Lorraine Candy’s Guide to North Cornwall

Lorraine Candy’s Guide to North Cornwall

Enodoc Church sits in the middle of the sand dunes
overlooking Daymer Bay, under the shadow of Brea Hill. You have to
reach it by foot and there are only enough tiny wooden pews inside
to seat around 80 people. The crooked spire is barely visible
because the dunes are almost level with the tip of this
12th-century treasure, nestling quietly in the middle of a lush
green golf course. When I see local groundsmen wandering past, I
marvel at how lucky they are to see the place I love more than
anything in the world almost every day.

I grew up on the edge of Bodmin Moor in South East Cornwall, an
altogether more bleak landscape than the pretty one surrounding St
Enodoc. But every summer my younger sister, my parents and I would
pile into a cream VW Combi van with an assortment of dogs and
travel to the North Cornish beaches, from Bude to Newquay, to camp
out for the school holidays.

This was the early eighties, no one wore wetsuits and we swam in
the turbulent but beautiful sea every day and walked a million
miles along the cliff paths. We always returned to visit St Enodoc
church and in the visitors book I would write about how I dreamed
of marrying there.

The peculiar sense of peace it brought me was unexpected, for we
are not a religious family. I loved every nook and cranny and
adored it even more as I grew to cherish the poems of Sir John
Betjeman who was buried there in 1984. The way he writes about
Cornwall – “the golden unpeopled bays, the shadowy cliffs and
sheep-worn ways” – captures the spellbinding majesty of Cornwall.
More importantly, his words always symbolise family, which is what
Cornwall means to me.

I left the county I grew up in as a 16-year-old wannabe
journalist, heading to a traineeship on a London paper from which I
have worked my way to a decade as Editor-in-Chief of ELLE.

But despite leaving Cornwall so early, I did return to marry my
husband James at St Enodoc in 2000. I wanted to start married life
in the place my heart belongs. And six years ago we bought a second
home on the cliffs overlooking Polzeath Beach (Hayle Bay) where we
now spend all of our four children’s school holidays. We rarely go

The tide that sweeps me back to Cornwall is both magical and
melancholic. I don’t know if there is something in the
extraordinary purity of daylight that has attracted artist after
artist to the county which provides an inexplicable but addictive
magic. Or maybe it’s simply a longing for the stillness of
listening to the sounds of the sea I love so much. I think the
contrast between my slower days there and my busy North London
working mum life is the key.

All I know is that if I so much as mention going somewhere else
on holiday – even hotter, more exotic climes – all our kids look at
me with horror, as if I’ve said let’s get rid of the TV.

When I first took my husband to visit 20 years ago, there was
little in the way of gastronomic delights or well-organised
activities. It was rustic, lovely but a little unfriendly.
Ironically, we were once refused service at a lonely petrol garage
in the middle of nowhere because we weren’t locals. Padstow was a
fishing village with a new chef called Rick Stein in town and Rock,
the haven for young Royals on the Camel Estuary, was yet to become
one of the most expensive postcodes in the UK.

The now-booming tourist industry pays homage to the Cornish
landscape and in particular its beaches, so I don’t mind that it
costs more to get a latte at the Polzeath beachside café Cone Zone
than Oxford Street’s Selfridges.

My favourite time to be in our Cornish bolthole is winter, even
though many attractions close down between November and Easter. I
enjoy the wildness of the warm but blustery weather and swim in the
sea more then than in the busier summer months. I’m learning to
surf and I like to run the few miles home along the cliff paths and
across the dunes to clear my head. We always have a houseful of
guests – locals and Londoners – and we never miss the annual St
Minver Fair, a treasure trove of bric-a-brac and brilliant homemade

It can rain for days but we stay inside and play games (there is
a wonderful Oxfam in nearby Wadebridge where someone seems to hand
in a summer’s worth of games every time the season ends, and we
pick up all the classics for £1 each.)

We tend to avoid more touristy places like Padstow nowadays,
where the queues for fish and chips can some times take an hour,
and Port Isaac, which has become crowded since it shot to fame on
Doc Martin. We go instead to neighbouring Port Gaverne, where a
breathtaking cliff drive leads you into the smallest pebbly inlet
for lunch at the The Golden Lion. They welcome our children in a
way that many pubs do not.

