Travel

Our Cornwall Vacation

Cornwall family vacation

Growing up, we spent almost every summer visiting my grandparents in Cornwall, England, and it was easily the most magical part of our childhoods. (The beaches! The boats! The pirate lore!) Now, as adults, we try to take our own children every couple years, and it makes my heart burst. Here are a few photos from our trip last week…

Polruan view of Fowey

We stayed at my grandmother’s house in Polruan, a tiny fishing village, overlooking the harbor.

Cousins

The cousins — aged 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8!

Polruan

Every morning, and many afternoons, my grandmother would sit in her garden and work on her embroidered pillows. She busts out one a month, and my aunt says they don’t know what to do with them all! Here she’s working on a Klimt pattern, as she says “the complicated ones are rather fun.”

Polruan boat ride

Alex and Joanna

During the day, we’d often go on a boat ride into the ocean…

Cornwall family vacation

Other times the kids would go crabbing. (They caught zero crabs, but the attempts were valiant!)

Cornwall family vacation

Cornwall family vacation

And one afternoon, we went on an adventure to Sam’s on the Beach, a restaurant a couple towns over. My great uncle Donald ordered bottles of rosé, and we ate seafood pasta and fish and chips…

Cornwall family vacation

…while the kids played in the sand.

Joanna, Toby and Anton

Cornwall family vacation

Then, most evenings, around 6 p.m. (or “drinks o’clock,” as my cousins say), we’d come together in the garden for snacks and wine before dinner. The kids would run around or watch cartoons, and we’d relax after the day.

Cornwall family vacation

Somehow Alex ends up dressing like another person on every vacation. (Exhibit A, exhibit B.) Here he’s twinning with my cousin, Olivia. Makes me laugh so much.

Cornwall family vacation

We felt so lucky to stay with my grandmother, and I snapped this photo of her bedroom. How beautiful are the purple walls?

English dollhouse

Right next door, in the room where we were sleeping, Anton was playing with the dollhouse my grandfather built decades ago. My grandfather was passionate about every detail, including a grand piano, a miniature cheese plate, and tiny lamps that actually turned on (!).

English dollhouse

Doesn’t it look right out of a house tour?

Polruan ridge

At the end of the week, we flew home to New York, and I got the sweetest email from my aunt: “Now you have all left, the silence is deafening. I’ve been sweeping up sand and the odd lost toy and sock, sticky marmalade patches on the floor, the stinky crab line — and loads of empty wine bottles. The machinery is humming and the dryer buzzer keeps going off. I definitely feel miserable to have the place boringly cleaner and tidier. Sadly it all goes back. We all go back.” Truer words. I’ve been so homesick this week and miss the salty air and soundtrack of seagulls. Please don’t forget about us, Cornwall. We’ll see you in two years! xoxo

P.S. Our past four England trips — Toby and Anton are so teeny.

  1. Debbie Baxter says...

    OH YES THE SEASIDES IN BRITAIN, NOTHING LIKE THEM.! Reminds me of our trip in 20l5 when we visited with relatives unknown because we searched them on ancestry .ca and found wonderful people from our family and now continue to stay in touch and even come to visit us in Vanc BC Canada. Cornwall is one place we want to visit , if nothing else go to where Doc Martin was filmed etc PBS show. How wonderful and lets hope the memories remain in yourselves and our children, always cherished. Cheers DB

  2. Hilleary says...

    What an amazing tradition and set of memories for you and your beautiful family. pS. Love the photo of your husband and great uncle. So happy. Made me smile.

  3. Christina says...

    I hear you loud and clear…I’m UK in the US and I feel as if I have one foot in both countries at all times. Looking through your Cornwall post I feel that homesickness more than ever, even as I’m sitting on my own couch with a glass of wine in my own home in the US! Xx

  4. My boyfriend is from Cornwall, I love it down there! He’s really close to Polruan as well. Next time you’re there you should go to The Rod and Line for scallops — they are INCREDIBLE!

  5. Emily says...

    This is so beautiful. I grew up in a coastal town in Northern California but live in New York currently and have been thinking about and grappling with how I will ever live somewhere as beautiful as my hometown again while still finding interesting and meaningful work in my arts-sector field. I would love to see an article about what it means to move to the big city from a smaller town, or maybe about the process of moving back. As much as I miss home, I already know my heart will ache for here when I’m gone. How do you handle that?!

  6. That comment from your aunt at the end is my heart when my visitors leave <3

    • Sydni Jackson says...

      She said it so poignantly!

