Before I stopped working, I worked with several people who knew this part of Cornwall well. They have been a real help in offering advice and giving us the lowdown on places to see, shops to visit. And on this occasion, in suggesting beaches for children. Thanks to Denise, I was able to propose Millendreath to Ellie as our destination for the long-awaited day at the seaside.
By the time we were ready, some of the morning had already ticked away. The beach wasn’t far – just the other side of Looe – but as we climbed from the far side of Looe, with the river valley and railway track to our left, we managed to miss the turning to our right. A significant number of miles were added as a result – and a significant degree of stress.
As I know all too well: venture off-piste with a sat nav and you drive at your peril. Ellie tackled plenty of very narrow and very steep lanes, with one or two hairpins thrown into the mix. In the end we found ourselves on the other side of Millendreath and approached from completely the opposite direction. But eventually we arrived, having lost all that had been left of the morning. The boys were very patient.
It was time to set aside my dislike of beaches. I don’t dislike all beaches: I love a romantic stroll along deserted sands, or watching waves breaking over dramatic rocks. No, it’s days on the beach with children that I struggle with. I don’t like the crowds for one thing. But mostly, I worry. Beaches are dangerous places. There are treacherous tides, and steeply sloping shelves under the surface. There are so many people and very few landmarks. It is easy for a child to drift along the sand when making the journey between family base and the shore. I know this because we lost my sister, Karen, at the beach in this way. It was memorable: the adults all searching for her, with just one appointed to watch over us remaining children. The heightening anxiety was evident even to me as a child, with an edge of panic despite the efforts to remain calm. Karen was found, quite safe and unperturbed. She had wandered without realizing it, and having lost her bearings, had settled all alone on the sand and was quietly building sandcastles. I have a picture of her in my mind, squatting on the sand in bubble-fabric bathing suit, blond pigtails, spade in hand. She couldn’t have been more than 5, probably younger.
When I became a parent, I confess to trying my hardest to avoid family days on the beach, but of course we had a few. I thought of my own parents’ distress during those long empty minutes until they found my sister. And I watched my own three like a hawk. Yes: for me, being at the beach with lively young children is just one long worry. That said, Millendreath seemed extremely safe and there were relatively few people despite it being half term. I stood up to my fears, smiled gamely and thought positive thoughts. Picnic bag, beach bags, towels, blankets, buckets and spades… all unpacked and ferried the short distance to the sand. We picked our spot and finally we were settled.
It wasn’t the greatest of days weather-wise: June has opened somewhat cloudy and with a crisp wind. And the surroundings were not the most picturesque: there is a large holiday complex at this beach which is in the process of being refurbished. But the beach itself is perfect: ideal for children – and ideal for me. Children aren’t remotely interested in what lies around the edge of the beach: they want sand, stones, sea, rocks and rock pools and Millendreath has all of these. And the worrier in me wanted not too many people and not too large an area – oh, and gentle waves, please. And Millendreath obliged here too. I had also rather hoped for a tea-drinking establishment and some public toilets: both were provided. I really had nothing to complain about.
Ben has had a volatile relationship with beaches in the past. He had one summer when he couldn’t tolerate pebbles and shingle. This was his first visit of this year. We wondered how he might react. There was no need for concern; he had no problems at all. He wasn’t willing to swap his long trousers and jumper for shorts and tee-shirt, but the weather wasn’t that warm anyway; he was happy. He needed only a little encouragement and a demonstration from his mother to get him busily building sandcastles.
Evan was keen to explore the rock pools at the far end of the beach. Whilst Evan was busy over there, Ben contemplated stones. You need just the right stone for a drawbridge. Ben rather likes stones.
Soon both boys were engrossed.
We had sandcastles galore.
Time for a picnic, whilst surveying our handiwork. And yes, the sand did get into most things, no matter how careful we were. Sand-crusted sandwich anyone?
The tide was coming in fast. Slowly but surely the outer sandcastles were destroyed. We made guesses at how long the “Queen’s Castle” would stand as her protectors steadily slipped away. It was Evan who guessed the closest. The Queen’s Castle lasted a remarkably long time. Evan tried valiantly to hold back the tide with his bucket. King Canute would have been proud.
But eventually all we could do was watch and wait.
With the Queen’s castle utterly destroyed by the relentless waves we consoled ourselves with a hot drink (for the ladies) and an ice cream (for the boys). After yesterday’s chocolate mess, Ellie bought a tub for Ben instead of a cornet. He was not impressed but he didn’t protest for too long. He ate it anyway, with a lot less mess.
It was time for some more exploring.
Evan went rock-climbing, and thought about that mysterious cave. Ben collected and thought about stones. Then he arranged them carefully. The pattern had to be exactly right.
Evan tried out the lagoon. We hadn’t noticed this earlier. A concrete jetty stretching into the water actually encloses an area of sea: protecting it from the tides and waves. He waded in quite a long way. And almost struck out swimming.
Paraphernalia collected, it was time to head home. And the journey took no time at all; we know now how easily we could have reached the beach in the first place. We’ll know for next time.
And there will be a next time. Because even if I don’t want to say it too loudly, I did enjoy this day: my first visit to the beach with my grandsons. This beach is so safe, and such a perfect size; I certainly recommend it. I might even be prevailed upon to paddle next time.