Adam Bird


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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Cornwall Delights

Cornwall delights

What happens when you get a group of six adults, six children and a five month old baby into three cars and travel for five hours across two-hundred and ninety miles to spend seven whole days filled with fun and frolics? You get one broken down vehicle, one irate nurse, six hyper children, six tired adults, twelve pairs of sand-filled shoes, one half-drowned three year old boy and one glorious, mesmerising sunset - and that was just the first day!

Firstly, as is always the case with blogs of this type, I make no apologies for the length and the amount of waffle that spews from my keyboard. Afterall, this is a personal blog which accounts for the mundane and uninteresting events of a mundane and uninteresting life, so that when I’m old and more senile than I already am I can look back at these things with some form of guidance and hopefully add a bit colour to what will one day be black and white memories.

Anyhow, I shall begin... When Mum and Dad invited us to spend a week with them at a cottage in Cornwall, along with my sister, her husband and their four children, Stephanie and I jumped at the chance. Oliver gets on really well with his cousins, it was the Easter break and well - we all like a holiday!

Dad originally sold it to us as the “traditional family beach holiday”, meaning long, lazy days on the sands with a picnic, a bucket and spade, digging holes that go to Australia and hunting for the exotic in the surrounding rock pools whilst climbing up cliff-faces at the behest of a nervous mother. However, with it being barely April we were always at the mercy and had to make do with whatever the Great British weather had in store for us - not that we were fussed either way.

We made the choice to start off ridiculously early, at 4am on the Saturday, which suited me as I saw the benefits of making the most of the clear roads. Anyone who knows me, will vouch that I’m not the most reliable person first thing in the morning and so it proved to be the case once again! This time however, it was not my fault! An excited Oliver, who somehow ended up in our bed during the night, was awoken by our alarm clock and thought he’d be doing us all a huge favour by turning it off!

It wasn’t until an hour later when Dad rang to see how far we’d got that we realised we hadn’t got very far at all!

Pandemonium then ensued as we raced around playing catch-up. Oliver washed, dressed, and brushed his teeth in record time and strapped himself, along with his suitcase into the car, long, long before I had even registered we were running late. He sat there quite patiently, alone in the dark, parked car until I eventually strapped myself in and waited for Stephanie to gather one last thing - a blissfully sleeping Phoebe who was oblivious to the carnage going on around her!

We had one very excited little boy on our hands and so we steadied ourselves for a barrage of questions and the inevitable “are we nearly there yet?” Instead, Oliver’s excitement and the early morning hour beat him - well and truly. He fell fast asleep before we’d even reached the motorway!

Heading off early, we made great progress, arriving at The Jamaica Inn on the edge of Bodmin Moor by nine-thirty. Us four had already eaten, but we wanted to rendezvous and what better place to meet up with everyone than on the edge of the Moor with a backdrop of wind, horizontal rain and skies as menacing as the signs depicting pirates and smugglers that dotted the walls of the historical old pub?

We weren’t due to pick up the keys to our holiday cottage until 4pm, so we had plenty of time to kill. Mum, with her guidebook in tow suggested a nearby country park that had an indoor playcentre if the rain got too much. Except we didn’t quite make it, Jessica’s car was making all sorts of wrong noises and things weren’t looking too great. We decided instead to make the rest of the journey to Perranporth and hope that her car made it along with us.

Now there is something strangely magnetic about the ocean. It has drawn people to it since the dawns of time and much has been written, based upon the inspiration it can manifest inside the soul of a man. Or if you are three, your name is Elijah and you’ve been couped up inside a car for five hours it can draw you closer, so close in fact that it forces leave of all your senses and you end up half naked paddling around in your trousers whilst the adults around you are wearing thermals underneath their hats and scarfs.


So then, we’d finally found the beach! We had indeed arrived safely and fortunately for those travelling with Jessica - in one piece. Jessica’s car had bravely made it which allowed the boys their first opportunity to do what boys do, dig holes with their hands and venture into the water with their clothes still on! The girls cartwheeled and wrote their names in the sand, whilst us adults admired the scenery and watched the surfers who rode the waves all along the vast stretch of golden Perranporth sands. Ah bliss!

With such an early start, lunchtime began to feel like teatime and the Jamaica Inn was somewhere long since past. We headed for The Wateringhole, a fantastic sports bar directly on the beach itself which served a vast range of gut-busting meals which would satisfy the hungriest of surfer, or on that particular occasion, all of the fat birds which had spent the last three months dieting!

