I've been visiting Cornwall several times a year for the last 20 years and have always thought of it as my home away from home. It reminds me so much of New Zealand, with it's wild weather and yellow gorse coastlines and it fascinates me that my great, great, great grandparents decided to leave Cornwall in the mid 1800's and sail for months to the other side of the world to start a new life in New Zealand. Just like my greats, I also travelled (back!) to the other side of the world and when I'm in Cornwall, I feel like I've come home again. My roots are Cornish and I love escaping London life to come to this idyllic place where I can feel relaxed and grounded again.
This Christmas, after a hectic year, we concluded that we needed a proper 'get away from it all' winter break so decided to book a cosy cottage for two, by the sea, just south of Zennor. We found Polmina via Classic Cottages which is a gorgeous converted barn looking out across the Atlantic Ocean perched on the edge of an organic, National Trust farm called Bosigran. We packed up all of our favourite home comforts and moved in for a week. I was keen to explore more of Zennor, a small village obsessed with mermaids (check out the carvings in the church and pub) and where I recently learnt that our family history can be traced back to this area as far as the the 1600's. I always knew I was a mermaid!
What to do in Cornwall
In the winter, the golden beaches are just as fabulous as they are in the summer... if not better as there are less people around! Dogs are allowed back on the beach and you'll find plenty of salty, wet mutts going crazy ape bonkers, sprinting across the sand when you're out for wintery walks. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there are plenty of opportunities to also go completely bonkers and join the locals for a beach swim. The Cornish community gather together for fun and charity every Christmas to head out into the icy sea for a quick, festive dip. This year, on Boxing Day, I borrowed my Goddaughter's body board and charged out into the waves at Porthtowan for a surf. I am lucky to have best friends in Cornwall who are completely loco and needed no encouragement to join me. The hit of the icy cold waves was exhilarating and hilarious and I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Afterwards, we all felt wonderful after a hot shower and a mug of mulled wine by the fireplace. Salty seawater is so good for the body and soul and if I lived in Cornwall, I would be in the ocean every day. Here are a few of my recommended Cornish beaches...
The light in St Ives is soft and glowing as it reflects off the golden sand at Porthminster. You can grab a fresh, locally caught, crab sandwich with sea salt and rosemary fries at Porthminster Cafe and snuggle up in one of their heated outdoor pods, before heading out for a wintery beach walk or checking out the latest exhibition at Tate.
Sennen like St Ives is blessed with beautiful, light coloured sand, a good beach cafe and decent waves for surfing or swimming.
Porthtowan has superb waves for body boarding and sufing. The beach cafe is closed over Christmas, so don't expect to rock up and get a coffee at this time of year. A quick morning dip in the ocean certainly woke us up though!
The Minack Theatre is perched on the cliffs high above the Atlantic, overlooking one of my favourite beaches in Cornwall, Porthcurno. The views from this stunning outdoor theatre, built into the rocks by an amazing woman, Rowen Cade's own hands are incredible and during the summer months it's worth booking well in advance to see one of the many theatre performances or operas on offer. Take a picnic, a rug and a bottle of wine for an unforgettable evening underneath the stars. During the winter, the cosy theatre cafe is open and if you go down to the beach, you might be lucky enough to see a seal larking about in the waves.
On this trip, I took the opportunity to visit St Gluvias, the church in Penryn where my great, great, great Moore grandparents were married in 1839. As I shoot plenty of church interiors through my wedding photography, I found it particularly moving to attend a Christmas, festive service at the place where 2 family members were married before wedding photographers or cameras even really existed. Henry Fox Talbot had only just produced the first photographic negatives in the mid 1830's and it makes me laugh to think that these two were married without any thought of wedding photographs at all. In my opinion, wedding photography is the most important thing to consider when planning a wedding these days! After the service, we headed into Falmouth for some last minute Christmas shopping. Falmouth has plenty of cute, boutique shops to offer and some great Cornish pubs on the quay - Chain Locker is worth dropping by for a winter warmer!
