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Can hometown holidays alleviate childhood trauma? My return to Cornwall proves they can

How I rekindled my love for one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom

Updated: May 3, 2024
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I am sitting cross-legged in front of the TV in my creased school uniform in our home in St.Austell, Cornwall. I know something ominous is happening as I watch the morning news and a multitude of tanks are racing across the Kuwaiti desert. My cereal is getting soggy and I can hear my mother’s shrill tones in her panicked calls to relatives. This is always how I remember 1991. My father was working in Kuwait and would shortly become one of Saddam Hussein’s 'guestages' at a petrochemical facility in Basra. 

There is of course a great deal more to this story, suffice it to say my father was eventually safely returned to us, but was understandably changed after his ordeal. My childhood was badly tarnished due to the fallout that followed and when I received a place at university, I didn’t glance behind me as I departed Cornwall in relief.

Looking out to sea by Charlestown Harbour
Looking out to sea by Charlestown Harbour

A Cornish Childhood

I was always considered fortunate by my city-dwelling friends to have spent my younger years embraced by the beautiful coastline and yes, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. However, it's taken valuable time to truly feel comfortable visiting, especially as my mother also suddenly passed away a decade ago from an illness. My only reason for returning 'home' was now no longer there. 

Now that I have a family of my own, however, I want to ensure that they can enjoy one of the most beautiful parts of the world without the shadow of tragic family events looming over them. I decided to tentatively book a week with my family in Cornwall, packed with activities I missed out on as a child. I hoped seeing their enjoyment would help rekindle a connection with a place that bad memories had unfortunately tarnished.

Charlestown Harbour
Charlestown Harbour

One of my early childhood memories was wandering down to the beautiful Charlestown Harbour with my family. Simple pursuits were common like glancing at the clipper ships moored in the tiny dock, throwing rocks into the sea as the tide meandered in and watching my father run to purchase fine-smelling smoked haddocks from the local smokehouse. 

Its picturesque charms have also long been a draw for the film industry, providing a stunning setting for countless movies and the period drama Poldark. It is a very different place now with a plethora of boutique art shops and I was pleasantly taken aback at the multitude of dining options. The smokery has long since shut, but it still evokes those memories for me and when I discovered you could now rent the place, it would have been remiss of me not to book it.

The Old Smokehouse
The Old Smokehouse

Situated in a prime location in the centre of Charlestown, The Old Smokehouse is a literal stone’s throw from any of the new artisan artists' shops and the multitude of restaurants that have now sprung up. Upon arrival, the very welcoming owner Brian and his wife left us a little gift of tea, coffee and Cornish treats which was very well received and the kids were overjoyed to see an ice cream shack literally five steps from the garden. Be warned, the ice cream is ludicrously delicious. The house is a very charming Iight and airy two-bedroom affair with an open plan lounge within which French doors lead out the small but well-maintained garden outside. 

Sadly, the weather stopped us from being able to benefit from its charms most days, but when the rain finally abated we enjoyed the space immensely. Sipping a cool drink and watching the throngs of walkers going about their day was a pleasant pursuit as was hearing and seeing the sea from the garden, adding to the tranquillity. 

Overall, The Smokehouse managed to impart a real home away from home feeling and I felt completely relaxed seeing the children running around the garden. It also reminded me of some of the more pleasant moments from my childhood and quelled any of my lurking anxiety.

The Eden Project Biomes
The Eden Project Biomes

The Eden Project

Storms and rain showers are another unavoidable aspect of Cornish life, so when the weather unsurprisingly scuppered our outdoor plans we decided to venture to The Eden Project. As the rain lashed sideways at us, it appeared that the rest of Cornwall also had the same idea as a multitude of cars filed neatly into the car parks. Completed in 2001, a few years after I had left the county, it’s an incredible structure to marvel at breathing life into what once was a disused claypit. 

Inside the Rainforest Biome in The Eden Project
Inside the Rainforest Biome in The Eden Project

The biomes themselves nestle into the landscape like a set of behemoth eggs and as you enter them, the jackets you were wearing are instantly discarded as you acclimatise to the rainforest temperatures inside. Fauna and flowers adorn every inch of the inside and as you traverse to the top, a waterfall cascades down adding to the humidity. A recent addition is to experience the thrill of being at the top of a rainforest canopy. After a small queue, you traverse steel stairs to a platform suspended some hundred feet above the ground. It's not one for the faint of heart but makes you appreciate the true scale and height of the rainforests.

7 facts about The Eden Project you might not know

  • The location was first used in the 1981 BBC series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as the surface of an alien planet.
  • James Bond came knocking in 2002 to use the location for the film Die Another Day.
  • It is home to the world's largest indoor rainforest.
  • The Eden Project hosts England's longest and fastest zipwire where you can reach speeds of up to 60mph!
  • Abseilers are used to scale and clean the special plastic which makes the biome structures.
  • At least 230 miles of scaffolding was utilised in constructing the biomes gaining the Eden Project an entry in the Guinness Book of Records!
  • Bear Grylls officially opened the Rainforest Lookout viewing platform. He did this by jumping off it and then abseiling down it in 2010.

