The place I go to clear my head is Trebarwith Strand, just up the road from Polzeath and near Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall.Over the past 54 years, whenever I’ve had a black dog day or a time in my life where I’m particularly down and unhappy with the world, I’ll drive down there.
It’s literally one road running down to the coast where there’s a cove with a beach. The sea comes all the way up to the street and then, when it’s out, there’s a massive beach and caves. The sun sets behind an island out at sea. It’s a magical place.
From the age of about four, my dad would take me and all the family down there for holidays, and when I turned 17 I started to go down there on my own.
On the rocks to the lefthand side there’s a beautiful pub where you can sit and watch the surfers. Or you can climb up to the right on to a ledge that leaves you cut off when the tide comes in. You’re then stuck there for three hours until it goes out again. I’ve cut myself off on purpose many times. For the first hour it’s fine – I’ll have a Thermos and something to eat – but then I get annoyed with myself. But it forces me to slow down and think.
A few years ago a friend of mine died. It made me realise what I was doing was meaningless. I ended up going missing for two days, heading to Trebarwith. There’s very little reception down there, but when I finally answered a call, it was my brother. He knew I would be sat up there on the rock, watching the world go by and trying to make sense of things.
You see all kind of things while you’re down there; gulls, foxes, even dolphins if you sit there long enough. I’ve sat there in the snow watching surfers, or the lights on the fishing boats at night when they go squid-catching.
I lead a very transient life; I’m away a lot for work and I often don’t know where home is really. But Trebarwith reminds me of my childhood, teenage years and the times I’ve sat there to get through challenges. It’s somewhere I know intimately.
We holiday there every year – I take the kids and we fish in the pools. But in terms of going to escape on my own, I might go twice in a year or nothing for three years.
Its main purpose for me is in extremis. It’s a very angry coast and fits with darker moods. Being there is a bit like asking Turner to do a painting for you. The ferocious sea, aggressive rocks and sun piling through the clouds.