Wish you were here? Website lures tourists to imaginary beach

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The Independent Online

One look at the picture of a seaside paradise on the "official website" of Porthemmet Beach would be sufficient to convince visitors of its claim to be the finest stretch of sand in Cornwall.

In front of azure skies and aquamarine waters, some the lucky few who already know about this hidden enclave can be seen frolicking in the waves before heading off on the Stug, a converted Cornish fishing trawler, to gaze at a coral reef a few hundred yards offshore fed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Once back on dry land, tourists at "the best beach in Cornwall" are told they can expect to surf, sunbathe topless, eat at numerous restaurants and dance the night away at one of Porthemmet's "famous" parties attended by the county's glitterati. For those who want a quieter life, there is an opportunity to wander around the nature reserve at one end of beach where "the rarest bird in Europe" – the Cornish chough – can be seen.

In the face of such enticements, it is little wonder that holidaymakers have been flocking down the A30 in search of Porthemmet and the road signs, pictured on the website complete with the rose emblem of the English tourist board, that advertise its location.

It is even less wonder that these holidaymakers ultimately turn home in a state of bewildered frustration. Because neither the road signs, nor the coral reef nor Porthemmet itself exist. Closer inspection of the digitally altered picture on the website reveals a large stand of coconut palms in the distance, unusually turquoise seas and a tropics-style beach cocktail bar complete with fresh pineapples and a watermelon.

Jonty Haywood, a Cambridge University graduate currently teaching English in Thailand, yesterday emerged as the author of the hoax website which, for the past six months, has been bamboozling those outside Cornwall who do not know that "emmet" is a disparaging Cornish term for tourists.

Such is the success of the Porthemmet prank that some 6,500 people have visited the site. It even has its own group on the Facebook social networking website with some 2,000 members and supporters taking such fun in phoning radio station phone-ins to extol the virtues of the beach.

Mr Haywood, who is a Cornish native from Truro, denied the website was part of a wider agenda to promote Cornish nationalism by poking fun at some of the millions of tourists who help sustain the county's economy.

He said: "Most people think it's funny. Some discussions have got fairly heated regarding the general dislike of tourists versus their input to the Cornish economy. Although I would like to claim there is an important underlying point being made here, there isn't. Sending tourists off to find an imaginary beach is funny."

Mr Haywood goes to some lengths to ensure the discomfort of anyone falling for his spoof. Visitors are warned: "It should be noted that there is a private joke in Cornwall whereby locals will pretend not to know where Porthemmet Beach is. Don't be fooled, every Cornish person knows about this beach, they are just having some fun. Tell them that you are an 'emmet' (someone that loves Cornwall)."

The deceit has caused a mixed reaction. One entry on the Facebook group said: "Rural communities wouldn't exist without the rest of us helping you out. I've never seen anywhere hate the hand that feeds it like Cornwall does."

Tourism chiefs declared themselves relaxed about the hoax. Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism, said: "Although in a way it is a spoof and can be taken negatively, I'm sure people will see the West Country humour."