The minute you have your first child, you know you will be spending one, if not all, of your summer holidays in Cornwall. In fact, for many families, it becomes their default destination. Far enough away to feel exotic but drive-able, with world-beating beaches and a host of kiddie-friendly attractions, the only reason you might think twice about booking up every year is the notoriously changeable climate (which, let’s face it, after recent summers, is a pretty big reason).
So, in the spirit of solidarity with the throngs of other British parents who descend on Cornwall each year, we spent a week near the town of Camelford when our son, Leo, was 16 months old. True to form, the weather was erratic, with blazing, hot sunshine interspersed by heavy downpours. However, with only one thoroughly miserable day, we managed to make the most of our time in this stunningly beautiful region. Here’s what we got up to, and where we stayed.
1. Biking like pros in the Camel Valley trail
The Camel Valley trail has to be a contender for the best bike-trail for non-bikers in the whole country. Why? Well, it’s flat for a start. Moreover, it affords stunning views along the Camel estuary, with sandy beaches, wild flowers and the ebb and flow of the tide to distract you along the way. Following a disused railway line, you can hire bikes at Wadebridge and head to Padstow and back (although if you wish to go further, the trail goes all the way in the other direction to Bodmin). The bike shops all offer trailers and seats for children – we had Leo on the back, although families with more than one child (and dogs!) opted for the buggies. The best thing about the trail is the sense of achievement – getting somewhere and back under your own steam; plus there are plenty of gastronomic treats in store at your destination (see below). I’d recommend a pasty on the quay at Padstow – delish.
2. Hanging with cool kids in Rock
Imagine a Hollister poster. And there you have it: Rock, in summer. It’s where the public school set descend to enjoy overpriced food in too-cool cafes and stock up on trendy surfer-dude garb. Rock’s setting is undeniably splendid. Sporting a gorgeous, sandy beach, the short boat ride across the estuary to Padstow adds frisson to your average day at the seaside. We spent a couple of happy days here. The shallow shores made it safe for Leo to paddle and walks along the shore were delightful. Just beware the tides – when it’s high, not an awful lot of beach remains. Pitch your sunshade in the wrong place and you could be making a dash for it.
3. Dine with the Stein in Padstow
I defy anyone to leave this part of the world without lining the coffers of Rick Stein. He’s got Padstow sewn up with fine dining, casual dining and good old fish’n’chips dining. Not wanting to risk the full on extravaganza of The Seafood Restaurant with an 18 month old, we opted for the more informal St Petroc’s bistrot. It was busy and with no reservation, we pounced on a little table on the terrace out front. A crafty lunchtime glass of wine in the sun went down a treat and the food was food, and fairly priced. Leo was happily accommodated with no awkwardness at all.
4. Scoff scones at Bedruthen Steps
I think I had the best cream tea ever at the National Trust cafe at Bedruthen Steps. It would be worth the trip regardless of the world-class seascape a few feet away. Don’t even think about your midriff, it’s two warm scones, extra jam and full clotted cream all the way. Leo devoured his happily before tottering off towards the cliff edge. Which, I must warn you, is unfenced. So keep a tight rein on your little ones. We took a wander along the clifftop (with Leo in the back carrier) and enjoyed watching the waves roll in below, the birds flying overhead and the clumps of springy flowers by our feet. Delightful.
5. Get weird in Tintagel
Tintagel is a strange place. My wife and I would describe it as ‘all crystals’ – our way of saying it’s full of new age shops and people being ‘spiritual’. Even stranger is Camelot Castle (pictured below), a hotel (more like a haunted house) that is home to the mysterious ‘Light Box’. This apparent wonder of natural beauty escaped us – we didn’t pay the supplement to go in, we were just too spooked by the place by this point. But someone please do so and report back! If you don’t fancy Camelot either, head down to the beach – there’s a big cave to explore and rock pools; your kids will be kept busy pottering leaving you with some time to find your inner essence, if you need to…
6. Trebarwith Sands
A spectacular strand best appreciated in warm weather – and definitely at low tide, when the vast, shiny flat sands are exposed. We went on a bright sunny morning – that, our of nowhere, turned into a very rainy one. We ended up huddled in a (cheap) beach tent with condensation dripping on us. Not pleasant. However, we still managed to enjoy the rock pools and paddling about in the waves. At high tide, the sands disappear and you are left with some rather sharp rocks to navigate, so be sure to check your tide tables before you head off.
7. Brave the Eden Project
Technically not in North Cornwall but a rainy day fallback for any holiday in Cornwall. I’m not going to say much here that hasn’t been said elsewhere. But, to tell the truth, I wasn’t overawed by the whole experience. It was very busy (and this was outside of school holidays), stuffy and Leo spent a fair bit of it asleep in his buggy. Definitely one for slightly older kids IMHO (shoot me now).
Where we stayed: Mayrose Farm
Mayrose Farm is a collection of self-catering cottages clustered together in 18 acres of rolling countryside. We stayed in the Old Piggery, which has two bedrooms, a lounge/kitchen/dining area and a cute private patio garden out back with a BBQ. It met our needs perfectly, cosy without being pokey and very comfortable. The farm has an honesty shop selling the basics (very useful for a pint of milk) and there’s an outdoor heated swimming pool – though we never spent much time there, preferring to spend our sunny moments on the beach. The usual collection of sheeps, cows and chickens complete the bucolic picture. A week in the Old Piggery costs £980 in high season.
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