Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Weekend in North Cornwall

When I was little, I didn't dream of visiting Disney Land or far flung islands. I only wanted to go to Cornwall. To me, a child who was bundled off to Italy every summer for the entirety of the school holidays, this little corner of England lived in my imagination as an unknown, mythical land. Friends would come back from trips to magical sounding places - Porthcurno, Lizard, Menagissey, Tintagel- and I'd be enchanted. 

While a 6 week holiday in Italy might sound the more appealing option, our family excursions certainly weren't glamorous and challenged the common understanding of a 'holiday' - this was in the 80s era of pre-budget airlines, so air fares alone would have crippled my financially challenged parents.  While in Italy, accommodation was courtesy of my aunt's cramped apartment, eating out was confined to long-winded meals at the homes of a variety of relations, and transport to and from the beach was via a packed, non air-conditioned bus that lives on in my nightmares and has given me a tendency to claustrophobia.

Don't get me wrong; I did enjoy some bits of these formative holiday experiences, but when September rolled around and everyone would come back to school with tales of their Cornish adventures, I always felt a little left out and curious to seek out this place that lay temptingly close to home yet beyond my reach. Amazingly, it wasn't until my 30s that my ambitions were finally realised. 
With our 20s spent looking further afield for travel inspiration, it wasn't until our first child was born that we decided to look closer to home for a burst of sea air. While I was sweating it out on that aforementioned bus, my other half was making the long journey from Manchester to Cornwall for his summer holidays - a seasoned visitor to the region, it had been years since he'd dipped his toes in the Cornish surf, so with a young baby in tow and very little money to put towards holidays, everything was set for my for first proper sojourn to Cornwall.
Fast-forward some 12 years, and a couple of weekends back we retraced the steps we took on that first holiday with our young son. On both occasions we were based in Bossiney, just outside Tintagel in North Cornwall. It's a great example of how you don't have to venture too far into the county to experience is breathtaking beauty.

At just over 2 hours drive (on a good day) from Bristol, it's totally doable for a two night stay and it made me realise that we really should take more advantage of the lovely scenery we have just a short distance from home. The exquisite Bossiney Haven is testament to the rugged beauty of this part of the coast; reachable via a steep but lovely descent, this beach is simply stunning. As it can get cut off at high tide, it's important to check the tide times when planning your visit. 

At low tide, a wonderful expanse of sand is revealed, spectacularly framed by the high cliff faces. There's a sea arch and a dark and rather scary sea cave to peek inside; a waterfall at the back of the beach completes the picturesque scene. Given its challenging access I'd imagine you could have this patch of beach to yourself out of season; on our trip we were joined by just a small number of visitors, so this pretty cove offers a real away-from-it-all experience.
We have a collection of photos of our little blonde haired one-year-old tottering about on the pebbles at Port Isaac - some of my favourite pictures of his baby years - so this was a place I was keen to go back to. Thankfully nothing much has changed in the intervening 13 years (aside from the Doc Martin themed tins of fudge on offer in the shops); it's still brimming with Cornish character and is a charming place to while away an afternoon. 
Buy a pasty from Nicky B's Pasty Shop and watch fishing boats arrive with their lobster pots and other treats from the sea. If seafood is your thing you can dine in style at Outlaws (a smart restaurant named after esteemed chef Nathan Outlaw), overlooking the harbour.

With just a cluster of winding streets and a few shops to explore (be sure to check out local pottery Kiln), Port Isaac is the sort of lazy place that doesn't demand much more from you than just hanging out on the harbourside or relaxing with a beer in the sunshine. I love it.

A short walk leads you around the headland to the smaller, equally tranquil Port Gaverne. Last time we were here, we celebrated a new pregnancy at the Port Gaverne Hotel pub, toasting our news while watching the sunset from this lovely spot. On this occasion, we drank Pimms and wondered how despite that previous trip feeling like only yesterday, we were now sitting in a pub with two kids glued to iPhones.

Another fantastic beach just a short drive from Tintagel is Trebarwith Strand. Characterised by beautiful rock formations, it's a rugged and invigorating place to fill your lungs with Atlantic spray and watch the surfers negotiate what can be pretty impressive rollers - the beach is considered by those in the know to offer one of the best breaks in the country.

If - like me - you prefer your thrills to be served in the form of a cream tea, there's a lovely little beach cafe where you can fill up on scones, jam and clotted dairy products. On the subject of cream tea, another place to get your fix is the charming village of Boscastle. 

Walking along its harbour on a sunny afternoon, it's hard to imagine the devastation wreaked on the village during flash flooding in 2004. The perfect place for an gentle amble, there's a National Trust visitor centre and cafe (inside you can find out more about the floods), plus, rather randomly, a museum dedicated to witchcraft. 

Walk along the harbour and take in the view beyond; there are also various coastal walks to explore around the village. Dotted with tea shops, pubs and a very good pasty shop, Boscastle is the quintessential Cornish village. 

As you can possibly tell from my frequent mentions of pasties, food featured heavily on our weekend trip. While chowing down on a pasty (see, I mentioned that word again) on a beach in the sunshine is perhaps one of my favourite things to do in Cornwall, I was keen to stop by another place that charmed us on our previous visit to the area - the village of St Kew, with its pretty church and even more appealing pub. 

The St Kew Inn is a must visit if you're in the area. Brimming with rustic charm and offering a gorgeous pub garden - ideal if you're visiting with little ones in tow -it's friendly and very reasonably priced for the standard of cooking on offer. I had one of the best pub meals I've had in a long while here; a delicious pan-fried hake served with spinach, mussels and bacon cream. It was exquisite. A hearty toad in the hole, bowl of mussels and beer battered cod went down equally well with my fellow diners. 