Soon enough, Paris and Elijah fell asleep, Paris being under the weather and Elijah no doubt related to the comedown from the burst of excitement which led him into the Atlantic earlier that day. Mum, James and I head out onto the sand dunes behind the bar and enjoyed watching the children running around and exploring the dips and running through the reeds that grow in the area. Oliver fell over again (as he tends to do), which was another “hilariously funny, but Daddy really shouldn’t laugh, oh dear too late” moments that I’ve been ashamed of in the past. His whole face was a mess of sand which to his credit, he managed to brush off without much fuss and carry on running around as nothing had happened at all.

If Oliver had managed to brush himself off after getting knocked down, I wish I could say the same for Jessica’s car. As we drove out of Perranporth in convoy, Jessica’s car gave up the ghost whilst sat stationary at a zebra crossing in the High Street. The Bird/Shovelar clan had truly arrived! A sleepy seaside village awoken to the sounds of a backfiring car and James with his “cheers bruv” gratitude to a local chap who helped try and bump start the car without much success.

Whilst Jessica was parked haphazardly on the road, I thought I’d better make myself a little more inconspicuous, so I pulled into a car park on my left, turned around and stopped at the entrance so that if Jessica got going again I could easily follow. As I sat and watched my Dad (who has since joined in on the action) try and start Jessica’s car for her, I see a head pop in my window “You’ve been caught” she said to me, a nurse of some description.

“I’m sorry?” I replied

“That black camera up there has your number plate and you’ll be getting a letter from us”

By now, I’m really lost and Stephanie is too. “I’ve just turned around, my sisters vehicle has broken down and I’m getting out of the way” I said, thinking that if I explain what is happening, she’ll say no worries and be back on her horrible little way.

“That black camera has your number plate and I’m not saying that you will, but you’ll get a letter from us. You are not allowed to park here unless you are visiting a patient”

I was still lost, I’d arrived in a parallel universe and trying to work out a form of escape. Stephanie started ranting at her which convinced me more than anything that this person must be slightly weird or a jobsworth of the highest degree. I’d already had the hump with another local who had parked her Landrover and got out of the vehicle in the exact same place I was standing to cross the road with the pushchair and now this crazy nurse women on top! I began to wonder just where the hell we had come for the week!

With luck, before Stephanie got out of the car and gave the women a chinese burn Dad managed to get Jessica’s car working again! This allowed us to pull out and get away without a sorry, thank you or goodbye. But didn’t stop us moaning about her all the way up the hill and into the tiny hamlet of Rose which housed our beautiful cottage for the week.

As we unpacked and bagsied the right bedrooms, James is on the phone to the recovery people and the kids are making new discoveries. Every cupboard is opened, digested and anything fun is removed to be played with amidst a maelstrom of noise and screams of “I saw it first”, “Daddy, tell blah I had it before they did” and the usual “It’s not fair”. The only time the noise ceased was when they all found the bath in the family bathroom. To be fair to the children, all of the adults got slightly excited as well, but to give you an idea how big it was. All six of my parents grand-children fit into it quite comfortably, with room possibly for their two children as well (which would have been most uncomfortable - on many levels).

Such fun the children had that first night in the bath together, the exciting size of it and the powerful jets that created bubbles and “bit you on the bum” that for the rest of the week, when we asked Oliver what he wanted to do next, his reply was always “go back to the cottage and have a bath”. Life, children and such simple, simple pleasures!

Now that the kids were washed and ready for bed after a long day, it was time for the grown ups to sit back, enjoy a beer, maybe a class of chilled wine or perhaps a cider seeing as we were in Cornwall. Such decisions are easy for James, my brother-in-law, who likes nothing more than kicking back of an evening away with a nice, cold beer.

Except that there was still one problem. The car which had blown up quite spectacularly earlier that day had now been looked at by a local roadside recovery team. It needed to go into a garage for some R&R and Jessica and James were to be given a courtesy car for however long it took to repair. The only snag was, they didn’t have any automatic vehicles. Jessica, being a terrible driver decided that the easiest way to pass her test was to minimise the amount of thinking time, whilst James needed to pass the manual driving test so that he could drive a work van. Why then the big fuss? Well James hadn’t, at that point driven a manual vehicle since passing his test, two months ago and now that he was forced into driving, it meant that he needed to stay off the booze in order to keep a clean head!

