Tag Archives: Cornwall

A Perfect Day

Staring down the barrel of another winter, there’s nothing for it but to wrap ourselves in chunky knits and warm memories.

Before summer left us, I had a magical day of the absolutely perfect variety, that will no doubt haunt me for years to come in deep sleep and desktop daydreams.

It was a perfect day in a perfect week spent at Menabilly with my family. And it started very early – before the night had even left us. Armed with a torch and binoculars, I raced morning up the cliff path to watch the sun rise over the sea in a symphony of pink and orange. The silence was so complete that I could hear the fishermen talking from their boats on the waves below.

Menabilly sunrise1

Menabilly sunrise2

Menabilly sunrise3

If I’d had my paints with me I probably would have caught pneumonia on that hillside desperately trying to capture the wash of colour and the explosive moment the sun breached the horizon in a blaze of gold. Thankfully for my physical and mental health I made do with just my camera, and I arrived back at the cottage in time to catch the rest of my family finishing the last crumbs of breakfast. Some more hungry than others, we jumped in the car and headed into a fairytale – otherwise known as Tintagel. The legendary seat of King Arthur is perched on a Cornish cliff top on the north coast, and its rugged beauty had me immediately head over heels. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there were ruins, rocks, waterfalls, caves and beaches to bounce around. It was my idea of absolute heaven.

Tintagel 1

Tintagel 2

Tintagel 3

Tintagel 4

Tintagel 5

Waterfall at Tintagel

Cave at Tintagel

Me on the rocks at Tintagel

When I was done clambering upon all that there was to clamber upon, and had finished imagining round tables, swords in stones, ladies in lakes, and all things Arthurian, we headed to Polkerris for dinner at my favourite restaurant – Sam’s on the Beach.

That night Sam’s outdid themselves: my huge bowl of white wine soaked spaghetti was so delicious that dignity went utterly out the window and I ended up wearing more sauce than makeup; they seemed to be exclusively playing a list of my favourite songs; and as we laughed, chatted, and enjoyed each other’s company we had the best seat in the house to watch the sun sink into the harbour.

Sam's on the Beach

Sunset at Polkerris

Chlo at Sam's on the Beach

Mum and Dad

Olives at Sam's on the Beach

Best pasta of my life

Sunset at Polkerris

So the perfect day ended as all perfect days should – with full tummies and full memory cards. And when winter bites, and you catch me with a glazed expression on my face, this is where I’ll really be.

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Woodland Wonderland

I love this time of year. The trees are all dressed up with nowhere to go, decked out in their finest freshly unfurled leaves and heavy garlands of blossom. The birds are singing as fervently as if they’re all in the shower and nobody’s home. And everything smells so fantastic that I want to roll in it, doggy-fashion. Spring has unquestionably sprung in all her glory.

And, thanks to nature’s most luxurious carpet, nowhere is more magical than woodland in May time. If you go down to the woods in May you’re in for a blue surprise.

I am of course talking about bluebells. I’ve spent the last few weeks enjoying the show. Home in Hertfordshire isn’t too shabby…

Bluebells Hertfordshire 2014

Bluebells Hertfordshire 2014

I’ve actually been visiting Ashridge to pay homage to these mystical flowers for a very long time. My whole life time in fact. Let me take you back to 1995…

Gem & Chloe in bluebells, 1996

When I was growing up, it was a family tradition to pack up a picnic breakfast early one morning at the start of May, and eat it perched on a log amongst the bluebells. We have photos documenting my sister and I growing up, set against a backdrop of blue, munching buttered toast or hot cross buns.

At some point I started borrowing my Dad’s camera and became more interested in the bluebells than in the breakfast. (Blasphemy?!)

2011 was a sunnier affair than this year…

Bluebells Hertfordshire 2011

Bluebells Hertfordshire 2011

I’ve been struggling to capture the symphony of green and purple for the last decade. I took this one in 2005…

Bluebells Hertfordshire 2005

Anyway, this year I was lucky enough to give my bluebell addiction a double dose. My family headed off on a bit of a last minute Cornish adventure, and were met with the most glorious display of bluebells, wild garlic, and red campion.

Woodland wild flowers in Cornwall 2014

The smell was heavenly. This is in a little copse on the cliff overlooking Polridmouth Beach, and the trees are all twisted and gnarled from a life exposed to the elements. I felt like I was in The Wind and the Willows. 

Bark and Moss

Wild wood, Cornwall 2014

Bluebells and wild garlic seemed to be everywhere. In the woods, in the fields, lining the roads…

Prickly Post Lane

Even the track down to our cottage was banked in splendour (and the over-hanging azaleas didn’t hurt either).

