Headed off to Cornwall, my two siblings and I thought nothing of being squeezed in the back, elbows digging into one another, feet propped on coolbags laden with a week’s supplies, worn out by endless rounds of I Spy. Pillows were wedged against the windows, the boot was packed so high we travelled in semi-darkness, and the journey in our overloaded car seemed to take forever.
On arrival, the ‘cottage’ we’d rented was usually a dank little house rather than the charming, squeaky-clean rectory my mum had hoped for. Sometimes we struck lucky – one year, it was an idyllic farm cottage in Bude, with its own path winding down to a little cove, lace curtains billowing at the windows and freshly baked bread awaiting us. Other times we weren’t so lucky, as with the ‘cottage’ that turned out to be a rocking caravan in a mud-sodden field.
But my memories of these days are not of the practicalities and the sinking heart when you discovered the mildewed cutlery and dodgy sofas. It is of endless days on the beach, sandy toes, sandwiches behind the wind-break and jaunts around a harbour, ice cream in hand. My mum begs to differ, of course, but the point is that I wanted to recreate those memories for my kids, now.
And so, buoyed up by these nostalgic memories of traditional bucket-and-spade holidays, and in spite of my other half’s scepticism about the weather and his penchant for a week somewhere exotic, I dragged the family to west Cornwall. This is a part of the UK that has a fantastic number of things to see and do. You can drive down to Porthcurno, near Land’s End, for dolphin- or seal-spotting, or visit one of the many beautiful gardens this area is renowned for due to its mild climate. Among them, the National Trust’s vast Trengwainton Garden, a magical place filled with trees and flowers sourced from around the world, often has children’s activities such as treasure hunts and trails but is always a superb place to take a picnic and bask in idyllic surroundings.
Wary of the cramped self-catering options I remembered from the 1970s, we based ourselves at Hawke’s Point (hawkes-point.co.uk) overlooking Carbis Bay, with ultra-modern, luxurious apartments. Ours even had a brass telescope to help check out what’s on the horizon. Carbis Bay itself, a three-minute walk away, is a lovely, sheltered expanse of soft sand – a rarity in Cornwall.
Then there’s the artists’ haven of St Ives, just a 20-minute walk along a stunning cliff path (for those with younger children, the 10-minute train from Carbis Bay to St Ives offers stunning scenery en route). St Ives is a wonderful place to meander around, with fishermen’s cottages, pretty little shops and fantastic restaurants. The Tate St Ives is a great way to spend a rainy morning, with a kids’ room where young visitors can recreate works of art, plus the Hepworth Family Sculpture Trail.
If it’s simply exploring the sandy beaches and rockpools you’re after, this side of Cornwall offers some spectacular coastline. But some of Cornwall’s best-loved highlights are also just a short drive from the apartments, including Falmouth Maritime Museum (about 40 minutes), the Lost Gardens of Heligan (about 50 minutes) and the Eden Project (about an hour).
The quaint harbour-town of Fowey is also a great day-trip away, with unusual boutiques filled with local crafts, foodstuffs and gifts lining winding lanes, and a harbour perfect for enjoying Cornish clotted-cream ice-cream while people- and boat-watching (for lunch or dinner, try the fresh fish and hearty family meals at Food For Thought on the quay). A cruise around Fowey River takes in the rugged coastal cliffs with its rich bird-life (herons, curlew and sandpipers, and the occasional little egret or kingfisher), St Catherine’s Castle, which guards the harbour entrance, and the Du Maurier family house.
After a day spent exploring, I wondered how the modern-day self-catering was going down. Some thinking ahead and pre-planning with the genius Cornish food-ordering service had meant we had no urgent food shops to do when we got there, with everyday staples, all locally sourced by chefs, delivered on the day of arrival. I glanced around – my husband was lying cocooned in a fur throw, glass of wine in hand, while the boys were excitedly trying to stargaze through the telescope. I looked over at the gleaming kitchen and smiled wryly at my memories of formica and bone-aching beds.
Read more about family holidays in Cornwall, including our hand-picked family-friendly places to stay and our recommendations for things to do with kids.