I have always been smitten with Cornwall with its crunchy golden sand coves, yellow ice-cream, wild surf beaches and famous fish restaurants. I nearly moved to live there once, as I came within days of buying a house in St Ives, a town which still retains a special place in my heart.
Other dreams have been followed now and I am glad that my path lead me to the city of Valencia instead. But Cornwall still conjures up a special magic for me and as we drove along the fuschia lined lanes to the Atlantic View campsite, I felt excited and happy. A week’s camping in Cornwall sounded fun and a great way to celebrate my 58th birthday.
I was clutching the coat tails of another birthday celebration, a 50th birthday party for three other Cancerians. I didn’t wish to steal their thunder. After all they had provided a party marquee, a lamb on a spit to barbecue and a mountain of falafel burgers for the vegetarian campers amongst us. All I had done was turn up with a tent.
However, as we sat beside the campfire, under a dazzling display of stars, I felt a warm birthday glow. There is something lovely about sleeping outdoors in a big field. Even the awful inconvenience of waking to go to the toilet in the middle of the night is soon forgotten in the morning, or at least until the next night.
The key is to make sure you have a shower every day, even if it’s tempting not to bother. That way you feel as if you are on top of things as even if your clothes are getting grubby at least you are clean underneath them. On this particular site we needed 20 pence pieces to get hot water in the dusty shower where spiders lurked in corners. I used five each time.
Cooking breakfast outside is another delight and somehow I found myself eating bacon and egg for the first time in years. It tasted delicious, far nicer than the vegetarian sausage I was handed from the beach barbecue after a chilly dip in the clear Atlantic.
Our campsite had a path which lead to Porthcothan Beach – a perfect cove from which you could walk to the larger bay when the tide was out. The Porthcothan Stores, found behind the dunes of the bigger beach, must be a lucrative venture for its owners. It sold everything you might wish for, from Cornish pasties to stylish soft drinks such as sparkling cucumber water, as well as ice-cream, fudge and postcards, all at inflated prices. But I had no gripe with this establishment as it offered a thoughtful and welcome service.
Much of Cornwall is overpriced and there are many wealthy visitors and their offspring, marauding the streets of pretty towns like Padstow.
This gourmet’s paradise is also known as Padstein because on every corner there is a Rick Stein café, deli, restaurant or bakery. You can hardly buy a pint of milk without his name emblazoned across it and this has so irked the local people that they have apparently tried to set fire to one of his properties.
I thought that this was churlish of them as there is no doubt that the seafood loving Cornish chef has brought fame, business and employment to the town. His Scotch Eggs, bought from the harbourfront deli for £3.50 a shot, were a little steep, although delicious. But the £20 a head set lunch, served in his St Petroc’s Bistro seemed good value, with its wonderfully cooked sole and heavenly Panna Cotta. I felt more grumpy with Rick in The Cornish Arms, back along the road to Newquay. We retreated there on a rainy day and waited hours to be served mediocre fish curry for £13 a portion.
I really liked the Watergate Bay Bistro(not an R.S property) where we ate lunch on my birthday with a glorious view of the massive beach and its massive waves. Thai Baked fish, salt and pepper squid and chocolate ganache was around £25 and I loved every mouthful.
There is a lot to be said for eating in unstylish pubs. Back at Porthcothan the Tredrea was ugly inside but had a spacious terrace from which to admire the sun setting over the bay. They served huge plates of seabass and new potatoes for £11 a helping and were so friendly and helpful, unlike in The Cornish Arms where the staff looked exhausted.
I was sad to say goodbye to the tent, the bouncy mattress and the Portaloo, which my boyfriend had placed next to the camping stove in a way that prompted another camper (female) to ask me how I ‘processed’ his behaviour. I have long given up trying to process him or make much sense of what he does, but he’s a dab hand at cooking on a tiny flame and a whizz at squeezing all the camping gear into the car. For the purposes of that birthday week, it was good enough for me.