With Mum, Jessica and Stephanie busy with the bags and putting the children to bed and Dad quite happy with his pint of ale it was left to me to guide James home and fly by the seat of my pants as he attempted to drive this strange (to him) vehicle back across roads that neither of us had seen before. To his very credit, the guy did extremely well and although you could see he was new to the road, there wasn’t any cause for worry or concern - at least not from me.

On our way back, we headed west, directly into the setting sun. We could see that the sky was now clear and was convinced we were looking at an Ibiza style sunset. Once back at the cottage, I rounded up anyone who would listen, whoever was available and we head off back in the car, down the hill again and onto the beach where none of us watching were left disappointed.

It wasn’t quite as spectacular as what we witnessed on the White Isle that night, but it was still damn good. It didn’t quite carry the emotive response either, but seeing the sun set in the west over Perranporth beach is still one of the must see experiences of any Cornwall holiday. We were lucky, we had three good nights down at the beach where each time the sun departed against a different palette of colours that just like the ocean get the soul thinking about stuff that would normally never enter your head.

After a very long, tiring and activity fueled first day, you’d have thought that we’d take it a little easier during the next, but as it was Easter Sunday the children woke up bright and early, fully excited about an impromptu easter egg hunt which was played out rather well in the grounds of our cottage, there wasn’t a single fight, slap or argument during the whole game!

Inspired by Dad’s “beach holiday” vision, Stephanie and I were given the map and told to lead the way in our miniature three car convoy. We knew that we wanted to head down eventually to St Ives, but how we got there was entirely up to us.

First stop along the road was a place called St Agnes, famed for being the only place left in Cornwall with an operational Tin Mine. Whilst that fact is interesting and quite possibly something for us to discover another day, our mission was to hit the beach and let the kids run wild. Which they did, again. Elijah, had obviously not got his fascination for the sea out of his system, headed straight towards it, fully clothed, where he got an obligatory soaking. Layla spent the entire time writing essays discussing the harsh realities of being ten with a stick in the sand. According to Layla she is too old to be a child, but according to her Mum and Dad she is too young to be considered an adult - caught it would seem, between a rock and a very hard place!

In fact, it was the rock around St Agnes that made the little village so very appealing. Whilst you had a wide flat beach, the rocks, which were accessible at the time due to the tide being out played host to all of us at one point, clambering over, looking for, but failing miserably to find any crab or something slightly crustaceous to scare the kids or put into a pot.

Fun at St Agnes!

After a couple of hours we were back on the road, down to St Ives via Portreath and Hell’s Mouth which is a scenic spot overlooking a horseshoe expanse of cliff-face. We all stopped and got out the car for a peep over the edge, some feeling braver than others. If I had been on my own, with just Stephanie I would have been far more relaxed, but with Oliver with me and his minimal sense of danger I spent most of the time trying to secure his hand and telling him not to move! Later that night, whilst trying to sleep I had terrible visions of alternative scenarios which hasn’t done anything to relax or sooth my runaway mind.

Once back inside the relative safety of our car we could make our way down the coast once again to St Ives, a place which we were all hoping to bump into the man with seven wives. To our dismay, we didn’t find him, them, nor the assortment of cats, sacks and kits which they are alleged to be carrying, but left later that day charmed by what a wonderful town St Ives really is.

Dad informed us throughout the day that St Ives is one of the very few, if not the only place in the UK that has both and east and west facing beaches, which despite the weather were full of surfers and families enjoying the views, eating fish and chips whilst watching the world go by. We spent the afternoon on foot, walking the winding cobbled streets, viewing some of shops and peering in the art galleries at some of the paintings on show. The kids (and not so little ones) spent half hour rolling down the hill that lead towards the headland and the central point between the two beaches.

If you asked Oliver what his highlight of that day was, it would be the bubblegum ice-cream that came out in the brightest, most luminous blue you have ever seen. After he’d worked his way through it, he managed to turn blue his tongue, half his face and much to Stephanie’s annoyance, his jumper, t-shirt and most of his coat! If you find yourself walking along St Ives harbour, keep an eye out for the ice-cream shop about half way along - some of the flavours are absolutely delicious, including a chilli and lime concoction which burns and cools at exactly the same time.

