Friday, May 12, 2006

Beach Life - St Ives Style

If you go to the seaside in Britain in Spring, you just don't know what you are going to experience. Predictably though it was lashing with rain, but the sight which greeted us in St. Ives was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sand had a beautiful luminescence which gave off a warming glow beneath the lowering clouds, and caused us to forget the appalling weather. In front of this apparition, right on the edge of the beach itself stood the object of our mission, the Porthminster Cafe.

We hadn't booked, as the rain had upset our plans and to console ourselves we had headed for some great food. We had read a review in the Guardian, the week before our trip, so we knew where we might find it. We were not that early either, but the friendly staff went out of their way to find us a table, with a shortish wait under the awning, next to the patio heater, with that great view of the beach.

The delay had made us even more ravenous, as we eyed the cheerful diners in the dry of the stylish restaurant itself, but the lateness of the hour meant that this would be a strictly two course affair: we had to see Tate St. Ives after all. Two of us opted for Crab Linguine for mains, with the youngest trying the goat's cheese tart, and for myself, the Sea Bream. This was Cornwall, and we were near the Atlantic, so dishes prepared with the sea's bounty were definitely on our menu, and luckily were on theirs.

The fish was served whole and was a revelation, with the skin producing a depth of flavour I had only previously experienced with, say, a grilled sardine. The flesh was perfectly cooked beneath and was a foil to the more piquant covering, which I had nearly discarded. Reports of the crab linguine were excellent, with the super-fresh shredded meat suspended within the arms of the willowy pasta. The youngest member of the party managed to polish off the goat's cheese tart, as we had to delay lunch almost to the point of starvation. The things we do to bring you these reports! Apparently, the tart had crusty flaky pastry surrounding the oozing cheese, and was 'really lovely'.

For pudding my eldest and I both chose the Tamarillo, which when it arrived turned out to be a poached reddish fruit like a pear, but tasting of boiled sweets. This came with home made vanilla ice-cream, which brought the sweetness down to more manageable levels. The others chose the cold chocolate souffle, which was light, glazed on top and beautifully chocolatey.

And so our journey to the culinary south west was at end and we made our way along the path at the back of the beach, beneath the main railway line into St. Ives, and headed to the cultural destination of the gallery. Yes, it was still raining, but we had sampled the best cooking we found on our short break, and that more than made up for it. Go there.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cathedrals of the Tin Age

Cornwall is a scarred beauty. It is picturesque yet with a rugged coastline, and pock-marked with injuries it has received in its industrial past. Yet these monuments to its former glory, the winding houses of the old stannary mines are now a symbol or talisman of its tourism-led future.

We were on the Bissoe Tramways cycle trail which is waymarked by stones bearing the above device, making it simple to follow for novice navigators. Cornwall is a thin county, making a coast to coast trip a real possibility in a day. We didn't quite manage it with the children, but we had a good go and experienced a stunning variety of landscapes in a few hours of the Easter holidays.

We had hired mountain bikes from the Bissoe Cycle Centre and Internet Cafe, which was a few minutes drive from where we were staying at Carnon Downs. The centre was located on the trail running from Devoran, situated on an inlet on the south coast up to Portreath on the opposite coast. The sectional view of the route shows it to be two gentle inclines from each shore leading up to the A30 which runs down the raised spine of Cornwall to Land's End. The whole route is 11 miles one way, with Bissoe two miles from the southern end.

We set off toward Portreath, gently uphill, but off-road and safe for the whole family. The trail itself was mostly off-road segments with some country lanes joining them and a more busy section to get across the A30 - on a bridge; there is no dodging cars on this highway to the sun.

The scenery was fantastic, with gentle streams and rolling hills giving way to more rugged sections with capped mines and the spoil from them forming mounds round about. You didn't realise you were climbing, but climb you did up the old mining tramways. This area is criss-crossed with the workings of mineral extraction on an industrial scale. Cornwall has given up its riches hidden deep underground, but it has paid a heavy price for this in the effect it has had on its more visible part. The contrasts between lush green sections and the lunar landscape of the heavily mined areas helped keep things interesting.

After journeying along the edge of a park-like stretch, conveniently off-road, we came to the Fox and Hounds at Scorrier, where we took on board liquid refreshments before we set off again across the A30 and heading on the scarcely noticable downhill side toward Portreath. We were looking for somewhere to enjoy the lunch that we had brought with us, but that was the only real disappointment of the day, as we came to no real picturesque spot where the trail opened out enough to sit down and eat. So, we were forced to do so standing up by the side of the pathway before turning round and retracing our route.

This is when the hills really became apparent as we whizzed away from the main road and down the trail back towards the hire centre in record time. I suppose we could have reached the other coastline, but instead we handed back our bikes, and quenched our thirst at the handily adjoining cafe. The weather had been kind to us, after the horizontal rain of the day before at Land's End. It was dry with a perfect cycling temperature of not too hot and not too cold. I would definitely recommend it as part of a more active day on your next family trip to Cornwall. Start early and the more experienced of you should manage the whole trail.

"Coast to coast in a few hours by bike": now that's not something that you could say everyday.