Writer Catherine Alliott explores her childhood haunts of Cornwall

13th Jun 19 | Lifestyle

The author recalls her favourite places from glorious childhood holidays in Cornwall, the backdrop to her latest novel.

Bestselling novelist Catherine Alliott, whose holiday reads include About Last Night, Wish You Were Here and A Rural Affair, has set her latest tale, A Cornish Summer, in the beautiful south-west landscape she relished on childhood holidays.

Newlyn Beach (iStock/PA)
Newlyn Beach (iStock/PA)

“We went to Cornwall every year for a week for our summer holiday. We would hire a little cottage and from there, our friends knew all the beaches.”

Alliott, 60, who lives in Tring, Hertfordshire with her barrister husband and has three grown-up children, recalls that the holidays she had as a child in Cornwall were very different from those the family enjoys now.

“We had real bucket-and-spade holidays,” she recalls. “I remember everyone had little flags to put on top of their sandcastles. We had a lot of windbreaks too, as it could be filthy weather.

Windbreak and a seagull (iStock/PA)
Windbreaks were regularly taken to beaches (iStock/PA)

“We had a little primer stove that we would cook sausages on, go down to the beach for the whole day and whatever the weather we’d stay there. We were diehards behind the rocks.

“My husband grew up having summer holidays in Tuscany, so he doesn’t get it at all. He’ll sit on a rock with his Telegraph flapping in the wind and think, ‘Why are we here on this freezing cold beach?’ So he ends up in the pub while I try to recreate idyllic family childhood memories.”

She recalls of the food: “Cornish pasties were definitely a treat but I was from the ‘egg sarnie’ brigade, with sausages on the beach rather than clotted cream teas, which was a bit more touristy.”

Here, she reminisces about her favourite spots…


The pretty seaside town of Newlyn (iStock/PA)
The pretty seaside town of Newlyn (iStock/PA)

Alliott and her family would spend happy summers in this pretty seaside town and fishing port in south-west Cornwall.

“I’ve put Newlyn in my latest book. The book is based on a fictitious place because I didn’t want to get bogged down with research into finding out if certain things I remember were still there. It’s set on a coast on a bay, based on an amalgamation of places I stayed in my childhood.

“We used to stay in Newlyn because the granny of the family we went with used to live there.

“The sea was freezing and we didn’t have wetsuits. It was just jump in, get cold and get straight out again – but great fun. I remember being frozen but also being really happy.”


Porthchapel Beach (iStock/PA)
It was a steep descent to Porthchapel Beach (iStock/PA)

Alliott recalls the stunning beach at Porthchapel, a sheltered cove surrounded by granite cliffs, situated between Porthcurno and Porthgwarra and around three miles from Land’s End on Cornwall’s far south-west coast.

“We used to love Porthchapel, which you really had to climb down to – but it was a fantastic beach which was good for surfing.

“We’d also go to Porthgwarra, which was a really pretty little cove, Porthcurno and Sennen, Cornwall’s most westerly surf hotspot.”


“When my children were born, we went with another family to Rock in north Cornwall (on the north-eastern bank of the River Camel), which was completely different.

“It’s now very middle class. It’s Rick Stein land. Padstow is lovely. You get the ferry across from Rock. But that’s quite smart, eating out at Rick Stein’s, although I think he’s got a bistro there now. We’ve eaten at both the restaurants – they are very nice.”

“Rock also has fantastic fish and chip shops, so one supper would always be Rock fish and chips.

“There’s a really good pizza place in Padstow (Rojanos in the Square) which went down brilliantly when you’d done The Camel Trail (an 18-mile trail running from Wenfordbridge, through Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow). The ride ends in Padstow and my children always remember the delicious pizza place in at the end of The Camel Trail.”


Helford (iStock/PA)
Picture postcard cottages in the village of Helford (iStock/PA)

“I also took my children to Helford, which is really pretty.” This village used to be an important port, as trading ships once brought French rum, tobacco and lace from the continent and the duty was collected at the old custom house. During the Napoleonic Wars, pirates and free traders populated the fringes of the Helford River.

Alliott recalls that children would play in the creek. Helston is a bigger town which is also worth a visit, she says. Through the centuries Helston prospered on the back of tin mining and later, with the coming of the railway and the boom in early tourism.


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in pasty land for a week #sunset #manaccan

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“There’s the really sweet village of Manaccan, which is a walk across the hills, which is where my husband’s aunt had a little whitewashed cottage. Because I loved it, I took my children there. It was idyllic.”

A Cornish Summer by Catherine Alliott is published on June 13 by Michael Joseph, priced £7.99.

© Press Association 2019