Now that the UK is reopening to tourism staycations are very much in vogue. Shortly prior to the lockdown, Mark Bibby Jackson took a Cornwall holiday that was destined to become his temporary journeys end.
Staring out across the Ocean towards America in the very dim distant, it seems appropriate as the world races towards some kind of pre-apocalyptic lockdown, that I am standing at Land’s End. The clouds that engulfed us earlier in the day have now lifted to reveal a stunning coastline, with beautiful waters crashing into a few stranded rocks, a persistent lighthouse to keep them company. This is as far west as you can go on the English mainland, next stop New York.
A few days earlier we had departed the east of England to take in Cornwall’s various cultural offerings, amazing walks, and the pubs as well, of course. Perhaps in retrospect we should have realised that the coronavirus pandemic was to take its steely grip on the country, with first museums and galleries, and then, belatedly, the pubs and restaurants closing all around us.
Still, we were far more fortunate than most. Both the local Lidl and small grocers were well-stocked and we were able to take full advantage of the wonderful kitchen in our well-equipped and luxurious Cornish holiday home, courtesy of Aspects Holidays.
Our Own Garden of Eden
Having sampled the excellent fish and chips in Hayle, the night before, we decided to celebrate the first full day on our Cornwall holiday at the Eden Project. Confirming that it was still open, as ministers dithered in Westminster, we set off, once I had ensured that our personal hot tub was fully functional. There is something quite idyllic in taking an early morning dip in a bubbling cauldron as the steam rises and the mists – metaphorical and real – surround you.
Driving to the Eden Project, we noted the absence of the normal traffic during peak holiday times. Eden was almost deserted, as the country went into self-isolation mode. So, we were able to wander as freely as Adam and Eve, maintaining our safe distance from the other travellers tempted for one last bite of the forbidden apple, before all such attractions would become early casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was struck by Blue, an installation in the Core building, that demonstrated how oxygen was created three billion years ago by tiny cyanobacteria. A huge blue ceramic statue, like something out of an Ed Wood B-rated Sci-Fi movie billowed vapours into the air that a young boy tried to catch. This was the origins of life on earth.
Elsewhere the tropical biome felt just like the Southeast Asia I called home for a decade, although thankfully not quite so humid. It was full of educational material. A display showing how a real rainforest looked before and after it had been converted into a palm oil plantation caught my eye. Beside it another announced that an area larger than London was cleared in the Amazon for crops in 2019. The lessons are there for all to learn.
Subdued St Ives
After Eden, we drive into St Ives, managing to park close to the harbour. A narrow peninsula, St Ives is blessed to be surrounded by gold sanded beaches, but it is the harbour that dazzles in the late afternoon sun.
We take a drink in The Sloop Inn, said to be founded around 1312, and keeping our safe distance from the other punters, watch as nothing really seems to happen. In the summer this place will be throbbing with tourists, but now with most flights grounded and tourists temporarily unwelcome there is an unfamiliar calm to the place, which I confess to liking. In truth, I have been perfecting the art of self-isolation throughout my life.
I trace the narrow path around the harbour to Smeatons Pier and look back towards the town. Unused fishing baskets line the wall, as boats lie stranded in the sandy harbour. There is a tranquil timelessness about the picture.
Strolling the Cornish Coastline
I wanted to complete my set of Tates, after Modern, Britain and Liverpool, but unfortunately COVID-19 was to thwart me, as both the Tate St Ives and adjoining Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden had been closed by the following day.
Fortunately we had our wonderful cottage, Fastnet, set in Sandy Acres, close to the dunes at Hayle, as a refuge. Quite literally an oasis of calm in the madness that is descending upon the nation, I rest once more in my hot tub the following morning – it is becoming a habit I will find hard to kick.
Today, our plan is to take the short boat ride to the nearby St Michael’s Mont and visit the castle and 12th Century chapel, but this too has been closed, so instead I head to the beach.
The dunes, or towans in Cornish, at Hayle-Gwithian are mere novices compared to the cyanobacteria, having been here for a mere 5,000 years. They present a barrier that I have to abseil in order to reach the three miles of golden sand stretching from the estuary that separates it from Carbis Bay along to Godrevy Point. Maintaining my two metres is hardly a problem here, as I have the sands to myself apart from the occasional fellow walker and surfer.
Removing my excessive walking boots, I stroll in the refreshing waters and allow my mind to drift off wherever it pleases. The worries engulfing the world seem far away here, and refreshed I return to our holiday home having snacked on a sandwich at the beach. A quick session in the hot tub refreshes me for the day ahead.
Cornwall Holiday Land’s End
Eventually, the clouds that have threatened all week, descend upon us, leaving their shroud on our tiny patch of Cornwall. I take the opportunity to do some quick WFH or should that be WFHH, as reluctantly we must bid adieu to our holiday home and indeed Cornwall the following day.
One of my great pleasures in life is to drive aimlessly; it is an art I have mastered over the years. And so in the afternoon, all emails duly dispatched, I set off vaguely in the direction of Penzance, although our wayward trip winds up inevitably at Land’s End. After all, there is no further for us to travel.
We arrive with Cornwall still bedecked in cloud, but soon this lifts to allow me the opportunity to go wandering along the cliffs edge. This might be as far as you can venture to within England from our Essex base, but the trip is most definitely worth it.
The distant sound of that lighthouse, the noise of the waters crashing into the rocks, the crying of the gulls; this is as noisy as it gets in Cornwall. I feel at peace in my solitude.
When normalcy returns to the world of travel I will return once more, and this time I might even be able to visit the Tate St Ives to complete my set. I just hope it is soon.
Aspects Holidays – Cornwall Holiday Homes
Sandy Acres, Gwithian, Hayle, Cornwall, TR27 5BA.
Our Cornwall Holiday Home was in Sandy Acres, a couple of kilometres from Hayle, but closer to both the local Lidl and the spectacular dunes. Fastnet has three double bedrooms, each with en suite, as well as a modern kitchen equipped with all you might need for a week’s stay. The welcoming hamper full of Cornish goodies was excellent – especially the cheese and chutney. There is also plenty of outside space, with parking for two cars, a barbecue, and – of course – our Cornwall holiday hot tub on the deck out front.