A tale of two coasts. That’s how Charles Dickens might describe Cornwall. To the north, the mighty Atlantic: mad, bad and dangerous to know, but somehow thrilling and impossible to ignore. To the south, its more courteous cousin: the English Channel (or just “The Channel” here), less hot-headed and more genteel of manner, albeit with hidden depths. Think Ross Poldark contrasted with Nigel Havers.
Ask anyone what makes their favourite place in Cornwall, and the chances are they will say: “The sea.” It’s corny, and predictable, but what else would you expect from a county boasting 300 miles of dramatic coastline, and famed for its beaches?
This is precisely why the better-known stretches have seen some traffic during our staycation summer. In the past, these same shorelines attracted artists and novelists, who have tried their hardest to capture in words the magical light, or the smell of the fresh sea air with its Proustian ability to transport you back to a precious childhood holiday.
Dig a little deeper, and tantalising details conjure up seaside idylls unique to each person. Sharon dreams of “sea glass or shells to find”. Katrina imagines “the sun shining and the wind in my hair”. Juliet’s wishlist sounds like something the Three Bears might have written: “Not too hot, not too cold, easy parking, no bugs and the sound of the waves.”
A common theme is solitude. “An almost deserted beach on a wild and windy day is awe-inspiring and exhilarating,” says Kath. Matthi asks for “no other people but lots of wildlife”. Jane longs for “somewhere secret at low tide”, tapping into the thrill of finding a hidden patch of paradise no one else knows about.
These folk will guard their own personal favourite jealously, divulging it only to the closest of friends on pain of death, lest it be spoiled by marauding hordes with windbreaks and deckchairs and a queue of SUVs for the minuscule car park.
North versus south? Now you’re asking. Action junkies are usually wedded to the white horses of the north, while sailors, SUPers and swimmers might prefer the more gently undulating waters of the south. Of course, your choice might be influenced by additional extras: a hedgehog ice cream at Chapel Porth or passing through the Veryan roundhouses on the way to Pendower. These are the tricorn hat and smouldering eyes, or the lacy garter and cheeky “Coo-ee!”, designed to entice you over here rather than “over there”. We shall not judge those who fall for their charms – after all, who can resist a hedgehog?
Naming names, a straw poll sees Dan plump for Trevose Head, while Steve loves kayaking off the Roseland. Tracy relaxes on the King Harry Ferry, while Claire recalls a strenuous walk from Boscastle to Tintagel: “It made my heart sing, and my legs hurt – but oh, that coastline!”
But for some, you might as well ask them to choose their favourite child. They are both special, and to pit them against each other is just wrong. If this is you, best head for somewhere you can see both: Roughtor, Cornwall’s second highest point on Bodmin Moor, or Trencrom Hill, which overlooks the Hayle Estuary and river to the north and Mount’s Bay to the south. This will guarantee equal treatment, but it’s a bit of a hike for a paddle.
While the family market booms in high summer, early autumn is perhaps the best time to enjoy our coastline. The water is deliciously warm, with spectacular sunsets you don’t have to wait up for.
Whether you book a holiday cottage with a view and make it your den for a week, gazing out daily at the different hues of blue (fingers crossed) in ocean and sky, or nip out for a bag of chips in the gloaming, remember the words of Jacques Cousteau: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” That goes for north and south.