The north coast of Cornwall has more to offer than the surfing hotspot that is Newquay, says LYNETTE EYB.
You don’t have to wander far down the main street of Perranporth to get that holiday feeling. Here, more than anywhere else in England, the beach and the sand draw you in. But not in an English seaside kind of way: in fact, it is almost possible to take leave of your senses and transport yourself across the miles and land on Aussie or South African sand.
Here – and indeed along most of the northern Cornish coast – flip-flops and sunnies set the tone, with buckets and beach towels fronting every other shop. The meat pie may be yet to supplant the Cornish pasty in this part of the world, but on all other accounts, this little corner of England more than holds its own.
Ever since surfing was introduced to the UK in the early ’60s – by, it is said, Australian lifeguards patrolling the beaches at Newquay – Cornwall has been synonymous with surf culture and the relaxed lifestyle that comes with it. Yet, despite dubious tales of golden sandy beaches bucking Europe’s pebbly beach trend, I hadn’t truly believed such beauty – such beaches! – existed on the outer reaches of the English countryside.With the sun glimmering off the Atlantic and balls being pummelled into the ocean off the faces of cricket bats, though, reality truly sets in.
Newquay, to the north, may have cornered the surf market, but we had come to Perranporth to partake in an altogether different seaborne adventure. Above the beaches of Perranporth, and further around the coast at the beautiful inlet beach cove of Hayle, the skies are awash with kites. While surfing found its place in popular culture decades ago, kitesurfing has only emerged in the past 10 years, despite evidence suggesting the Chinese were using kites to help them cross water as far back as the 12th century. The modern world didn’t catch on until surfers and wakeboarders in search of an alternative adrenaline kick reinvented it as a sport off the Hawaiian coast in the 1990s. Now it’s a mainstay on Cornish beaches, which offer some of the best conditions in Europe.
With surfing, wakeboarding and kite-flying each having their own intricacies, the task of kitesurfing becomes even more challenging. We had set two days aside to learn from Tim Ovens, one of Britain’s top kitesurfers and one of the fortunate few to make a living from the sport.
Ovens says it was the white sand and the space which made Cornwall – and Perranporth in particular – the natural home for his kitesurfing school, Mobius. [This is] one of the few places in England to have wide open beaches which allow us to spend more time on land learning basic kite skills,” he says. “Plus the sand here is much better than on the pebbly beaches elsewhere in the UK.”
And a good thing, too, given we end up spending all of the first day on the beach getting started: learning how to pack and unpack the kite, and then how to get it safely in the air. Launching and relaunching the kite – which measures some 12 metres – becomes a focus when one inevitable crash leads to another.
It’s only after a full day that Ovens lets us loose in the water, where plenty of faceflopping action ensues. Despite only managing to stay on the board for a quarter of a second at a time, it isn’t hard to understand what all the fuss is about. Kitesurfing, if you believe the hype, is the fastest growing sport in the world, and not without good reason.
And as we drive out of Perranporth and back to our campsite at nearby St Agnes – where our tent is pitched just a two-minute walk from the fresh Atlantic air – it strikes me that Cornwall’s reputation on the tourist trail is also not without good reason.
Where to kitesurf
Two of the best beaches in the area for kitesurfing are Perranporth and Hayle, which both offer wide expanses of sand. Mobius Kite School (www.mobiusonline.co.uk; 01637-831 383) use both beaches for their introductory sessions (£50), and two- and three-day courses priced at £185 and £260 respectively. They also offer powerkiting, sandboarding and landbuggy lessons.
Where to stay
Anywhere in and around Perranporth is good for the beach. An alternative for those with wheels is St Agnes, three miles to the west. Surrounded by clifftops and beach inlets, it’s almost possible to escape the summer crowds and pretend you have the coast to yourself. Beacon Cottage (www.beaconcottagefarmholidays.co.uk; 01872-552 347) is a working farm a mile or so from town. It offers cottages and camping, with the farm supplying a steady stream of fresh eggs and bread from the farm store each morning.
Surfing and skiing
Cornwall could become a year-round surf and snow haven if plans for the region’s first artificial ski park get the go ahead.
The upmarket dry ski slope, called Winterpark Cornwall, is set to be built at Kestle Mill, on the fringes of Newquay. It will have four slopes, including an 180m-long showcase slope, a shorter beginners’ run and a half pipe for the more adventurous. Two ski lifts will be put in to carry skiers and boarders up the ‘mountain’. If Winterpark Cornwall wins planning approval, it could be up and running by the end of next year.
• For more information on the region, see www.visitsouthwest.co.uk.
• For more on Cornwall, see TNT‘s online guide at www.tntmagazine.com/guides.