On a sunny day, the southwestern corner of our neighbouring island can seem more Mediterranean than it is Atlantic. Dean Van Nguyen visits a place that holds itself apart from the rest of the inhabitants of England.
You’re Cornish first, English second. That’s the unified message from the people of the British coastal county, some of which are denied universal recognition as true Cornish men and women by the fact they weren’t born in the area.
It doesn’t matter if you arrived as a baby and spent all your life in Cornwall.
If you can’t trace bloodlines, you’re a blow-in. It’s all very Game of Thrones.
That’s because Cornwall is desperate to hold it’s own unique identity. In 2014, the Cornish were formally recognised as a national minority.
The people there have their own language. And consider this: five years ago, the Cornish Pasty Association succeeded in its long campaign to be awarded Protected Geographical Indication so that any version of the famous delicacy made outside the region couldn’t be called a Cornish pasty. Visiting the county, it’s clear these weren’t some kind of baked goods extremists. That sense of singularity is important to the area.
It’s fitting, then, that visiting Cornwall — which forms the tip of the south-west peninsula of the island of Great Britain — is unlike visiting anywhere else in the UK.
It’s a mostly rural area, but overlooking the clear blues skies and ornate seas from the Polurrian Bay Hotel on a sunny day feels more Mediterranean than Mullion, the coastal village in which its situated.
The long-standing resort has welcomed such guests as Winston Churchill and Clark Gable. Today, it retains the rich personality you’d expect from an over 125-year-old establishment, while pitching itself as family friendly (bring the dog if you like) and boasting a gym, spa, tennis court, plus a private beach.
If you do bring your racquet, rumour has it that food and beverage manager Yohann Thuill is a serious Andre Agassi on the courts.
Those reports, however, remain unconfirmed.
An evening beer (Korev, a fine local lager) by the water had my party and I considering what kind of seafood lay beneath.
Dinner at the hotel included blow-torched Cornish mackerel fillet and pan-fried Cornish brill fillets-all of which are locally sourced, ensuring what’s on your plate comes from the same waters the dining room overlooks.
Yohann’s cocktails made the evening buzz by, but there were Cornwell sights to see the following morning, and as much as the Polurrian seemed half-a-world away from civilisation, a trip to St Michael’s Mount felt like a time travel to another time period.
The island, which is home to around 30 residents, is accessible by foot when the tide is low via a man-made causeway.
Unsurprisingly, it’s become the scene of folklore. Legend has it that St Michael’s Mount was once the home of an 18-foot giant who was slayed by the famous Jack the Giant Killer during the reign of King Arthur.
For the voyeurs, the castle that crowns St Michael’s Mount offers a more revealing glimpse into the life of the extreme haves than you might expect.
Game of Thrones fans will again be pleased, the old citadel could easily home one of the show’s highborn lords. In real life, it’s the home of Baron and Lady St Levan, and the tour includes rooms used by the family themselves.
Wandering the grounds outside, we even ran into Lady St Levan herself as she enjoyed the sun with her granddaughter. So incognito was she, it took our tour guide to point her out.
Elsewhere, the town of St Ives has a more traditional British seaside feel, with plenty of ice cream stands, fish and chip stores and even some amusements for those whose holidays aren’t complete without blowing some of the mortgage money on the slots.
Our visit on a hot May day saw the area mercifully less crowded than a busy afternoon in, say, Margate or Brighton, which could be considered comparable locations. It’s probably less tacky too.
Incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen though is the Minack Theatre, an outdoor auditorium perched right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The theatre was created by Rowena Cade, who built the arena from scratch in the 1930s as a place for local drama enthusiasts to perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The full story of its history is told in a small museum at the location.
I suspect the theatre itself and the story of its origins are more spectacular and extraordinary than any show or act you’re likely to see there, so the £4.50 to get in just for a nose around might represent the best value.
Back in St Ives, we grabbed lunch at The Pedn Olva, a hotel and restaurant founded on the granite rocks of St Ives Harbour and Bay.
The contemporary dining room offers a full dinner menu, but I stuck to the bar fare and the classic crab sandwich with fresh salad and the always-welcomed handful of crisps for £10.50.
A seafood break was on the cards by dinnertime, though. Kota Restaurant, in Porthleven, is owned by New Zealander couple Jude and Jane Kereama, who have created a homely outpost with a menu that takes inspiration from chef Jude’s half Maori and half Chinese Malay origin.
The Teriyaki glazed duck breast and panko crumbed duck leg was tender and tasty at £21.50.
The morning of our flight home, I finally got my shoes scuffed-up. Kynance Cove is a small, unspoiled stretch of beach for those who don’t mind traversing the rocky landscape to get there. The cute Kynance Cafe sits on the hill overlooking the voce.
It’s trek over jagged rocks and past the sandy beach to get there, but the hot cup of tea and scone was a fair reward.
Staff at the cafe assured us there was a back road for access, saving them the climb to work each day. In Cornwell, you might be best renting a car too. Although there is some public transport, many places, like the Polurrian Bay Hotel, are tough to reach if you don’t have wheels.
That freedom is ideal to fully unlock the county’s worth.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Aer Lingus operate flights from Dublin Airport to Newquay Cornwall every day of the week except Tuesday. See www.aerlingus.com
WHAT TO SEE:
St Michael’s Mount is a picturesque island crowned by the stunning castle of St Michael. Spend a morning or afternoon exploring the castle and its grounds.
WHERE TO EAT
: The award-winning Kota Restaurant (Harbour Head, Porthleven Helston TR13 9JA). Jude and Jane’s Kereama’s restaurants is named after the Maori terms for shellfish (kota) and food (kai).
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