So far we’d be fairly fortunate with the weather, it had been a little overcast, but the sun had shone throughout both days, so you can imagine our disappointment when we woke up to torrential rain on the Monday morning. In fact, the weather had helped us out a little bit. All of the children had been saying how much they wanted to go swimming. Had the weather been nice, we would have gone out and about again, but as it was, we found ourselves on a holiday park on the outskirts of Newquay in a fun pool whilst a hundred or so people who also had the same idea, but not as quickly as we did could only queue and watch in annoyance.

Stephanie and I have been paying for Oliver to have swimming lessons for the better part of this year, so it was a good opportunity for me to see how far he has come. He might not yet have mastered the butterfly, but he is certainly not fearful of the water and loves playing around. I wanted him to try out some of the waterslides thinking that if he really enjoys them it might act as a spur to improve his swimming. After we had been on one of the slides together, Oliver wanted to try out the others. With one being closed to him, due to him not being able to swim, he only had the option of the red slide, which was a steep turbo slide, similar in type to the red one at Cascades, except it landed into a tray rather than the pool itself.

“Off you go then” I said, directing him at the top and explaining to him that he’ll need to cross his legs and put his hands behind his head. He looked at me like I was a lunatic, so I pointed him to the picture that convinced him I was telling the truth even if it didn’t settled his feelings of unease.

At the top, laying down ready for the green light, which when it came on and after a hefty push from me I watched as he disappeared into the depths of the slide and two seconds later as he emerged as a splash of water and flailing limbs at the bottom. He looked slightly bamboozled from my vantage point, but I’d been given the green light myself so I threw myself down enthusiastically after him wanted to find out just what he thought of it.

“Did you enjoy that little man?” I asked him and he gave me a very uncertain yes. I wasn’t sure whether he thought he had to say yes, or was actually in two minds. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since, so I’m hoping that my cunning plan will eventually work - better swimming equals better slides!

As we were a stones through from Newquay and the weather was still rotten, we thought we’d take a look around the UK’s surfing Mecca and see what the fuss was all about.

Newquay Harbour

Undoubtedly, even through the mist of rain and dark, ominous clouds, you could see that Newquay beach was something special, even if the town itself wasn’t. The waves came in relentlessly, swollen no doubt by the weather which acted as encouragement for the local surfer fraternity. Its actually quite funny, you’ve us who as holiday makers sit praying for rainless days, whilst they as surfers, pray for the opposite.

Having been to St Ives the day before we were left disappointed with Newquay, you can see why, during the summer it becomes a hotspot for the drunk and rowdy, but its the same on the continent. Corfu for example, is a stunning island, but you go to Kavos during the day and it is a bit of dive - but nobody goes there for the daytime activity do they?

On our way back, for an early night and a cup of warm cocoa we took another detour to a place that Mum and Dad had been to previously, The Bowgie Inn. Situated on another headland five minutes from Newquay, the Bowgie Inn is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever stopped to have a drink. When we arrived, it was blowing a gale and the rain was hitting relentlessly. Within an hour, the sun was back out, the skies were clear and another sunset meant that the cocoa would have to wait for another night. As we were there, a childrens entertainer was due in and so there was a real family atmosphere in the place that night. We didn’t need much of an excuse to stay in and all the better for Jessica who had the opportunity to have a few drinks for a change whilst James drove instead!

As we waited for the evening entertainment, Jessica, Stephanie and I took a walk around the headland via the coastal path which afforded us some great views of the beach that sits next door. Vast golden sands and waves that came in thick and fast despite the lack of rain. We headed quickly across fields and through bushes towards the sinking sun which seemed to go down almost instantly with the area around us bathed in an almost autumnal glow as the sun turned from yellow, in to orange, red and brown signifying another end to another great day.

One of the things that all the children really wanted to do was go to a theme park, or as Oliver asked desperately, “are we going on the rides today Daddy?” This time, we were!

Cornwall is home to two Theme Parks, although neither of which carry the white knuckle thrills and excitement of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or the like. We decided to go to Flambards, towards the very south east of Cornwall, as it has a range of undercover attractions as well as more older type rides for the nearly, but not quite an adult Layla (even if she isn’t much taller than Oliver or Indigo).

