Not following the crowd…

I’m just back from a delightful mini-break in Cornwall, with my second darling daughter. It was only a couple of days, but we had a lovely time and great weather. We walked a lot, and explored a few old haunts and new-to-her corners. On the way back, we stopped at Cotehele House, a gem of a medieval manor house in a stunning setting that I’m well-familiar with, having grown up very close by until my early teens. It was pleasantly uncrowded and relaxed, despite the glorious sunshine. When the time came to leave, I took the little back roads up to cross the river at Gunnislake, to the north…

Cotehele House

We passed mile after mile of glorious green hedgebank, splashed with primroses, violets,  campions and the odd late daffodil, nodding drowsily in the sunshine. These are mostly single-track roads, with passing places, but there are also plenty of wide verges where it would be perfectly safe to park out of the farmers’ way and spread your picnic cloth, as we used to back in the Dark Ages when I grew up there. Kites and buzzards wheeled lazily overhead, spooking the well-fed pigeons, and cock-pheasants wandered along the roadside, gazing at the van in mild perplexity. Despite it being school holidays for most of the country, we hardly saw another car, until we reached the main road.

Then – mayhem! Almost the first thing we passed was a roadside hostelry, with a well-packed car park and a long queue to get into it, reducing the road to a single track at a most-inconvenient point. Grizzling children who’d clearly spent hours cooped up in a car, and mightily-stressed adults obviously on the verge of tearing their hair out. Yet within a couple of hundred yards, there’s all the lovely countryside you could wish for. I know it doesn’t come equipped with loos and hygienic hand-driers, but hedges take no harm for a bit of extra watering, and taking your own picnic means that your children do get to eat what they like, and your money gets saved for more worthwhile purposes than yet more chips for lunch. A wet flannel in a plastic bag keeps hands just as clean as a well-used public tap. Just remember to respect the country code; clear up after yourselves, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints, as the saying goes.

It’s something we often notice here too, living in a holiday area. The main roads are jam-packed, sometimes gridlocked, in summer, the “attractions”, well-known beaches and eateries full to bursting and not much fun at all. But stray a little off the beaten track, and you can walk for miles in some of the loveliest countryside these islands have to offer, liberally sprinkled with ancient monuments, and hardly see another soul. Visit a beach that doesn’t have an ice-cream kiosk, equip your kids with I-Spy books, buckets, spades and shrimping nets, or teach them to skim stones, and enjoy some space and peace. (Possibly even without anyone whining that they haven’t got a mobile signal.) Go to a stately home, rather than an over-priced adventure park with hour-long queues; they’ll have play areas, quizzes, and farm animals, and quite probably proper food at not-unreasonable prices rather than burgers, fries and nachos. Almost certainly there’ll be somewhere congenial to eat your picnic, too,  and plenty of space to let off steam.

I’m the first to look at Tr1p Adv1sor before going anywhere new, to get an idea of the area & what’s available locally. But I also look at physical maps, and “drive” around a bit on Google Maps, to recce likely stops and shops. Following the herd and sticking to the main roads means safety and convenience, but also crowds, queues, stress and noise. Straying a little off the beaten track often leads to delightful surprises and unsuspected loveliness…

Primroses & violets in a Cornish hedge-bank…


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