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Cornwall, weekend getaway

Yes, Cornwall is not close enough to many places to be a candidate for a weekend getaway, but as the world's eyes focus on London over the Olympics, then this ancient rocky peninsular becomes the ideal place to head for.



You hear it in the supermarket. And on the buses. And your hosts at the farmhouse B&B have it too. It's the west country burr that draws out the vowels and gargles the r's at the back of the throat - ooorrgh.

"Go down the road," they say when you ask directions, "and you'll see a statue of a man on an 'ooorrse."


It's not just Cornwall, of course, although that's where we're headed. This west country extends south from Bristol to that rocky pincer of land that grips both the Atlantic and the far end of the English Channel, and claims two 'mosts' for England. The most westerly mainland point is of course Land's End.............


............and the most southerly, Lizard Point.


It's a Celtic land, most evident in the place names and surnames. Prefixed Pen and Tre and Treg and Trew, you could be nowhere else but Cornwall. And because of the unique accent, places often don't sound like they look on the map. Launceston, for instance, (it's on the Tamar River too) is pronounced Lonston.


A peninsula of moors and meadows, spectacular coastal scenery (my guidebook lists 100 beaches worth seeing in Cornwall) and stone villages, there is much to see - gold, copper and tin mining relics, amazing gardens, cider houses, a seal sanctuary, the famed Eden Project hailed as the eighth wonder of the world and, when you've finished all this - day trips to the Isles of Scilly scattered 45 kilometres away, off the tip of England's toe.


There are stately homes, the ruins of King Arthur's fabled castle at Tintagel, St Michael's Mount (built by the same monks responsible for Mont St Michel in Normandy), plus stone circles and standing stones on Bodmin Moor. There hardly seems enough room for it all on this skinny strip of land, but don't expect to skip around it in a day or so.

Don't plan to travel fast, either. Single lane roads walled with hedges, and tiny easements for passing are the norm. A dotted white line down the centre is positively civilised. And there are two sorts of hedges here. High, and even higher. Some you can squint at, 'magic eye' style, so you can make out the rolling countryside through the thickets. Others just keep you guessing.


This is farming land and so there are green meadows, polka-dotted with cows and horses, mazed with more hedges, with odd clumps of gorse, its yellow flowers nestled amongst the spikes. On wet days the sheep - white as can be, of course - huddle, flattened against grey stone walls for shelter.


Cornish houses are flat fronted, whitewashed, often with grey tiles heavy with lichen, although there were more thatched roofs than I would have expected. Moss or lichen greened some of the older ones, while grass sprouted bravely from the tops of a few. We saw some being rethatched ready for winter, with straw stiff as yard broom bristles. The better maintained ones - or the newer, pricier ones - even had squirrels and birds worked in straw as an ornament for the ridgepoles.


Then there are the signs: Scrumpy - the nectar of the west country, Rodda clotted cream, Cornish ice cream (try Treleavens at Tintagel for dozens of flavours), Cornish pasties, cream teas, fudge, cheese. In Devon of course there were Devonshire teas with scones and jam and cream. However in Cornwall you may have sultana buns instead, with that magnificent cream, rich as butter.


The pound sterling is still not as kind to our dollar as we would like, so we stayed in farmhouse B&Bs, slept smothered in doonas, and were spoiled at breakfast with the mandatory full English breakfast - eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms - and proper tea. For this indulgence, plus the use of a lounge with roaring fire.

Cornwall's variety is endless, which is perhaps why Britons beat a path here, clogging the beaches and roads in summer, and bringing more than enough visitors. Padstow, in the west, and home to TV chef Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, is one of the most picturesque places, and (out of season at least) curiously unspoiled. You can fish with a line from the waterfront, queue for a flaky and amazingly filling Cornish pasty for lunch, or simply enjoy watching the action at the harbour.


On the south coast at Portloe, the whitewashed Lugger Hotel, a 17th-century smuggler's inn, is a sparkling gem on the tiny ring of a bay, scarcely large enough for the few fishing boats that still use it.


Lunch on the balcony, or dinner in the superb restaurant - especially on fish from those same boats - has to be a high point of any visit. Those who check in overnight get to watch sunrise across the water, if they can extract themselves from the deeply comfortable beds.


Cornwall is full of contradictions. It's not a shire or a county, but a duchy, belonging to the Duke of Cornwall by inheritance. Its native language is Cornish, which is now archaic. In summer, the coastline is jammed by traffic, while inland the villages are sleepy and the land sometimes barren.


Yet the accent is visual too - long views match long vowels; rolling countryside is echoed by those r's rolled at the back of the tongue. The sounds linger in my head long after I hit the M3 back to London.

Cornwall? Perhaps we should really pronounce it Coorrghn-wall.



Where: Cornwall borders Devon and Dorset. Drive from London to Truro (the capital) in about six hours.

When: Washed by the Gulf Stream, Cornwall is a little warmer than some other parts of England, although the best time to visit is May to October. Summer is very busy.

Who: Cornwall Tourism details....

Visit Britain details...

Lugger Hotel details....


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