Having done everything that Flambards had to offer, Stephanie and I asked Oliver what his favourite ride was, “the one that goes up in the sky and makes your belly go whoosh”, or as we grownups know it as; Skyraker, a medium height drop tower that circles around a central pole giving views across the park before unceremoniously dropping you towards the ground and bouncing you back again. It wasn’t in the same league as the Big Shot on top of the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas, but it was certainly enough to get a young five year old heart pumping - and enough to make Stephanie too scared to try!

James at Flambards!

Driving down to Flambards from Perranporth is a pleasurable cross-country experience via Redruth which takes you all the way to the edge of the Lizard Peninsula, the tip of which is the UK’s most southernmost point. Rather than head towards home, we decided to carry on - right to the edge.

The Lizard is approximately 100 miles due south of Gravesend, which if you followed directly would place you in the English Channel somewhat shy of Le Harve on the northern French coast. As if to prove the saying about it always being hotter in the south we arrived to clear blue skies and radiant sunshine, allowing us room for an alfresco tea at the cafe which sits perilously at the top of the southernmost cliff. We sat drinking coffees and indulging in clotted cream scones with tablespoons of strawberry jam which tasted all the sweeter whilst overlooking the edge of the world and the possibilities of what vast openness can bring.

And so the end of one day taken right from the furthest point south, to the beginning of a new day taken from the furthest point west - Lands End and all the romance that comes with it.

Before we arrived at Lands End, we stopped off at the Minack Theatre, which was something for the grown ups to appreciate and enjoy. The Minack Theatre is an open air theatre engraved into the land at the top of the cliffs overlooking Porthcurno, which is another amazing stretch of golden sanded beaches, situated in coves cut into spectacular cliff sides that cry out to be enjoyed - which we did later that day.

The Minack Theatre was built by a woman named Rowena Cade nearly eighty years ago, which was a surprise to me as it looks almost like an ancient greek amphitheatre that should play home to gladiators against an ocean backdrop, instead of thespians performing the works of Shakespeare. Whilst we were visiting, Titanic was in production which allowed us to walk around the set, peeping through port holes and screaming “Jack, Jack” at the tops of our voices - which isn’t something we did really, but we all felt compelled to stay a little longer, just to sit, admire the view and imagine seeing the actors perform on the stage below.

If the Minack Theatre was scene one, the main event for all of us was Lands End. Us grown-ups all wanted to go for various reasons, Mum because the last time she went it was misty and she could barely see the ocean let alone anything further out, whilst I wanted to go for Phoebe’s sake so that she could have her photograph taken at the Lands End sign.

When we were doing Olivers 365 photography project we were fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Mexico which meant that the final project had some interest and variety. Cornwall isn’t quite so exotic, but by marking the occasion with an iconic photograph was something I really wanted to do.

Before we left, I worked out how many photographs had been taken, wrote down each day of the week and put the sequential number next to it i.e. “Tuesday 10th April - 155”, so that when we arrived on the 11th I knew exactly what to have displayed on the sign. “Phoebe 156/366”, (2012 is a leap year). After all that effort and determination, you can imagine my distress at coming home, uploading the photo and discovering that I was actually a day out! I can photoshop the picture quite easily, but I guess its all part of the story now.

Just like we felt the day before at the UK’s southernmost point, there was a real feeling of isolation walking around the area. Stephanie, and I took a picnic with us for the day and sat overlooking the vastness of the Atlantic and trying to comprehend the expanse of water that sat in front of us, whilst everyone else in the UK was sat going about their days behind us.

I didn’t think that Lands End had been spoilt by commercialisation. There are a few buildings which hold a 4D cinema and other interactive exhibits, along with shops and the inevitable first and last pub, but Lands End is more than just a tourist spot. It is the beginning of something, or the end of a life defining journey. People have travelled there from, or are leaving for John O’Groats for years in a whole manner of extraordinary ways for extraordinary reasons. We witnessed two cyclists having their photographs taken at the sign after riding from John O’Groats in aid of the Armed forces. Whilst we were leaving a camera crew were preparing for the arrival of somebody else who had no doubt pushed their body to the limit. It is for those reasons that buildings have cropped up and the area has grown. The argument lies in the type of attraction on offer, is a play area really necessary when there is a large expanse of land at its most open and natural just ready to be explored. No, perhaps not, but a retired RNLI boat repurposed as a climbing and exploration frame - I don’t see any harm in that.

