Tuesday, 21 June 2016


When I was growing up in Cornwall in the 1960s and 70s, Padstow was a typical Cornish fishing port backed by a picturesque warren of narrow streets where tourists wandered around enjoying cheap and cheerful Cornish treats such as pasties, fish and chips, ice cream and fudge.  Nothing fancy in other words.  All that changed, however, with the opening of TV chef Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, an upscale eatery offering something rather more sophisticated than battered cod.  Stein subsequently put Padstow on the map with his TV series, in which, along with the cooking, his mischievous dog, the late lamented Chalky, was seen getting up to no good against the gorgeous backdrop of the Camel Estuary.  Stein added to his empire with a string of other businesses, including a second restaurant, a delicatessen and an upmarket fish and chip takeaway, and soon people were jokingly referring to Padstow as ‘Padstein’.
An unfortunate side effect of all this is that Padstow has become a very expensive place to live.  I remember a certain restaurant critic once sneeringly observed that there were no locals eating in Stein’s flagship restaurant when he visited.  Well, that may just be because the locals can’t afford it, nor can they afford the increasingly sky-high property prices in the area.  In 2007 both Stein and Jamie Oliver, another famous chef running businesses in Cornwall, were threatened by Cornish nationalists incensed at their inflationary influence on the county.

Anyway, that’s enough of that.  In Elizabethan times Sir Walter Raleigh used to hang out in the town while serving as Warden of Cornwall.  By the 19th century Padstow was a thriving commercial port, although larger vessels were prevented from using it because of the Doom Bar sandbank (see previous post).  A ferry links Padstow to Rock, avoiding a long roundabout journey via Wadebridge, and in summer there are boat trips, including a ‘safari’ option to see seals and other wildlife.  Down by the harbourside is the National Lobster Hatchery, which aims to safeguard the lobster population with its conservation work.  St Petroc’s church in the centre of town was built in the 13th century, and its features include a memorial to Sir Nicholas Prideaux, who built the 16th century Prideaux Place, just outside Padstow, an Elizabethan manor with a deer park.

Padstow has a number of events during the course of the year, but probably the oldest and best known event is known as the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival, held on May Day.   The event is thought to be a relic of an ancient fertility rite traditionally held at the start of Spring.  The Oss (horse) is a man dressed in a black ‘cape’ with a grotesque masque who dances around the town trying to grab young girls.  I must confess I have never been to Padstow for this event, but I remember being terrified by the idea of it as a child.

For a list of events in the Padstow area follow this link. 

Webcam view of the harbour.

Map of the area.

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Inner Harbour, Padstow. Photo by Simon Huguet, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 11 June 2016


This stretch of the North Cornwall coast was a favourite of the late Poet Laureat Sir John Betjeman, who used to holiday in the area with his family.  In fact one of his poems, Greenaway, describes the coast between Polzeath and Daymer Bay, waxing lyrical about “this turfy mile, these clumps of sea-pink withered brown”, about how “mighty rollers mount to cast small coal and seaweed on the shore” and “spurting far as it can reach the shooting surf comes hissing round...”.  A short walk from the bay is a low-slung granite church with a tower shaped like a slightly crooked witch’s hat.  This is St Enodoc Church, where Sir John is buried, and which used to be buried in sand.

Rock lies opposite Padstow at the mouth of the Camel Estuary, and is reckoned to be one of the most expensive locations in the country for real estate, so much so that it has been nicknamed ‘Kensington-on-Sea’.  A certain TV chef  recently bought a property there for a cool 4.4 million, and proceeded to upset the neighbours with plans to demolish the property, dating from the 1920s, and replace it with a larger one.  Rock’s illustrious visitors include film stars and royalty, and earlier this year it was reported that the resort could be forced to close its beach to swimmers because of the sheer concentration of yachts and other pleasure boats filling the waters.  Ah well, us ordinary mortals will be happy to leave the beach to the rich and famous, plenty of others to choose from along this stretch of coast.  

At the mouth of the estuary, and visible from Daymer Bay, is a sandbank called Doom Bar, so called because of the danger it presents to shipping.  Sharp's Brewery, based in Rock, has named one of its most popular ales after this coastal feature.

Map of the area. 

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Daymer Bay. Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 4 June 2016


If you visit Polzeath during August, you may catch sight of a strange creature emerging from the waves with a black body and a lobster-red head.  The creature in question is the present incumbent at No. 10, who regularly holidays nearby with his family, and for whom Polzeath is a favourite spot for unleashing his inner surfing dude.  Polzeath has form when it comes to attracting the upper echelons of society.  In 2012 Princes William and Harry were spotted body boarding there.  No surprises then that the car park at this small, upscale resort is full of Range Rovers and other expensive vehicles during the summer season.  There is parking available on the beach itself, but owners should beware the high tide, which can swamp this parking area.  There are several surf schools in the area for those wanting to make the most of the excellent surfing conditions, while people wanting to just swim well away from the surfers there is another beach at New Polzeath.  There is a marine nature reserve at Polzeath, and dolphins and seals are sometimes seen offshore.  As well as surfing, Polzeath is known as a foodie destination, with several upmarket restaurants serving up local seafood and other delicacies.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Dwyatt 101, via Wikimedia Commons