Fresh fish suppers, invigorating sea air, walks along the coast and cream teas in the sunshine - to be honest, that's all I want from a weekend away. Our trip reignited my love for Cornwall, a place that has perhaps been overshadowed on our recent travels for more accessible areas, or places that don't necessitate a slow crawl along the M5. But after a few years' hiatus, I know we'll certainly be back in this beautiful corner of the UK soon. I'm already planning my next trip...


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Things to Do in London with a Teenager

While I am still somewhat in denial of the fact I am a parent of a teenager (I feel so old!) if there's one good thing to be said for the experience, it's that travel and days out are a far less stressful experience than they can be with younger children. And if you're travelling with just one of your children, you can look forward to a rather lovely experience. I'm a great believer in one-to-one parenting every so often, particularly during the tricky teenage years when it can sometimes feel like you're losing a bit of a connection to your offspring.
So, with an inset day at our disposal, me and the eldest son decided to take off to London for a couple of days. If I was a sensible parent I might have heeded the fact that Year 9 exams were kicking off the following week and this extra day's leave was most probably intended to be spent revising. Turns out train journeys are perfect for revising, though,  so I didn't feel too guilty about whisking my son off for a break from his books.

The wonderful thing about day trips with older children is the lack of needing to follow any routine or worrying about queuing; we arrived in the capital without any set plan and enjoyed wandering where the wind took us. Which happened to be the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

If, like us, you've exhausted all the big museums and are looking for something age appropriate to do indoors, this is a great option. It's free for kids 15 and under and an adult ticket can be used as much as you like within a year. My son isn't too cool to admit he still loves anything to do with transport and this thoughtfully curated space offers an insight into London transport over the centuries, with a heavy emphasis on the Underground. It's way more interesting than you might think - while my son immersed himself in the more serious engineering stuff I enjoyed finding out about the typography and tube map design that has become a gold standard in clear and simple signposting.

With sections on London buses, how the Underground was utilised in the war and the recruitment of women to help keep the city moving while the men were off fighting, there's lots to learn about here. There was also a brilliant exhibition of tube posters created by female artists, spanning the 1900s to the present day.
Another great museum for older children is the Imperial War Museum - we didn't visit on this occasion but it's definitely one to add to your list if you've done London's other free museums and galleries. And the appeal of the Victoria and Albert Museum is something older children will appreciate more than they might do when they're little. With an emphasis on aesthetics that might perhaps be a bit lost on younger kids, it's a brilliant place to introduce teenagers to everything from classic design to vintage fashion. 

Don't miss the opportunity to have tea and cake in the stunning cafe - three interconnecting rooms (the Gamble, Morris and Poynter rooms) offer a cafe experience like no other in the capital and are an absolute must do. The rooms make up the world's first museum cafe, boasting outstanding Arts and Crafts decor that makes for a truly grand cafe experience, without the exorbitant price tag.

Your average teenager nowadays is pretty cosmopolitan in their tastes (if you raise them on babyccinnos and expensive trips to Yo Sushi, they tend to turn their noses up at Burger King) which opens up a whole range of eating options in the capital. Take young foodies to Borough Market or Maltby Street, both fashionable locations that offer a brilliant way to soak up London's inimitable atmosphere while chomping on something delicious from all corners of the globe. On this occasion, we took refuge from the rain in Dishoom, a great option if your teenager is a curry aficionado. The food here is inventive, delicious and filling - the perfect place to refuel for your afternoon adventures. Although there are several branches in London - we visited the St Martin's Lane restaurant - it's nice to venture off the well-beaten Pizza Express/Wagamamas/Nandos path.
We always seem to end up at the Tate Modern but the experience really comes into its own with older kids who can make quite interesting critiques on the assembled artworks. We visited with a friend who's a member, gaining us free entry to to the brilliant Picasso exhibition currently on show. While you're in this neck of the woods, it's only a short hop to the Sky Garden which I've mentioned before on this blog - it's the ideal place to take teens and is free of charge.
Without wishing to make huge generalisations about gender, a trip to London with a teenage girl in tow might focus on its shopping opportunities (I've seen enough bored looking mums with their teens in the Oxford Street Topshop to know that for many teenage girls, this cathedral of fast fashion is high on their list of priorities when visiting the capital) but boys might not be so bothered about this aspect of the city. 

This can be annoying if you were hoping to squeeze in a bit of retail therapy yourself; being the really good parent that I am, I put all thoughts of a mooch about &OtherStories to the back of my mind and took my son to Spitalfields instead. We didn't really shop as such, but I did get a little bit of retail exposure and he was open to a laid back wander around the market and the cool streets around Brick Lane.

With its mix of independent shops (think Rough Trade Records and Slam City Skates), street art and cool cafes, it's a fertile stomping ground for teens looking for something a little less conventional than the West End, with plenty of opportunities to do a bit of hipster watching. Broadway Market and its surrounding neighbourhoods offers a similar experience.
If you've got a book loving teen in tow, Daunt Books in Marylebone is a lovely place to spend some quiet time away from the crowds. Filled with old school charm, it's a shop that provides the perfect antidote to the flashy mega stores of the West End and introduces your child to old school London - the polar opposite of the Apple Store, I defy anyone, young or old, not to be charmed by its calm and genteel ambience.

Finishing off our visit with trip to Carnaby Street and a quick wander through Soho, I was reminded of my teenage trips to London, of visiting Italian delis on Old Compton Street, searching the racks at Hyper Hyper for stuff to go clubbing in and hanging out in cafes at Camden Market. London has changed a lot since those days and while it might not have the unique charm it once did in our 21st-century globalised world, it's still an intoxicating and exciting place when viewed through the eyes of a 14-year-old. And you know what, it's fun hanging out with your teenage kids sometimes, especially when they're happy to indulge you...

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