Sunday, 26 July 2009

Last night I dreamed I went again to ... Millendreath

in which I discover a childhood haunt and a turf war ...

Every Christmas, summer and Easter for our family holidays we went to my aunt and uncle's "private hotel" in Cleveleys on the Lancashire coast. I think this was because at the time my dad worked for a firm of builders' merchants and had done Uncle Bert some kind of favour on the cost of the bathroom fittings which was being steadily repaid in free accommodation ...

I went back recently. It's derelict.

There came a point in the 60's when my mother tired of repeated visits to the same place, plus we'd moved to Yorkshire and my dad got a Ford Zephyr 6 with his new job so we were somewhat more mobile. Which is how there was a dramatic sea-change in our holidaymaking the summer I was eight or nine and we went to Cornwall.

Quite why we chose a holiday complex which had been developed for use by Welsh miners and their families, I don't know, unless it's because my Aunty Dorothy - who accompanied us - lived in Gloucestershire and possibly knew some Welsh people who'd been there.

I hadn't really thought about this much in the intervening period until last Friday while plotting a driving course to the Port Eliot Literary Festival when I spotted the name of a beach on the map and realised it was barely five miles from our 1962 holiday destination.

Which is how, on a wet afternoon, I returned to Millendreath for the first time in 47 years.

It was derelict.

Do we see a pattern forming here?

What did surprise me was how easily I managed to drive there down a series of Cornish country lanes (mostly with high-sided hedges and no view of the countryside) without hesitation, deviation or repetition - using the same kind of instinctive radar as guided Luath the labrador in Disney's 'The Incredible Journey' which I think was filmed more or less the same year.

Channelling the second Mrs de Winter in 'Rebecca' and noting without irony how close this was to Daphne du Maurier territory, I remembered the shape of the high-sided thickly wooded valley, recognised the rocks to the right hand side of the beach where I'd played, and the layout of the valley floor with its scattering of cottages, cabins and lodges each in its own secluded clearing, which even then I recognised as cleverer than - say - Butlins rows of standardised chalets.

Then I sat on the sea wall, shed a few nostalgic tears, and the memories started to flood.

I remember we stayed in a log cabin called 'The Curlew's Call', surprisingly since they're northern birds and there are none in Cornwall. The one next door was "Gitche Gumee" which I think is what the Iroquois called the lake in 'Hiawatha' so clearly the naming was both fanciful, and random.

I remember waking in the top bunk of my bedroom and overhearing my parents and aunt having some conversation in which they were discussing how, in the future and I got to be 18, I'd leave home and probably not want to return. This idea so dismayed me that I burst into tears, and had to be comforted with reassurances and chocolate digestives.

I remember playing 'Telstar' endlessly on the jukebox, learning to dance - with girls - and even on one occasion on a billiard table.

I remember the Club House, to which we repaired each evening after tea, being run by a trim and spinsterish woman who would ring a bell and announce at about 9pm "I have some Cornish Pasties, sandwiches, and soup" as if the news had taken her completely by surprise. I also remember that one night the pasties didn't arrive and there was a near-riot.

I remember the soup of the day was almost always 'Stock Pot' which I tried to replicate when I got home by diluting the minced beef my mother had made for a shepherd's pie.

I remember my father being the life and soul of the party, at least when half-cut, and him teaching the rest of the happy campers to do the Twist. And knowing, from Juke Box Jury, that it had already been supplanted by the Mashed Potato.

I remembered going mackerel fishing and being so disgusted with the gaffing and gutting that when everyone else was having them freshly pan-fried with oatmeal, I had a cornish pasty instead.

Anyway, back to the contemporary dereliction. It really was sad to see how one side of the valley was now covered with those shabby flat-roofed prefab-looking bungalows which have fallen into disrepair in dozens of forgotten British seaside towns.

The valley floor where we stayed had been cleared of the original buildings to make a sizeable car park, in the far corner of which stood an Aston Martin DB9. Quite a new one.

Not far from it was a smartly-dressed man with Hunter wellies and a dictaphone who retreated into the trees every time I got near him with the camera.

With little else to do, I wandered about and came across the village notice board. Alongside the usual parish notices was a vituperative but unsigned 'open letter' criticising the actions of a developer company in shredding some of the vegetation on the less occupied side of the valley, and referring to the landowner as 'the self-appointed new God of Millendreath'.

Scenting sabotage, class wars and possibly the plot of a Cornish murder mystery, I spent an hour on the internet trying to find out what was planned for this once-beautiful but now shabby beachfront. It involves the usual nonsense of different vested interests vying to influence the planning authority in a distant town hall, but the proposals appear to be a clever re-interpretation of the resort which flourished in the 60's.

I guess they'll wait for some more of the inhabitants of the cheap chalets to die off, and the bulldozers can move in.


  1. I also spent childhood holidays at Millendreath in the 60s. We stayed in a cabin called 'Bunnies Hatch' in the wooded valley. Idyllic times, playing in the woods and the rockpools on the,what I remember then as,lovely beach. So sad to hear what's happened, what can we do??

  2. We, too, as a family, enjoyed the very best holidays of our lives at Olive Smith's Millendreath; our first visit being in 1956.
    I am now 61, and my brother Tony, 64. Mum is 87, but Dad died 13yrs ago.
    It was the most fantastic place, and the same people returned year after year to enjoy the company of friends they had first met there, and to enjoy the unique atmosphere and facilities of Mrs Smith's holiday village.
    I remember The Twist, Telstar and everything else mentioned by the previous correspondent, as if it were yesterday. The Beatles arrived on the scene during this period and our best friends, the Jones family, were from Liverpool too. Our fortnight holidays there were always, seemingly , heat-waves and the whole 2 weeks were spent on the beach, in the sea, on the tennis court, and in the evenings, in the Clubhouse. We never needed to leave the complex during the entire 2 weeks.
    We have regularly re-visited Millendreath in the(forlorn)hope that it might return to its former glories. What a tragedy the place is. It will, though, change for the better; notin my lifetime, and not necessarily to the standard it once was(how could anywhere be like it was 50+ years ago?
    These memories are almost a whole lifetime ago, but I am very pleased to hear of others who shared the same love and adoration of this very very special place.
    Clive Hillier.

  3. Pleased to report that things are back on the up. The place is being tidied up, aras cleared and cleaned. People are buying again and making their places nice. Lets hope the developer delivers (but not too much that he turns it into Blackpool!!)

  4. We had our family holiday in Millendreath for many years from the mid 80's into the 90's. We were staying near Newquay two years ago so we stopped in and saw what a state it was in - very sad.

  5. A p.s. to all of these letters.I am that older brother,see above.
    Try as I will I cant find anyone's holiday snaps from those heady days.The camera had been invented then so there should be thousands,I have several.If there are any about please post them here.
    Tony Hillier

  6. We have spent whole long beautiful days on that beach with our boys, 4 and 1, whilst staying at the holiday cottaages just outside the valley - up the steep steps on the left with the beach behid you. Everyone said, you won't want to go near there, ts derelict, but all the boys needed was the beach, especially the rock pools...let's hope when it's redeveloped the simple beauty of the place isn't messed around. I do think peoppe would love some simplle affordable rentals ( the entertainment you describe sound perfect for proper family holidays...) there but I guess they may aim it at richer couples market. Let's hope not.

  7. Hello anon and other Millendreath fans

    You'll be glad to hear that the chalets are being done up, but only a few at a time. There's 5 being refurbished for this year and you can rent them through Cornish Collections at still reasonable prices.

    I'm certainly going to be first in the queue and taking the grandchildren down to enjoy the freedom. There's not many places you can still do that.