Far from the madding crowds of summer, the dramatic coastline of Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula has a magic all of its own in autumn, says Jessica Jonzen
As anyone who has ever found themselves stuck in a bottleneck traffic jam during the mass exodus to the West Country in August will attest, Cornwall can get mighty crowded in the summer months. Whilst I love an old-fashioned British summer holiday, the shine can be taken off somewhat when it’s bookended by long car journeys.
It’s a different story in the autumn months, however, as a quieter Cornish coast is revealed. With warm sea, deserted beaches and atmospheric pubs with crackling fires, I think this might just be my favourite time of year to go.
After a hectic summer, my family and I escaped for a restorative weekend in the tiny harbour village of Coverack on the Lizard Peninsula. This is true Poldark country (indeed, the Poldark mine is only a 20-minute drive away), and it’s clear to see why, according to Visit Cornwall, more than a fifth of visitors to the county were inspired by the series. It can’t all be down to Aidan Turner’s brooding good looks – the South Cornish coastline is the silent star of the show.
Sheer geography prevents this corner of Cornwall from becoming a magnet for mass tourism, however – from London and the Home Counties, it’s a good seven-hour drive, even without the holiday traffic. But this only serves to add to the sense of escape, as the vast open landscapes inland give out to reveal the Earth’s mantle as land meets sea.
Winding our way down into the harbour lined with white-washed fishermen’s cottages, we all yelped with delight to see the sailing boats on the horizon and the sea glistening in the autumn sunshine. Our sense of retreating from reality only escalated when we arrived at the delightful Battery Cottage on the Enid Blytonesque Sunny Corner. This three-bedroom Victorian cottage with shuttered windows, flagstone floors and an open fireplace must have one of the best positions in the village. ‘Let’s become novelists and use this as our writing retreat!’ my husband enthused, as he gawped at the preposterously beautiful view across the bay, seen from every room in the cottage. The fact that he works in change management is beside the point. This place does indeed make you want to move to Cornwall and write books, which is precisely what the acclaimed biographer Tim Jeal did in the old Watch House further down the hill.
I thought that my children, aged six and two, might combust with excitement about the bunk beds and the well-stocked toy box in the living room from where they could look out to sea. I, meanwhile, was soothed by the beautifully considered decoration, with a soft Farrow & Ball paint scheme, evocative original pieces of seascape art (some of which was charmingly
created by the children of the owners, from flotsam recovered from the beach). The kitchen is fitted with a baby blue electric Aga, Smeg fridge and all the other home-from-home luxuries you
might wish for.
The beds are deliciously comfortable and waking the next morning to the sun rising above the bay, with the infamous rock formation, The Manacles, beyond was an experience that will stay with me. Mindful of the fact that we were only visiting for the weekend, we decided to make the most of the chance to spend the following day on the beach. We started with a walk and a spot of rockpooling on the good beach at Coverack, helped along with a serving of Roskilly’s ice cream.
The owners of Battery Cottage had recommended the lesser-known Mears beach around the headland, and so we paid a visit to Elizabeth’s, a chocolate-box thatched cottage where the owner
makes pasties each morning and sells them from her kitchen. Our bag fully stocked, we headed up through the village and along the coastal path around the headland, passing under an ancient apple tree before dropping down on to Mears beach. With its backdrop of huge black rocks – perfect for climbing – rock pools draped with belts of seaweed, and smooth golden sand, it has to be
the perfect English beach. We frolicked in the surf and built sandcastles for the rest of the day, exhilarated by the freshness of the early autumn air.
Back in the village that evening, we bought fish and chips from the converted Lifeboat Station to eat on our terrace, and stocked up on supplies from the terrific local shop and deli. Had we stayed
for longer, we could have also visited the Harbour Lights restaurant and Archie’s Loft, which serves wood-fired pizzas and cream teas. After sunset, our daughter sat up with us to gaze at the stars and watch the moon rise across the bay as we imagined the smugglers and wreckers of years gone by.
The following morning, we drove down to Lizard point, the other-worldly southernmost tip of Great Britain, and climbed the 260-year-old lighthouse and took in the mesmerising views out to sea. My daughter took my hand and said: ‘This place is magical, Mummy. Let’s always come back here.’ And we certainly will.