I THINK you either have that in-built, infused, sepia-tinted love of Cornwall or you don’t.
I most certainly do. It’s one of my very favourite places on the planet – that and neighbouring Devon.
It’s the ozone in the air, the big skies, the squally coves, rocky shores and sheep-flecked clifftop pastures. It’s the cracking pubs, the local boltholes, the rolling hills, wooded valleys and the fact that there just aren’t millions of people trying to live cheek by jowl.
And it’s also that you can return year upon year – and I do, almost without fail – and find new and exciting places to visit. This time I found Charlestown.
If you’re a TV boff, you might recognise it the moment you descend the steep hill towards the briny blue; apparently, it’s home to the quayside shots used in Poldark. I’ve never seen the show, so I wouldn’t know. But there are tall ships in the harbour, seagulls wheedling overhead, generous splashes of sunshine and several places to drink Tribute and Doom Bar in, so what’s not to like?
Charlestown has that air common in many villages, towns and cities in Cornwall; like an attic room that’s been shut up for years and only recently has had the windows thrown open and sea air allowed in.
Cornwall, despite its natural and aesthetic riches, is one of the poorest counties in the country and, in parts, it shows.
Charlestown, while most definitely on the up and up, was for a time just another Cornish backwater. Its enviable geographical position though and, no doubt, a helping hand from Mr Poldark, have shifted a fresh breeze into the place and hard money has followed. Now there are up-market curio shops and a delicatessen; a couple of seriously good restaurants with prices to match; and a couple of boozers at the top and bottom of the hill that have taken old taverns and turned them into attractive new centres of the village.
The Pier House Inn rests at the bottom of the hill, overlooking the narrow harbour and with a well-positioned sunspot of a seating/dining area. Higher up the hill is the Rashleigh Arms, named after Charles Rashleigh, a local benefactor who changed the place from a one-horse town piling pilchards to a thriving port shipping china clay, fresh fish and more.
Both inns belong to St Austell Brewery, a forward-thinking company who have piled millions into the local economy to provide modern, food and drink-driven social hubs in picturesque but out of the way places across the South West. It’s not an easy business plan, especially in some of these places that have effectively been ‘mothballed’ for decades.
It’s why one can forgive the occasional air of faded grandeur or the odd corner where a lick of paint may be required; these things take time and, on the whole, the brewery’s work is admirable.
The Rashleigh Arms is, as one might imagine, a pub, but it also has rooms and a separate former harbourmaster’s substantial dwelling down the hill, facing foursquare the sea and the harbour. It’s an attractive building, beautifully refurbished to a high standard. We were impressed by the thoughtfulness of takeaway cups, as an example, which were part of the in-room tea tray service. When you’re off to explore, there’s nothing like a cup of decent coffee to take with you. And when you have your septegenarian Mum with you, as well as a teenager and a 10-year-old, as we did – then exploring you must go.
From our lofty eyrie, we were able to soak up the atmosphere of Charlestown morning, noon and night. And it proved a tonic. No sooner had we arrived than the rain, which seemed to have fallen perpetually from the sky since Christmas, stopped. The sun came out, a seagull perched on the nearby lamp post gave a lusty cry and the sea licked around the foot of the harbour walls. Deep, clean lungfuls of air blew through the open windows.
Food at The Rashleigh is decent and because of where it is and how it’s been modernised, the place gets packed. Just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere; this isn’t the time to worry about where the waiter is or how long your meal is going to take. There’s a restaurant and a bar – the latter doing a roaring trade in on-screen football and open mic nights.
Morning is fresh and bright in Charlestown, an opportunity to explore the village and its studios and coloured shops; walk up the sea cliff to a secluded beach at Porthpean (very muddy track after rain!); enjoy a pint and a pasty in the Pier House or head further afield. You’re able to head north or south from here with relative ease and during our stay we took in the medieval splendour at Cotehele Manor as well as taking a hike out to Dartmoor to enjoy a sumptuous Afternoon Tea at the Two Bridges Hotel.
Slap bang in the middle of the moor, this picturesque hotel is a charming throwback to earlier days of service. One suspects Miss Marple types come here for dover sole and cream teas and to nod off by the fire. And they’re quite right to do so, because it’s fantastic.
As well as dinky sandwiches of smoked salmon, ham and mustard and brie and bacon, there’s a sweet swarm of delightful mini cakes; lemon drizzle, caramel macaroon, profiteroles and more. And of course, scones, jam and lashings of clotted cream (don’t get me started, of course it’s cream first).
We also ventured to the fantastic Lost Gardens of Heligan. There are acres and acres to explore; unique flowers, a treetop walkway (Mum loved that one) Jurassic-style dells, living sculptures as well as a welcome tea room and loads of room for kids to run around.
A week in Cornwall (with the occasional foray into Devon) brings rejuvenation to the senses. I think that’s why I tend to go each Spring. It’s like a rebirth after winter. The daffs are out early down there, the birds active among the moss-covered tree trunks and the wheeling buzzard already has an eye on a suitable site for a nest, overlooking rabbit pastures and rodent-warrened dry stone walls.
Charlestown is a great place to visit and The Rashleigh the perfect base. Sketch it in for your next visit down south. And take deep breaths.
For more inspiration and information about Cornwall, including planning your trip, visit the official tourist site at www.visitcornwall.com.