Travel Britain: When real life is a stony beach

Andrew Hasson took his family from home in Brighton to holiday in Cornwall
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
"The colours here are unreal; it looks like a foreign country," said my nine-year-old son Harry. "It's not like England at all." It was hard to disagree. Sitting on the beach at Holywell Bay in Cornwall, just after the sun had come out from behind clouds, the sky was electric blue and a warm breeze blew across the sand. This wasn't what our two boys were used to at all; at least where English beaches were concerned.

The Atlantic tide was out when we arrived at the beach mid-morning. Walking over the dunes we reached a stretch nearly a mile long. The sky was overcast and, despite the fact that the air was warm and still, people had put up wind-breaks as if they were going out of fashion; it was easy to spot the old hands who come here day after day, year after year. Out in the bay, two large rocks (Gull's Rocks) dominated our view out to sea as we settled down below the dunes.

Call us mad, accuse us of being obsessed by beaches: we had come from one British seaside resort to another. But there seemed little comparison between the two. We live in Brighton and, in the summer holidays, spend a great deal of time by the water. We sit on those painfully uncomfortable pebbles and, if we've planned it right and the tide is out, the boys (Harry 9, Tom 7) dig in the sand. There isn't much of it, but children seem to be energised simply being near the sea. So am I, watching the sun go down while the children splash about in the waves.

This was no busman's holiday, though. Compared with Brighton's amusements - the pier, fish and chips and ice-cream - there was nothing much at Holywell Bay. A modest looking caravan sold a little food and drink: no fancy fare, just sandwiches, crisps, juice and such like. That was all the entertainment on offer. But Tom and Harry weren't interested. They were in seventh heaven and, stripped off to their shorts, they shot off across the vast expanse of sand to explore the empty bay. There was more sand here than any of us had seen back home.

We watched from a distance as the boys explored rocks and caves rock pools and sand dunes. "There's a mini-river over there, and mussels on the rocks." Tom told us. They could hardly get their packed lunches stuffed down them fast enough and were mentally straining at the leash to get off and see if they'd missed anything.

After lunch, a steady stream of families started descending on to the sands and, by mid-afternoon, the bay had become gently busy. But this is a huge beach and we were never crowded out. We could always see the children playing and it felt very safe. Relaxing here was a lot easier than at Brighton.

Throughout the day, the boys kept running back, breathlessly reporting the latest discovery, hardly able to digest it themselves: "The sand's perfect - you can dig really deep without coming to stones. It's just sand all the way!" said Tom. "There's no pebbles and you can run barefoot. The dunes are brilliant for jumping. There's a humungous one as big as a room there" came another cry.

The afternoon warmed up so much, the boys needed cooling off. The sea here is beautiful but undeniably dangerous at certain times. We followed Harry and Tom down to the water's edge and watched as they splashed about in the surf, following strict orders not to go in below the waist. "The waves are really big and the water's so clear" they told us in amazement.

The presence of two lifeguards, sitting on a bright yellow jeep, was comforting and we made sure we kept within boundaries of their red and yellow flags. I think they warned everyone not to go in deeper than waist height, although the tannoy was so muffled that they could have been announcing the arrival of the 12.36 for all anyone on the beach knew. Our children remarked that they "heard something, but couldn't understand what was being said".

As Harry remarked, it was a little like being in a foreign country. The sun, when it arrived, warmed the skin instantly and we felt we were a long, long way from Brighton.

Comments