Saturday, 4 June 2011

How to enjoy a Cornish summer

Over the past week, it got increasingly warmer with each day, which created a lot of excitement around town. Of course, any sort of change in the weather causes excitement, since it makes the obligatory meteorological portion of all conversations much more interesting. But this was particularly exciting because it's June already, and we've all been hoping that summery weather might eventually make an appearance here in the southwest of England.

The first trick to enjoying a Cornish summer is being ready, at the drop of a hat, to enjoy warm weather when it arrives--because it might not stay long, and it might not reappear. On days when I am still wearing sweaters and fleeces, it is not uncommon to see people in sleeveless shirts ("vests"), shorts, and/or flip-flops; Brits are ready to take advantage of the sun whenever they can, even if the actual temperature is not all that comfortable. To this end, always wear a sleeveless shirt or t-shirt layer underneath all your warm clothes, and keep your diving/snorkeling/swimming gear in the trunk of your car so you can make a quick getaway when needed.

The second trick is avoiding sun block at all costs, and, if possible, applying liberal amounts of suntan oil. Because sunny days are hard to come by, you will want to get as tan as you can, as quickly as possible. Yesterday the weather was absolutely spectacular, and on my way home from work I passed many people who were heading home from the beach with record-breakingly red skin and unbelievable tan lines. (If you're not a native to Cornwall, you may find this view nearly as painful as a sunburn itself.)

The third trick is heading to a beach as soon as you possibly can. If the best weather falls on a work day, you might want to call in sick or come up with a good excuse not to go to the office; I know plenty of people who actually do this--especially when the surf happens to be good. Keep in mind that you are still in Cornwall, so once you're at the beach you're likely to run into some wind. Thus, you might consider taking along a screen to create a wind break for yourself:

If you're really lucky, it will be so warm that you might even need to generate some shade. If this is the case, it's always a good idea to take along an umbrella.

This is especially useful if you have babies, or are an indigenous Brit, very few of whom have the genes that allow for an intermediate stage between "pasty" and "well done."

Regardless of the air temperature, if you're on a beach and it's sunny, you're probably going to want to go swimming. If you're a true Brit--and, most especially, a true Cornishman--you will get in the water in your swimsuit ("swimming costume") and frolic just as happily as if you were sitting in a hot tub. But if you're sane, you will don a wetsuit in order to make yourself a bit more comfortable.

("Comfortable" here being a relative term, since wetsuits can be a nightmare to put on, and may be uncomfortably warm until you immerse yourself in the water.)

You might also consider grabbing a mask and snorkel so that you can take in some of the underwater scenery. But beware--if the water hasn't warmed up sufficiently, swimming around face-down can give you a serious ice cream headache.

Speaking of ice cream, there is no better time to indulge in a little Cornish cream ice cream than when you can have it hand scooped and served from one of the ubiquitous ice cream trucks that can be found near most local beaches. If you're feeling adventurous, you might try a special concoction such as that assembled at Falmouth's Swanpool Beach Cafe--Cornish cream ice cream topped with actual Cornish cream, topped with coconut flakes. It might take you a while to get used to ingesting all that fat in one go, so start small. If it's too much for you to handle, you can always feed it to a gull--they're never far away.

If you're feeling in the mood for a savory treat, you could grill some food instead. Trick number 5 for enjoying a Cornish summer is to try catching your own food by the seashore. If you like diving, you might be able to collect some scallops; or, you can arrive at the beach at low tide and find the scallops a bit closer to hand, along with razor clams. The rest of the time, you can catch a variety of tasty fish--most especially mackerel--with a fishing rod, or even just using a string with a few hooks attached. Along the seashore you can forage for plenty of edible accompaniments, including seaweed that you can use if you'd like to grill your fish en papillote; I'm told that this is particularly delicious when you stuff the fish with scavenged leeks/garlic/onions/mustard.

Alternatively, you can stop by the market on your way to the beach and bring along more traditional fare, such as burgers and sausages. Don't forget to pick up a disposable grill, which is the cooking implement of choice on most Cornish beaches:

It's easy to stuff yourself full of beach food, so trick number 6 is to bring along your dog. After eating, give yourself a bit of a rest period in order to start the digestive process, then speed the process up by taking your dog for a walk or romping with it along the shore.

If you don't have a dog, perhaps you can bring a child. They are always good for a little excitement. For instance, they always seem to be taking off their clothes and running around naked, so you will have the opportunity to burn a few calories while hunting for all the garments they've strewn along the shoreline.

Many of the best Cornish beaches can be difficult to get to, requiring harrowing drives down winding, hedge- and stone wall-lined country roads. You may have to park far away and then hike to the beach while toting all your gear. Thus, trick number 7 is to stay patient and mellow, and perhaps use a GPS system to help you find your way. You might also use one of Britain's many public footpaths, or even the Coastal Path, which will allow you to take in the beautiful scenery along the way.

The route will likely be well-marked, preventing you from becoming lost--but if you do get confused, there is probably a friendly local nearby to help offer some directions.

(Florian de Fal on his first Cornish outing.)

While you could do all this alone, it's more fun if you have some company, so trick number 8 is to involve as many friends as possible. Always try to invite at least one friend with a watercraft of some sort, just in case you want the option of enjoying the water while not actually getting wet.

The absolute most important thing to remember about a Cornish summer is that you never know when it's going to arrive or how long it's going to last. Today it was 25 degrees C (77 degrees F) and sunny, tomorrow it's supposed to be 18 degrees (64 degrees F) with thunderstorms. For all we know, this was the warmest day we're going to get all summer. So, if you're in Cornwall between March and October and see a decent weather forecast on the horizon, it is imperative that you remember trick number 9: Seize the day! Put away your work and go out and play, even if it's just for an hour--since it may be the best hour of the season, you have to take advantage of it while it lasts.

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