My perfect weekend would not be spent at home, in a village just outside Cambridge, but in the area of north Cornwall that inspired The Farm at the Edge of the World.
It’s the place where I holidayed as a child and so it’s packed tight with positive memories that have become multi-layered and textured since I’ve had my own children and taken them there.
In an ideal world, we’d be staying in the cottage I stayed in all those years ago: one overlooking a deep cove where the sea creeps up to the bottom of the garden. The tide would be high, and so I’d push off the rocks to swim through the icy water, invigorated by the knowledge I was out of my depth. The water would silver my ears and I’d float on my back, arms stretched out in a cross, letting the water rock me, just as Lucy does, in my novel, when she needs to think. Before long, my skin would tingle and burn and so I’d scramble out to be met by my excited children, who would bring hot chocolate, and a thick towel salted by the sea breeze.
As the tide slithered out, we’d walk to a long stretch of golden beach to spend hours building a dam to “save” tadpoles. I say “we”: I’d probably lie on the sand with a good book while my husband and son and daughter worked industriously. But I’d take the children off to rock-pool: the afternoon slipping away as we peered at jam-like anemones, and calculated how to capture an elusive blenny. Our buckets would fill with crabs, shrimps and, a glut of fish with which to impress other, invariably older, rock poolers. If we’d travelled to Constantine Bay, we could alternate body boarding through the foaming waters with trawling the rock pools’ depths. We would become more cunning: aficionados with a hook and bacon; super-skilled at crabbing.
The next day might be spent tramping the cliff path: pushing past hedgerows thick with dog rose, rosebay willow herb and honeysuckle. The fields would glow golden with barley; the air be scented with crushed camomile, honeyed gorse and vetch. The wind would pick up on the headland and a gentle breeze would buffet us as the sun beat down and we walked for miles, drinking in an Atlantic that stretched to the tip of Cornwall, apparently limitless.
This being a perfect weekend, we would, of course, spy a pair of seals on the salt-lashed rocks or – and this has happened – a school of leaping dolphin. My eight and eleven-year-olds would walk, unflagging, fuelled by baguettes, fresh strawberries and a steady supply of clotted cream fudge from the Buttermilk creamery. We would meet few walkers as we tramped but be perfectly content: happy just to chat as the sun warmed our cheeks and we watched guillemots soar on a thermal or listened to the bleats of the cliff-clambering sheep.
After another dip in the sea, we’d head into Padstow to pick up fresh fish for a barbecue or beer-battered fish and chips. Then we’d walk back home, our toes sinking into the wet sand as the sky grew flecked with gold, then pinkly pale.
As the sun set, I’d be wrapped in a rug on the terrace, my children playing happily or toasting marshmallows on a makeshift fire; perhaps a glass of white wine in my hand. And, as I fell asleep, to the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks, I would do so knowing that we were profoundly lucky.
Photos (c) Sarah Vaughan