The Barn in Cornwall by Jeff Stevens
“Look, there are the lights of Padstow!” I squealed out with excitement. After a six-hour journey, including a stop at Bristol to pick up our daughter, we were all so relieved to be making our may along the last mile towards our holiday cottage at Lower Halwyn, located two miles from the picturesque town of Padstow.
The Barn is one of a group of three linked stone cottages nestled into the hills on the side of the Camel estuary. It’s just approaching midnight as we navigate the final approach to our cottage and turn off winding the road and into the small courtyard in front of the cottages. Bella, our dog, a Jack Russell/Collie cross, is just as excited as we are. She has sensed that the end of the journey is imminent, and her eager anticipation is bubbling over into squeals and barks as she tries desperately to escape her travel harness. Her wet nose is now firmly pressed against the side window. I pull into our car parking spot and switch off the engine. It’s such a relief to be here.
That moment of first opening the door of The Barn marks the start of our holiday. The lights are switched on, the heat begins to warm us, and there is a general chatter of family excitement and relief. We are welcomed by a very cosy lounge, dining area and kitchen all in one. The cottage is bright, tastefully decorated and equipped with all the modern conveniences that we will need for the week. It’s too late to unpack, and so we decide to leave all but the essentials until the morning. The bedrooms in our cottage are so warm and comfortable. Finally, sinking into the soft mattress and clean cotton sheets, on our first night, is sheer delight.
Waking on our first morning, we are greeted by the most welcome and glorious sunshine streaming through the Velux window, and filling the room with light an energy. I am almost having to pinch myself to believe that this is the end of October. Were it not for the low altitude of the sun, this could have been one of those glorious sunny days at the end of summer.
For our first day we decide on a walk into Padstow, along the Camel cycling and walking trail. Stepping outside I could feel an instant warmth on my back. That, combined with the green patchwork of fields on the surrounding hillside, and a brief teasing glimpse of the estuary water, helped me to slip into one of the most relaxed states I have experienced for some time. Perhaps expectancy is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that I had made my mind up that today was going to be the best of days, or maybe I was just lucky. Either way the first day turned out to be superb.
Bella’s excitement is infectious. Having her with us is helping me to relax. Bella likes to stop and smell the roses, very frequently, and is encouraging me to do the same. I think she knows how to savour the moment. She is teaching an old dog some new tricks.
So, a short walk along a hedge-lined lane leads down into a cool shaded dip. On one side there are the partial remains of a medieval dovecote, called a culver house, now reduced to a semi-circular wall with a few evenly spaced rectangular nesting holes. The first reference to this particular one dates back to 1347. As I pass by, I wonder how many people have cast their eyes on this since then, and how many will continue to enjoy its presence in the future. Rising out of the dip brings us onto the trail, and our first full views of the wide Camel estuary and the surrounding hills. The view today is simply breath-taking. The colours seem so vivid. A pristine powder blue sky, deep green baize coloured fields and the rippled steel-blue of the swollen estuary seem so complimentary. It’s like walking inside the perfect picture postcard. It so excites my senses. I was reminded of the poem “Leisure”, by William Henry Davies, and the opening line “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”. This is one of those days when it is time to stand and stare. Walking amongst this scenery is medicine for the soul.
It's a gentle walk into Padstow. There is so much wildlife to stop and see; egrets, swans, oystercatchers and sandpipers on the water’s edge, dibbing their bills rhythmically into the low water. Close to the halfway point we cross over the metal structured bridge spanning Little Petherick Creek. This bridge crosses over an inlet into the estuary at a point where the wind is chivvied and whipped into a stiff breeze even on the calmest of days. Standing looking over the edge of the bridge, facing the breeze and looking out into the wider estuary, makes me feel as though I am a bird in flight swooping low over the water.
We finally arrive at Padstow, and catch our first glimpse of the picturesque harbour, the sun glinting off the surface water and the glossy hulls of the moored boats. It’s lovely to see it bustling with people and full of life, as we make our way to the quieter retreat of The Harbour Inn. This is a warm and friendly Cornish pub, which welcomes dogs. So, we settle in the comfort of the pub, with its beautiful hardwood floor and wooden furnishings. I’m taken by many of the historic black and white photos on the walls, showing times long past. The food is superb, and we have a very relaxing couple of hours here. Bella is able to sit gently dozing in peace by my side, occasionally giving a quick sigh of satisfaction.
Our walk back is even more peaceful than the walk in. It’s late in the afternoon, and the sun is setting. The sky is a gorgeous mix of purples, blues and greys, all reflected in the sweeping flow of the estuary. There is a slight chill in the air, and this speeds us back to the sanctuary of our cottage, to retreat at the end of our first day.
One of the highlights of the week was our trip to Bedruthan Steps. This is a stunning area of coast, north of Newquay. I’m never disappointed by the views and the experience of the place. From the Carnewas car park, it’s a short walk to the coastal path. My first glimpse of the scenic coastline, and the undulating winding coastal path is so special. It makes my heart swell with emotion. Standing gazing out to sea makes me realise how lucky I am to be alive. The sea is a calm blue-green, the sky a beautiful azure blue. Classic cotton wool ball cumulus clouds float in neat lines across the entire sky. Approaching the beach at Bedruthan, the steps themselves dominate the caramel sandy beach, and for a second I can imagine a mythical giant using them to make huge strides along the coast.
We decide to venture down on the beach via the near vertical sequence of enclosed narrow steps. I have such happy memories of this place, particularly walking hand in hand with my young daughter, on hot August afternoon, walking in between the towering rocks, basking in glorious sunshine. Today is just as special. Bella can hardly contain her excitement, and as we clamber down the last few steps she races onto the sandy surface, circling round and yelping with joy. It’s such a delight to be here with my family once more, soaking up all of the beauty that nature has to offer. I feel like I could keep walking along here forever, but all too soon it’s time to brave the return journey up the steps. I try to count them on the way back, but lost track as we approached the 70 mark. It’s a tough, slow climb back up, but it’s worth every moment. Back at the top, we stand at the viewing point, surveying the sheer beauty of where we have just found such peace. We have been blessed once more.
By mid-week we felt up to a longer walk into Wadebridge, which was a seven mile round trip. Once more were treated to clear skies and a dry day. There are a little over three miles of scenic estuary to take in during the walk, with lots of fascinating things to see along the way. Part way there is a concealed bird-hide, which offers a stunning vista onto the estuary. The estuary takes on some very unusual and winding shapes as it gradually narrows coming into Wadebridge. There’s one particular section where there are several huge gulley’s carved into the undulating mud banks, spreading out from the side of the estuary towards the middle like huge basilisks slithering their way into the water. A little further down there is the relic of an old fishing boat, tilted over on its side, resting now at the end of its days. Our trip to Wadebridge and back lasted for just over five hours, and so once more we needed to curl up on the soft sofas of our cottage for a while upon our return.
Our remaining time in Lower Halwyn was spent on short walks and lazy sessions in the cottage. Part of the attraction of this location is being able to leave the car where it stands and walk wherever we need to go. It gives a sense of detachment from the pressures of normal day to day routines. It slows everything down, and with it comes a deep sense of peace and contentment, along with an appreciation of our natural environment.
All too soon our holiday comes to an end, and we have the sad part of closing the door on The Barn one last time, hoping that we will be able to return next year.