The Daily Telegraph - Travel
The parents’ guide to heading west
What treachery! What betrayal! How could I possibly take sides with Cornwall after a childhood blissfully steeped in Devon family holidays? My parents will be incredulous. I can picture them now, snug in their East Devon cottage, reading this and shaking their heads. Believe me, it’s not that I don’t love Devon. It’s just that I love Cornwall more.
From paddling at Praa Sands to surfing in St Ives, our twins, now 15, have passed many of the essential rites of childhood on our holidays in Cornwall. They’ve caught crabs off the harbour wall in Mevagissey, paddled kayaks through Fowey’s labyrinth of creeks and dunked doughnuts in hot chocolate after a day’s bodyboarding at Trebarwith.
But you can do all that in Devon, I hear you cry. Well, yes, but it just seems more exciting in Cornwall. That’s because Cornwall is more far-flung. For all its traffic and toilet stops, I relish that epic drive, tracing the A30 until it fizzles out in the remote “island” of the Penwith peninsula. Cornwall stirs your wanderlust; Devon is a nice place to visit.
And you have to admit that Cornwall wins hands down when it comes to beaches. Take Devon’s best surf offering, Woolacombe Sands – I could rattle off 10 Cornish beaches (Gwithian, Whitesand, Polzeath, Porthmeor etc) that would leave it floundering. Rockpools? No contest. Cornwall’s coast has a wild exuberance that makes you want to rip your shoes off and sprint barefoot through the shallows.
The weather is always better in Cornwall, too. When rain sweeps in from the Atlantic, Cornwall often emerges in sunshine while clouds get snagged over soggy Devon. It’s also easier to chase the sun in Cornwall. If sea fog descends on the north coast, you just nip over to the Lizard. Try doing that in Devon with the big lump of Dartmoor in the way.
Cornwall also excels when it comes to places to stay. We’ve camped on clifftops with ocean views and rented cottages near deserted coves. We’ve stayed in stylish self-catering lodges and top family hotels. Admittedly, Devon has the edge on World Heritage Sites (Jurassic Coast), but Cornwall’s top attractions are decidedly A-list (Eden Project, Minack Theatre, St Michael’s Mount and Tintagel Castle) compared with Devon’s Clovelly, Diggerland and The Big Sheep.
Cornwall is special. It gets hold of you in a big sandy hug and won’t let go. Mum and Dad, we’d still love to come and see you in Devon this summer though.
William Gray is the author of Cornwall with Kids (Footprint, 2014)
Devon and Cornwall are two of our favourite British summer destinations, but which is best for families? Will Gray and Ben Hatch fight their corners – and we reveal our favourite child-friendly attractions and hotels for each county
If it ever came to a brutal fight between Devon and Cornwall to decide which of them was the top family destination in Britain, and they weren’t allowed to use pitchforks, shivs or hurl large slabs of Suzy Sweet Tooth fudge at each other across the Tamar, which would win, I hear you ask.
Cornwall first. The name Hatch is Celt, so I feel a brotherhood here, and particularly enjoy annoying my wife by referring to all Cornish people as “we” and anything in the county as “our”, as in: “Have you tried our cream teas?”
With those Poldark vistas, its vast sandy beaches make it a surfing and sailing mecca for poshos nipping down for the weekend in their Seasalt jackets in the hope of bumping into, then coolly ignoring, Prince Harry eating turbot at a Rick Stein eatery.
There are more Arthurian legends here than you can shake a crabbing net at, and Cornwall also has an endearing independent streak, manifested primarily when the county irrelevantly votes Lib Dem.
Cornwall also has the Eden Project, which is full of hipster dads explaining to their offspring “through play” the importance of the Amazon rainforest. Though it should be noted that some of the attraction’s tropical biomes are so humid that your children are liable to emerge from behind a banana tree like feral animals, totally naked, and complaining: “I was itchy and hot and I want to run about like this”.
What, then, of Devon? Warm enough for palm trees, it has more thatched cottages than anywhere in the world, making it so beautiful I almost want to wrap it in greaseproof paper, sprinkle sugar on it, and see what it’d taste like with almond shavings. It’s also home to the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary, which contains the greatest concentration of donkeys anywhere.
Devon has the country’s best aquarium, in Plymouth, and, of course, Torquay is where Britain’s finest sitcom, Fawlty Towers, was based. In addition there’s Exmoor and Dartmoor, and Jacob’s Ladder beach, also in Sidmouth, surely a contender for the world’s most beautiful stretch of sand. Here you can rockpool and there’s sand cricket too. It even has a hill behind to fly kites on. And, what’s more, my aunt lives there and will, when I leave her, still curl my fingers around a 50p piece. So I give it to Devon. Cornwall is defeated and now I must lower their black-and-white flag and change my surname.
Ben Hatch is the author of Are We Nearly There Yet? : A Family’s 8,000 Mile Car Journey Around Britain (Summersdale, 2011)