Cornwall on a Shoestring (Mostly)

Something inside me has yearned for some time to visit Cornwall: its rugged landscapes; jagged, dramatic cliffs; its sense of ancient mystery dating back to pre-christian times (I have the greatest respect for christianity, but sometimes you can’t beat a bit of home-grown paganism). We’ve ‘done’ Devon many times, and I love it. For my husband, no holiday in the South West is complete without a visit to Widdicombe-in-the-Moor for a cream tea (and you have to drive in the right way, the one that displays the lovely view of the tiny, chocolate box village spread out below you as you approach). But this year I decided Tintagel, St Michael’s Mount and – especially – the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Boscastle could wait no longer, and so we embarked on what turned out to be a 10-hour journey, the car crammed to the hilt with tent, pillows, sleeping bags, camping paraphernalia and three children, trading the sunshine and 26 degree heat of Cambridgeshire for Cornwall’s traditional mizzle.

If you’ve read my post Pint Pots and Porta-Loos you’ll know that I enjoy camping despite its drawbacks (namely the lack of an in-tent toilet for night time, though I’ve found my own ‘back to basics’ way round this, and potential noise when I’m trying to sleep). As my in-laws have very kindly given us their old caravan, I was aware that this might be our last holiday under canvas, which heightened both my frustrations with, and sense of appreciation of, all things tentish.

Lack of space was more of an issue than ever, with all of us attempting to live out of one enormous suitcase. Everything we wore was crumpled from rummaging, and somehow no-one had enough pants. Airbeds kept deflating because of Little Daughter jumping on them. Spiders were rife, and seemed to possess the ability to permeate canvas as if by osmosis. Luckily, although they weren’t small they were sufficiently spindly for me to deal with. (Those juicy-bodied, segmenty-legged garden spiders? No chance.) Noise was not a problem at all; in fact, I think most of the other holidaymakers with their caravans viewed us as ‘that noisy family with the tent’. A few days in, a very fat man pitched up next door with his family, and I must admit when I saw him airing his extensive beer gut from the comfort of his reinforced deck chair I did groan inwardly, thinking “Great. A snorer”. As it happens, though, my prejudice proved unfounded, as prejudices generally are.

The joys, apart from the cost – £142 for 6 days somewhere dizzyingly gorgeous, with electric hook-up and the most beautifully appointed ablutions building I’d ever experienced on a camping holiday – included the lack of screens, belly laughs a-plenty, wonderful places to visit* and everything we ate (even tinned value meatballs) tasting amazing. You get seriously hungry when you’re camping. We felt more completely and fully a family than we had in some time. Let’s face it, when your kids are 14, 11 and 3 and girl-boy-girl it can be hard to find common ground. That’s another thing I love about camping. It cuts through all kinds of crap: there’s no sense of entitlement, no spending ages on your appearance, no pressure to appear cool, not even any uploading pictures to Facebook (because happy times only count when you document them in photographic form to the world at large, right!?)

For me there was also a certain proud defiance. I hear many people my age claim that their camping days are over, or that they ‘like their creature comforts now’. Either they’re saying they’re too old and achey – which naturally I refuse to do – or they’re hinting that they’ve done so well for themselves they no longer need to rough it. Well, each to their own, but as far as I’m concerned camping is utterly fab. If we do end up selling or giving away our tent, I will view it as a sad surrender.

As for Cornwall itself, I was every bit as enchanted as I had hoped to be. New experiences were offered, and new, surprising dimensions teased out of us. Where else could an 11-year-old boy break (yes, break) a 900-year-old castle and hurl the evidence into crashing waves hundreds of feet below? (OK then, not all surprising.) Who could have known, crossing the bridge to the ablutions building at the campsite one morning, that Little Daughter would be overcome with such high spirits that she would playfully slap the behind of a friendly chap who had stopped to let us pass? (It was her. I swear it on all I hold dear.) And how often is a teenage girl tempted out from behind her phone by greenery? Or rather, by the lush, undulating, tropical beauty of Glendurgan gardens (how can that place by in the UK!? There are leaves the size of mattresses!) She even photographed some astonishing flowers that looked like dancing flames. On her phone, of course.

