Why Cornwall is good for the soul

“The golden and unpeopled bays

The shadowy cliffs and sheep-worn ways

The white unpopulated surf

The thyme-and-mushroom scented surf

The slate-hung farms, the oil-lit chapels

Thin elms and lemon-coloured apples…" 

- Sir John Betjeman, Delectable Duchy, 1974

 

Cornwall is a great place to push the reset button and do whatever you need to give succour to your soul. What do you do to escape the demands of your iPhone? What do you do to get completely off-the-grid? Do you embark on a long-distance bike ride; disappear off on a hike with your dog into the wilderness, or do you find the right balance by simply parking yourself on a bench with a flask of tea and a good book at a beauty spot? You don’t have to be physically still to slow down or even move slowly – in essence, it’s a full-on escape and an adjustment you need to renew your vigour. Do whatever it is that restores the ‘things’ that make you, you; and be sure to ‘do whatever it is that you do’ in Cornwall.

Everybody remembers their first time in Cornwall. Mine came relatively late, I was 24 and I went there on a trip with an old friend. She had wanted to go back to Newquay to lay the ghost of an old relationship to rest, I went along because I’d never been further west than Clovelly and needed a holiday. Although it was grey for June I didn’t know what to expect as we drove into Newquay, but I was instantly struck by the immediacy of the ocean. It seemed to surround the town on all sides and it influenced everything I could see. Being used to seaside resorts like Brighton, Bournemouth, Southend-on-Sea, I was expecting a long Victorian promenade and a pier, but these aren’t typical of any town in Cornwall. It’s different there. It’s a bit like England only it’s better, slower, prettier and it invites us to realign and improve our ways. 

Deniz Altindas - Unsplash

To be considered a true Cornishman, you need to be third generation and it’s this nebulous fact that stands at the heart of getting to know the real Cornwall. In essence, it could never be mine; when I go there I am merely borrowing it and it’s this insight that gives The Duchy its extra special allure. Its unattainability is palpable when I drive away after a holiday break: you can’t take the place home with you. Yet I radiate and feel so good inside knowing that I can return again soon and experience these feelings anew on my next trip.

We all have our special place in Cornwall

As a travel writer, I understand that it’s not only writing about the things you can get up to or see in a place; it’s also, and perhaps most importantly, about our emotional connections with our chosen destination. This prompted me to ask the people around the room, here at holidaycottages.co.uk, where their special place in Cornwall was. The responses were as different as you would expect from such a well-travelled bunch. All of them had been to Cornwall many times: I chose early morning sojourns to the sand dunes at Fistral Beach during the off-season; one picked climbing atop of the beacon at the summit of Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor; another chose taking in the iconic view of St Michael’s Mount from Marazion at the height of summer, and the final one chose drifting along the lush tree gilded Helford River in a kayak. No two backdrops were the same, be it a wooded river course, a golden beach, a lonely spot high above the moors, or a classic sea view – the Duchy did something unique to each of us and continues to do so. 

As a species, most of us are drawn to the coast and the wilderness. Cornwall is surrounded by the sea and ocean and it is home to huge tracts of moorland and wild open countryside. For me, there’s nothing quite like standing at the edge of an entity of such scale to give ourselves and our concerns clarity and perspective be it an ocean or a desert. In Cornwall, my soul soars as I stand above a swirling blue sea – being next to this hypnotic, boiling mass of incalculable power yields a calming effect over me. I doubt I’m alone in this: watching the big blue offers a widely appreciated therapy. 

Riders on the storm

It’s no coincidence that the Atlantic Ocean spills forth inspiration to local boys and girls across the county to master the art of surfing. They grow up to be assured rulers – born to stand on the shoulders of briny rollers or to sit astride of their boards with a seasoned eye fixed on the horizon for the next wave to take them shorebound.   Battering the coasts into shape over millennia the unstoppable procession of white crested waves inspire awe tinged with fear in all of them. The sea bewitches locals as it is omnipresent in their daily lives: appearing at the corner of their vision, beckoning them to play, down tools and run to the beach at the soonest opportunity. The treat of an early swerve from work, the welcomed chorus of slamming combi van doors, the sage banter as they wonder if the sea gods will reap the wind or give them a wave worth the paddle out. I love watching accomplished surfers from afar; it’s one of my favourite things to do and I can make it last for hours.

jonny hayes - unsplash

Out of season, the quiet streets of Newquay become the kingdom of the early bird surfer; silent shops and penny arcades with darkened windows - all months away from the next busy period; it’s a place where seagulls herald the day to come and household cats are the custodians of the town streets until everybody else gets out of bed. As I am a natural early riser, I often feel like I have stolen a march on those around me and Cornwall loves the first person to wake up. Even on murky days, untold pleasures await; a high tide leaves hordes of natural objet d’arts behind making a rainy beachcomb something to behold; a private sunrise; a pod of dolphins. Looking out over the ocean from the cliff tops of Newquay, I make out the horizon and it grounds my thoughts and centres my soul, and it’s here in this thriving town, not in one of the remote spots, that Cornwall gets me, and that I am allied to it for good.

I will always love heading down to the dunes at the back of Fistral Beach to watch distant surfing athletes defy nature by harnessing the elements with only slim borrowed protection from their boards and wetsuits. They possess such poise and balance as time and time again wave forms double down over themselves, threatening to dash them on the seabed. Sooner them than me, I get my joy from watching these strangers create their fleeting art upon the waves. The song by Patti Smith, ‘Horses’, also brings my transportive and rarely undertaken pastime to life. The chorus is an incantation that seems to usher in those mythical white maned horses visible in fleeting bursts out there in the cascading melee.  Even on the worst weather days, you can see them out there on their quest without an answer. Being a top athlete like these men and women is something you can’t fake and I’m grateful that I get to see them each time I get up early enough. Cornish life is synonymous with surfing and it probably will be forever.

My friends in the office confirm my feelings as we swap stories about that set of soul-affirming moments and emotions they get whenever they think about their time in Cornwall. Like some of them, I’ve been lucky enough to kayak along the Helford River where the only sound you can hear is the water dripping off your oar as you take time to stop and listen to take in the vainglorious greenery all about.  When you go visiting Cape Cornwall, St Agnes or Botallack, do you imagine being a tin miner working 16 hour shifts in dangerous conditions when you perch high above the ruined engine houses? How were these structures built? Who built them? I find myself further distracted by the knowledge that some of the excavations out here in West Penwith extend 2 miles out beneath the seabed. Such conundrums take your mind away from the trifle of the day to day, and you learn that this is the true meaning of escape.

There are many other parts of the Duchy that are impossibly remote and striking places that make you really wonder, given the rising population numbers across the world, how it’s possible to have such pure and beautiful spots all to yourself, nobody else for miles and miles.   Buy yourself a few old-fashioned OS Maps – leave the mobile phone switched off and evaporate into the scenery. This is why Cornwall is good for the soul.

Stay in Cornwall but go out. Way out.

Photographs by Jonny Hays / Deniz Altindas at Unsplash

Posted by Ed on 9th November 2018