The Kings wanted peace and a good view, so they moved to Cornwall. But are they seen as locals or holidaymakers?

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The Independent Online
Under cloudless blue skies, we looked down over the sparkling Camel estuary. Boats and the odd cyclist were the only signs of movement; the only sounds those of birds and sheep. This is Betjeman country, and the kind of scene Graham and Elaine King had only dared to imagine when they decided to move from Surrey to Cornwall. Now they have found it, they cannot imagine living anywhere else. "A good day for us is to get some work done, then sit in the peace of the garden. We never get tired of the view because it constantly changes with the tides and the seasons," says Mrs King from the sitting room of their early Victorian farmhouse near Padstow.

It easy to see how people return from holiday with similar picture-postcard views of life to mull over during the worst moments of urban living. But while most of us comfort ourselves with the thought that our Edwardian semis have the edge over a stone cottage in a February force 10, there are those - like the Kings - who want to make their escape permanent.

"We had a cottage in Port Isaac and found we were spending more and more time there. We used to come down in the middle of winter, so we knew it at its quietest. There seemed no reason why we couldn't run our graphic design business just as easily from north Cornwall as Surbiton," Graham King explains. Indeed he is very much the kind of incomer Cornwall welcomes, even if the locals might have referred to him disparagingly as an "emmet" - a tourist.

Graham King Advertising produces brochures for local enterprises and - as someone who arrived with his own small business - Mr King is particularly encouraged. According to David Pattison, the economic development officer for the County Council, "Cornwall is gaining more people than it has jobs because it is perceived as an attractive place to live with a high quality of life."

Mr King would find it hard to put a price on such a way of living: "I work intensely for a period, but when I stop I can be out in my boat fishing within minutes. It is glorious. When we decided to move to Cornwall we knew we wanted an old house with a garden, a sea view and in a tranquil but not isolated spot."

Unsurprisingly it took a while to find this perfect package. Months passed before the Kings fell upon their house by chance. "We drove down this lane to see where it led and saw work going on in the house. It obviously wasn't being lived in but the builder who owned it didn't want to sell. A few months later he changed his mind," says Elaine King. "The first thing we did was to stop him doing anything further to the house. All the old floors had been smashed up so there was nothing but concrete. We arrived in a horrendously cold winter and had nothing but an electric frying pan, a microwave and two duvets to keep warm." Now, though, lovely Cornish slate floors have been restored and the small dairy turned into an office.

The Kings' most exciting discovery has been a rare medieval Culverhouse, or pigeon house. As we made our way down through sun-parched grass to where it nestled, like a vast crumbling beehive above the water's edge, Mr King described how they found it. "It was covered in brambles and ivy and someone had built a corrugated shed over it. Inside were two oildrums filled with decaying fish. But we guessed the place was special and have traced it back to the 13th century." It is now listed, and is being made good, under the auspices of English Heritage.

Historical gems are not usually high on the list of those moving to the south west. The Cornish firm, John Bray & Partners from Rock ("Chelsea by the Sea" as they call it) find the demand for holiday homes has increased this year. While Richard Carslake of Strutt & Parker has noticed a steady build-up of people moving into the area - many of those semi-retired returning to their roots. "The differential has returned and the West Country is showing good value. Anyone moving from an old rectory near Newbury to one in Devon should be pocketing some money," he says.

For Knight Frank, the greatest demands in Cornwall are for holiday complexes. The agent currently has a waiting list of 200. And as Graham and Elaine King are aware, Cornwall almost has a year-round holiday season. Their quiet winters seem to shrink annually.

So when does a holidaymaker become a local? When the pub stops charging you a tourist rate or when you are included in discussions about ghastly trippers? "We feel local, but I expect they still call us emmets behind our backs", laughed Graham King.