Cornwall is the perfect escape. Escaping from the smog of London, the chaos of a newsroom and the restrictions of shared housing, I headed to Cornwall for my 27th birthday. The more distance I gained from any reminders of work, the pressures of everyday life and anyone I knew, the freer and calmer I was feeling. This trip was purely an exploration to be had on my own, a solo discovery of Cornwall and it’s stunning scenes of nature, but also the perfect break to allow my mind, body and soul to recuperate, to refresh, but most importantly, remind myself of just how confident and capable I am on my own.
I have always been incredibly independent and I guess travelling to far flung corners of the globe solo as a teenager teaches you that, but I felt I was getting too comfortable (and more importantly, too stressed) in my current situation, so a break to Cornwall was what I needed.
Cornwall is a vast area of the UK from Bude, all the way down to Land’s End and is filled with cavernous caves, smooth sandy shores and high hill tops. The landscape can dramatically change from one beach to the next, from craggy rough rock pools to wide golden beaches. With each area, brings a different type of visitor or local. Tiny fisherman villages filled with neatly packed houses and dozens of traditional fish n chip shops neighbour beautiful multi coloured expensive properties, where out of towners head down in summer to their holiday homes. I can see why many choose to rent a camper van and explore Cornwall bit by bit, fully immersing themselves in the scenery and the local’s way of life.
I decided to stay in Padstow, purely because I wanted to be near the coast but away from the larger towns and cities of St Ives, Truro, Newquay and Plymouth. Padstow also had some beautiful spots nearby which I was aiming to explore; Rock, Bude, St Isaac, Polzeath and Boscastle.
I booked an Air BnB which was exactly what I wanted, the apt style of recluse I was looking for. Based in someone’s garden, this portacabin had been transformed into an open plan one bed apartment, overlooking fields where I could spot cows and hear the birds tweeting in the morning. A far cry from the sounds of police sirens in Tottenham. Alas it being February, the Air BnB wasn’t as toasty as one would hope but the heated mattress and the log fire (once I actually got it lit) made my stay a lot more pleasurable.
What I enjoyed about staying in Padstow is that despite it seemingly catered for tourists, the town circles a fishing port, thus whichever restaurant you choose to dine in, you overlook the still water and the bobbing boats. I meandered around the town, taking back routes and stumbling upon brightly coloured houses with cute potted plants on doorsteps and wind chimes hanging proudly outside the front door. Several of the shops and cafes were closed, shut for winter and it being low-season, I found the town just the right amount of activity for my relaxing style of holiday. I can imagine in high season that this sleepy town would be an entirely different story.
You can easily take a day trip to Rock by taking the ferry, where glamorous properties are kept by millionaires hidden from view and luxurious sailing boats can be spotted across the water. Padstow is quite plush too with it’s fine dining options with Michelin starred restaurants such as Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant, Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, St.Petroc’s, and Prawn on the Lawn recently opening too. I did dine at Prawn on the Lawn on the evening of my birthday and I really was blown away by this intimate restaurant and fresh seafood tapas, varying in flavour and taste with each individual dish, a real sensation on the taste buds. I highly recommend booking in advance for this restaurant as although it was low season, it was still quite a popular place.
Another reason why many tourists are enticed to head to Padstow is because of its surrounding walking options which the tourist information desk is more than happy to assist with suggesting options. The most popular is The Camel Trail which is more frequently used by cyclists rather than walkers, another walking route is one that can take you over to Rock and takes you to St. Endoc Church. I began to walk The Camel Trail heading to the next town, Wadebridge which was 5 and a half miles away. Leaving kayakers paddling smoothly on the water surface, I began to pass runners zipping past fields of sheep and quiet coves only shared with snappy seagulls. I crossed dog walkers with their excitable muddy companions and nodded at other tourists cycling along the route. It was quite a popular route, even in low season, as many locals used the route to gather with friends and get fit.