As we had been enjoying a fine day of sunshine and relative warmth, we decided to head back to the beach for the afternoon and let the children run wild. Perching perilously at the edge of the country in one shape or form for an entire morning had shot our nerves to shreds, so we grown ups needed somewhere to relax. Porthcurno beach, just around the corner was a perfect antidote and where we headed back to next.

Oliver and Elijah, had we allowed them too, would quite happily have stayed on that beach, not just for the rest of the afternoon, but possibly the rest of their childhood lives. The pair of them spent all afternoon playing chicken with the waves, getting ever bolder each time the waves receded before running away screaming in innocent exuberance that made the whole week worthwhile. Oliver kept his trend going of falling over at the most inopportune moments, keeping up his winning streak. Growing in confidence, he headed right out into the water, up to his ankles, all ready to run away again. Sadly for him, but hilarious for wicked Daddy and everyone else watching he was caught out by a swollen wave that washed him off his feet before rolling him over and departing as quickly as it came leaving him soaking wet and wondering which end was up.

Oliver at Portcurno!

He must be getting used to brushing himself off as we are with him falling over. Off he went running up the beach back to mummy who took off his sodden shirt, wrapped him up in a towel which placated him for five minutes before his was back again resuming his game where he left off.

We did have one regret, that it wasn’t July, the temperature wasn’t in the 30s and the wind chill factor was a bit harsher than we’d have liked. In the ideal weather conditions we could have stayed forever and saved ourselves a fortune. Why do we go abroad? Because the guarantee that the sun will shine for the entire duration of your stay. It isn’t the unrivalled beaches because we have those in our own country, we just don’t have the pride to shout out about them.

Visiting Lands End, the Minack Theatre was very much part of an adult agenda, we tried to live up to Dads ethos of a traditional family beach holiday, but we were trying to do July things during the middle of April and the weather wasn’t playing fair. The next day, we changed our philosophy and did something for the kids - a day on the farm.

Dairyland Farmworld was billed as an all day adventure for the children where they could meet and greet with a variety of animals, milk the cows and learn about livestock in a fun and friendly environment. I wouldn’t say that it did everything it said on the tin, but the children all had a great time nonetheless. All of the kids took a ride upon a pony, which for most was a first time experience. The two boys, Oliver and Elijah looked more than slightly apprehensive as they were walked gently around the paddock, but both came off with beaming smiles which was exactly what we were after.

Oliver riding a pony!

The biggest smiles, were sadly not due to anything remotely related to the farm, but another sense of achievement from our own little man. Since Jessica and I have grown up, play-barns have popped up all over the place much to our annoyance as we are supposedly too big to enjoy them. Having children has enabled us to use them as an excuse to try out some of the bigger slides that you can find in these arenas of mayhem. One particular type of slide is the drop-slide, which does exactly as it says, a four story high, plastic behemoth that allows you to perch perilously over the top before a leap of faith forces you vertically downwards, before straightening out along an expanse of highly polished plastic - good fun indeed.

Oliver, so far hadn’t quite faced his demons when it comes to facing the dreaded leap of faith. Two days earlier at Flambards, they had some more of these drop-slides and despite telling me otherwise, he couldn’t quite find the courage to plummet himself down it - even if I did dangle him over the edge in an attempt to convince him all would be fine! But inside the play-barn at Dairyland, with bribes of an open selection from the sweet shop and a five pound reward from Bampy, Oliver finally took the plunge - albeit with another helping hand from me (evil Daddy!)

As I hung him over the edge, with failing limbs, I did feel a bit guilty, but when I saw him get up off the polished floor below and run off without looking back I felt a whole lot worse! After taking the plunge myself and catching him with him he was full of excitement and achievement. All the adults were sat upstairs in a viewing area overlooking the carnage and Oliver was telling them enthusiastically that he did it all by himself and could he have his money now! If you bump into Oliver and ask him “what was your favourite thing on your holiday” he’ll tell you the big red slide that he went down all by himself. Evil Daddy was right, sometimes you just need a little push!

One of the things that Mum and Dad really wanted us to do before we came home was to cycle the Camel Trail, a five mile pathway that runs from Wadebridge to Padstow and used to at one stage be a railway line. On our final full day, this is just where we headed.

