Since my first appearance on Countryfile way back in 2001, I’ve been lucky to travel all over the UK on filming assignments. But when I’m asked to single out one perfect place to spend the ideal holiday, Cornwall wins hands down.
From the moment you cross the River Tamar, it’s obvious this is a land apart, and somewhere very special. With my love for Britain’s native livestock, you may think my choice is influenced by the rare breeds of the county. It’s true that the Cornish Black (or Large Black) pig and the Devon & Cornwall Longwool sheep are wonderful breeds, each with a fascinating history. But though I’m guilty of the occasional busman’s holiday, for me the far south-west is wrapped up in fun, friendship and wonderful family memories.
Cornwall is a place of Celtic tradition, exotic gardens and the ruins of old engine houses from its tin-mining past. Today, it’s probably best known for its coastline. The county has 400 miles of coast, 158 miles of which have been designated as Heritage Coast. In Cornwall, nowhere is more than 20 miles from superb sandy beaches, sheltered coves, rocky cliffs, dramatic headlands, harbours, estuaries and creeks. So it’s no surprise that my favourite Cornish spots are both beside the sea.
Polzeath is a small village of pretty whitewashed homes on a north-coast headland bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Camel Estuary. Its charm was captured in verse by poet John Betjeman, who in 1984 was laid to rest in the churchyard at nearby Trebetherick. Polzeath is also renowned as a top surfing destination.
We have a friend who has a small house there, so we stay as often as we can. Our last visit was in February, when I squeezed into a wetsuit and braved the freezing water to go surfing with my lad, Alfie. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a champion surfer-dude but at least I earned Dad points!
On the South West Coast Path, midway between Daymer Bay and Rumps Point, Polzeath is a great place to take the dogs out for a bracing walk. They enjoy their exercise while I gaze out at the rolling surf, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphins that can often be seen in the bay.
Fish and festivals
The other Cornish community that has captured my heart is on the other side of the county, on Cornwall’s warmer, gentler southern coast. The harbour town of Porthleven is a collection of old fisherman’s cottages, moorings, net lofts and assorted historic buildings. Fishing boats still land their daily catch on the quayside, and Porthleven can proudly claim to be the most southerly port in Great Britain.
Most of the fish is bought by the restaurants, cafés and pubs that look across the harbour and out to sea – eateries that have helped the town become a magnet for foodies. Indeed, the brilliant annual Porthleven Food and Music Festival was the highlight of my last visit.
The range of local produce that was on sale was really impressive, and the mood was enhanced by the Cornish folk songs
and sea shanties performed by a male acapella group.
The Cotswolds will always be home – but the enchanting Cornish coast is definitely my first-choice getaway.
Main image: ©Getty