Who knew? Come on, own up! Who knew that Padstow wasn’t a seaside town? We’d never given it a thought as we avidly consumed countless programmes hosted by TV chef (and celebrity resident) Rick Stein, who single-handedly has been promoting Padstow to a global audience for the last half-century – or so it seems.
But it’s the River Camel estuary that flows past Padstow, so as we nudge the Knumptywagen into the safety of the last remaining long-vehicle space in the portside Station car park, we take stock of our surroundings and decide we must explore.
We arrived here following disappointing rejections of our lumbering bulk by both Perranporth and Newquay (where we’d hoped to find opportunity for breakfast, alas unfulfilled by height-restricted car-parks in both towns.) As such, we were now feeling a little lunchtime peckish and our purposeful rambling was therefore first towards one of Rick Stein’s lauded fish & chip shops, located alongside a neighbouring shoe-store.
Despite anticipative rumblings from below, shoes suddenly became more of a priority as the CNO took it upon herself to be reshod with a pair “she’d been looking for for ages.” By which time, Rick’s had gathered an off-putting queue to his salt and vinegary portal so we passed by and headed more purposefully into the main town. Which was very pleasant. A bustle of tourists such as ourselves provided the necessary atmosphere as we peeked into gift shops, upmarket fish restaurants, bookshops, gazed across the estuary to Rock, looked in more fish restaurants and generally took in a pleasing selection of independent food and seaside fashion stores.
As the rain abated and raw sunlight made its first tentative appearance of the day, we became captivated by an open-sided fish & chip restaurant overlooking the harbour – and enjoyed a table en plein air but just enough under cover to be sheltered from any further squalls. As it turned out, this particular establishment was not part of the Stein Empire but was just as good as, at half the price, according to an apparently knowledgeable tour-guide who was queuing with her tray alongside our own.
Following our battered haddock lunches, The Tourist Office proved helpfully knowledgeable about local overnight campsite prospects – although we weren’t really in need of electric hook-up, let alone swimming pools, childrens’ entertainments or onsite (fish!) restaurants and bars. “Ah!” exclaimed our host as if inspiration had suddenly struck, and followed up rather rhetorically with “I wonder if Jessica’s is open at this time of year?”
Passing over a mobile number scribbled onto a Post-it note, she biro’d a vague circle on the top sheet of her pad of tear-off town maps, to denote the field which presumably belonged to Jessica. With grateful thanks we rang the number and left a voicemail, followed up swiftly by a text message to say we’d left a voicemail (I am nothing if not my father’s son) and headed back towards the van.
Although we’d undertaken a fair amount of Cornish exploration on our trip, we had sadly discovered virtually no lobster available for consumption, so were naturally curious about the existence of the National Lobster Hatchery, occupying a prominent site almost adjacent to our parked van – and with time still left on the parking ticket, we decided to risk the entry fee and check it out. As semi-interesting static-display panels go, there was plenty to look at, with the walk-though experience punctuated by glimpses through magnifying glass domes to witness the occasional sad, lonely but at least live lobster waving its antenna and chelipeds at us. (See, it was informative!)
Further into the display we encounter an enthusiastic volunteer who talks us through large gently-circulating seawater tanks full of minuscule, semi-transparent lobster fry, floating randomly past our gaze as if enjoying an oversized submersible fairground ride. Further on, we witness the development stages of this fascinating marine crustacean, until they become mature enough to be returned to the wild, wild sea – often by the very fishermen who will hopefully harvest their grown-on forms in several years’ time.
Without any response from Jessica, we trundle a short distance out of Padstow and – sure enough – at the biro’d spot on our town map, we find an open-gated field clearly laid out for camping. With just one unoccupied vehicle in residence, we park up and get the kettle on. We’re then shortly visited by a beslippered lady who we presumptively greet as Jessica, to discover this is in fact Jessica’s Mum, looking after the field while Jessica besports herself on holiday in Toronto, so no real surprise that she didn’t pick up. (It further turns out that digits were transposed on our Tourist Office note, so Lord alone knows who received our bizarre phone message and text, or why, out of sheer curiosity, they hadn’t called back!)
Anyway, we negotiate for a single overnight stay, skid the van helplessly up the greasy-grassed field (in reverse!) to a better viewpoint over the distant River Camel, and not only continue with our tea-brewing activities but launch yet another tentative drone test-flight, from which we discover what a filthy roof we present to the aerialised world. As evening fell, we walked the short distance back into Padstow to conduct a gentle and unremarkable pub-crawl in several hostelries before returning to the van for a deserved cheese and wine supper – beneath a very dirty roof.
And no. Despite our best efforts we didn’t get to clap eyes on Rick Stein.