The flat terrain is ideal cycling territory and is a firm family favourite. On paper, it sounded like a great day out, the biggest worry that we had was logistics. How would we all get from one end to the other with six children and a five month old baby? The answer was, we wouldn’t. We decided that Stephanie and Phoebe would drive to Padstow from Wadebridge, Oliver would cycle on the back of my bike using an attachment, as would my parents foster child. Mum, Jessica, Layla and Paris would cycle by themselves with Indigo and Elijah towed in a trailer on the back of a bike ridden by James.

Oliver cannot yet ride a bike with two wheels, much to my frustration, so I was hoping that by sitting on the back of a bike with me, he’d gain some much needed confidence and an idea of balance which is something that is preventing him from riding off into the wind. The attachment at the back of mine and Dad’s bike was almost a bike in itself, but where the front wheel was supposed it be, two forks clipped in and attached to the rear wheel of the lead bike. Oliver could then pedal as much as he liked, like a tandem, or just relax and enjoy the ride.

The camel trail itself is quite spectacular meandering alongside the Camel estuary from Wadebridge before ending up in Padstow, made famous by the celebrity chef Rick Stein. The village of Rock lies the other side of the water, with huge sand banks visible in between. The idea was to get the ferry over and enjoy the beach on that side, but the weather once again let us down.

Riding five miles is surprisingly taxing work. I don’t think I’ve ridden a bike since my paper round as a teenager and so I was desperately out of touch. Layla and Paris who at ten and eight were riding solo and made the journey there without fuss. Oliver sitting on the back with me enjoyed the first half and I could feel him peddling as our speed increased as he did. Half way down he began to quieten and by the time we reached Padstow he no longer said a word. As we parked the bikes at the finish, I released why, the poor mite was frozen solid and could barely feel his hands. He had enjoyed himself thoroughly but it was a touch too far!

From the moment we arrived in Padstow, I only had one goal - fish and chips. I had heard the Rick Stein fish and chip emporium was the big draw in town and something that couldn’t be missed. Slightly pricey at eight pound a pop, but was ultimately eight pound very well spent. If you consider a pasty cost nearly four pound (even without that stupid tax), eight pound was remarkably good value, even more so when you realised how good they tasted! If you ever find yourself in Padstow, do treat yourself, but make sure your party all do too, else they’ll only want to try it anyway!

Walking around Padstow, you could see why it was such a big draw with the tourists. Ignoring the culinary treats that litter every doorway, Padstow itself is a delightfully pretty little village with a full working harbour. You could see on the harbour walls, drop a net, go crabbing and watch the boats go by, or do as we intended and catch the ferry over to rock.

Seeing as it was still raining, we decided to skip the ferry, but during a brief lull we took a walk around to the ferry port and Dad was accosted by a speedboat operator. I thought he looked like a poor mans version of Sean Bean with aviator sunglasses, weather beaten, rock hard skin and tattoos all over his hands and body. He was a real man of the sea with a personality to match.

Dad asked us in turn if we wanted to go on the speedboat and we all looked at him with a level of uncertainty. In fact, he got rather cross and thought we all thought he was mad, but we needed a little moment to think about it. Tough seas, tough winds, a speedboat and six little children? I was not fussed either way, but seeing Jessica and James pile the children into the boat I didn’t want to miss out. We asked Oliver if he wanted to go and he said no thank you very much he didn’t. Something to do with the Titanic and being scared of the boat sinking! Even when we told him it wasn’t that type of boat he still wasn’t convinced and said that he’d get eaten by a shark. Good job we didn’t tell him the name of the boat then wasn’t it... Jaws!


In the end, Oliver and I were sat in the speedboat next to James and Elijah, whilst Jessica was at the front with the girls. It all started off quite placidly until I saw, written on the dock wall to my left a sign saying “end of speed restrictions”. It was at this point that Jessica, the girls and Sean Bean who was driving rose out of the sea and high above James, the boys and I. My face hadn’t been quite inverted, but my cheeks were flapping hard against my ears and my knuckles had grown a nice shade of white gripping onto the handle bars in front.

We were racing at a good rate of knots out past Rock which was literally in touching distance, I was horrified at how close to the coast we really were! I tried my best to wave at the people on the beach who passed by in a blur before we reached the open sea. Once there, Sean Bean decided to show us everything he had learnt as a stunt double in Hollywood by making sharp zig-zagging shapes through the water, before hitting a small tsunami full on and launching us through the air where time slowed down and my life flashed before my very eyes.