Cooling Off

The Mediterranean biome adjacent to the rainforest is a cooler affair, and also home to a restaurant offering pizzas and paella and educational shows for children. Watching thrill seekers experience England’s fastest zip wire above our heads made me want to participate in some of the adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer. Sadly, the weather yet again had other plans for any outdoor pursuits which had to be put on hold again.

Looking out to Polzeath
Looking out to Polzeath

St. Moritz Hotel and the North Coast

When people normally think of Cornwall, there is the temptation in the mind to conjure up the bars and clubs of Newquay and the accompanying famous surf scene. The beaches of the North are synonymous with this, but in recent years a new breed of hotels has also begun to appear offering a more premium experience than staying in a holiday campsite. 

Having driven past it when visiting my mother (the stunning Daymer Bay was one of her favourite walks) I decided that I had to experience the St Moritz Hotel. Our mother’s ashes were let go around Daymer Bay so it would be a bittersweet return. I was hoping the hotel, coupled with the coastline, would have a calming effect and change my negative feelings about the area.

Almost art-deco in appearance, the hotel offers self-catering suites and also hotel rooms plus a spa and swimming pool complex. Sadly, the indoor pool was being refurbished during our visit to the tune of a two-million-pound makeover. A complimentary taxi took you to neighbouring The Point to utilise their facilities, however. The option was there to use the 'cooler' outdoor pool too for the brave. We opted to stay in one of the newly refurbished apartments which delivered an Ibizan beach house vibe. Spacious, well appointed and with excellent kitchen facilities it ticked the premium box, although a slight gripe was noticeable mildew on the bottom of our curtains.

Rendering of the new spa area at the St.Moritz Hotel
Rendering of the new spa area at the St.Moritz Hotel

We ate at the Shorecrest Restaurant for both lunch and dinner and it was a highlight of our stay. Head Chef Vicki Aire is doing amazing things here and has even elevated a simple Caesar Salad to transcendent levels. A new chef de cuisine is supposedly starting soon – Jake Grove, previously at Nathan Outlaw. There is certainly investment in the kitchen and it shows. The staff throughout the whole hotel were on the top of their game with special mention to the waiting staff who were very attentive but unimposing during all of our meals. 

A bedroom within the St. Moritz Hotel© Christian Anderson-Ramshall
A bedroom within the St. Moritz Hotel

We also managed to experience a day when the clouds parted, so we could meander down the clifftop path attached to the hotel to walk from Daymer Bay to Polzeath. It’s a stunning walk where frothy white waves cascade across the coastline, beating the craggy rocks with relentless strikes. Having felt more relaxed after our stay at St Moritz, the memories of walking here with my mother seemed a less melancholic and more celebratory experience this time around.

Daymer Bay
Daymer Bay

Padstow and the Camel Trail

Taking advantage of the newly appearing sunshine, we decided to drive a few minutes down the road to Wadebridge to cycle the camel trail to Padstow. There are a few options for cycle hire, but Camel Trail Cycle Hire represents the best value for money and service in my opinion. It’s also very close to the start of the camel trail section which takes you to Padstow. 

The whole cycle trail is 18 miles long, but as we had young children we decided we would cycle to Padstow and back which would be ten miles in total. You cycle next to the estuary for the majority of the ride, which takes you along bridges and stunning vistas to the famous town of Padstow. One word of advice is to start early as you will have a multitude of company whatever the weather.

A traditional Cornish cream tea© Christian Anderson-Ramshall
A traditional Cornish cream tea

Stopping in Padstow, you can’t help but be barraged with the influence of famous restaurateur Rick Stein who started his eponymous seafood restaurant here. That notwithstanding, simple things such as grabbing a pasty and crabbing are still common pursuits of those who visit. My trips here with family were a regular occurrence before the working harbour became second fiddle to the shops and restaurants. 

The town has embraced its new moniker with enthusiasm but some shops can feel overpriced and overtly marketed as tourist traps. It’s a Cornish dichotomy that plays out daily, trying to appeal to the millions of visitors who frequent the county but also attempting to keep a sense of tradition and identity alive.

Walking by the cliffs in Charlestown
Walking by the cliffs in Charlestown

A time for reflection

Back in Charlestown, I had time to reflect on the trip and these new experiences in a place I always associated with negative feelings. I watched my children playing happily on the pebble beach adjacent to the harbour. Seeing them dance in and out of the sea, their trousers rolled up at their knees, reminded me of my own experiences as a child; blissfully unaware and equally uncaring for the future. I realised that my negative views from my experiences had completely clouded my ability to live in the moment, let go and just enjoy the present when in Cornwall. 

DISCOVER: How I finally found my sense of adventure after 45, says Louise Minchin

The whole trip had imparted a sense of catharsis through a purgation of the tough emotions I’d been carrying around. I’d successfully managed to treat coming back as a holiday by simply being a tourist. Cornwall will always have an association with trying family times, but like the county itself, I’ve also evolved. I now feel fortunate that Cornwall is somewhere I can once again call home.

For bed and breakfast for two adults in a ground floor suite at St. Moritz Hotel, the cost is £2225 for 7 nights. With two children additional it is £2785.

The Old Smokehouse can be booked via Cornwall Hideaways. Prices range depending on the date that you book but our seven-day break cost £1093.

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