Cornwall vs Devon: A Surfer's Guide
A thorough investigation to determine England's finest surf region
Cornwall or Devon. Devon or Cornwall. That they are two of the finest counties in the land is beyond doubt. Neither is exactly rich in waves but both are comfortably above the breadline, making them suitable stomping grounds for the Great British shredder who refuses to jump ship. But as to the question of which is the finer, I am on the fence.
Surely there must be some scientific way of evaluating the two, and declaring one to be categorically, empirically superior to the other...
Devon has Westward Ho! on the north coast -- the only place name in the British Isles to contain an exclamation mark -- and the town of Chillington on the south, just west of Ballsaddle Rock. And Cockington, come to think of it, raises a smile, as do Lustleigh Cleave and Pennycomequick, even if neither of these last two are coastal.
Still, Devon cannot hope to compete with the likes of Brown Willy, doubly funny because it’s the highest point in Cornwall, funnier still because it gives its name to the ‘Brown Willy Effect’. This is a genuine meteorological phenomenon, believed to be responsible for the flooding of Bocastle in 2004.
What happens is this. When moist winds from the Atlantic slow down due to friction with the land, they are diverted along the central spine of the Cornish peninsula. The moist air converges at the high point of this spine — Brown Willy, standing proud on Bodmin Moor — and becomes rain, which then tracks northeast with the prevailing wind, causing a thin, continuous line of localised and often heavy precipitation that leaves the surrounding area untouched. This rainfall has been known to stretch as far as Burford, Oxfordshire, 145 miles from Brown Willy where it began.
I’m sorry but that was fucking fascinating.
There is more. Just inland from popular beach break Perranporth lies Ventongimps, itself a mere two miles south of Goonhavern. Moving northwards up the coast you’ll find such surf breaks as Lusty Glaze, Booby’s Bay and Crackington Haven (also flooded in ’04 due to aforementioned Brown Willy Effect); on the south coast, meanwhile, Porthleven is a short drive from Water-Ma-Trout.
In the singer-songwriter stakes, noted warbler and keen surfer Ben Howard grew up in Totnes, Devon, while the once ubiquitous James Morrison moved to Newquay as a teenager and plied his trade in local pubs. If forced at gunpoint to listen to one of them, it’s a toss-up between Howard and the bullet.
Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, raised on a Devonshire farm, and Metronomy’s linchpin Joseph Mount, from Totnes, catapult Devon into what would seem an unassailable lead. But wait. Mick Fleetwood was born in Redruth, just a short drive from St. Ives, while Coldplay’s Chris Martin was born in Exeter, and this settles the matter beyond all doubt.
Celebrity chefs are essential to the fabric of any county/duchy/nation. Jamie Oliver has dabbled in Cornwall, setting up a restaurant at Watergate Bay, but the region’s foremost celebrity chef is Rick Stein, whose ever-expanding empire has its headquarters in Padstow (“Padstein", as it’s sometimes called) and outposts in Newquay, Falmouth and Porthleven.
Neither Oliver nor Stein is of pure Cornish stock, however, and both were subject in 2007 to threats from incipient terrorist organisation the Cornish National Liberation Army. Stein, who has family links to Cornwall but grew up elsewhere, was labelled an “English newcomer", and accused along with Oliver of driving up house prices and living costs. "At a unspecified date," said an email sent out by the group, “Rick Stein will himself feel a 'rosy glow' in our Cornish port of Padstow" — a reference both to the CNLA’s arsonous aspirations and Stein’s recent claim that local businesses had benefitted from the “rosy glow" of publicity he brought to the area. The cars of customers were also declared legitimate targets.
What happened next? A few windows were smashed at one of Stein’s Padstow restaurants, an attack for which a CNLA spokesperson later claimed responsibility, adding that members had also “damaged several cars in Morrison’s Supermarket Car Park in Newquay […] which were displaying English flags". Then, as if intentionally courting ridicule, the organisation changed its name to the Cornish Republican Army, in response to copycats claiming to be members. This ingenious solution presumably flummoxed the impersonators, for the group has unfortunately not been forced to change its name again, in fact it has apparently done nothing for several years.
Devon’s leading celebrity chef is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the River Cottage TV and book series. He’s not Devonian by birth and his River Cottage HQ is only just on Devon’s side of the border with Dorset, but he does have a very amiable face (above) and an affable upper-class manner about him, plus his pumpkin risotto (with crispy sage) is superb.
Cornwall has Fistral, Devon has Croyde. Cornwall has Crantock, Watergate, Porthtowan, Sennen, Constantine -- all of which are perfectly decent, respectable, sand-bottomed waves. But Devon has Croyde.
If Cornwall has, on the whole, the better beach breaks — certainly it has more of them — Devon has without doubt the best beach break.