I had heard that Tintagel casts a spell which is hard to break. Magical was the word on my lips as I watched Atlantic waves crashing against the wild headland with the ruins of a medieval castle clinging to it.
A few miles across the Devon border, at Clovelly, the fairytale continued. Cottages with roses around their doors spill down the steep cobbled street to the tiny 14th century harbour 400 feet below. Now and again a sledge loaded with groceries rumbles past – the only way locals can haul their goods to their homes.
Further along the north Devon coast is the quaint maze of back streets at Appledore. Each cottage is painted a different colour, with names such as Dora's and Auntie Mabel's and The Captain's House. The two camp sites we chose – Trewethett Farm in Cornwall and Steart Farm in Devon – couldn't be bettered either, for views, facilities and their situation. But then we were lucky with the weather. I'd been warned that sudden high winds and driving rain along this coast could put a whole new complexion on things. Remember the Boscastle flood of August 2004? Two million tonnes of water flowed through the village triggering the largest peacetime rescue in the UK. Remarkably,
Boscastle looks much as it did as when I visited well before the floods. It's hard to believe that, from where we had parked at the bottom of the Valency Valley, over 100 vehicles were washed away by the torrent.
At Trewethett Farm, we'd been told that its exposed position, next to the South West Coast Path, can leave campers vulnerable in the quickly-changing weather. But wow, what views and what sunsets! From our pitch we could just see the 11th century St Materiana's church, at Tintagel. Below the cliffs was the small secluded bay of Bossiney Haven. A few minutes' walk down a fairly steep and narrow part of the coast path brought us to the pretty Rocky Valley. From here it was about 80 minutes along the cliff path to Tintagel or an easier walk of the same duration to Boscastle.
At Steart Farm, fellow campers had tales of walking 20-mile stretches of the coast path. With a rather reluctant young walker in tow, we picked it up in much shorter sections here and there, all the while watching out for grass snakes. It took us to the highest point on the Cornish cliffs above Crackington Haven and the whitewashed tower of Willapark, above Boscastle. The path also took us around the windswept Hartland Peninsula, notorious for its shipwrecks, to Hartland Point, known for centuries as The Sailor's Grave. Coastlines certainly don't get much more dramatic, treacherous or unspoiled. Huge rocks lay below the cliffs near Hartland Quay, looking as if they have been thrust up through the waves and compressed like a concertina, producing a spectacular range of folds and patterns.
In between our two sites we were spoilt for choice with beaches. Bude was bustling with the sandcastle brigade. Its free tidal swimming pool was literally overflowing with young splashers. Woolacombe and Croyde were swarming with surfers and families alike. North from Steart Farm, we almost had Saunton, backed by the most amazing dunes, to ourselves. It's no surprise that they call this area between the Taw estuary and Mortehoe the Golden Coast.
Westward Ho! the only place in the UK to be named after a book, was our favourite beach. I love the way Charles Kingsley, the author of Westward Ho! describes Clovelly. He lived in the High Street as a child when his father was the local curate. On a later visit, he wrote to his wife: "Now that you have seen dear old Paradise you know what was the inspiration of my life before I met you…"
Clovelly's a curious little place, entirely owned by one family, where, if you ignore just a couple of "touristy" establishments, time really seems to have stood still.
At Tintagel, a wooden bridge links the island on which the castle ruins sit to the cliffs. Many believe that Tintagel Castle is the Camelot of legends. The facts are that remains of several hundred buildings have been discovered. Some are from medieval times, when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, built his castle; others are from the days when Tintagel was a Roman trading port.
Yet others were built during the Dark Ages when a Cornish king is said to have held court here.
At the Dartington Crystal factory, at Great Torrington, we watched craftsmen transforming white-hot molten glass into elegant shapes in a mesmerising and perfectly-orchestrated production. It takes 10 long years in this furnace of a factory to become an expert glass blower. At first, men were recruited from Sweden to teach the locals.
This really got them hot under the collar. The local workers complained about the Swedes. "They stole our women and took our jobs and drank our lager."
Relations have long since improved and Dartington is now the only working handmade crystal factory in the UK. As a memento of our trip we could have had our hands or feet imprinted in glass.
My memories of our coastal camping trip are going to stay just as clear.
A camping holiday in Devon and Cornwall
WHERE TO STAY
Steart Farm Touring Park, Bucks Cross, Bideford, North Devon EX39 5DW. Tel: 01237 431836. www.steartfarmtouringpark.co.uk. Open to September 30. Pitches, mostly flat, are fairly sheltered east-west. Facilities include playground and large playing field, dog walk, orders taken for basic groceries and newspapers, free hot showers, toilets with baby changing, washing up and laundry.
Trewethett Farm Caravan Club Site. Trethevy, Tintagel, Cornwall PL34 0BQ. Non-members welcome. Tel: 01840 770222. www.caravanclub.co.uk. Open to October. Some tent pitches are sloping and in an exposed cliff-top position. Facilities include two toilet/shower facilities, laundry, washing up, Wi-Fi, parent and toddler room, playground, essential groceries sold.
Tintagel Castle: www.english-heritage.org.uk
South West Coast Path: www.nationaltrail.co.uk/southwestcoastpath
Dartington Crystal: www.dartington.co.uk
For advice on camping: www.newtocamping.com
WHAT ELSE TO SEE AND DO
St Nectans Glen, Trethevy, is a tranquil valley near Tintagel with a 60ft waterfall. Walk from Trewethett Farm site. Tel: 01840 770760.
Cycle or walk part of the Tarka Trail, from Bideford. It's a beautiful route, following an old railway track.
The gardens of RHS Rosemoor, at Great Torrington, span 65 acres of the beautiful Torridge Valley. Themed gardens and woodlands are filled with the glorious scents of blooms. (www.rhs.org.uk/rosemoor)
YP MAG 14/8/10