For my husband and me, things were even more dramatic: he took a startling and unprecedented pride in keeping the tent tidy, and I found myself going over to chat with the people next door. I, the ultimate introvert. Chatting with strangers. And I instigated it.

The climate was all over the place; it just added to the sense of wild abandon. Rain threatened, fell, backed off, fell again, threatened, disappeared and then the sun came out and roasted us for all of seven minutes until the clouds that had been heading away decided to return and give us a bit more rain. It was exhausting, but you’ve never seen rainbows like it. Unfortunately, my husband, who always has the daunting task of loading the car, had not packed wellies and waterproofs due to lack of space(!), but we coped.

Next year’s holiday is going to cost many times more than this year’s, and we’re all looking forward to it. But will we be as many times happier while we’re there? Doubtful. Now excuse me while I go and upload my holiday pics to Facebook …

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Where we stayed

Cosawes Park, between Truro and Falmouth. http://www.cosawes.co.uk Highlight: the immaculate facilities, particularly the large, luxurious shower rooms for disabled people or those with small children. It’s also really, really pretty.

*Where we went

St Michael’s Mount (free for National Trust members). Highlight: walking across the causeway while it is still slightly submerged – you feel like Jesus. http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk

Tintagel Castle (free for English Heritage members). Highlight: the views. Ahhh, those views. We were lucky – this was our only half day of sunshine. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/

Glendurgan Gardens (free for National Trust members – loving that birthday present so much, dear in-laws!) Highlight: the maze – it’s a proper beastie; also, feeling as if you are in a tropical rainforest whilst enjoying our gentler climate. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/glendurgan-garden

The Lobster Hatchery in Padstow (£9 family ticket). The find of the holiday! Highlight: its uniqueness, plus the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff. Oh, and the baby lobsters. http://www.nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle. Highlight: I loved it all, but was particularly touched by the magnanimous display of Christian magic considering the historical persecution of those accused of the evils of witchcraft by the Church (not to mention burnt, drowned, tortured and what have you. Did you know ‘pagan’ simply means ‘country dweller’, by the way? And that most of those accused of ‘witchcraft’ were simply herbalists and other sweet, gentle people who happened to be a wee bit more in touch with nature and the wheel of the year than others? Sorry, am I going off at a tangent?) Beautiful, atmospheric Boscastle itself is well worth a visit even if magic isn’t your thing. http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk

The thrift factor

  • Take your time seeking out a campsite: ask around for recommendations, read reviews on TripAdvisor or similar, and compare prices and facilities. I couldn’t believe that somewhere as lovely as Cosawes charged just £142 in high season for 6 days with hook-up, when everywhere else in Cornwall I looked at charged £200-£300. There was no catch: it was fantastic.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have National Trust membership, use it. The NT places near where I live are certainly pretty, but St Michael’s Mount and Glendurgan absolutely blew me away. Another league entirely.
  • Stock up on tinned food for dinner and make picnics to take for lunch. On our second day we spent £38 at the local Asda, which sorted us for five dinners, several picnics and two days’ worth of breakfasts. We’d generally start the day with sausage or bacon sandwiches, which smell and taste divine when you’re camping. Forget healthy food. You’re on holiday. Stage a loud conversation  in front of the supermarket cashier about camping if you feel they might be judging you for feeding your kids tinned hotdogs and Smash.
  • If the weather’s good, you’re spoilt for choice. If not so good, the place you’re staying is bound to have loads of leaflets advertising local all-weather attractions, and there are generally money off coupons to use. The savings may not be great, but every little helps. Talking of which …
  • Don’t forget good old Tesco Clubcard. We didn’t visit Flambards this time, but it is fantastic and if you use your points you can get in for free, saving £10-£20 per person.
  • Take loads of bottled water with you. We always got through more than we anticipated.
  • With your savings you can splurge on ice cream, fish and chips by the sea, cream teas and, of course, Cornish pasties. Yum!

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