Azalea and wild garlic

Woodland flowers

Wild garlic
But, like all good magicians, the woods saved their best for last. On our final day in Cornwall we visited the Luxulyan valley to find our favourite woodland haunt.

Luxulyan Aqueduct

Not far from the shadow of the aqueduct, there runs a stream. And if you follow it down the valley, you will find this place.

Luxulyan Valley
Giant rocks are strewn around as a long-gone glacier’s calling card, trees have spent centuries getting comfortable and stretching their roots out, leaf litter covers the ground, moss clings to every surface it can, and – apart from the musical noise of the stream – there’s an almost holy quiet that settles over everything.

Moss on tree roots in Luxulyan

Luxulyan Valley

A magical place made more magical by the presence of my favourite little bells of blue.

Holiday Heaven

For anyone who has ever (had the extremely good fortune to have) met me, one of the first things you might notice is that I look like an iron deficient anaemic vegetarian. This is largely because I am. Or at least, I was: my doctor reckons I’m cured – of the anaemia, not of the vegetarianism, much to the disappointment of my omnivorous family. So the vampiric paleness is nothing to do with blood or red blood cells. It is perhaps more to do with the fact that most of my summer holidays have been spent in Cornwall.

Which will probably leave you thinking something along the lines of So why not holiday somewhere other than Cornwall? Jump on a plane, travel somewhere exotic, get a nice tan, and stop your friends making jokes about only being able to look at you with sunglasses on! 

Well, you have a point. (And seriously guys, stop it with the sunglasses jokes). But my answer is a pretty great one. As often as we can, my family like to spend our holidays in a cottage not far from the beautifully sleepy Cornish seaside town of Fowey: to be precise, here.

My favourite place in the world: Polridmouth Cottage, Menabilly.

My favourite place in the world: Polridmouth Cottage, Menabilly Estate, Cornwall.

If fishermen’s cottages, lakes, beaches, woods, hills and meadows aren’t your thing then I don’t think you should read the rest of this post let alone book a holiday here. But for me, this place is an English Shangri-La.

This is where the idyllic summer holidays of my childhood were set, and where I spent a wonderful ten days with my family after my graduation at the end of July. This is the ‘home’ that I ran back to at the end of the sorry tale of the dead sheep. This is where I would live if money and power were no object.

So let me explain (if one picture was not quite enough for you) exactly why I am so in love with this place.

Firstly, for anyone not lucky enough to be staying in ‘our’ cottage, the beach is quite a long way from the car park which means that it is never very busy and for most of the day we have it to ourselves.

Boyfriend and a lot of sand.

Boyfriend and a lot of sand.

And with all that sand, there’s no excuse not to build some awesome sandcastles.

This kid thought our sandcastle was so awesome he helped dig the moat.

That’s right, my sandcastles come with moats.

The lake runs down onto the beach which means a tiny waterfall and lots of fun for dads making dams with the stream.

See? Waterfall.

See? Waterfall.

There are ducks that live on the lake who you really, absolutely, should not feed.

No really, don't feed them.

Boyfriend and I are rule breakers at heart.

There are beautiful cliffs to clamber over and rock pools to be found.

I found this particular one in 2005.

Here is me, age 13, finding a rock pool.

And there are cliff paths with stunning views of ‘your’ beach.

My favourite spot.

My favourite spot.

But remember, no matter how beautiful the scenery, always keep an eye on where you’re putting your feet. One summer an unfortunate walker had to be rescued with an air ambulance after breaking his ankle on the cliff path.

We felt sorry for Dennis but enjoyed the air ambulance landing on our lawn.

We felt sorry for Dennis but very much enjoyed the air ambulance landing on our lawn.

And if you get peckish, my favourite restaurant in the world is just a few miles away. Sam’s On The Beach serves the biggest and best pizza I’ve ever had in England and is, as you might expect, right on the beach front at Polkerris. Spectacular views and an intimate atmosphere make the food taste even better – not that it needs any help.

The pizzas are so big they barely fit on the table let alone the plates.

The pizzas are so big they barely fit on the table let alone the plates.

Order the olives as a starter if you are ever there. There is something magical in the marinade.

To be honest I think there might be something magical in the water off the Cornish coastline as well.

It's (cheese alert) where my heart is.

It’s (cheese alert) where my heart is.

10 Reasons Why I Miss Cornwall

1. Bus drivers that do not shout at you for failing to give the precise fee do not allow you to practise your anger management skills, or give you an excuse to borrow change from complete strangers. (A few months ago a bus driver turned away my £5 note. I thought that was harsh until the woman queuing behind me was told off for handing over a £1 coin.)

