As great a rep as seaside St Ives may have, Mrs Smith is expecting the worst.
Having grown up in Blackpool, she has experienced her fair share of drizzly summer days, dirty brown beaches and rides on the backs of depressed-looking donkeys, the prospect of a weekend stay in a B&B by a British seaside town hasn’t filled her with much enthusiasm. And as the man who suggested this trip in the first place I’m starting to feel the heat.
You can imagine my relief as l steer the rental car onto Headland Road, the sun finally peeking its way from behind the rainclouds that have battered us all journey, the cool glistening waters of Carbis Bay revealing themselves far below.
With its pale yellow sands, rocky coves and vast turquoise sea, Carbis Bay has the kind of beach that if it were located in more tropical climes would come complete with either an obnoxious block of family hotels or an eight-hour trek by rickshaw and fishing boat to find it. All we had to tackle was a slightly stony-faced drive from West London.
As we pull into the gravel driveway of Headland House we’re greeted by our landlord Mark. Bounding across the manicured lawn like a friendly Labrador, he’s enthusing instructions to come on in and make ourselves at home.
It doesn’t take long. Headland House is definitely at the boutique end of the B&B scale. Thanks to a strict no-kids policy its pale pastel shades and bleached-wood furnishings are pleasingly free of tiny fingerprints and they fit seamlessly with the Cornish coastal locale.
The walls are decorated with bright modern seascapes and giant pieces of coral, which Mark proudly tells us he picked up from a bric-a-brac shop in town, which he insists we visit. It’s not the only recommendation Mark will make. He’s positively evangelical about this small corner of Cornwall. He and his wife Fenella gave up the London grind six years ago to make this place their home and seem determined that their guests will leave with the same enthusiasm and passion that they share.
In the snug, a cosy communal space of leather sofas and animal-print throws, we’re welcomed with complimentary slices of homemade chocolate fudge cake and steaming cups of tea before Mark shows us up to our room.
The Porthmeor comes complete with king-size bed and a clean modern bathroom but what really grabs you is the view. The room is dominated by huge picture-frame windows that face out onto that stunning West Country bay.
I’d be quite happy to sit and gaze blankly for the entire weekend but Mrs Smith has an itinerary and time’s marching. Basically the plan seems to be to eat as many things as possible with the word Cornish in the title. And there are a lot more than you might think. Cornish pasties, Cornish ice-cream, Cornish fudge, a large selection of locally caught Cornish fish... It’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.
We take a quick walk along the bay before heading into St Ives for round one. It’s a train ride into town from the station at the end of the road but fear not – this is as far removed from the commuter grind as you’re likely to get. Renowned ad-man Rory Sutherland once said that instead of spending £6 billlion to speed up journey times, Eurostar should have just hired supermodels to walk up and down the aisles handing out free Château Pétrus to passengers. ‘You’d still have 5 billion pounds in change and people would have asked for the trains to be slowed down.’
While there are no supermodels on board the tiny two carriages that shuffle along from Carbis Bay to St Ives, the spectacular coastal views do make you wish the journey would last a little longer. Three minutes is just not enough.
One pasty-fuelled trek through the hilly cobbled streets of St Ives later and we head back in preparation for the evening. Mrs Smith is happy to find White Company toiletries in the bathroom but not as pleased as I am to discover the complimentary sherry in the snug. There’s also an ‘honesty bar’ stocked with wines, spirits and a ‘lean over and help yourself’ beer tap. My 16-year-old self offers me a mental high-five just as Mrs Smith appears –showered, refreshed and with a steely look in her eye that tells me she’s spotted both the sherry and a box of Trivial Pursuit.
Thankfully our dinner reservations cut short the game before our competitive streaks turn the atmosphere ugly and we head down to the Porthminster Beach Café for Cornish monkfish curry, Cornish duck breast cooked three ways and even manage to wash it all down with a bottle of Camel Valley Bacchus, Cornwall’s answer to a sancerre.
With the sea air filling our lungs and a melange of Cornish delicacies filling our bellies we stumble back to the hotel and collapse into the king-size goosedown bed.
Breakfast the next morning is classic English with a touch of sparkle. Served in the crisp light of the conservatory, ramekins of yoghurt come with a homemade lavender syrup and while I opt for the full English, Mrs Smith seems pretty pleased with her fluffy scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. The portions are vast, and a good thing too. Mark has appeared to offer today’s list of recommended activities and top of the list is a trip to Godrevy for clifftop walks and a seal-spotting expedition. It sounds like we’re going to be busy.
And thankfully, for both Mrs Smith and myself, there’s not a depressed-looking donkey in sight.