Cycling Cornwall’s hills

Pointing to the Cornish hills

Pointing to the Cornish hills

Some people’s idea of a holiday is lying on a beach.  Or nursing a beer or Barolo savouring a lovely meal. I like all those things. But this year, I added 4,380 feet of cycling up Cornish hills to my holiday mix.

Last week, we returned to one of our favourite places: Mawgan Porth, on Cornwall’s Atlantic Coast. It’s a wonderful spot, with a stunning beach bisected by the river Menalhyl. We stayed at The Park holiday resort (I blogged about this special place on our last visit in 2012), which is an easy 10 minute walk to that beautiful beach.

This year, I was determined to bring my bike, after rediscovering my love of cycling since the beginning of June. Back in 2002 nearby St Columb Major was the first night’s stop on my 16 day Land’s End to John O’Groat’s bike ride. Those first two days in the West Country 12 years ago almost brought me to my knees, with the constant, killer climbs out of the river valleys. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. I hardly noticed the climb out of Mawgan Porth along the Vale of Lanherne. My ride to St Columb Major and back via Newquay airport involved 900 feet of climbing in just over 10 miles. The reward? The glorious swoop down to Mawgan Porth from Trevarrian.

Racing down to Mawgan Porth

Cycling to Mawgan Porth, 36mph, July 2015

I loved those morning bike rides. As I cycled along the Vale of Lanherne on Tuesday, I met a woman walking a horse. She thanked me for stopping to let her pass, explaining that the horse had only ever seen one cyclist. I smiled to myself, knowing that I’d stopped for the two of them two days before. (I encountered them a third time on my return!) That same ride, I met overtook a young couple running – in both directions. I revelled in the (relative) fitness I had gained in all my June and July bike rides, including that fastest century. It made those hills so much easier.

Beach boy, Mawgan Porth, July 2015

Beach boy, Mawgan Porth, July 2015

Cycling was just one of the pleasures of our week in Mawgan Porth. As you can see from the shot above, Owen, 7, loved the fabulous beach. We splashed in the waves in our wetsuits and he enjoyed his bodyboard. I loved seeing the stream of people heading for surf school with King Surf. If I were younger, I’d be very tempted to join them next time…

My bike at The Park, waiting for our next adventure

My bike at The Park, waiting for our next adventure

Finally, here’s my video of my downhill rides into Mawgan Porth from west, east and south…

Looe landslip tragedy was in our 1976 holiday home

Our holiday home - scene of March 2013 landslip tragedy

Our 1970s Looe holiday home – scene of March 2013 landslip tragedy (with roof windows: photo: Feb 2006)

The news that a home in Looe, Cornwall had been struck by a landslide was a shock. Karen and I have spent several happy holidays in Looe, including Owen’s very first vacation. But it was the photo on the BBC news website that stopped me in my tracks. I recognised it instantly: it was our 1970s holiday home in Sandplace Road.

We spent many happy hours there, including a fortnight in the glorious heatwave summer of 1976 after my sister’s wedding. That’s where we watched the BBC Sailor fly-on-the-wall series about HMS Ark Royal, Britain’s last ‘proper’ aircraft carrier. (And, if memory isn’t playing tricks, ITV’s Bill Brand drama about a Labour MP.) We went fishing for mackerel in Looe Bay, leaving Mum to gut the fish in the small kitchen in the flat. We loved the view over the East Looe River towards the Mill Pool. And, as a 1970s school boy, I made Airfix kits there: HMS Victory, the RAF emergencyrefuelling and recovery sets (still being sold almost four decades later) and (again, this was the 1970s!) the Austin Maxi.

We first stayed in Sandplace Road 40 years ago in the spring of1973. The flats were run by Mrs Pearce. I wasn’t pleased as I wanted to go to Newquay, which looked much more interesting than Looe. (Thanks to a more impressive brochure.) But I came to love Looe, with its fascinating history, its small streets, beautiful rivers and compact beach. Our first visits were in the rooftop flat (with the distinctive windows), but later on we stayed in the main floor flat. I remember a very steep set of steps up the hill to St Martin’s Road.

