Mark Gillett

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Archive for November 2006

Porthcurno A Distant Memory

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Porthcurno brings back many memories of my childhood holidays but most of all for its steep beach and great climbing rocks. As a boy this is all I needed in the summer months to keep me happy. Long steep climbs back to the car park at the end of the day dragging our buckets and spades up the sand whining about how much we had to carry, my brother, sister and I would follow mum and dad back to the car. The most powerful memory I have, though, is of my brother launching himself off the large mountain of a free standing rock on the left as you walk down onto the beach. He landed badly and bit through his tongue. Ouch! This beach was now on my list as one of Cornwall’s most dangerous. Not because of the huge swell, or undertow, but that rock that so violently assaulted my brother and playmate! So, it was with these memories that I revisited Porthcurno this half term (October) and with lots of excitement too – as well, of course, a huge respect for its dangers.

We booked a small two-bedroom apartment at the top of the Porthcurno Hotel, which was a delight, except for the mountain of flies that we had to clear on arrival. It overlooked the bay – with a little craning of the neck, of course – and gave us a good base with which to explore. It was in fact nearly 30 years since I last came here so I was expecting quite a bit of change. I was also wondering if that rock was still there or had been covered by the sand.

My first outing just had to be to the beach and as I walked down with my wife and daughter I was sort of apprehensive about what I might find or how different it would be from my memories, being all too aware of how things seem so different when you revisit them as an adult. It was the same. I was so pleased and that rock was still there too. I could see my brother standing on top of it again ready to jump; everything was just how I left it all those years ago.

There were changes, though, but in culture rather than anything physical. The beach had become sort of trendy. Not with shops or boutiques that have ruined so many of our resorts but the people. It was full of surfers and body boarders and it was vibrant. There were also young families and plenty of twitchers with their tripods, telescopes and note pads. However, this was now a surf beach. It may well have been back in the seventies but given that I probably did not even know what surfing was, I certainly would not have known if it was frequented by surfers. This was so exciting and the surf was up too. It was like being a boy again. We had not packed our boards on this holiday but I had brought my camera (my job) and ALL my lenses. I was in heaven. I could not get up to the apartment quick enough to get it all. I ran up the beach, thinking of those cries to mum and dad and how easy it seemed now I was a “grown-up”. What a wimp I was back then. Through the car park and up to the hotel, I was there and back in 7 minutes flat. 30 years ago it would have taken 15 minutes just to the car park!

I sat on the beach taking pictures for the next hour or so until the light faded and retired to the only beach café for an espresso to finish off the afternoon. I was a happy boy again. The café sold everything it should from pasties to post cards but most importantly it sold good coffee and was run by what seemed to be a delightful family.

The week went by and Porthcurno gave me so much joy. As much because of the memories as what it has to offer today. It is a simple and truly unspoilt corner of Cornwall that leaves you breathless with its beauty. When the big breakers were coming in families stood on the shore in awe of what they were witnessing. I have not seen so many digital compact cameras in one place other than in a camera store. I have also not seen so many breakers that size before.

We visited the Museum, which enlightened me greatly on the laying of cables around the world during the empire days and was a fascinating place. My 7 year old daughter loved it too so it must be good. She played on most of the bits of equipment that she was allowed to and she genuinely got a lot out of the excursion, again only meters from our apartment. Emily (my daughter) and I hiked up to the Minack Theatre in pouring rain on one day. We reached the top soaked to the skin but laughing and proud of our climb. I cannot believe my mother and father never took us there back in the 70’s. They were also with me on this trip and I quizzed them on their lack of judgement.

The theatre is the work of one determined person, Rowena Cade, who built and financed it from 1931 to 1983 when she died. It is an open-air theatre on the side of the cliff with what must be one of the most beautiful stages in the world today. It is open with productions showing from April through to September.

All in all Porthcurno is a must. I will go back soon, and probably many times, if only to give my own daughter the childhood joys that I experienced without the draw of theme parks, shops, malls and all those other commercial trappings of our time.

Porthcurno is a small village in a steep valley 9 miles west of Penzance on the Lands End Peninsula. 2.5 miles to the west is Lands End and to be honest this place has been ruined. Go there to see it and make your own judgement but IMO its not good.

There are some lovely places to eat in and around the area. Penzance is now a vibrant place with quite a café culture. You can get just about all you need there and it is still a very active town. Definitely worth a visit.

From London it will take around 5 hours by car

Written by markgillett

November 12, 2006 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized