“I can’t feel my toes,” I say and I’m met with a deadly stare from my sister.
It’s been a long year, but with the UK lockdown restrictions eased, we finally made it to the coast of Cornwall for our annual family holiday. We’re on the beach in the sleepy fishing town, the wind is piercing and my sister has her right leg buried in the cold, wet sand.
“You can’t feel your toes?” she snaps.
45 minutes ago, we were paddling in the icy-cold sea with the children, building sandcastles and looking for shells. Now we’re waiting for an ambulance, for a suspected broken ankle.
I say suspected because neither of us are doctors, but somehow, through the sharp wind whistling through our hair and the angry sea smashing against the rocky shore, we heard the stomach-churning snap.
In true pandemic style, our holiday was ruined.
With the patient on the way to the hospital, I decided to keep the children occupied the best way an Aunt knows how.
We wander up from the beachfront and head into the narrow lanes, lined with rows of little white, wonky cottages; smoke billowing out of the chimneys and vibrant flower pots scattered at doorsteps, until we reach the old-fashioned sweet shop, complete with a crooked glazed window. The inside bursting with jars of all shapes and colours.
The children leave with a generous helping of sugar (I suspect far more than Mum would have allowed them) and we take a scenic walk back to our home for the week.
On our walk back, we play Eye-Spy and marvel at all the little fishing boats bobbing on the water; my niece begging for a pasty from every bakery we pass and my nephew spilling his sweets as he mimics the seagulls flying along the harbour.
Later that evening, my sister arrives home from the hospital, with a cast, crutches and some strong painkillers.
I wonder how, with my sister now unable to walk, we will manage to enjoy our staycation without being able to explore the Cornish coastal walks and attractions that tourists know and love so well.
It’s almost winter and the sun sets early, so at 5:30pm the following day, it’s dark and the horizon is dotted with the glowing lights from the stone houses that appear to be carved into the hills. I wheel my sister down the steep, bumpy lane from our cottage to the seafront, the children skipping ahead in their raincoats and bobble hats, splashing in puddles and chasing the seagulls that land in their paths.
The smell of fish and chips waft stronger with each step.
The harbour is draped in brightly coloured fairy lights for as far as the eye can see, creating a dancing rainbow reflection on the water. The sea gently laps at the sides of fishing boats and the swarm of gulls point me to the fishermen hauling in a fresh catch from the old, rusty, red boat.
We buy fish and chips from our favourite fish and chip shop and we sit outside to eat them, the water, birds and fishermen our soundtrack. The hot food warming our bellies against the bitter air and slight drizzle.
For the next 5 days, we holiday at a much slower pace than usual. We eat fresh, creamy, hand-made fudge, visit the local food market and laugh with residents whilst standing 2 metres apart in the queue for the bakery.
We learn about a hidden bookshop tucked away down a quiet lane and spend 30 minutes chit-chatting to the owner about life here, the whole conversation muffled by masks.
We spend our evenings in our rented cottage, watching the fire, drinking hot chocolates and learning about one another. We exchange jokes and we fool around like children, sharing locally made sweet treats.
Leaving Cornwall, it strikes me; we fell in love with this place many years ago for the scenery, the energy and the locals. For how it brings all the people within it together and how it teaches us to switch-off, throw away the itinerary and just be present.
Somewhere over the many years of visiting, we got so distracted by the tick-lists, tourist attractions and fancy restaurants, that we lost sight of the true charm of this place. The charm of just being present.
The slower pace of holidaying during a pandemic, with queues and masks, gave us time to speak to strangers. We were more thoughtful over what businesses we wanted to support with our money and over which experiences were the most important to us. Being ‘stuck’ in the same village for the full week, saw us become regulars at local shops and we were able to enjoy the company of the welcoming owners and residents.
Holidaying during the pandemic, we once again fell in love with the scenery, the energy, and the locals, but most importantly, with each other.
The pandemic didn’t ruin our holiday, it made it.