When Karen and I stayed in Looe years later, we stayed at Barclay House on St Martin’s Road, run by the wonderful Nick and Kelli Barclay, who now run Blue Plate Restaurant in Downderry. (Another place with 1976 memories: I spend endless hours that summer paddling my rubber dinghy on the river at Seaton, which was then dammed to make a pool.)

This weekend, Looe is mourning Susan Norman, who died in the landslip at her home – our 1970s holiday home. A sad story to mingle with all those happy memories.

We love Cornwall, Mawgan Porth – and The Park

Cornish delight: Mawgan Porth

We’re packing up to go home after a wonderful week’s holiday at Mawgan Porth, on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. This is a very special place in a very special Celtic part of Britain.

Karen and I both have special childhood memories of Cornwall. Prompted by those memories, we brought Owen to Looe for his very first holiday, when he was nine weeks old.

We first stayed at Mawgan Porth in 2011, and loved the place and the experience. We were very lucky with the weather last year, spending most days in the pool and on the beach. We saw more rain this year, but we still enjoyed time on the beach as the rain cleared and the sun came out.

This is the classic family holiday spot. Small children enjoy the same kind of seaside summer fun as as their parents and grandparents. Timeless pleasures – splashing in the sea and rock pools; building sandcastles; relishing an ice cream as the day draws to a close.

You can’t catch me Dad!

We stayed at The Park, a lovely holiday village just 10 minutes’ walk from the beach. We discovered The Park when staying at its sister site in Dorset, Greenwood Grange. The owners took over a few years ago and have made huge improvements. We love the cafe-restaurant, with its great value homemade food (do try the halloumi cheese, haddock and lamb burgers if you get the chance).

There’s also a wonderful indoor pool next to the cafe – we had it to ourselves on Friday morning – as well as a heated outdoor pool. Our only serious criticisms? The sofa in our cottage has seen better days, and the cafe-restaurant was closed for a whole day for a wedding, which hardly seemed fair to everyone who had spent good money booking a week’s holiday.

Judging from our experience over the last 12 years, Cornwall has become a place to enjoy wonderful food and drink as well as seaside fun. Back in 2001, we discovered magnificent food at Barclay House in Looe under Nick and Kelli Barclay, who now run the Blue Plate Restaurant in Downderry near Looe. This week, we had a great lunch at Fire at Mawgan Porth and a delicious lunch at the Falcon Inn at St Mawgan, as well as our meals at The Park.

We hope to return to Cornwall in 2013.

In praise of RNLI

RNLI lifeguard at Mawgan Porth

The RNLI (Britain and Ireland’s charity that saves lives at sea) was prominent at Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, this week.

RNLI, saving lives since 1824

RNLI fundraisers were well placed at the entrance of the beach on Tuesday. Laura brilliantly explained RNLI’s work, prompting me to start a monthly donation. She said that gift aid alone funded two lifeboats. Laura added that RNLI helps pets as well as people, saving a dog that fell from a Cornish cliff. She mentioned that RNLI people look after people stung by weever fish, which bury themselves in the sand on local beaches and sting anything that steps on them.

That prompted a memory of my aunt Dorothy. Back in the heatwave summer of 1976, we were in Looe watching a BBC south west report about a spate of weever fish stings, which made her realise that it must have been a weever fish that attacked her back in 1951, causing great pain.

The RNLI has an illustrious history. And Cornwall has played a major part in that history. Its greatest rescue took part in this Celtic realm in 1907. RNLI crews saved an amazing 456 people, including 70 babies, from SS Suevic near the Lizard. In December 1981, the country mourned the loss of the eight man crew of the Penlee lifeboat in Cornwall as it tried to save the crew of a Danish coaster. It was a sad reminder of the sacrifice RNLI volunteers still make keeping us safe.

My mother proudly volunteered at the RNLI shop in Penarth, Wales until her fading sight made it impossible. You can support RNLI’s work by giving a one-off or regular donation. More details on RNLI’s website.