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Fish and chips on Cornwall’s sunny coast path

After our near disastrous drive to Trebah the previous day, we decided to leave the motorhome where it was and walk along the coastal path to the lovely fishing village of Cadgwith where we could treat ourselves to a pub lunch.

We’d always enjoyed walking along the South West Coast Path, whether in Dorset, Devon, Cornwall or North Somerset. Every step of the way, there’s beautiful and unspoilt scenery to appreciate and, although I also love walking in the countryside, the spectacular views across the sea from a cliff top never fail to add an extra sparkle. Over the years we’ve walked along most of this outstanding coastal path in small sections, including this walk to Cadgwith, but could never tire of it. I’d love to take on the challenge of the whole 630 mile walk sometime, but that would involve a great deal of planning, as well as time. But maybe one day I will manage it.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverAnyhow, as far as the weather was concerned our prayers had been answered. The sun soon burnt off the sea mist and it turned out to be a warm, dry and sunny morning, which we hoped would last for the rest of the week. We anticipated a pleasant walk to Cadgwith and were not disappointed. Every step of the way the sun shone ever brighter, with only a few fluffy white clouds drifting non-threateningly across the bright blue sky, the turquoise sea sparkled in the sunlight gently lapping against the rugged rocks below us, and to add to the peaceful scene a couple of fishing boats bobbed about, followed by greedy flocks of squawking seagulls. Out in the warm fresh air amongst such glorious scenery everything seemed to be right with the world, and it was a sharp contrast to the rough, wild seas and the soaking I’d received at Kennack Sands the previous morning. Even so, it was hard work walking up and down the gradients, and when we reached Poltesco Cove we decided to have a short rest.

As we carried on towards Cadgwith we kept Monty on a tight lead as the footpath was very near the cliff edge in places. The views were breathtaking – some people might have said they were ‘to die for’ – but it was rather terrifying looking almost vertically down on to the jagged rocks below us, and even I didn’t want to get too close.

Eventually we turned the corner and the beautiful picturesque fishing village came into view. We’d been here before and it appeared to be just as we remembered – totally unspoilt, uniquely Cornish and very welcoming with its many varied and colourful, mostly pink or white, cottages. Just like many villages along this coast, Cadgwith once had a major fishing industry, and at one time in the 19th century held the record for the most pilchards caught in a single day. However, that was long ago and now the much smaller number of boats catch crabs, lobsters and small quantities of fish, some of which are served in the local pubs and restaurants.

We stood on The Todden, a rocky point of high ground jutting out into the sea, to admire the panoramic scenery. To our left, near the centre of the village, was a stony beach where the fishing boats operate from, and to our right, a smaller sandy beach. I suggested carrying on around the headland to see a spectacular feature, which was created when the roof of a sea cave collapsed to leave an arch of rock over the old cave entrance. In rough weather the sea crashes noisily under the arch far below the cliff top, and angrily swirls around the confined space where the old cave used to be. It’s then said to appear as though it’s boiling, hence its name – The Devil’s Frying Pan.

It’s certainly not a place for someone suffering from vertigo, and as Emm hates heights she didn’t want to go there. She implied it would take too much time, and that we needed to get a table at the pub before it got too busy. I didn’t protest too much as I’d already stood too close for comfort by a vertical cliff face, nervously looking down on to jagged rocks far below, and agreed to give it a miss this time. So, saying we’d go along that part of the cliff path the next time we came to the area, I dutifully followed Emm down to the Cadgwith Cove Inn where she insisted on sitting outside on the terrace.

It may have been sunny, but a slight sea mist was beginning to descend and a fair sea breeze was funnelling up through the natural harbour. I much prefer to eat my food whilst it’s hot, and didn’t particularly want to eat outside where I knew the wind would soon turn a hot meal into a tepid one. When I said as much and that it would be best to go inside, Emm was adamant and said that Monty wouldn’t be allowed in the pub. I didn’t want to start an argument I could never win (anything for a quiet life), and asked her where she wanted to sit. As all the tables were unoccupied we could have sat anywhere we liked, so deciding where to sit should have been a nobrainer. However, Emm can rarely make up her mind about anything and even making a simple decision like that was never going to be straightforward.

She says it’s because she was born under the star sign Libra that she sees everything from all points of view and has difficulty making decisions. I was born under Taurus and can usually make up my mind about anything pretty much straight away, believing it’s far better to actually make a decision, even if it’s the wrong one, than it is to keep dithering around and forever changing one’s mind. I don’t believe in astrology and can’t comprehend how being born at a certain time of the year can possibly map out people’s lives for them. However, it does seem strange that Emm balances everything out, weighs up all the pros and cons and takes forever making the simplest of decisions, whereas, as she often points out, I can be like a bull in a china shop and charge straight in.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverI just looked around at all the empty tables, eliminated all those in the shade and sat down at one which was in full sun and sheltered from the wind. Dead simple I thought. But Emm immediately queried why I’d chosen that particular table and suggested we sat at another one, then another, and another, until we eventually sat down again at the one I’d originally chosen. Choosing where to park our backsides on a table in a pub or restaurant is just like deciding where to park the car, or the motorhome, in an empty car park. As I’ve mentioned already, we have to try out quite a few of the available spaces before finally parking and it was just the same with the table at the pub. Anyhow, a mutually agreed decision of sorts finally being made, we sat down, tied Monty’s lead to the leg of the table, took his bowl out of my rucksack and gave him a drink. We then had two other decisions to make, that is, choosing what to eat and what to drink.

