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Memories of a campervan holiday in Cornwall


See also: Campervan: Travel and Destination Guide

Words & Photos Geneve Brand

Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, I close my eyes, and smile. It’s half way between winter and spring when the weather can swing either way, but today it’s definitely leaning towards the latter.

It feels good. I rest my head on the wall behind me and listen to the sea, gently lapping on the beach, the boats and the harbour.

I hear the distant buzz of a lawnmower, and that wonderful sweet smell of grass alerts me that summer is on its way, too.

I am roused from my daydream when Steve, my husband, comes back from the bar, clutching a pair of well-earned pints.

We’re at the Rising Sun Inn in the pretty Cornish village of Portmellon, and we’ve walked about four miles along the coastal path from our basecamp at Pentewan. It’s a hot day, and that cold pint goes down a treat! Nectar…

‘Facebook cares about your memories and we thought you’d like to look back on this post…’

And boom! I’m back in the room. It’s spring 2020 – we’ve been in full lockdown for weeks now, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. There are no pubs open. There are no pretty seaside villages serving ice cream. There are no campsites open. The world seems to have almost ground to a halt and the only hashtag trending right now is #StayAtHome. Strange times!

Of course, it’s the right – and only – thing to do, but it’s not intuitive. Certainly not when the sun is shining outside and, from my home office window, I imagine my campervan glistening on the drive, beckoning to me.

So, thank goodness for memories, and photos – and even Facebook for reminding us, rose-tinted spectacle fashion, of those carefree, liberal and bygone days.

Daydreaming of Portmellon

And so back to Portmellon. Who says I can’t live in the past? Or daydream...

The previous day, we’d tackled an eight-hour drive to get to Cornwall, which is probably why we don’t go there very often – that, and the lack of mountains. But, over the years, it has become something of a birthday tradition to always go somewhere new in the campervan, and we fancied the seaside this time.

Besides, it had been a very wet winter and most of the country was still sodden. In fact, we arrived in Pentewan in pouring rain, having eventually found our way after encountering a lane that was no more, and having to make a U-turn.

Fortunately, a couple of traffic cones and some tape alerted us to the danger; otherwise, we would have gone careering straight over the edge!

Ordinarily, Pentewan Sands is a busy holiday park, boasting its own beach, where nearby shops rent out surfboards and sell all manner of seaside paraphernalia. The campsite also has its own bar and shop, and even a fish and chip shop.

The village of Pentewan is situated on The Roseland Heritage Coast, and is nearby to places like Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligan, so it’s easy to see why people flock here (gosh, who remembers what a flock of people looks like?). However, it was still early in the season and clearly few others shared our enthusiasm/were mad enough for camping in this weather.

We pitched up – well, parked up in a spot that looked less like a swamp than other areas – and were soon joined by another campervan. Now we were two.

But Steve and I are British. We sit inside our warm, dry campervan and stick the kettle on. Our neighbours, a young German couple in a VW T5 pop-top, have more ambitious ideas…

The wind-out awning is deployed, as are the camping chairs and a camping table, and a radio for some tunes. Out comes a gas stove for cooking, and a couple of supermarket carrier bags full of goodies. They sit down cheerily and open a bottle of wine, and tuck into nibbles while a pan of sausages sizzles away.

Idyllic, you might think. Exactly what camping is all about, you could say. Well, yes – except the pouring rain is now torrential, the campground swamp has become a swimming pool, and the slight wind is gathering increasing gusto. You can imagine how this story ends, right?

If they had been British, the spectacle would have made for good viewing from the comfort of our dry high-top campervan; sympathy would have been replaced with mockery, for being so naive. What did they expect? Instead, we felt immensely sad for them, and somehow guilty that they had chosen to holiday in our country and were having such a rotten time of it – no doubt the weather back in Germany was glorious!

But, as is often the way here, the weather had completely changed its tune the following morning. Cloud and rain were replaced with blue sky and a strong sun. The wind had dropped and even the waterlogged campsite had drained. We sat outside for breakfast and chatted to our neighbours. “Is it normal for the weather to change so rapidly and dramatically?” they asked. “Yes”, we replied.   

