The Joy of Cornwall

Writing about why Cornwall is the perfect setting for joyful fiction has left me a little stumped. Not because I don’t have anything to say about this most inspiring of counties, but because I have too much.

Cornwall has inspired eight of my novels now, including the Cornish Café and the Little Cornish Isles series. Don’t get me wrong, I love Devon and a hundred other places in Britain but when I cross the Tamar and see that ‘Welcome to Cornwall’ road sign, I get a genuine tingle of excitement that has nothing to do with the fact I might spot Aidan Turner while I’m there.

Cornwall makes my senses come alive in a way that very few places can and writing fiction about these wonderful locations and resilient, fascinating people is one of the greatest pleasure of my life. I’m not alone, of course, there are now dozens of ‘feelgood’ novels set in Cornwall so it can’t only be me who’s been captivated by Kernow.

But why?

First of all, I think that Cornwall holds such happy associations for so many people including me. I only have to read some of the reviews of my books, and the messages I receive, to know that a lot of readers link the Cornish coast with a time of their lives which was joyful, carefree and fun.

We knew how to live then…

But these simple pleasures do live on in the memory, especially when some of the people we shared them with are gone.

Secondly, I think Cornwall offers the perfect place to escape and make new memories. When our only daughter first left home for uni in 2006, I don’t mind admitting I missed her terribly. Although she was making an exciting new life for herself, settling in wasn’t always easy for her either. So, after her first year, I decided to book a cottage near Padstow where the three of us could have some ‘quality time’ before she went back to college in October.

The weather was gorgeous, we had a wonderful time and my daughter declared: ‘this was a smashing idea, mum!’ Ever since then, we always have a family week in Cornwall in September. Nowadays, her partner comes along and our parents sometimes join us too. The weather is usually glorious, the school holiday rush is over and as a bonus, for the past three years, Poldark has been filming. Now if that’s not a joyful reason to visit Cornwall, I don’t know what is.

These days, we rent a larger cottage – usually near Hayle, Polzeath or St Ives for the surfing beaches – and cram our wetsuits and body boards into the car for some shared fun and relaxation. I have a photo of us all, messing around in the surf at Godrevy that almost brings tears to my eyes. To me, it represents a moment when I was the happiest I could ever be. You can see the sheer glee in our faces. My daughter had the picture put on a canvas and it hangs in my bathroom where I see it every morning.

Of course, there’s something else that Cornwall has which never fails to lift the spirits and inspire: the sensational coastline and landscape.

It’s almost impossible to talk about the places that make me feel happiest in a short article like this but if I had to, I’d start with the Minack Theatre near Land’s End. This amazing venue was hewn from solid rock by its female founder, Rowena Cade. It clings to the cliffs above Porthcurno, its stone seats tumbling steeply to the stage so that you feel as if you’re floating above the sea itself.

It’s hard to concentrate on a play, with the natural spectacle lying in front of you – pink granite rocks weathered into fantastic shapes, the rolling swell and the waves lapping the silver sands of Pedn Vounder beach. At sunset, it’s unforgettable.

When I’m looking for quieter and more reflective pleasure, I drive onto the moorland at Botallack where abandoned tin mines stand like lonely sentinels amid the brambles. I imagine the miners trooping down to the engine houses teetering above the waves and climbing rickety ladders to tunnels under the seabed.

If I need cheering up, I head for St Ives, the bustling fishing village with its five buttery beaches, vibrant arts scene and wonderful cafes. I have a coffee or a cocktail on the harbour and hope the seagulls don’t steal my chips. Some seaside pleasures are still the same after all…

And when I want to get my endorphins flowing and work off some calories, I drive the few miles east to Godrevy. I grab my wetsuit and a board and run along the vast flat beach into the sea. It doesn’t matter if I fall off – as I always do – because I have the greatest view in Cornwall for consolation, as the sun slips behind the lighthouse and the waves thunder up the sand.

Try it if you haven’t already. You might like it and who knows, it might turn into a joyful Cornish memory you treasure forever and hang on your wall.

By Phillipa Ashley

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