  7. Janette says...

    Loving these photos. Never thought I’d cry looking at someone elses holiday pics! I grew up in St.Austell, just a few minutes away from your grandmothers. My part of the family have all moved out of Cornwall now, but we used to take our children down there every other month to stay with my lovely grandparents. We all have amazing memories of the trips. Very sadly my Grandad passed away last September, and my Grandma, who sat vigil at his hospital beside for over a month, followed him almost a month to the day that he passed away. They were so devoted to each other, I honestly don’t know what else she would have done.
    My husband and I have made the 5 hour drive down there once since (dining at Sam’s on the Beach whilst we were there!), and it was so hard to go and know they weren’t there to hug and love. Everywhere we go has amazing memories and these pics make me want to go again- although I’m tear streaked just writing this.
    We can make new memories, to add to the old, tell stories of my lovely grandparents, and our kids can play with my cousins kids and make a whole new load of their own memories…
    Thanks for sharing Jo xx

  8. Willow says...

    Balm for the soul! Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos. Like so many others, this little snapshot of your holiday, and especially your beautiful grandmother, has really warmed my heart. I’ve been trying to figure out why so many of us feel this way and I think, in these troubled times, there’s a simple and timeless joy in seeing happy, loving family gatherings. Which of us doesn’t hope one day to be a peaceful and smiling grandmother surrounded by family?

    Thank you for sharing such light with this blog.

  9. emily says...

    what an amazing little town! i want to go here!

  10. Marty says...

    That is all just so lovely. Thanks for sharing your special family memory!

  11. Catherine says...

    This is strange, but your photo of the cousins lined up has been so comforting to me the last few days . . . my oldest two (of three) kids are 6 and 4. When I looked at the 6 and 4 year old in your photo, THEY ARE TINY! It reminded me that I have 3 tiny children . . . no wonder my life still feels so chaotic (and magical of course). That photo has given me a new license to take a deep breath and be nice to myself and my little wonderful TINY people.

  12. Brooke says...

    That does indeed look idyllic. What a treasure to have that place and all the lovely loves that make it special. Thank you for sharing your photos.

  13. Elena Olson says...

    I love the photos, Joanna! It makes my heart warm! :)
    My childhood dollhouse was similar, though a farmhouse style that my grandfather built me. My childhood passion was decorating it. It, too, had electricity! How I loved arranging the furniture, setting the mini table (flatware and all!) and turning the chandelier and lamps on and off. Most children love small things, but dollhouse love is a very special thing. Anton, I feel the love!!! :)

  14. Annie says...

    Toby is 8?!?!

  15. Tricia M says...

    Hi Joanna,
    So many lovely things there and glad you all had a fab time! LOVE those purple walls, so soft and peaceful, and don’t get me started on that wonderful dolls’ house.
    PS Technically I think, over here, we would call it the sea rather than an ocean but we get your drift (ha ha little pun there).

  16. SFord says...

    So glad you love cornwall. I have the luck to live here. You really had the good weather whilst you were here (not so common). Next time you come over, please take time to visit the Eden Project. They have great activities for kids (and grown ups too) throughout the year where they can learn about sustainability and looking after the planet (no connection, just love taking visitors to the Eden Project!).
    Also, regarding flights, a friend lives in Maine and flies from the US into Dublin, then from Dublin to Newquay which is pretty much in the centre of cornwall.

  17. Marti says...

    Thank you for sharing these! I love your 2-year-visit approach! My husband is British and I’m from California. We live in the UK now, but are planning to move to the US soon and I feel so guilty about the grandparents not seeing their grandkids regularly. It seems so daunting to try to visit every year, but every other year seems doable and perhaps we could convince my husband’s parents to come visit us on the odd years. Cheers!

  18. Ella says...

    Great pictures! A photo of your grandmother is so peaceful and beautiful and the dollhouse is amazing! Thank you for sharing.

  19. Lynn says...

    Random, logistical question how do you get to Cornwall? I’m based in London and the thought of the 5 hour drive to go there means I’ve avoided it for the past 3 years. Do you fly into London and get a hopper flight? I can’t imagine you trecking on the train with two little ones, luggage etc after an 8 hour flight.

    • Tricia M says...

      Hello Lynn,
      Mmm, know what you mean! I have never been to Cornwall either for similar reasons in that we live in the far north of England, near the Lake District. Goodness knows how long it would take us to get there? It certainly appeals and looks gorgeous though doesn’t it?

    • SFord says...

      HI Lynn – Driving to Cornwall is pain. But you can get flights from Gatwick, I believe, to Newquay which is in the centre of Cornwall. There are lots of companies here catering to the holiday maker (at all times of year) who hire out buggies, kids bikes, carrycots etc

  20. Hanna Schmidt says...

    Anton in his life-vest with a perfect knee pop! I love it!

  21. jolene says...

    what a lovely trip.

    as a side, a really interesting post would be to hear from lucy about raising a biracial child. my own kids are biracial and i always feel … all the feels… when we’re at a family reunion and my kids look or are treated differently.

  22. Heather G says...

    Aww, my grandfather built us a dollhouse too when we were kids, carving each painstaking detail. So much love built into a gift like that! I never really understood as a kid how meaningful it was, but now I feel so fortunate that I had a grandpa who would spend a whole year carving tiny bricks and shingles just to make his granddaughters happy.