I passed wildlife enthusiasts photographing flocks of birds and waterfalls trickling streams, dense woods with their canopies hanging over head and empty quarries. The more I walked, the more I could glance back and spot Padstow slowly fading into the distance. Approaching Wadebridge, I got a glimpse of what a real town in Cornwall looked like, no Michelin starred restaurants here but a popular Aldi and the river that flowed through the town amongst parks and basketball courts. I decided to walk an extra 6 miles to the next town, Bodmin, a decision I quickly regretted. The view from Wadebridge to Bodmin wasn’t as glorious as the first part of my walk. At the start of the second saga, I had stolen views of mossy heaths and bogs, where dozens of swans looked at me curiously but soon after, it was just me and the rocky path for company. In my solitude in this next chapter of the walk, I quickly realised that cycling the rest of the trail would have been a much smarter and wise choice. Wenford Bridge is at the end of the camel trail which many head too, but by the time I had reached Bodmin, my feet were aching and sore. Reaching closer to Bodmin, I passed disused train stations, empty and derelict, overgrown with flowers and grass, but all I could think about (and salivate over) was a pint of lager and a portion of cheesy chips.
Passing Bodmin Jail that many choose to explore and wander around, learning of its haunted past soaked with history, I dismissed this and headed to the nearest and open pub. I found myself opening the door to a group of drunk locals celebrating a family reunion to S Club 7. Nursing my pint and cold packet of crisps, I scoffed and sat trying to work out how to get the local bus back to Padstow. Frustratingly, public transport is incredibly hit and miss in Cornwall as train services only head to the most popular and larger towns and cities, whilst buses are far and between, struggling with small spaces, windy streets and huge hills. With one bus every hour and taking an hour and a half, I positioned myself at the bus stop to make sure I wouldn’t miss it, which I quickly did. With little sign posting and not knowing the area, I had missed the bus to take me home. Cold, sore and a little disheartened by this point, I decided to splurge and get myself a taxi which only took half an hour, further highlighting how much buses struggle travelling around Cornwall. Chatting to my taxi driver, I learnt of what life really was like as a local, how surfing is the centre of most young people’s life, and where I should head the next day to attempt to surf. (I say attempt, it had been four years since I had been reunited with a surf board).
Limited on time and relying on local’s tips, I headed to Constantine Bay to park my car and wander over the coves and cliffs to see more of the shores which Cornwall is renowned for, after being told this was one of the best spots to see Cornwall at its finest. Stepping away from my car, I could see why. The beach opened out in front of me, welcoming me with open arms whilst my feet sunk into the soft sand, a smile began to creep on my face. There is always something incredibly warming when looking out to sea and whilst the February winds whipped my hair wildly, I felt immediately at peace. A route that I took was to wander along the bay and head to the other side of the cliff top to Trevose Bay. Following the neatly paths put in place, I meandered around the cliff top, passing Trevose Headland, Long Cove, Booby’s Bay, RNLI Padstow Lifeboat Station, Barras Bay, and Trevose Head Lighthouse, heading back onto my original route to Constantine Bay. Even in that small pocket of Cornwall, the beaches, coves and views changed dramatically, all with memorising views that took my breath away whilst the sun beat down overhead.
I then headed to Polzeath to do as the locals do and catch a surf. Feeling incredibly like an out of towner, I turned up and could see why it had been recommended to me by my friendly taxi driver previously. The beach was empty, filled with surf shops and a few fresh fish n chip shops and quirky cafes where locals could grab a warm coffee to wash away a mouthful of sea water. Campervans parked on the beach were filled with surfers donning seal like wet suits and heading out to the shore. I ate at the nearby restaurant of The Waterfront and watched them nervously eating my fish n chips (when in Rome), could I take on the freezing waters in February?
Of course I did. I headed to Ann’s cottage to grab my gear as I was very underprepared. Gaining a wetsuit, gloves, hat, shoes and even a towel, (I was literally surfing in my underwear under my wetsuit) I braved the February seas. Surprisingly, it isn’t as cold as you’d think with all the appropriate gear on, the only thing that reminds you is a shocking slap to the face by a wave. Sticking near to some locals I attempted to take on wave after wave, rolling over into the frothy sea whilst they watched bemused at my poor attempts. I managed to get up onto my knees on the board which was enough for me after 4 years! A success in my eyes.
Another town I managed to explore before heading back to reality was Boscastle. You pass quaint houses with quarry stone walls and overgrown plants as you head deep into the valley, where the river flows freely through the town and picturesque bridges ride over it. The Museum of Witchcraft is a popular destination for many, as well as the numerous walks that circle Boscastle, leading to a YHA centring Boscastle and several cafés and tourist shops. Boscastle is steeped with history from surrounding castles, but also hosts an air of romanticism, with its awe-inspiring rugged views and the river that flows from the empty fishing harbour into the natural inlet and raging sea. The secluded nature of Boscastle and the unique coastline immediately made me feel inspired.
I was always told that Cornwall was a striking part of the world and finally I could see why.