I wasn’t scared of the ride, in fact I positively enjoyed it, it was actually one of the most exhilarating things that I’ve probably ever done! But the big nagging thought that scared the living hell out of me was the possibility of what might just happen. Had Oliver not been there, I would have been fine, but as it was, I was more worried about if we fell in how would I save him, where would we swim to in order to survive! Back on dry land, Jessica laughed at my worries and said “how do you think I felt, I had the three with me - what one was I supposed to save?”

Back firmly on dry land and with a huge sense of relief I asked Oliver if he had enjoyed himself. He looked at me and barely muttered the word “yes”, but his face told the real story and I don’t think he’ll be going on a boat again in a hurry!

Our week in Cornwall had come to an eventful conclusion and we’d all met a rather tiring end. We finished off with another meal and drink at the Watering Hole on the beach at Perranporth, where we met up with Mums half sister Mandy and partner Roger who we’d also met the night before. Mum and Dad are really quite lucky as they’ll be going back in July for a wedding, whilst for the rest of us, it was time to say a sad goodbye.

Coming home, rather than make a direct trip back, we took the scenic route, stopping of at Tintagel Castle which is something that really needs to be seen to be believed. Access isn’t great, via a long steep hill that isn’t so bad until you try and walk back up afterwards and a place I’d love to return to when the time allows, but for me the real thrill was our final stop, a sleepy little hamlet called Poundstock.

We’d left Tintagel and picked up the Atlantic Highway, the A39 - which is a pleasure to drive, even getting caught behind a tractor is no hardship as you dip down steep valleys, up the other side surrounded by greenery and glimpses of the ocean which entices you poetically like a whisper. We drove through Bocastle, a place my parents who as we were no longer in convoy later stopped. We passed through pausing to admire in wonder at the beauty of the place and staggered incomprehensibly at the mental images of the village being underwater as it was in the early naughties.

Our final stop then, Poundstock, a place as I’ve already described as a sleepy little hamlet, which is ironic considering the reason we were stopping.

A couple of years ago whilst doing some genealogy research I discovered that ancestors on my paternal line were buried there. A website I found at the time had pictures and reports, descriptions of gravestones and the all important dates. I said to myself then that I would go there for myself one day, but was unprepared for the level of feeling that was invoked as I strolled through the cemetery looking for the name of Symons and the moment of sheer excitement when I saw them clustered at the top of the winding path.

St Winwaloe Church sits at the bottom of hill on the outskirts of Poundstock, in a small dell and next to the Poundstone Gildhouse, which has been continuously standing since medieval times. I tell you this as it is an interesting fact in itself, but for me, knowing that one day in the distant past, my great, great, great, great, great or however many times grandfather walked the same land, even tended to the land I’m sure and then, nearly three hundred years later, along I come with my own son and seek his final resting place!

Final Symons resting place

All in all, we were at the church for half an hour, walking the grounds, but too afraid to enter the church which was open and unguarded. Dad who followed shortly afterwards went inside and looked at the visitors book and read the official list of names that lie within the grounds outside.

I tried to explain to Oliver what it was that we were looking at, but he looked at me blankly and carried on climbing the railing oblivious to my stream of information. I took some photographs, but stood in the main, silent trying to to visualise something of the people in the ground below. It wasn’t a morbid moment, but curious and rather surreal, tinged with a sense of sadness and a sense of never knowing. There was a real sense of achievement that in this day and age we have access to this kind of information which can open up moments like this. What would those people, long since gone have made of it, if someone told them in their lifetime that their ancestors would pay their respects three hundred years from now?

It is funny, in a way the feelings that were evoked at the end of our week away. We set off with adventure for the children in mind, which they had, in abundance, but we grownups were also more than satisfied and learnt plenty of news things for ourselves. In a way, it felt in some way or another that visiting Cornwall for the very first time was like going back home, maybe it is me and my overstretched mind. But there is a place in my heart for Cornwall now, as well as piece of DNA.

Ultimately though, without the deep thoughts and retrospective view through rose tinted glasses it was a week for us to all unwind, have fun and have new experiences. The funniest thing of all, is Layla. She was moaning about being only ten years old and not being treated like an adult. With the slides, the sea, rides on ponies and non stop ice creams what I wouldn’t give to be ten again.


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