Richard Madeley: why Poldark’s Cornish cliffs are better than any holiday abroad
The land of Ross and Demelza has masses to offer staycationers, says the TV presenter
It’s very nice to go trav’ling
To Paris, London and Rome
It’s oh so nice to go trav’ling
But it’s so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer,
To come home
Tweak the end of that last line to “stay home”, and Frank Sinatra’s laid-back lyrics from the 1958 album Come Fly with Me could have been written for the 21st-century Age of the Staycation. This summer the weak pound and ever-more complex airport security checks mean that four in five Brits plan to take their holidays in this country.
We could do a lot worse. Whether it’s the Lake District with its soaring peaks, glittering silver tarns and plunging green valleys; the Caribbean-blue waters and white sandy beaches of north-west Scotland (the Gulf Stream laps the Highland shores and, improbably, palm trees grow in profusion there) or the ridiculously pretty, honey-stone villages of the Cotswolds, Britain probably offers more diversity and sheer loveliness per square mile than any other country.
But I want to talk about Poldark country. And not just because of its surf-whitened shores, or the lonely moors and tors that brood just a few miles inland. A staycation on this peninsula that thrusts bravely, ever-narrowing, into the Atlantic swell can reconnect us to something much, much more than the natural beauty on our doorstep.
Because a visit to Cornwall is a journey into our real collective past, not just the backdrop to a drama to lose yourself in on Sundays. And I should know – I live there!
Close to our house on the south Cornwall coast there is a high cliff outcrop that looks out upon the timeless horizon. A rocky spot where, 429 years ago this August, hundreds of Cornish folk gathered to watch the Spanish Armada sail past.
News of its coming had been brought by messengers riding hell-for-leather from Falmouth, racing for Plymouth to tell Sir Francis Drake that Armageddon was on its way. They shouted out the news as they galloped, and swarms of locals rushed down to our bit of cliff to watch an estimated 130 warships sail slowly and majestically by.
The Cornish were terrified; there was no precedent for such an awesome sight. Hours passed and the mighty enemy fleet continued to crawl along the horizon. Most agreed that within a year they’d all be put to the sword, starved, or – if they were the lucky few – speaking Spanish under the conquistador lash. You can stand on that same rock today and look out on exactly the same view. Seascapes don’t change, and a little imagination can be your time machine.
A little meander along the coast you’ll find Looe Island, a pimple of land off south-east Cornwall. It’s now a nature reserve, but 2,000 years ago it was a trading post where Phoenicians bartered cloth and spices for Cornish tin. Legend holds it that Jesus landed here with his uncle Joe. He would have helped shift cargo to and from the hold.
Unlikely? Early Cistercian monks at Glastonbury thought the site so important that, despite huge difficulties, they built a church there. But treacherous riptides made it impossible to keep the outpost supplied and the island was abandoned.
Another chapel was erected on the mainland opposite, so the Cistercians could keep the island under watch.
The remains are there to this day. So next time you’re toying with the idea of a holiday, think twice before you head abroad for an adventure – take a staycation and have one here instead.