When travelling to Cornwall from London, we usually take the A303 for the most scenic route, because this road goes right past my favourite, ancient stone formation - Stonehenge. As I love a pile of rocks, on this trip we decided to visit Men-an-Tol, which means 'holed stone' in Cornish. The walk to these bronze aged beauties near Madron was about an hour round trip down a muddy farm track and across swampy moorland. The holed stone is believed to have magical, healing powers if you squeeze yourself through it... particularly for women seeking fertility or an easy childbirth! I think if I got down on all fours and tried to crawl through that hole, I would look like I was giving birth...so opted not to!
Where to eat in Cornwall
When we booked the barn, I knew it was only two minutes away from the famous gastro pub The Gurnards Head. It's pretty hard to miss this bright yellow pub in the middle of nowhere and I was looking forward to going back to this favourite spot for supper on our first night. We were greeted by friendly locals with a happy, waggy tailed dog at the bar. In the restaurant, the menu did not disappoint, with plenty of fresh, local fish and other seasonal delights on offer. For main, we had the sea trout with brown crab rarebit and Jerusalem artichokes and for dessert - the most delicious mulled apple tart with ginger ice cream.
After Christmas, we were given the gift of a very special, Michelin Star meal at Paul Ainsworth at No.6 in Padstow. We had been looking forward to trying this highly praised restaurant for a long time and it did not disappoint. I had the 'Cleminthyme' cocktail to start the evening, which was a delicious, cleansing, citrus concoction decorated with a sprig of thyme. The amuse-bouche was a deep fried, crumbed oyster served on a decorative square of beach pebble stones. I opted for 3 small plates, or starters - scallop with fine herbes~ yokon gold~'two roe' beurre blanc, smoked haddock 'quiche lorraine' and raw sea bass with sand shrimp slaw and katsuobushi mayonnaise, while my partner chose the simpler option - fish of the day, which was brill on the bone. For dessert, we chose the bread and butter pudding (Gary Rhodes 1998) with pedro ximenez and roast vanilla ice cream and I couldn't resist the Christmas favourite - a trifle 'Cornish' (c. 1596) with brandy plums, quince and saffron. The service at No.6 was fully attentive at all times and there were plenty of staff to make sure our expectations of a fabulous, fine dining experience were met.
It's a long drive home to London from deepest, darkest Cornwall, so it's a good idea to book a great place to have lunch on the return journey. We stopped off at one of our favourite places - The Pig - at Combe in Devon. I love the 25 Mile Menu, where all ingredients served are locally sourced or grown on site. To start, the waiter persuaded us to have "All the fishy bits" which were mini fishcakes with lemon mayo, salt cured sardines and soused mussels on toast. Sardines are not my cup of tea, but the mussels on toast were delicious! For main, I had Matthew Steven's white crab meat cannelloni and for dessert we shared Nana's rice pudding with homemade damson jam. The diet starts on the 2nd Jan!
Where to stay in Cornwall
On this trip to Cornwall, we opted for a cosy, converted barn on Bosigran Farm which was a bolt-hole away from it all. We roasted Cornish monkfish, fresh off the Newlyn fishing boats on Christmas day and baked a traditional, Kiwi pavlova covered in fresh Cornish cream and red berries, washed down with some of our favourite wine collected on our travels.
The day after Boxing Day we had lunch outside the barn in glorious, unexpected sunshine wearing just t-shirts as we ate mac n cheese board (which is macaroni cheese using the left overs of the Christmas Day cheese board!) At that moment in time, I felt like I was dining at the best hotel in Cornwall. You can’t beat home cooked, comfort food with incredible views across the Atlantic.
We loved the experience of staying in the barn, although it was quite basic, it was everything that we needed for a fun week away.
I love photographing the amazing Cornish coast and capturing the soft, glowing St Ives light. Next winter, we hope to be staying at The Pig - at Harlyn Bay in Padstow... an exciting, new hotel coming soon!
Photo of me (above) by Robin Ball Photography
Andie Moore is a London based destination and lifestyle photographer writing about travel, hotels and destination weddings.