I road tripped to Cornwall in September 2010 to surf in Polzeath and dine in Padstow. Just one hour from congested London and you’re driving into countryside and patchworks of variable green fields. Breathing easier and gazing towards evergreen and leafy oak trimmed pastures bespeckled with grazing sheep and cows.
Let me start with this, I lived in Los Angeles for eight years so where else but England would one learn to surf. A short walk from my hillside B&B to the Surf’s Up Surf School van and in minutes I’m screeching myself into a damp-chilled-tightly-fitted-full-body wetsuit like some sort of human sausage link. The staff is friendly, relaxed, and helpful and the group lessons are cheap and cheerful. A few on-land techniques and in no time you’re off to ride the waves. I am not sure if my favourite part of the day was thinking I had hypothermia in my left big toe or the fact that after hours of ingesting sea water, chattering teeth and exhausted muscles, it started to rain, rain hard. We are still in England after all.
Do you know what happens when you mix sand with water? Yes, mud. That constant state of muddy-dirt is my impression of Polzeath beach life. I now understand the concept of Wellingtons aka “wellies” because of course in London they don’t actually make sense. I’ve yet to be in anything ankle-or-more deep inside Regents Park. With pruned, frozen fingers and rain-soaked knotted hair, I nearly quit the surf lesson. When you’re tired and cold at some point you’ve simply had enough. Sheer determination made me stay, and at the bitter end I got-up on the board and rode a wave, dude. I even have photos where I appear to be smiling although I don’t remember doing that even once.
After an amble through Polzeath, I know where the other half lives and what they do; they live in this state of chillaxation. The beach vibes from Polzeath to Padstow are polar-type opposite, much like Venice to Malibu in California.
I cleaned up with a party dress and sea-water mangled hair (hey, it’s a look) for dinner at Padstow’s quintessential restaurant, Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant. I would have eaten anything to be fair after a five hour drive and two and a half hours of mastering or rather being schooled by the Cornwallian waves. From the round stainless steel seafood bar centerpiece of the room, you can watch merry fellow diners and the expert fish preparation while surrounded by cool and bright tones, reflective glass, and sunlit rooms. It is a striking ambiance and work from local artists’ adorns the walls. The early dinner scene on Saturday night hosts a variety of clientele from posh locals to up-market holiday makers. I am seated next to a pig’s foot secured in a vice, attached to the rest of the pig-leg which is “making” prosciutto. The hoof is kind of dirty and scuffed up like it had been running, perhaps. The tasting menu is tempting, and considered despite the wave of exhaustion at only 7:15pm. Instead my thick slate placemat anticipates the full-monty of starter, main, dessert, and coffee to come.To begin, lobster salad with avocado and foie-gras (wait, I’m a vegetarian I internally protest, and it’s very wrong). What to say but holy-h-e-double-el-batman, that melts in your mouth. Halibut is perfection. Can’t say no to strawberry pavlova with crème chantilly and vincotto, yum. An aside yet must mention, Moulton Brown’s Rose Granti soap and lotion is so nice in the loo. Not bothered to leave, so a chat with the chef closes our show. Finally headed back through tiny towns where stone houses have living rooms pushing into the road path; driving towards a destination called blissful sleep.
Twelve hours later and I groggily awaken with unsurprisingly sore arms and injured pinky fingers, more accurately red, raw, shriveled digits. The B&B has a corner-window table to enjoy a beach view with a bit of breakfast and the high octane coffee served in Cornwall. Yesterday surfing on day two seemed impossible and although it is physically possible, the happier course is to avoid being battered by the surf again. Instead a walk on the beach past surf school. A toe-tip dipped in the sea touches morning fresh and arctic cold water; dry and warm decision confirmed. Walking on and thinking, strange how the earth feels like it is moving out from under your feet as the tide sweeps in and out. This feeling is even more surreal when you are pulling against water laden gravity trying to egress the ocean with a long-board in tow. Is the earth itself working against you at odds with your person? This and other pondering followed on a beautiful day in Cornwall while breathing in the sun-rays and stroking the sea air.
Note to self: please buy a beach house.
Now at the end of another British summer, surf’s up dude.