In England, it’s not unusual to take a family holiday to the same familiar seaside town, often just the closest one to where you live, or one of the really popular ones that actually have sand rather than pebbles.
Every year you pack up the car with too much stuff and a bag of Starburst. You go, you build sandcastles on the beach, eat Mr Whippy ice creams, probably eat fish and chips too, walk along the pier and play on some penny machines in an arcade. That’s what family holidays were like for me when I was growing up.
Like most people in the UK, I have a lot of nostalgia about seaside holidays.
While there’s something really lovely about doing familiar things when you’re a kid, it also means that you only really see a couple of beaches in England. When I got a bit older and went to uni further down south in Exeter, so I saw a few more beaches. Then I started going on holidays with my friends and that’s when I discovered how incredible Cornwall is.
I’d never even heard of Porthtowan before this summer. Porthtowan is a really small town in Cornwall, but nonetheless it’s still quite a popular holiday destination for families in the UK. When Luke’s family said they were heading down this year, I jumped straight on board. I had guessed that it’d be a small place with a rugged coastline and I was right.
What I hadn’t expected though was to see a magnificent sandy cove that cuts into land as I drove down the winding road into the town, nor the incredible yellow and purple heath across the cliff sides. In the past, there were copper mines in Porthtowan which contaminated the soil and stopped other plants from thriving, but apparently the heath can.
We only had a short break away in Porthtowan, so we spent our time hiking the coastal paths and roaming around the beaches. Luke and I took the coastal path from Porthtowan to St Agnes, a stretch of around five miles. The terrain is quite rough at times, especially because I managed to wander off the path and down the cliff side without realising. You can also stop mid-way at Chapel Porth for an overwhelming hedgehog ice cream.
We wandered along Porthtowan beach, which is remarkably clean thanks to a group of local, eco-aware surfers who set up Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and run beach cleans, as well as campaigns for take care of our oceans. Definitely head down to the beach in the morning when the tide is out because the light is so clear and reflects off of the watery sands. In the early evening you can watch some very good local surfers take to the waves.
There’s not much in Porthtowan itself except for a few fish and chip shops, but if you are there then Blue Bar – right on the beach – is the liveliest place in town. The area is also one of a couple of Cornish coastal towns that has been included in regeneration projects, which hope to boost the local economy through tapping into local heritage.
England may be a small country, but that also means that it has a lot of small places just like Porthtowan that are off your radar unless you live nearby. Even then they might pass you by. I’d like to think that I’ve explored quite a lot of England, but in reality I actually haven’t. Short breaks away like this remind that there are so many more small but beautiful places right on my doorstep in the UK that I’ve not yet explored!