Actor Stephen Mangan talks early holiday memories in Ireland, recent experiences in Cornwall and the finer points of learning to surf with the “legs of John Cleese”.
Photo: Mark Pringle
Celtic adventures and sandwiches on tap
We didn’t go to Cornwall when I was a kid. My parents were Irish so all trips west were to County Mayo. It was a 24-hour journey. Drive to Liverpool, nine-hour overnight ferry to Dublin and then a six-hour drive to the west coast. It felt like we were travelling to the other side of the planet. We always stopped in the middle of the Irish leg of the journey for sandwiches, in Longford at the Longford Arms, and every year it was always the same – they weren’t serving food at the time we got there. “Can we have some tea and sandwiches?” “No, we’re not serving food now.” Every year.
Our never-varying trips to Ireland meant I never holidayed as a kid in Cornwall or Wales or Scotland. I still haven’t experienced many of the delights Wales and Scotland have to offer but I have spent quite a lot of time in Cornwall. And, do you know what? Despite the clear lack of Irish people and the weird all-day availability of sandwiches, it’s pretty good.
The wrong legs for surfing
We can leave London early Sunday morning and be swimming in the ocean by lunch. We were last at Watergate Bay in October and that meant I needed to wear a wetsuit which, let’s face it, is not a tremendous look for a middle-aged man like me. I looked like a bin liner full of yoghurt on legs. Very long legs. Ninety per cent of my height is legs. Legs of John Cleese, body of Warwick Davis. In fact, legs that mean surfing will never be for me. My nine-year-old took lessons every day and within minutes was standing up on the board. This is because he has reasonably normal proportions. My leg-to-body ratio means that bit when you catch a wave and you leap into a crouch on the board… That’s never gonna happen. With my legs it’s like trying to collapse a stepladder, throw it up onto the board, open it and then climb up it. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Luckily I had my six-year-old with me and so could pretend I was ‘only’ bodyboarding to keep him company. Once he’s old enough to surf I’ll be able to use our now one-year-old as the excuse and then we’ll just have to keep having more children at regular intervals to explain why I’m not surfing with the cool kids.
So if one day you see me at Watergate Bay aged 85 with a bodyboard and a five-year-old, you’ll know why.
Cornwall and Ireland, the best of both
I now split my spare time between the west coast of Ireland and the north coast of Cornwall – they are both utterly glorious. Ireland has the village pub in which I’m related to 80% of the clientele; Cornwall has Watergate Bay. It’s a win-win. Wales and Scotland will just have to wait.
Book your stay at Watergate Bay Hotel online or call 01637 860543.