We spend lazy mornings in The TubeStation café on the hill in
Polzeath where there is a mini skate ramp and super-friendly
service. They do savoury crêpes for breakfast and when it’s sunny
you can see right across the bay and people watch for hours. There
are some good celebrity spots as this is where David and Samantha
Cameron holiday too. Occasionally I have dodged paparazzi sitting
in wait for other well-known names on my way back along the cliff
after early-morning surf practice. But no one stands on ceremony in
North Cornwall, not even the Prime Minister. I go from sitting in
the front row and wearing all the latest fashions in London to
rarely wearing shoes in Cornwall. And that’s my favourite feeling:
wandering the small path from our house to the beach barefoot, my
four kids following behind, treading in the long-gone footprints I
myself left as a small child.

The place to stay

We rent out our beachside cottage through Rural Retreats, which has some unique
beach-view properties on its books (our cottage is called
Pentewan.) Polzeath has some of the most modern and luxurious
second homes to rent, but the more expensive Rock can also
accommodate a wide range of groups. The Port Gaverne Hotel is a special place to stay
for those less beach-inclined. And the St Moritz Hotel offers suites, rooms and
cottages. It also has a brilliant Cowshed Spa and both an indoor
and outdoor pool. Plus wellies to borrow for summer visitors who
underestimate the Cornish rain!

Best breakfast view

café in Rock, or the balcony at The Rock Inn.
Neither of these places serves spectacular food but the view across
the Camel Estuary to Padstow is stunning, and I say this as a woman
who has travelled to every continent in the world (yes, even
Antarctica). If you want really posh nosh, head further south to
the Watergate Bay Hotel or The Beach Hut. Or even Jamie Oliver’s sumptuous

Best beach

Polzeath wins hands down for me. The bay is safe but big. It’s
sheltered and the sand is golden. Due to National Trust rules of
minimal development the small seafront of shops has remained the
same since I was a child. Wetsuit and surf hire is easy. The lads
who run the four beach trampolines are ridiculously friendly and
have watched all our children grow up. Geoff mans the bouncy castle
and little golf course and the local Spar supermarket is better
stocked than my local Primrose Hill shops. Nearby Daymer Bay is a
windsurfers’ paradise and dog walkers’ haven. We often picnic here
and watch the sun go down over the bay’s stiller waters. And no
trip home is complete without a mission to find tiny Cowrie shells
at Trebetherick beach.

The big surf

The most patient and accomplished surf instructor I know teaches
at Polzeath. I have spent years finding the right person to learn
with on Cornwall’s many beaches, and was overjoyed to find George
Stoy and his team of well-trained instructors. He specialises in
one-to-one lessons and small groups rather than the mass group
mentality which exists across many surf schools. Even if you have
never set foot in water before, ring George’s Surf
and you’ll be up on a wave before you know it. Plus the
fun games the team have developed for kids keep them engaged and
learning even in the rain.

Best coffee pitstop

. Polzeath. Check out the art gallery next door.
It’s an eclectic mix of work by local and further afield artists
with some lovely pottery. This is where the surfers go, while kids
enjoy the mini skate ramp and homemade cake.

Best lunch

Sea Side at St Moritz. This relaxed but
extremely glamorous 1920s-style modern hotel has got luxury nailed.
The café has the view, while the more formal restaurant and bar is
some way from the sea. Food here is delightful, served indoors
overlooking the pool and Greenaway Bay.

Best cream tea

, St Endellion. If you want to see and taste a Victoria
sponge cake better than anything Nigella could make, this is the
place. Though be warned – the cakes are huge! This place has a zip
wire, a family of wallabies and in the summer the sunflower fields
are beyond romantic if you take a date. Strawberry season is a
lovely experience too – pick enough to make jam or take them

Where the sea meets the river

You cannot leave North Cornwall without cycling along the River
Camel. Hire a bike at Wadebridge and then pedal slowly to Padstow.
Watch swans in the creek and see the super yachts glide into Rock.
And the water skiing instructors at Camel Ski School in
Rock will show you the easy way to do this fun sport. You can go
mackerel fishing from the ski school too and if you really want to
get wet, try the banana inflatable. No one stays on!

Best sunset dinner view

The Waterfront restaurant, Polzeath. The food and the
service here is hit-and-miss but who cares? The view of the beach
is amazing. Plus they love children and patiently put up with the
chaos we bring, as well as making sure couples get the romance
needed as the sun sets over the beach. I had my surprise 40th
birthday here.

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