staff – different times and I have to say I think it only fair that the staff don’t have to do that anymore.

We have so many happy, happy memories of those times that as I arrive at the beach I find myself with tears streaming down my face, the emotions of being back are overwhelming.  The other half laughs at me and wants to take my photo but I won’t, I’m just so thrilled to be back as I actually wondered if we’d ever return.  Not only that, I’ve built this place up in my mind as magical and I wondered if the reality would be disappointing.  I’ve overthought it, haven’t I?

The PT (aka the dog) is off his lead for the first time in months (vet advice as he’s had a hip challenge) and is bossing it with the other dogs.  He lives to play with other dogs and marches us the width of the beach to ensure that he’s met everyone, that he’s fairly played with everyone who wants to and that we’ve had enough exercise before the light goes.  I often think that if we gave him a uniform, with a ball in the side pocket he could patrol the beach and he’d check out dogs.  “Lost your ball?  Ok, look, here’s one in my side pocket, no worries” or “Lost your owner?  Ok, let me get them right back to you, follow me.”  The sunset is glorious and I fall back in love with Cornwall – who doesn’t?

Next day I’m up as the PT insists I go for my early morning constitutional around Newquay.  We discover that there are several contenders for best pasty shop – who knew?  There is the World Champion pasty shop, the World’s Best Pasty emporium and the World’s Oldest Pasty Maker.  I’m not sure how you’d choose, but they’re all closed so we don’t have to. 

Back at HQ we seem to need four large bags for our day trip so into the car we go and off to Tintagel for our 10.30am hike across the brand-new bridge.  Now, back in the day if you visited Tintagel it was a real hike, up narrow, precarious stairs and how we managed two-way traffic up and down those in the height of summer without a row of ambulances at the ready I have no idea.  We can still see the steps but we’re gliding across the very smart new bridge instead.  English Heritage (we’re of an age so, of course, we’re members) built this bridge with funds from the Tetrapack heirs.  

The PT loves it.  He’s not that interested in Arthurian legends so much as the number of rabbits that may be lurking.  He’s on the lead (of course, too many cliff edges) which is jolly handy going up hill as he helps pull you up.  Exactly what a good PT should do – support you in the challenges.

It’s fabulous – the views, the layout, the bridge – far better than I recall.  I actually remember that by the time we’d done all the steps in the past I’m fairly sure we turned around without seeing the whole thing.  Probably a combination of fractious kids, two dogs and a grandad (who always came with us) who chatted to everyone inviting them to visit us at home and stay for a week within sixty seconds.  This is much calmer and very pleasant.  A few tourists like us, very lovely English Heritage staff and a fabulous statue of King Arthur at the very top.  There are coastal path walkers, tourists and runners on this route which seems to want to take us down to sea level.  We rebel and go back across the bridge and pick up the land rover to take us to the top – pointless ruining the knees too early.

For several years now we’ve been on the quest for the perfect fish and chips in the UK.  There are rumours that there’s a corker of a place in Leith, the Crown & Anchor down our way does a cracker but it started, ten years ago at Rick Stein’s in Padstow.  We’d cycled the Camel Trail (how fabulous is it on the way out and how horrendous is it on the way back when you’re tired, towing two dogs in a buggy which seemed such a good idea at the start and now you’re trying to keep up with the boundless energy of eight-year olds?) and we stopped for lunch on a bench overlooking the harbour with Rick Stein fish and chips and it was fabulous.  The challenge always is that if you go back, will it be the same and the answer is, it was better.  No queue at all (in summer, we queued for thirty minutes) and the best haddock and chips with tea this year (or last, for that matter).  Good batter, good chips, pointless parsley on top but perhaps it was to break the colours up?  Bit of lemon, fab.  We topped it off with a Pastel de Nata (custard tart) which I’d brought with us.  If you’ve never had these seek a decent one out as they are fantastic with a cuppa.

Driving back we passed all those iconic names on Rick Stein mugs – Harlyn Bay, Constantine Bay, Mawgan Porth.  These beaches are stunning. Unspoilt, golden sands just the thing English summers are made of.  Walking those sands with a dog in winter is an absolute privilege when you think about what else is going in the world.

Speaking of privileges, because we are in a town, because our flat is in the town centre I can do something I have never, ever been able to do before. I can look at the UberEats menu.  We live in the sticks, no one delivers to us so UberEats is a whole new metro-central world to me.  I browse the menu and it’s strangely disappointing.  However, the local curry house will deliver and as the PT settles down, we sneak a curry in without him seeing. 

Next morning I’m up with the PT for our constitutional and as we get back Husband draws my attention to the most fantastic sight.  A group of women, of all ages are swimsuited up and going in for a dip.  They’re laughing, chatting and – frankly – winning at life as they take to the waters.  Is there a more glorious example of women who could be  TOYL-ers?  It’s free, it just takes courage and we salute them with our cups of tea.  As they emerge, goddess-like, they genuinely look like they’ve had the time of their lives.  If only I’d had a swimsuit with me…


Off to the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Husband asks me about the “lost” bit.  I don’t really know so I say that they were lost and then renovated.  He mulls this over and says “in marketing terms, it wouldn’t play so well if they had named them “The Overgrown and Recently Renovated Gardens of Heligan”, would it?”  He’s quite right but what I can tell you is that in January Spring has actually come to Cornwall – who knew!  The Camellia is out, some other stuff that I have at home that I don’t know the name of is out and some Narcissus are in bloom.  Photos as evidence.


The PT’s unimpressed.  He wants to get back to beach patrol so we take him for his last walk on Fistral for a while.  He bosses it, as he would expect to and we head into the Headland for our nostalgic tour.

The hotel looks fabulous. I don’t know how much they spent on renovating the place, but it was worth it.  If you ever want a hotel to take kids or grandchildren to, this is the place.  This is absolutely the place.  There is the most fabulous, uber chic, uber London-centric water experience by which I mean not a swimming pool, but plunge pools and the like which looks amazing and inside the main building they still have the indoor pool downstairs which I’d forgotten about until talking to the lovely waitress.  She’s lived in Newquay all her life and hadn’t been to the Headland until she started working there last May.  I live close to Arundel and have been in the castle once.  Why do we ignore what’s on our doorstep?  Another time.  To discuss. Pin in that thought.

We order an afternoon tea but they’re out of scones so we just go with tea.

We chat, sink into the sofas and watch the world out of the window.

As I drink my tea and look at the surfers riding the waves on the beach the images of years past come to mind.  My children running through the lounge to get to our table.  Grandad having his fortune told in one of the lounges by a visiting mystic just after his wonderful wife had died.  Dogs (long gone) on leads going up and down the grand staircase on their way to the beach.  It’s utter nostalgia for times gone by.  Time to put those wonderfully happy times to bed and I feel by coming here I have closure.  Time to lift our gaze once more and see what this incredible adventure called life has in store now.

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