Cornwall's Roseland Peninsula

I’m a nerd when it comes to etymology and so I was interested to learn that the Roseland Peninsula derives its name from the Cornish Ros, meaning peninsula, which is derived from Rhos, the Celtic word for heath or gorse.

The Roseland Peninsula is separated from the rest of Cornwall by the River Fal and it is indeed gorse-adorned heathland in many places. In spring, the cheerful yellow gorse bloom makes a wonderful contrast against the bright blue backdrop of the sea; even when you can’t see it, that heady-sweet floral scent in the air is unmistakeable.

The South West Coast Path runs along the Roseland Heritage Coast, too, on its 630-mile trajectory from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

So, having stuffed ourselves with a continental-style all-day breakfast buffet that morning, it’s definitely time to slap on the sun cream and go for a walk.

From the campsite, we can follow the coast path in either direction, heading up to Charlestown or down to Portmellon; we choose the latter today, saving Charlestown for the following day.

It’s a well-marked and easy-to-follow path that gently bobs up and down over undulating grassy cliffs. It’s steep enough in places to get a bit of a workout and stop you from reaching your destination too quickly, but it’s hardly Everest. 

The picturesque village of Mevagissey

Soon we reach Mevagissey. We find the name amusing and a quick game of scrabble with the letters results in some comical alternative spellings! Mevagissey is a picture-postcard fishing village set in a quaint bay, and approaching it from the cliffs above means we enjoy a great overview.

We meander our way down through steep narrow streets lined with cute whitewashed cottages decorated with hanging baskets full of flowers. We feel like Rick Stein on a Mediterranean adventure, and try out our best impressions.

Down at the harbour, we relax on a bench and watch cheeky seagulls hoping to pilfer a pasty while children fish for crabs. We then walk out along the jetty to see the lighthouse, which stands proud at the end, before climbing steeply back out of Mevagissey to rejoin the coast path on the other side.   

Onwards to Portmellon, then. Another quaint fishing village but much smaller than Mevagissey – the only sign of life is a handful of locals at the Rising Sun Inn, we observe. The seafront is lined with cottages, which evidently are no stranger to tidal flooding as all the front doors have defences.

However, this winter clearly proved too much as the houses have been severely flooded and are no longer lived in. Huge mounds of debris from the sea are strewn across the road and mounted up on the beach; evidence that this village is reeling from very recent storms and no one has yet had time to clear up the piles of seaweed, leaves, logs and everything else the sea has regurgitated here.

We contemplate the pub but have spotted Chapel Point on our OS map. About a mile beyond Portmellon, it’s nothing more than a point jutting out into the sea, but the walk looks nice and so we press on. Actually, you can’t walk out to the point as it has a (quite magnificent!) house on it so is private land, but a white sandy cove just the other side makes the walk worthwhile. We relax on the beach and skim pebbles for a while.

Mindful of the time, we return to Portmellon where a bench against the wall and in direct sun outside the Rising Sun Inn now certainly has our name on it... 

After our pint, we will retrace our steps, stopping for an ice cream in Mevagissey. By the time we get back to Pentewan, the most amazing sunset is taking shape and so we stroll hand in hand along the beach and around the village until the sun goes down.

Then we cosy up in the Ship Inn and enjoy a hearty pub meal, washed down with a pint or two of good Cornish ale, before going back to our campervan. Such simple pleasures that I will never take for granted again, after the lockdown is over.

The campervan lowdown

Our campervan: 1986 VW T25 Transporter
Conversion Type: Handbuilt conversion by an unknown previous owner
Owned: 2007-2020
Layout: Side kitchen layout with a rock 'n' roll-style bed
Travel seats/berths: 4
What we love about our campervan: With the exception of food and clothes, absolutely everything we need to go camping lives in our campervan permanently, so we never have to plan, or worry about forgetting stuff. It only takes five minutes to unpack when we get home, too.

This trip took place prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We are publishing it for your enjoyment and to help you plan your future trips. Read the latest camping travel advice here.

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