The Ballards - Devon and Cornwall


At the South-Western tip of England are the two counties of Devon and Cornwall. When I grew up in the sixties holidays were Devon and Cornwall. You didn't go abroad unless you were rich.
So we got used to sandy sandwiches and potted meats on Daymer Bay, dodging the raindrops at Polzeath, 99s from the Mr Whippy van, those roll-up cloth and wooden pole windbreakers, the roads with the high hedgerows, hotels with musty bathrooms and strict mealtimes, and above all the dreadful weather, even in July.

Nowadays, of course, everyone goes abroad, and Devon and Cornwall have gone in to decline.
It's easy to blame the high prices, lack of facilities and asylum seekers in the B&Bs, but the real reason is the bloody awful weather.


Nowadays the 2-week family holiday is the only time the entire family gets together, such is the pressure of work, and most people are damned if they will let the weather spoil the highlight of their year.
The weather in Spain or Greece is much more reliably sunny than SW England, so off they go. So long as they can get the Daily Mail every day and have pseudo-English food, the shaven-headed masses are happy to go to any foreign country, as long as the weather is good...

And the rest of our generation are simply more adventurous; our expectations are Oman and Thailand, not Polzeath and Trebetherick.

Penvadan Head

But Devon and Cornwall are still there, like abandoned toys gathering dust on the top shelf, waiting hopefully for the day they are returned to favour, and dreading the visit of Mum and The Black Bin Liner on a Tidying-Up mission.
They still retain their shopworn charm; their fields of caravans and mobile homes glinting in what passes for sunlight in the UK.

When diesel becomes too expensive to use in aircraft, the counties will once more become the playground of the British holidaymaker; in the meantime they bask in reflected glories of earlier days.

Boat, Nare Head  Portscatho

Burgh Island

When I was young my Godmother ran the hotel (and later the pub) on Burgh Island (some now know it as "Inch Loss" Island, after a Breakfast TV challenge) off the South Devon coast and we would go down to visit.

The hotel was built in the 1930s and is a testament to 30s Art Deco, all compound curves and rusting ferro-concrete.
In the early 1960s it had a racy reputation as the place where adulterous couples would slope off to for a Dirty Weekend.
Of course, at the time, I knew nothing of this, only that everybody wore those 1960s sunglasses all of the time, which I just thought was stylish.

The weather is always awful and there's actually very little to do on the island.
It's cut off at high tide and only accesible during these periods by sea tractor: a raised platform on wheels with a hydraulic drive and steering system.

Due to the corrosion of the salt water and the lack of availability of stainless steel and German hydraulic motors in the 1960s, these were always going wrong and getting stranded mid-Bay, much to the amusement of all.
Often foolhardy holidaymakers in Mk1 Escorts or Cortinas would drive across the sand, which was quite firm, to the island, but get stuck in some pothole, or stall, or simply fail to make shore before the tide came in, and the car would be stranded and inundated with salt water.
With the prevailing standards of corrosion prevention at that time, although the engine could usually be resuscitated by a swift head removal and oil system flush, the car would be a rustbucket within weeks.
Unscrupulous motorists would be rescued by tractor at the next low tide, dry out and restart the engine, leave the doors open for a week to dry out the upholstery and sell the car quickly...


The Empire Strikes Back

St Enodoc church
Sea wall, St Mawes

In recent years Cornwall has finally woken up to the need to compete.

The surfing on the North coast is marketed as being very good and dominates North coast tourism, but tends to bring in tourists from the bottom end of the market who don't spend a lot of money in the region. Efforts to push surfing upmarket have largely failed.
The Southern coast has competed by going upmarket, resulting in some swanky hotel makeovers and genuinely good food and accommodation, but you can't help thinking they're pandering to the "back to the nursery" market of wealthy 40- and 50-somethings who want a retro-holiday like they had in their youths but without the peeling wallpaper and fag-ash Lil landladies.

Whether longer-term this is a sufficiently rich income stream to sustain them remains to be seen, but the one unalterable fact is that 9 times out of 10 the weather fails in some way.

Beach wall curves, Portscatho

Going back after thirty years I was struck by how small and shabby everything is.

Polzeath is absolutely tiny: you're through it in 2 minutes. How did this ever sustain our childhood holidays?
The beach at Daymer Bay is narrower than I remember it, St Enodoc church further away. The road to Daymer Bay is single-track: I don't remember that.
The roads are truly awful: although the access roads (mainly the A30) have been dualled most of the way down, very few improvements have been made to the local roads since the 1920s; as a result they are narrow, congested and dangerous.

Further evidence of London's lack of regional infrastructure development.

The South Coast path near Portscatho

"A" roads are virtually all single-track; the traffic is horrendous and the answer to this has (of course) been increased use of speed cameras.
Is it any wonder Devon and Cornwall are thinking of declaring independence from the rest of Britain and requesting EU infrastructure funding?
My 1978 OS map needed very little felt-marker updating to reflect interim road improvements: Desperate, truly.

However, walking the South Coast path is a wonderful experience: once away from the villages you can walk for miles without seeing a single person.
I could be tempted to walk the entire South coast path: it is well-maintained and every turn brings a fresh view.
Coupled with the fact that English weather is never the same for 10 consecutive minutes, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates you never quite know what you're gonna get....

Grave, St Just in Roselands Church