It’s less than a mile from the holiday park where we used to spend our Easter breaks in Cornwall, but Three Mile Beach – named for the length of Gwithian Beach, which it faces – could not be more different. The contrast is like a gelato versus an ice lolly, a girls’ night out versus a parents’ evening.
My family and I (six of us, if you include the dog), have come here to enjoy what might be our last summer holiday together before my eldest – my daughter, Phoenix – turns 18. This summer, she spent a week partying in Spain: her first overseas holiday with friends, and without parents. I’ll admit: even though she messaged and called every day, I’ve never spent so many late-night hours glued to “Find My Phone.”
Next year, who knows whether she’ll want to spend her summer with us. The years are slipping away, and our days of family holidays are likely numbered.
I cherish the memories of past holidays and I’m aware that my less-than-favourable images of those long-ago trips to Cornwall (Phoenix was just eight months old when we first took her) have been coloured by the fact that they occurred during a period when I was, quite literally, churning out babies – three in 37 months.
Each year, I was either pregnant, or breastfeeding, or both – often while trying to restrain an escaping toddler. The weather was, almost without exception, lousy. We always went with other couples, few of whom had children. The men – all friends through work – surfed while their wives dozed, read, or chatted on chalet steps with vats of wine. None of these were activities in which I could, at that time, participate.
“Don’t you just enjoy seeing the children running about and having fun, though?” my husband once asked me.
I recall glaring at him incredulously.
“That is what I do every single day,” I replied. “And at home I get to do it without having to bathe them in a miniscule sink or cook in a kitchen that’s even smaller and more useless than ours.”
Let’s blame the hormones because, with hindsight, those holidays were part of the beginning of something: our family’s love of the coast, which was compounded by many trips to my hometown of Sydney. As a family of beach lovers, we’ve surfed, with varying levels of prowess, everywhere from Bondi to Byron and from Wales to Weligama (in Sri Lanka).
Phoenix’s first time riding a wave was at the age of three. I sat on Sydney’s Manly Beach with her little brother, watching as she lay on her stomach and her father guided the board to shore.
“I remember it was so fun,” she says. “On later trips, I knew it was something I wanted to be able to do – and seeing girls in Sydney coming to the beach, straight from school, to surf, seemed so cool. I think I’d have loved to grow up like that.”
Regrettably, although I’m the Australian parent, I’m not the driving force when it comes to surfing. As much as I love being in the water, I’m not dedicated enough to get up early for the good waves – and Phoenix is a little like me in that respect, while her brothers and father have a bit more gusto for pre-breakfast excursions.
There’s some ribbing about our levels of commitment, but there have been plenty of special times, too – such as when a pod of dolphins rode the same waves as us in Byron Bay. There have also been some worrying moments, such as Phoenix taking a knock to the temple from a stray board in Taghazout, Morocco.
Back at Three Mile Beach, after returning from the Cornish waves in our wetsuits, our eyelashes salt-encrusted, we head to “Careless Whisper” – one of its fifteen candy-coloured beach houses, each of which is named after a song. I’m mildly miffed that we aren’t staying in “Her Name is Rio” (various band members from Duran Duran were the subjects of my crushes at school and I did, to her father’s mirth, suggest naming Phoenix “Rio” at one stage).
The beach houses range in size from two to four bedrooms: there are four in ours, with beds for ten, as well as a spacious, open plan living and kitchen area, with high-end appliances (including a wine fridge) and colourful design touches. Outside, the hot tub, Finnish sauna, barbecue, and generous dining areas almost make me wonder whether the beach is worth the 200-metre walk.
Post-surf, we’re more than ready for the hot tub. Afterwards, we enjoy a delicious, door-delivered meal – seared rump steaks with halloumi fries and a variety of salads – plus a bottle of wine, from which my adult-ish daughter quaffs enthusiastically – from the on-site restaurant Chomp.
The following day, we join a coasteering session with Global Boarders Surf School, organised through our accommodation.
Our surf skills may vary, but we all love jumping off high rocks: the momentary hesitation as our brains register distance; the sharp intake of breath as we jump; the stomach-lurch as we plummet; the shock of the water; the interminable, yet inevitable rise; the moment your face breaks the surface and you grin, blindly, in a direction completely opposite from where your cheerleaders are stationed.
We get more than the thrill of rock jumping on our session with Michelle Kelly. As soon as she begins our safety briefing, I know, instinctively, that she too is a mother of a daughter – or, in her case, daughters. She’s brave, kind, generous, firm, comforting and encouraging – everything I’ve tried to be, over the years, to my girl. She’s also, to my delight, a coastal guru, talking us through lichens, seaweed, and birds; enriching adrenaline with an awareness of the environment that makes such activities possible.
It’s always been important to me to teach my daughter to love her body for what it can do, rather than to focus on how it looks. To concentrate on strength and courage; on doing, rather than posing; to know her worth from within, without the need of a compliment or mirror.
The closeness of our relationship is a gift I’m thankful for every day; the confident, resilient woman she’s becoming is a gift even greater. With A-levels on the horizon, she has her sights set on studying marine biology and is looking into doing so at Sydney University, from which I graduated with law.
“You’ll have even more reason to visit if I’m there,” she says.
After our coasteering session, a pizza oven, complete with dough balls and a variety of toppings, is delivered to our beach home, a service that Three Mile Beach provides for a reasonable fee. Seeing my daughter and sons knead, throw, shout and mock might once have sent me into a “be careful!” flap – but now, I can watch them laugh with a maternal mixture of joy and nostalgia. Kitchen messes can be reversed; years can’t be – but I’m certain, now, that our love of each other, and of the coast, will always bring us back together.
Prices start from £600pp for a three-bedroom beach house for a week’s stay during October half term, based on six sharing, threemilebeach.co.uk