The food choice was relatively easy. Being in a fishing village, we both wanted fish and chips which we expected to be freshly sourced from the adjacent cove (the fish that is, not the chips).

Without hesitation I decided to sample the local beer, and Emm initially chose a lager. She then changed her mind to a glass of wine, but couldn’t decide whether to have white, red or rosé. As we were having fish, she eliminated the red, then ummed and ahhed whether to have white or rosé before saying she’d have an orange juice. Then, just as I was about to go into the pub, she shouted out that she’d have a lager after all, unless it was Carlsberg, which she doesn’t like!

The pub was empty, but full of character with loads of memorabilia relating to Cadgwith’s relationship with fishing and smuggling, and I wanted to have a good browse around to soak up the atmosphere and history of the place. However, it wouldn’t have been fair to leave Emm on her own for too long, so I ordered our meals and bought our drinks. I told the barmaid we were sitting outside but asked if we could come in with our small well-behaved dog if we changed our minds, which she said would be fine. I took the drinks back out and casually mentioned to Emm that we could go inside with Monty if she started to feel cold, but she didn’t, so we stayed where we were.

Considering we appeared to be the only customers, the food seemed to take ages to arrive. We must have got there a bit too early, possibly before the chef arrived, and I suppose we did get a bit impatient, especially me as I’d virtually finished my pint and was decidedly hungry. Also, after the sun disappeared behind a cloud and with the wind blowing in off the sea and swirling around our table it got decidedly cooler. However, even though I was grumpy because I wanted to sit inside, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to raise the subject again.

Emm kept prompting me to find out where our food was and, thinking we’d have to wait for one of the trawlers to come in and land our cod, I’d just got up to go and ask when a smiling young lad brought out our order. Still feeling grumpy, I thought he’d been taking our food all around the pub looking for us, assuming that no one would be eating outside in the cool breeze, and that by now our meal would be stone cold.

However, I was wrong. Everything was served up piping hot and the portions had certainly not been skimped on either. I have to say it proved to be well worth the wait, especially as the sun came out again from behind the cloud to bathe us in warm sunshine. The fish was cooked to perfection, was coated in a beautiful crispy batter and tasted as though it had been caught first thing that very morning, which it probably had been, and the chips were amongst the best we’d ever eaten, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. As I write this now, my mouth is beginning to water with the thought of that meal and, even though I’ve just had my Sunday dinner, I’m tempted to go out and get some fish and chips. However, I will resist the temptation. Our local fish and chips are good, but not quite as good as the ones we enjoyed that day in Cadgwith.

Nigel Rowland Hicks book coverAnyhow, as we tucked into our meals and the sun came out again, so did the wasps – which is another reason I prefer to eat inside. Every time we eat al fresco, it seems that one of the little perishers will inevitably join us and then invite all its mates over as well. When I was a child I was petrified of them and thought they would always give me a nasty sting. Nowadays it’s not so much a fear of getting stung that bothers me, it’s just that they’re so bloody annoying. As long as I’m certain I’m not going to inadvertently put one in my mouth on my food or in my drink, I can ignore them to a large degree. I might just gently wave them away with my knife, and if a particular wasp has been particularly annoying I might try and squash it if I get a chance. However, I rarely resort to jumping up and down, frantically waving my arms around in a blind panic, which is just what Emm started to do. Of course, the wasps then started to feel threatened and gave us the full treatment by buzzing around our heads in a mad rage. One landed on the table to feed off a crumb or something and I managed to trap it under my empty glass, where it stayed and drank a few drops of beer. (When we left, I mercifully released it and it drunkenly flew away.)

Despite the attentions of these black and yellow menaces, I managed to finish my meal, but Emm, as well as being a slower eater than me anyway, was much more distracted by the wasps and still struggling to clear her plate. She managed to eat all her fish and salad, but nowhere near all of her chips. Being brought up to eat all my food and always empty my plate, I did my best to finish them off for her, but by this time they were stone cold and didn’t taste nearly as good as the delicious piping hot chips they’d been twenty minutes previously. However, with a little help from Monty, I still managed to polish most of them off.

By that time a few more customers had joined us and ordered food, including a couple with a small terrier-like mongrel which kept barking loudly at us. Monty barked back and strained on his lead in an effort to reach his canine cousin, who continued to bark even more loudly. It was just as well we’d finished our meal as, no matter what we tried to do, the two dogs just carried on barking. There was nothing for it but to exchange pleasantries with the terrier’s owners and leave them to enjoy their meal in peace. As we made our way down the road the terrier quietened down, and when I looked back I noticed its owners were waving their arms around trying to shoo away the wasps.

Extracted – and slightly cut – from Nigel’s book ‘Some People Prefer Hotels‘, due out on the 2nd April 2014.

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