Welcome to the second instalment of our holiday saga, featuring a reduced cast and much less sunny weather.
But first, I thought I’d reflect on holidaying in the UK vs going abroad. There are obvious arguments for staying in the UK if you’re committed to living more lightly on the planet and not contributing to the aviation industry’s disproportionately large carbon emissions (or if, like us, you’re at least trying really hard to be better). The UK is beautiful and there are so many corners of it to discover and enjoy. It can also be cheaper, although not necessarily. (We are big fans of house-swapping, house-sharing and cultivating friendships with holiday-home-owners. And of course, someday we will have to camp…).
On the flip-side, it can be expensive, the weather is wildly unpredictable (you may laugh, but it has a big effect on my happiness levels!), and there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing life in other cultures.
I grew up having a mixture of holidays in mainland Europe and some in the UK, although we always got there by car (the advantages of living near major seaports to France). I like the idea of our kids being at home in different kinds of environments, amongst different languages and cuisines, but also of them not taking that privilege for granted. When we were away I started dreaming up ideas like going abroad every fifth year, and plotting and saving as a family as to where we go. I’m not sure we can predict enough about our future to make plans like that, or that we’ll necessarily be able to afford to go abroad, especially once we have to go in school holiday season. But I like planning anyway.
Returning to our recent holiday, after a week of sociable, chaotic holiday fun in Port Isaac, we were extremely happy with our decision not to rush back to London. Instead we drove down further into Cornwall and stayed in a friend’s converted barn, in a village not far from St Ives. So far, so blissful.
We loved spending a week with friends but also really wanted some time with just the three of us. We’ve never really holidayed as a three – last year we went with my parents to France. And of course summer holidays of the future will now feature another little Flannagan. So some quality time together seemed like a good plan.
There’s nothing better than Cornwall in the sunshine. When it rains, however, I can go to a dark place. Internally I howl and curse our decision to stay in the UK, because I just find it so depressing. And my former coping mechanisms are useless when confronted with a bored toddler (‘darling, let’s just curl up and read our books, or relax in a nice pub, or go to the cinema…’). We had to develop new strategies. And here follows our top recommendations and favourite places.
1.Paradise Park. I have a minor phobia of birds (or beaks to be specific), so an award-winning wildlife park specialising in birds wasn’t immediately appealing to me. But it was really close, and what’s more they had soft play. We set off one drizzly morning and it was a complete winner. Jesse was utterly captivated by all the amazingly coloured birds. He loved the shows. He loved the farmyard. And he loved the soft-play. They had a deal whereby if you bought a return ticket it was only £4 (per adult – he was free), and so it became our new favourite place. he always wanted to see more birds, or go down the slides again. And even I was pretty impressed by some of the birds.
2. Heartlands. I discovered this place on a flyer in Port Isaac, but it was only 20 minutes from our base near St Ives. And it was FREE. It’s basically a regeneration project that celebrates Cornwall’s mining history, and includes a big outdoor adventure playground, a cafe, a museum and various artisan workshops. You have to pay for parking but then you can claim the fee back inside (I got a coffee and a cookie for free). Highlights included the 270 degree film experience in the museum, the kids’ art studio (where Jesse painted a beautiful tea light holder), and the pic playground. Sadly our visit was slightly curtailed when Jesse head butted some concrete and we had to detour to the minor injuries unit…but otherwise it was an excellent outing.
3. DVD rental. Can you believe anyone still does it? We had no wifi for streaming, and were basically housebound in the evening once Jesse was in bed. Our solution: daily visits to a fab little rental place in the local town (Hayle), where the guy running the show made daily recommendations which generally proved excellent (or at least were based on true stories that were interesting). Hurray for human contact! It was indescribably more helpful than iTunes, where we have spent many a depressing hour scrolling through scores of films, struggling to find ANYTHING that looks vaguely appealing. (FYI viewings include Long Road to Freedom, Promised Land, Hector & the search for Happiness, Parkland, and The Theory of Everything).
4. The train to St Ives. It’s hard not to love St Ives with it’s beautiful cobbled streets, endless ice-cream parlous, beautiful beaches and harbour, and scores of art galleries. But we especially loved going there by train from where we were staying (St Erth), following the shoreline to central St Ives. The views are incredible, and Jesse always loves a train ride. (What’s more, with a journey time of 15 minutes, we can keep him interested enough in the views not to need to run up and down the carriage continuously).