  23. Christine says...

    Oh your photos make me homesick! I’m from the absolute opposite side of England but I love Cornwall. Now I live all the way away in California and it often feels a million miles from home. Especially today on my birthday. xo

  24. Saviny says...

    Thank you for sharing! What a lovely family vacation. When u got back. I would love it if u could share a snapshot of all the embroidered pillows your grnadmother makes!

  25. Love Sams on the beach – did you know it used to be a lifeboat house? We live just up the road near the other coast but often pop down to Fowey and Polruan (where there is an amazing garden which is often open to the public in June, which goes right down to the waters edge). Next time you come – come surfing on the north coast with our ladies surf club!

  26. Kate says...

    Your sister’s little one is so sweet!

  27. C.C. says...

    That dollhouse! Be still, my heart!

  28. Suzy says...

    Have you ever seen the show Doc Martin? The town in the show reminds me so much of your vacation photos!

  29. Kelsey says...

    What a lovely post about your trip!

    Joanna, I would love it if you did a post about living far away from your family (how do you manage seeing your family in England, your sister in San Francisco, Alex’s family, etc.) I live in a different state than the rest of my family and am constantly struggling to balance trying to see everyone enough and managing guilt for not being there. Would love your insight!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, sometimes it’s so heartbreaking to live far away! we are lucky to have the resources to fly to see them. i also grew up living very far away from relatives (other than my immediate family), so i am used to it, in a way. but i’d love to write more about it and ways to make it work as much as possible. xoxo

    • Violeta says...

      Oh thank you!! I would just love to read about and discuss this. I started off thrilled with the adventure of living away from my family and hometown, but now 20 years later with family of my own, wonder will I ever be resolved to be content to stay away or just finally go back! Feels like I spend at least 10% of my daydreaming on this topic. Look forward to hearing more on this from you Joanna and your wise readers. Thank you!

  30. What a lovely message from your aunt. So sensory. Like a poem. ❤️

  31. I went to Cornwall with my family as a child – this is bringing back so many fun memories!!

  32. cgw says...

    Spied two tiny succulents(?) hanging near the middle of your g’ma’s bed. Is there a particular reason for it, or just because? I love how it’s just hanging about, seemingly randomly in the middle of a bedroom… there’s something so lovely and quirky about it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a sweet observation, i’ll ask her!

    • eg says...

      I thought it was blocks of wood hanging on a rope to help her pull herself up out of bed – which would be so clever!

  33. Genevieve says...

    looks heavenly!

  34. Awww your holidays looks lovely. Me and my boyfriend are currently trying to plan our own holiday in Cornwall. We want to hire a car, camp and travel around the area so I hope we will get to do it. If it’s worth the journey from New York, then definitely doable for two Londoners!

    xx

    A.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!!! that would be so incredible!!!! if you stay near fowey or polruan, walk on the cliff path to lantic bay, it’s *spectacularly* gorgeous. and st ives is supposed to be AMAZING. and i’ve always wanted to go to st michael’s mount. xoxoxo

  35. Looks like such a lovely place to visit – wonderful photos!
    Im going to find it on the map now…curious where it is in England?!

  36. I always love your vacation photo posts Jo! Thank you for sharing the ‘behind the scenes’ of your life with us all, even now that the blog is growing and you’re welcoming more voices. It looks like you guys had a brilliant trip :-)

  37. Beautiful photos, beautiful memories! I wish you can continue having this kind of holidays. They are very revitalizing!

  38. lori says...

    That note. love

  39. Robyn says...

    Cornwall is magical, isn’t it?!? We will be heading there for our annual trip next month, and it is always the highlight of my year. So much fun to see your pictures from your trip!

  40. Julie says...

    just curious, but why does Toby always wear tights/pants? I cant remember a single photo you’ve posted of him that he’s wearing looser, jean type pants…is it a sensory thing?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, he prefers to wear soft leggings that hit at a specific point on his ankle. they’re the most comfortable for him. we like the ones from Primary. https://www.primary.com/

      xoxo

  41. Angela says...

    Oh man, I love this! Your husband’s twinning, your aunt’s tearjerker note, your son playing with the dollhouse!

    Just a thought, looking at these pictures of your husband with your family: Would you consider doing a series concerning in-law relationships? I know they sometimes are wonderful and sometimes are difficult. It would be so interesting to read some personal essays on that topic and this blog does such a good job with that kind of thing!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      absolutely! what a great story idea. thank you, angela.

    • Lynn says...

      Upvote this one!

  42. There’s something comforting about Alex’s loyalty to a blue button up! I would say that the others are dressing like him, and not the other way around…it seems easy to predict what he might wear. Hehe.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, you’re so right, hahahaha.

  43. Such a beautiful note. So bittersweet. What a beautiful place!!