David Wakefield enjoys the delights of Poldark country – but discovers a link with Norfolk in a tiny fishing village.
You really have to want to go to Cornwall, if you live in Norfolk that is. It’s a 400-mile-plus drive to begin with; then there have been stories this year about traffic jams and sky-high prices.
So, is it worth it?
The enthusiastic answer is: “Yes, it is.”
Like so many others we had abandoned any hope of getting abroad; let’s stay home we said, but where? After some debate we decided on Cornwall and began looking – but this soon turned into a holiday mission impossible. Cottages and apartments were disappearing virtually as we looked. ‘Thinking about it’ became not an option.
So, finding a cottage in the tiny fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) we jumped in quickly, and found we had made an excellent choice. Cornwall, the motorist will quickly learn – and Jeremy Clarkson did – is not a driver’s paradise, with narrow, twisty roads, steep inclines and climbs; and Mousehole, with its higgledy-piggledy layout centred around the tiny harbour, was typical. Parking at the cottage was out of the question, but sheer good fortune found us a parking spot on the harbour wall, from where it was uphill with our luggage to the accommodation.
Sitting on a bench overlooking the harbour later that day, watching children in wetsuits having a great time in the water, I realised that we had, almost inadvertently, made a great choice.
Mousehole is not the place to be looking for entertainment. Three pubs – two of which serve food – a deli, post office, restaurant and village shop comprise the retail opportunities; plus, there are also some nice little art galleries. But we loved it, and even found a Norfolk link, but more of that later.
Mousehole is only 10 miles north of Land’s End, and this symbolic spot was high on our list of visits – if only to get the regulation photograph! There’s not an awful lot there if you avoid the tourist tat, but the bonus is a clifftop one mile walk to nearby Sennen Cove that is breathtakingly beautiful. The Surf Café there had been recommended to us and our coffees and hot chocolate didn’t disappoint.
Cornwall is famous for its gardens, but the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan were too far north. Instead, we went to the Trebah Gardens, a sub-tropical paradise on the Helford River. Much like our own Sheringham Park, Trebah is famous for its magnificent show of rhododendrons and azaleas during spring, but autumn revealed to us a wonderful show of huge and beautiful hydrangeas, and bamboo growing in profusion. The bonus was a man-made beach area where we sat in glorious sunshine and enjoyed ice creams and drinks while watching the activities on the river.
Any thoughts that Cornwall might be running down its season were dispelled by our visit to St Ives.
More in hope than anything else, we drove into the town – which was heaving – and then decided, more sensibly, to use the efficient park and ride service.
St Ives, with its arty connections, is a delight, with some really good independent shops, restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, the delight didn’t extend to the weather, which produced enough chilly wind and rain to make us curtail our visit.
Padstow, on the other hand, greeted us with a beautifully sunny day – and, again, was very busy. The town has become synonymous with the name of the chef/entrepreneur Rick Stein, who has considerable business interests there including the famous seafood restaurant, a fish and chip restaurant, shop, deli and a hotel. We did buy a couple of things in the shop – not the chocolate at £4.95 a bar – but then this area is a favourite haunt of the well-heeled who probably would not object.
Unwittingly, we probably saved the best until last: St Michael’s Mount, similar to Mont St Michel in Brittany. This National Trust property is a tidal island with a castle, gardens and an island community. It is accessible on foot over a causeway when the tides allow, but at high tide, return is by boat.
Clambering up the steep steps to the castle is well worth it as the views are spectacular, as is the plant life, with some particularly fine hydrangeas – they seem to like Cornwall!
What about Poldark? There is a Poldark mine to visit, unfortunately closed while we were there, but there are plenty of Cornish location references on the internet. The one disappointment was finding that the house used as George Warleggan’s Trenwith was actually in Gloucestershire!
But what about that Norfolk connection?
Walking through Mousehole on the way to an evening drink, I noticed a panel outside a small building adorned with carved wooden whales. These I recognised – because there are some on my wall at home – as the work of Norfolk artist Andrew Ruffhead, now living in Spain, but continuing his work via the internet. Andrew confirmed that they were a commission from a few years ago.
The building in question had a history of a store for rockets, probably used on lifeboats. And as the Penlee boat was stationed only about a mile from Mousehole this would seem likely. Sadly, in 1981, eight Penlee crew were lost in an attempted rescue.
Like Norfolk, Cornwall is lifeboat country – in fact, the county has more RNLI stations than any other in the UK. As we watched the seas crash against the cliffs at Land’s End on a not particularly rough day, the bravery of those who set out on mercy missions came into sharp focus.
Whatever the conditions, lifeboats don’t turn back – a famous phrase uttered at the inquest into the 1 901 Caister disaster, and that only served to underscore a link with our home county.
For more information about places visited, use the following links: