I must say the surf on the north coast of Cornwall is terrific. Definitely beats Gower, much as I love the place. You can stand up to your waist, only 20 yards out, and they'll come in breaking well over your head - sometimes a struggle to stand up to them. "Exuberating" as my daughter rightly said. Great for kids learning to surf or bodyboard - and the sea's warm enough that an aged father, t-shirted (the sunburn!) but not wetsuited, can spend three hours at a stretch in the water. You can hire a board for the day for a fiver. We respect such a sea, though - we're there when the tide's coming in and stick to the lifeguard zone. The board, soft-edged though it be, doesn't half hurt if it hits you on the head - I think it could probably knock you unconscious if you were unlucky. So when the RNLI pack up and go home, so do we.
Not far up the coast at Newquay, young men were dropping off the cliffs right left and centre - the town consisting of an excellent surfing beach surrounded by vertical cliffs - said cliffs topped by dozens of vertical drinking establishments. For some reason I can't fathom, they all seem to fall off in the early hours. My middle son, now seventeen, is off there tomorrow with three friends - and over the last week his father has been reading the casualty toll each day to him... inshallah something will sink in - although fiftysomething fathers can get into trouble there too.
We were in the water every day, but still found time for a few excursions - mostly ending in food and drink. Despite all that swimming and boarding, I've put on five pounds !
If you remember, Devon and Cornwall were the top locations for Brits fleeing West 'to escape the frantic lifestyle' (before West Wales became 'the new Cornwall') - and the place is indeed 'unhealthily white' - although still multicultural, the cultures ranging from upper-middle (plenty of RP blondes manning the surf schools - don't get me started on St Ives) through tattooed Cockneys in Merc 4x4s (with obligatory disabled parking badge) barking into their mobiles, to the Scally teenagers in the gift shop holding the pink illuminated squiggler to their trousers and roaring with laughter.
In fact you can drive for three hours up the A39 and quite forget what the rest of the UK is like - which brings me to the conversation we had with the lady who came to clean up before the next people took our house. Retired, but still hale and hearty, she'd lived there for nearly 20 years since leaving Sparkbrook - once a bit of Brummagem with a pronounced Irish tinge, now almost wholly Asian (update - I'm behind the times). Her husband was from Small Heath - an area even more completely transformed.
"We don't go back any more. All our friends have either died or moved out ... there's nothing for people like us there now," she hesitated - "well, there are no people like us there now."
Which transformation, inshallah, will be the subject of tomorrow's post.
Back to the A39. The A30 yesterday was down to a crawl as the first holiday week's visitors headed out, so we took minor roads then headed through Camelford along the 'Atlantic Highway'. Fifteen miles up a small sign for St Juliot caused me to hit the brakes and swing sharp left in pilgrim mode, down a steep, tiny road, across a ford and up a hill to a romantic setting which in Victorian times must have been remote indeed. It took a whole day, rising at four, to get there from just outside Dorchester.
For here it was that a young architect and aspiring writer called Thomas Hardy came in 1870 to draw up plans for the restoration of the church, then in a state of near-collapse. On arrival at the rectory (now a posh B&B) he found the vicar indisposed with an attack of gout, and was greeted by 'a lady in brown' - the vicar's sister-in-law, Emma Lavinia Gifford, and Hardy's wife-to-be.
I don't think it was in the end the happiest of marriages. Emma, who was marrying down, was a middle-class catch for an artisan's son - but within a few years she found her husband a celebrity, feted by all manner of aristocratic totty - something to which he was apparently not averse. Alas !
Well, I'd dragged Susan and the children to St Juliot, the kids were hungry and we'd promised a cream tea before we left - and Boscastle was just down the road - another romantic place. A tiny village in a narrow valley (which floods), with an even tinier harbour hidden from the sea by a zig-zag of cliff.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro -
On which lost the more by our love.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….
A neat if slow road, the A39. The section outside Lynmouth (which floods), up Countisbury Hill, is as spectacular as California's Highway 1 up to Big Sur.