When I lived in London my friends divided pretty firmly between North & South. Some of us liked Camden, Hampstead, Highgate, Islington. Others (oh so wrongly) preferred Putney, Clapham, Wimbledon. And never the twain shall meet.
Apparently the same is often true when people talk about the Southwest of England. Friends talk about ‘their corner’ of Devon or Cornwall, where they return regularly, some to family-owned properties, others to well-trusted cottages.
My problem is that I love all of it. We’ve visited the peninsula for the past 5 years, staying near Ilfracombe, Falmouth, Kingsbridge, Fowey, Bodmin & Launceston. All of these areas have their attractions that each exert a serious pull on me to come back.
My main confession would be that we’ve barely made it down to the far South of Cornwall (St Ives, Penzance, The Lizard), but that’s partly because we love the rest of the region so much it seems a shame to stay in the car for an extra hour and a half…
Anyway, what I love about the South West
- The Beaches – Croyde, Harlyn Bay, Constantine Bay, Crackington Haven, Hemmick Bay, Bantham Sands/Bigbury (and I’ve not even been to Watergate, Newquay et al). Rockpools to explore, acres of sand to discover your child-within, sandcastles to build and destroy…
- The cliffs – the South West Coast is stunning. Shorter walks around headlands, or 640 miles during which you climb over 80,000 feet.
- Precipitous, impossibly narrow lanes – around Combe Martin and Berrynarbour, through the villages on Dartmoor. The 3 mile lane to Bantham Sands is mostly a single-track lane, and navigating through the Chelsea Tractors that populate it can be hazardous. The descent to Hemmick Bay feels like driving down a drainpipe. The walls and hedges tower over the car, there is about 18 inches clearance on either side of the car, and absolutely nowhere to pass.
- Helpful Holidays – lovely staff, loads of terrific properties, a very useful website, and their great attitude seems to attract lovely owners who love the area, and who really care about the houses they rent out.
- The coastal villages. Now it’s true that places like Fowey, Salcombe & Padstow have been gentrified, and I’ve heard more than one of these described as Richmond-on-Sea. But it’s not all a bad thing: smaller places like Boscastle & Port Isaac have welcomed tourism in a more limited way, as their geography is so restrictive. The main car park in Port Isaac is the harbour beach at low tide. Clamping is the least of your worries if you overstay the ticket time.
- The Moors – Dartmoor is beautiful, rugged, bleak, almost unforgiving: but it’s where I proposed to Rachel. Our latest discovery on its Western edge is Lydford Gorge, with the wonderful White Lady Waterfall.
Exmoor seems like a smaller sibling, but can feel even more remote with its tiny lanes with walled sides that tower over your car. Bodmin also seems greener, less imposing, but boasts the highest points in Cornwall.
- The Gardens – the mild and wet climate means the gardens are tremendous. We tend to visit in the Spring, and never cease to be amazed at the displays of spring bulbs, Camelias, Azaleas, Magnolias and Rhodedendrons. The steep-sided valleys at Cotehele, Trelissick, Glendurgan are wonderful. The Lost Gardens of Heligan are stunning, and their history almost defies description. Did I forget to mention The Eden Project…?
- The Houses – the National Trust has done well in the South West. We’ve visited Arlington Court, Lanhydrock (amazingly preserved ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ experience and astonishing gardens), Overbeck’s (beautiful gardens and stunning sea views) and Cotehele (wonderful valley gardens and a working mill). Perhaps my favourite is the grande folie of Castle Drogo on the Northern edge of Dartmoor. Its design by Lutyens is a thing of wonder and beauty. Its location on a precipice above the River Teign gorge is awesome.
- The Food – just like salads taste better in France, so do cream teas and pasties down here. There may be pasty shops in every high street, but they are just better down here, like PW Coleman in Salcombe or Nicki B’s Deli in Port Isaac. The seafood can be wonderful – I recommend Denis Knight in Port Isaac for fresh crab, sole & homemade fishcakes. Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips are an expensive treat, although The Codfather in Launceston is a much cheaper and no less delicious alternative! And we’ve loved discovering two excellent vineyards too, at Camel Valley near Bodmin and Sharpham near Totnes.
- The people – from the supermarket checkout staff to restaurateurs, the people we’ve met have been friendly and open. They seem to genuinely care that we have a good time during our time ‘down here’. They seem ‘bien dans sa peau’, at ease with themselves…