A Pilgrimage to Rave about in the 'Ibiza This Area to Clone of England'; Fifty Years after His Father Left Cornwall, Robert Mayes Joins Him on an Inspirational Journey Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Mayes

I didn't think my father would know his way around town. Fifty years is a long time. Towns change - and few towns as much as Newquay. But an uptight satnav is no match for a man on a decades-overdue pilgrimage to the place of his birth.

'Left here,' he directed, at a laneway with no signs.

'Are you sure?' my mother and I chorused as I aimed the rented Focus at the rapidly narrowing track that seemed to end in bushes.

'Yes, just follow it for a bit. I remember this - we used to ride here as kids.' The road, if you could call it that, suddenly pitched into a dip - a little stream to ford - and then past an old tractor that had been commandeered by chickens.

'Just a little further,' he pleaded, like a bloodhound on a scent it couldn't quite identify. I was about to do a U-turn, when around the next corner appeared a wrought-iron gateway; the kind of gate that opens fairytales.

'Trerice Manor!' he declared in triumph. 'Of course it's still here.' Of course it is - just as it has been for the past 500 years. We had taken the back way to an Elizabethan-era manor house in mint condition - and for my father, Gerald, I would suggest, more than that: a bulwark of certainty in a changing world.

Generations of absentee landlords ensured that Trerice stayed pristine until it was taken over by the National Trust, so that today it offers a time-machine peek into Tudor life: tapestries, suits of armour and all.

Sadly, it's also one of the attractions of Newquay that has been sidelined by the town's growing notoriety as the 'Ibiza of England'.

When my father called me from Johannesburg to discuss a holiday to his motherland, my first thought was to warn him. 'It's changed, Dad. It's full of hen and stag parties, teenagers on the tear and pot-smoking layabouts on the dole.' Of course, that wasn't going to stop him. So I planned the ultimate Cornwall adventure, taking in the Eden Project, chef Rick Stein's Padstow - or Padstein, as they've dubbed it; Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen; and the Minack outdoor theatre, with its epic ocean backdrop.

Newquay, however, was the gamble.

It turned out September was a good time to visit, rather than July or August. Corn-wall's popularity has soared in recent years, and in high season it's mobbed by a mix of well-to-do 'staycationers' and the equivalent of the Leaving Cert crowd.

We were blessed with the weather, catching a late summer fling of sunshine which streamed into the apartment we had rented just a two-minute walk from the High Street. From the balcony, we could see across Newquay Bay and evocatively named beaches like Great West-Tolcarne and Lusty Glaze.

Add to the list Fistral Beach - host of world-class surf competitions - Porth, Whipsiderry and the craggy Bedruthan Steps, and Newquay has a string of beaches that rank among the best in the world.

The flipside, as my father listed them off, is the ice cream parlour is now a 'niteclub', a men's clothing store is now a shop selling brand-your-own Tshirts, and, of course, all the surf shops, all-day breakfast cafes and gaming arcades.

It was probably a blessing that we were on a tight schedule to see a 2pm showing of The Mikado at the spectacular Minack outdoor theatre at Porthcurno beach not far from Land's End.

Minack was built in the 1930s under the direction of drama lover Rowena Cade, who bequeathed the world a Greekstyle amphitheatre hewn from a granite cliff face - with a backdrop painted by God's own hand. Stage left is Porthcurno beach, a brush stroke of pale gold in a scene-stealing azure bay and, stage right, endless sea and sky.

Students from Cambridge's Gilbert & Sullivan society played Nanki-Poo, Ko-Ko and Yum Yum with engaging gusto. There was drama off-stage, too, as first aid staff attended to the more fragile aged who kept passing out in the heat. …