2. Having only one pasty shop per high street as opposed to, oh, say, four or five, is just poor town planning. You’ve heard the expression ‘sex sells’? So do pasties. They don’t have sex in Cornwall, only pasties. Mmm, pasties.

3. A lack of doomed but defiantly stubborn independence movement makes other English counties seem like they have a self esteem problem. Crossing the border between Cornwall and Devon can lead to panic attacks, binge eating and shopping sprees. (You’re special too, Devon. We love you just as much as Cornwall. Actually come to think of it Devon, your cream teas are better. Good thing, what with the binge eating.)

4. Following nicely on, the non-Cornish cream teas that have the cream spread onto the scone before the jam might be better looking and for some reason more delicious but Cornish cream teas have alliteration. Take that, Devon.

5. No impossibly thin, winding roads banked with impossibly high hedgerows mean that when you are metres away from oncoming traffic on a single track road it is not a total surprise that normally ends with at least one car reversing into a hedge. This makes driving boring. And everyone likes surprises.

6. Going to a nightclub visited only by students and therefore not being hit/hit on by a drunken middle-aged man makes it very difficult to know when to go home. You might have to stay in the club until it closes: even if you’re too hot; even if you’re tired; even if your feet hurt.

7. An absence of out-of-use tin mines and museums dedicated to out-of-use tin mines is depressing. Picture the scene: it’s Saturday morning, you’ve worked hard all week, but there is a whole weekend stretching ahead of you without the possibility of visiting a tin mining museum. I know. I know. If you blink really rapidly for a minute you just might be able to hold back the tears.

8. It rains less in most other counties and that means you can’t complain as much. You might find yourself booking a holiday to Wales only so you have something to complain about.

9. Having lots of cities is much less fun than only having one city per county. After all, making decisions about where to go shopping wastes important shopping time.

10.

But here’s the reason that the previous 9 points just don’t matter.

Why Driving Examiners Are More Scary Than Daleks

If you have ever had the misfortune to leave food within a five metre radius of me, you will be painfully aware that self-control is not exactly my forte. I have basically resigned myself to a lifetime of rehearsing my apologetic smile and hoping that nobody hits me in the face.  However, last week, after failing yet another driving test, I came to a strange realisation: the Leighton Buzzard driving examiners have seen me cry more often than many of my closest friends. With the exception of a few weeks during sixth form when I was taking antibiotics that had the mortifying side effect of making me frequently and spontaneously burst into tears, crying in front of people – especially people who don’t share my DNA – is something I avoid at all costs.

Boyfriend (who, just to be very clear, is not in any way related to me) was decidedly sceptical about my claim that a small group of DSA employees have been witness to my tears more than people who know me well enough to never leave their salt and vinegar products unattended in my presence. This is probably because Boyfriend has seen me cry so many times that he suffers from semi-permanent mascara stains and at some point soon is going to start associating me with the smell of salt. Nevertheless, I do not have many friends who have seen me cry more times than I have failed a driving test – which may not be a testament to my driving ability but is definitely evidence that I do possess a few ounces of self-control.

Dalek vs Gemma: no tears here. Can't just run upstairs to escape a driving examiner.

So, if I can hold it together under normal circumstances, what is it about a driving test that makes me unable to stop myself from crying like a baby? And what can I do to control myself and finally pass? … No, really, those weren’t rhetorical questions: what can I do? Using public transport in Cornwall is like being in a Louis Theroux documentary. Help me.

I have tried to reason that, much like a spider, the driving examiner is probably more scared of me than I am of them; but this has never cured my fear of spiders and spiders don’t have the means to provide me with a driving license. I have tried thinking positive thoughts during the test; but never succeeded in anything other than a petrified mental repetition of swear words in various languages. And as for my mother’s advice to imagine the driving examiners naked; this actually makes them a good deal more scary than fully clothed.

Short of having a few shots of vodka before my test (which I fancy may be frowned upon by the Driving Standards Agency) I am depressingly out of ideas.

I do of course know that, apart from being incredibly frustrating and expensive, the repercussions of a string of failed driving tests are pretty much non-existent. Sure, I spend more time on buses than any sane person wishes to spend, but I have friends who love me enough to put up with me eating their food and a boyfriend who loves me enough to put up with me being ever so slightly hysterical.

And yes, it would certainly be nice to travel without fearing for my life, but something tells me that after four failed driving tests it is quite possible that any number of eccentric Cornish people on a bus are less of a danger to me than I am to myself.