I fell in love with Cornwall, and with Fowey and Readymoney Cove in particular, when I was nine, which was a very long time ago, but my feelings have never changed. I visit every year at least once, and each time, with my first glimpse, I am filled with a warm surge of happiness.
If you haven’t been, it’s a small cove at the end of a narrow road called The Esplanade, leading out of Fowey town centre. It’s right on the end of the estuary on which Fowey itself sits, looking out to sea. Being protected by narrow, steep sides there’s rarely big waves, and is perfect for swimming.
The day I spent at Readymoney Cove remains in my memory as one of the happiest of my life, yet it came about by traumatic, almost tragic circumstances.
My father worked in a factory as a machinist. On a nightshift in January his machine went spectacularly wrong. He managed to get most of himself out of the way – most, except for one finger, which was cut off. It was pretty gruesome. Because the fault turned out to be poor maintenance, he was given compensation and with it he bought a car, our first family car.
The car was a pale blue and white Ford Anglia, which was probably crushed years ago and if not, would by now be a museum piece. When he was recovered enough to drive, we went on our first ever holiday out of Wales, to Devon and Cornwall.
In those days, there was no Severn Bridges (there are two now), just a ferry, so dad elected to drive to the top of the Severn Estuary at Gloucester and back down the other side.
There followed a week of B&B in strange sounding, beautiful places – Clovelly with its donkeys to take you up and down to the harbour, Porlock and its Hill, so steep that dad had to put the old Anglia into first gear and tell us all to remain silent, as he sweated and the car strained its way up to the top and onto Dartmoor.
After a week we arrived in Bude and my mother – she who’s word must be obeyed – had had enough of B&B. She found a caravan on the south coast of Cornwall, at Par Sands. In those days caravans sat haphazardly on sand and dunes, close to the sea. The sea in Par was the most beautiful shade of blue, like I imagine the Caribbean to be. The colour was due to the run-off from the local china clay works, which was probably horribly polluted, but we kids didn’t care. We had sunshine, blue sea and sand, and made our own fun.
One day, mother decided we should take a trip along the coast, so off we went to Fowey, just a few miles away. After a quick examination of the town, we asked if there was a beach, and were directed to Readymoney Cove.
As soon as we arrived and parked next to the beach – you could do that in those days, now it’s a fifteen-minute walk from a carpark – we settled ourselves on the sand.
We were just one of two families on the beach that day and the other family left just after we arrived. It was the end of July. Now, you’d hardly find space to sit, but on that day, it was my beach and my cove.
My brother, my dad and I played bat and ball games, swam in the gentle sea, climbed on the rocks, and had a picnic. I remember sitting on top of the rocks, as the tide came in, knowing I’d found my best of all possible places. I had to be dragged away when it came time to go home for dinner.
Soon afterwards I discovered Daphne du Maurier, first with Jamaica Inn, then Frenchman’s Creek, in which both Fowey and Readymoney Cove feature. I’ve re-read the latter innumerable times. I’ve also set my own series of books – The Curiosity Club of St Foy – in Cornwall, using Fowey and Readymoney Cove as a couple of the venues.
Dad and I talked about that day at Readymoney Cove many times in the years that followed. He never went back. I think he might have done, but he died young, of a heart attack.
My best place ever is inextricably tied to my perfect day out with my quiet, fun, nine-fingered dad.
I re-visited Readymoney Cove recently. It was just before Easter and filled with families. But I just saw us, the only family on the beach. I threw a pebble from the rocks into the water, for my father. and quietly thanked him.