The first Cornish Beach I ever stood upon was Mawgan Porth, on the north coast, roughly mid-way between Padstow and Newquay. It was 1978 or 79, and I remember the tall cliffs at both end and the white tessellated holiday homes crammed into the dark vertiginous cliff walls. There is a photograph of me somewhere with black hair, wearing a red and black checked shirt. I think I may even be sporting a moustache.
These days Mawgan Porth is popular with surfers, and there’s a fashionable new hotel called The Scarlet, boasting a ‘green’ holiday agenda.
I was back there again the other week, for two nights at the low and sprawling Bedruthan Steps Hotel, enrolled on to an embroidery weekend with a group of women who share a passion for Cornwall and sewing. I should add, my stay wasn’t out of choice. It was a commission for a newspaper who wanted a man to spend some time learning girlie stuff. A female writer was handed a more manly assignment.
The women in the group all came with ideas of what they wanted to make. Most planned cushion covers, bags, or wall hangings, that they planned to embellish them with machine embroidered – motifs; furry animals, flowers, toadstools and the like. Pressed on what I would do with my time I suggested something more practical – a camera case with a hand sewn Fulham Football Club badge on the flap.
The course is run by Poppy Treffry, the surname pronounced with an emphasis on ‘fry’ as in fish fry. She’s very Cornish. She grew up in a two up two down on Bodmin Moor, but got herself through art school and now runs an embroidery/textile business in Penzance. I knew she was true Cornish when she told me she’d ordered steak at the hotel’s seafood restaurant. I’ve never met a Cornish person yet who eats fish.
Poppy has boundless enthusiasm. She taught me how to thread and use a sewing machine in the time it takes me to press a pair of trousers. While keeping an eye on what the others were doing she showed me free-hand embroidery: it’s not easy. I found the first day difficult. I kept snagging the machine. I broke two needles and cut myself.
The second day was better, and by late afternoon I’d embroidered an FFC badge in red, white and black, and following Poppy’s instructions, sewn a bag, also in team colours.
The Bedruthan Steps Hotel has a range of courses, from sewing to bread making and basket weaving, throughout the year. They’re good value too. Mine was £324 for the course, accommodation, all meals and some of the best views in Cornwall.
Bedruthan Steps Hotel, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall/www.bedruthan.com