Travel

I DID IT ALL FOR THE NEWQUAY

I’ve always wanted to try surfing. Living nowhere near the coast and never holidaying near a beach with good waves has sort of got in the way though. Luckily, I had three weeks to kill before I started my new job, so I decided to go for it. I didn’t get to do the stereotypical Newquay summer trip that a lot of British secondary-schoolers do, so it seemed like the perfect place to go for a mini-sabbatical.

Sunset at Fistral Beach in Newquay

The train from London takes over five hours, minimum. If you want to do it on a budget, you can get a coach and it’ll be nearly eight hours. But I’d been on enough miserable Megabus trips to decide against the latter.

The train ride over is stunning, once you’re past Reading. There are rolling hills, beautiful woodlands, wild horses, and amazing views of the English Channel as you ride a few meters from the shore. I don’t have a polarising filter on my phone so this was the best picture I was able to take (on the way home).

View of the English channel from a train along the south coast of England

Then, way past Plymouth, you transfer trains at a station called Par and London starts to feel even further away. First, the train guard walks along the carriage and asks if you want to stop at any of the local stations, kind of like ringing the bell on a bus. Then, you pass through a village called ‘Luxulyan‘, which sounds like a housing estate in Mordor. Then there’s the strange sensations of being on a railway that passes practically through people’s gardens, so every once in a while you’ll be chased by a local dog.

I didn’t realise how far the South West of England stretches. It just seems to go on forever. I checked and found that from my London flat, Germany is only a few miles further than Newquay.

Eventually, we outran the baying hounds and arrived in Newquay. I walked for around 15 minutes to my hostel, St. Christopher’s, where I had a private room booked. These guys had a deal including accommodation and surf lessons for about £60 a night. Unfortunately I hadn’t paid enough attention to the small print and found out on arrival that the deal only applied to guests staying in one of the 10-bed dorms. Surf lessons were an extra £60. Fail. Still, this was the view from my room so it felt like the right decision:

Towan Beach Newquay

My first night was great. I pitched up at Belushi’s, a sports bar underneath the hostel, and settled in to watch the Wimbledon and England lose to USA in the World Cup. Later I was joined by a group of travelers (who had the reddest eyes I’d ever seen) and we chatted about our favourite travel destinations, until they abruptly left to find biscuits and chicken wings. Shortly afterwards I met an old couple from Sheffield on their holidays and we discussed the steel industry and the Royal Mail in great detail. Variety is the spice of life.

Being woken up every half hour by the noise from the dorm rooms was enough to convince me my costly mistake was worth it. The party quieted down by around 3am so I was able to get two solid hours until I was woken again. This time by my new mortal enemies. Fucking seagulls.

Man, pigeons can be annoying but they’re generally quiet about it. Seagulls are next level. Not only do they love to camp right outside your window, they are also the noisiest animals I’ve ever heard. Both mornings, around 4.55am, I was shook awake by Mrs Seagull shouting to her mate across the bay about fish or something. I later discovered that seagulls aren’t just assholes to you. Oh no, they’re assholes to each other too:

Seagulls fighting on top of a pub sign

I woke again at 7am. Sleep-deprived and with my ear drums in recovery, it was time for my first surf lesson. I can’t speak about the other surf schools in Newquay, but Escape were fantastic. It’s run by Mike Young and Reubin Pearce, both ex-professional surfers, champions, and all-round nice guys. The facilities were really nice and all the equipment modern and in good shape. I’d never surfed before, but as a wearer of skinny jeans, I was at least fully prepared for getting the wet suit on.

Surfing went well. It was even harder than I expected it to be and I fell off a lot. But near to the end of the two hour session on Towan Beach, twice I managed to ride a wave all the way back to the shore. The feeling of being completely at the mercy of the sea is amazing and I felt grateful to the waves for not body slamming me into the seabed again.

I had another two hour lesson the next day on Fistral Beach but the waves were nowhere near as good. Just like any hobby, if you want to get good at surfing you need to be doing it a few times a week. A twelve hour round trip to Newquay is probably going to be a barrier here. My burgeoning career as a pro surfer will have to be put on hold.

Surf students posing on the beach

That night I was absolutely knackered. Seagulls and surfing really take it out of you. But I was ready for food. I had read about a local restaurant called Wet Dog Pizza that had a 20″ pizza challenge and I was pumped for it. Fresh from my surfing glory, I headed confidently to their pizzeria to claim my inevitable victory, and found I chose the one day of the year they were closed for building work. Wet Dog Pizza team, if you’re reading this, your pizza looks amazing. Please post me one so I can be the first to complete the challenge remotely.

Tired and hungry, I headed back to Belushi’s where I had a burger and a salad and went to bed at 10pm. Rock ‘n’ roll, baby. Just before 5am, my feathered pals woke me up again to catch this sunrise outside my window.

Sunrise on Towan Beach Newquay

In the morning, after my second lesson, I had a few hours before my train was due so I waited until the tide was out and headed back to the bay. Excitingly, I found there were a handful of small caves and coves to explore. I spent the next hour as a nautical Indiana Jones, dipping in and out of pitch black caves, taking in the feeling of total isolation and the ever-present danger of the incoming tide or an unexpected cave-in. Then I got a woft of cigarette smoke and rounded a corner to find a half-naked fat guy puffing on a rollie. I was ready to go home.

Cave on Towan Beach Newquay
Weathered ancient steps on Towan Beach Newquay
Inside a cave on Towan Beach Newquay
Mansion on top of a cliff on Towan Beach Newquay
Cave on Towan Beach Newquay

Newquay was brilliant and I’ll definitely head back there again. Getting the train was easy enough but I think I’ll drive next time – there’s a lot to see in the surrounding areas and relying on public transport is only suitable for the most patient of people. For now, I’ll stick with being disappointed at waiting more than three minutes for a Victoria Line train.

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