Just add water for a multi-generational holiday that ticks everyone’s boxes, says Harriet Line.
“At what age will you let us holiday alone?” Mum jokingly asks as we trundle south west on our umpteenth family adventure to Cornwall. My ‘twenty-something’ energy combined with my parents’ more genteel approach to life as retirees, makes planning a trip together tricky. But this time, we know each of our boxes will be ticked – and that this holiday will stand out from the rest.
We all love the West Country – and since I was a child, have spent many a summer exploring its fishing villages, beaches and almost every National Trust property it has to offer. Not to mention the food. Between us, we’ve probably helped to keep at least one clotted creamery afloat by feasting on afternoon tea.
Yet despite this, we’d never before heard of our destination: Charlestown. It’s a harbour village nestled on the south coast near St Austell, and has been welcoming tourists for decades. But you wouldn’t know it. Its rustic charm and calm streets make you think you’ve stumbled across a real gem – and you have.
The harbour – at the heart of the village – feels like nothing has changed since it was built in the late 18th century. Its impressive stone walls rise up from the water, and the china clay chutes – a relic of its exporting days – look like they could be kicked into action at any moment. On the water, too, things appear just as they once did. Tall ships – their wooden masts and authentic rigging – are perfectly at home. It’s no wonder the makers of Poldark chose here to shoot some of the series.
Fortunately for us, one of these boats is ours for the week. Anny, a topsail schooner, dominates the harbour. Built in Denmark in 1930, she started her life as a fishing vessel before a period under German control during the Second World War. Now she calls Charlestown home, and – interchangeably with other traditional boats – is available as a self-catering holiday let. All 89ft of her.
It doesn’t take long for us to all fall in love with Anny. We’ve barely got on board before Dad, half joking, suggests we slip the lines and sail her home. We ponder if we could manage it without a crew, but decide the harbour entrance might push our skills a little too far. Mum, meanwhile, scouts out the deck for a good spot for a glass of wine. “Here will do,” she says, plonking herself under the sun at the stern, once she’s navigated her way down the (slightly) steep gangplank. Best she does the boozing on deck, Dad and I muse to ourselves, or we’ll never get her back on board. We all feel very much at home.
Rolling back the hatch and climbing down the ladder, it’s hard to imagine something so fine in choppy seas (which is where Anny goes, when she isn’t on Airbnb). The dining table wouldn’t be out of place on HMS Victory, and the berths (eight in total) have linen to rival a five-star hotel. The ceilings are high, the heads (aka loos, for landlubbers) flush with a button, and the shower is powerful. Anny doesn’t rock with the waves, because there aren’t any in the lock-gated inner harbour. This is life on a boat, but not as you know it.
I poke my head above the deck in the morning – filling my lungs with the perfectly fresh sea breeze – and spot a tourist taking Anny’s picture. I feel proud to be calling her home – and am almost embarrassed that we’ve chosen our accommodation so well.
Tempted as we are to spend the day lying on the deck, we have lots to explore. The South West Coast Path passes through Charlestown, so we grab a map and follow it to Par Sands – passing many beautiful beaches on our way. Carlyon Bay – with almost two miles of golden sand – is less than 30 minutes’ walk. But if you don’t mind a bit of shingle, Charlestown’s small but perfectly formed beaches do the trick – while the outer harbour is a popular spot at high tide for youngsters to jump in.
The Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan are short drives away, while Fowey – arguably the most beautiful estuary in all of Cornwall – is a mere 20 minutes. We venture there the next day and hire a little motor launch to explore upstream, before falling victim to one of the quaint high street’s cream tea rooms. Thankfully, the climb back up to the carpark redeems us.
There’s an abundance of places to eat back in Charlestown too, and we manage to make our way through most of them during the week. Safe to say, there is no danger of getting scurvy while staying on Anny.
The Longstore – up the hill, but still just a minute away from Anny – boasts the best local produce from the land and sea. I can’t decide so try everything in a wonderful seafood ragout and am not disappointed. It’s a meal that matches the spectacular views the restaurant has to offer, and we savour the last of the evening sun as it coats Charlestown in a beautiful golden glow.
Our next stop is across the water from Anny – the Rum Sailor. Hidden in a converted clay store in the harbour walls, it brings speakeasy-cool to Cornwall, and serves the best dark ‘n’ stormies old-seadog-Dad has ever tasted. The owner, Ash, is as energetic about rum as he is charming, and before we know it, we’re all worried how we’ll make it down the gangplank. Thankfully, Mum and Dad decide to save the sea shanties for when we’re back on board Anny. If I wrote even the essence of the lyrics here, this story would never make it to print.
The harbour is also home to a host of fine-dining pop-ups: with fish and chips, BBQ food and a bar – all with waterside seating. The next morning we explore the Shipwreck Museum, bursting with fascinating trinkets – including the ‘Heart of the Ocean’ necklace used in the film, Titanic. We also check out the galleries, gift shops and antique store.
The one thing missing (or maybe two if you include Aidan Turner) from our stay on Anny is a trip out on the open sea. Thankfully, the wise people of Charlestown have that sussed too, in the form of Mascotte, a 1904 Bristol Channel pilot cutter, which offers the most beautiful and authentic sailing trip imaginable. It’s an ‘all hands to the deck’ day out, as the crew teach us to steer a course. Mascotte and Anny trade places through the year – with one out on the water while the other is moored in the harbour.
We are sorry to leave Charlestown but do so in rare agreement that a) family holidays still work, and b) we should turn on the radio before someone sings a sea shanty on the drive home.
How to plan your trip
Anny is available to hire from £200 per night and Mascotte is available from £250 per night. Visit airbnb.co.uk
Day sailing on either boat is available from £50 per adult for three hours, or £30 per child. Both vessels are also available for private charter for family bubbles. Visit charlestownharbour.com