Visiting Cornwall: Recapturing Childhood Memories in Looe
Author: Emma Higgins // March 27th 2016
Almost everyone has one special place they visited as a child time and time again – a place where happy summer memories were made. Perhaps a house by a lake, a campsite in a national park, or – as in my case – a village by the sea.
These were the places in which we made our very first travel memories. Our parents packed our bags for us and laid out the itineraries, all we had to do was have fun and wear eight layers of suncream. We wore jelly shoes, got our daily ice cream all over our faces, and fell soundly asleep in the car on the way home.
Looe is a fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall, the place where I spent many blissful summers. My grandparents were the first of us to fall in love with this part of the UK. They came down to Cornwall a few times a year, and eventually became so enamoured with Looe that they bought a little apartment here.
My grandparents started visiting Cornwall once a month, whenever my grandfather had a weekend off from his work as a doctor. They shared their love for this region with their three children – my mother, uncle, and aunt – and in turn their six grandchildren, my generation.
Days were spent playing boules on the beach and watching my baby cousin chase after seagulls. We would go crabbing off the harbour and shriek with delight whenever we pulled up our lines to find little black crabs with claws clamped to our bait.
In the mornings and evenings I would sit on our apartment’s balcony and look down into the village’s car park, where a merry-go-round was set up each summer. Transfixed by the colourful, flashing lights, I would stare at that merry-go-round, humming along with the clunky tunes it played and longing to ride it.
Even after decades, these memories remain etched in my mind. I went back to Looe in December 2015 for a piece about Cornwall for my book, A Year in the UK & Ireland. It shocked me how much smaller everything looked as an adult. When I was a child Looe felt like a heaving metropolis. Walking down the busy streets with my grandparents back then, barely big enough to brush their knees, I would have to cling onto their hands for security.
Now, fully grown and ambling through the village in winter, if felt like a ghost town. There were no people queuing outside Sarah’s Cornish pasty shop and no sound of flips-flops slapping the pavement. The beach was empty but for a few entrails of seaweed. Instead of a cooling, welcome breeze, the wind was harsh and biting.
It certainly wasn’t the exact version of Looe I remember, but I preferred to visit off-season – the emptiness gave breathing space for my personal memories. There was no one around the trample on my recollections of the Shell Shop, a place where I used to sink my hands into big bowls of glittering husks that smelt of the sea. The vacant beach gave me the opportunity to picture my grandmother striding across the sand in her navy bathing suit and rubber swimming cap. The only commotion that arose during my brief time here was the swirling flocks of seagulls that erupted with noise when the fishing boats came into the harbour.
Places can change and evolve. They can move with the times – update, modernise, and renew – but in some shape or form they preserve memories. Our childhood holiday recollections are particularly unfailing because, for most of us, they were the most carefree times of our lives. We have nothing to do but be happy. Moments like that leave footprints in our minds, and to step back through those trails is to rekindle that feeling of complete joy.
The merry-go-round wasn’t there in Looe’s car park when I visited last winter. I stood next to the space where it’s set up in summer, then looked up to the windows of my grandparents apartment that I could just make out on the hill above. Even though I would have loved to see the merry-go-round’s whirling lights again, I felt the same regardless of its absence. I stood there and smiled, and felt a familiar quiver of excitement ripple through me.
Do you have memories of visiting Cornwall?
Where in the world did you used to holiday as a child?