When I was growing up in Cornwall in the 1960s and 70s, Padstow was a typical Cornish fishing port backed by a picturesque warren of narrow streets where tourists wandered around enjoying cheap and cheerful Cornish treats such as pasties, fish and chips, ice cream and fudge. Nothing fancy in other words. All that changed, however, with the opening of TV chef Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant, an upscale eatery offering something rather more sophisticated than battered cod. Stein subsequently put Padstow on the map with his TV series, in which, along with the cooking, his mischievous dog, the late lamented Chalky, was seen getting up to no good against the gorgeous backdrop of the Camel Estuary. Stein added to his empire with a string of other businesses, including a second restaurant, a delicatessen and an upmarket fish and chip takeaway, and soon people were jokingly referring to Padstow as ‘Padstein’.
An unfortunate side effect of all this is that Padstow has become a very expensive place to live. I remember a certain restaurant critic once sneeringly observed that there were no locals eating in Stein’s flagship restaurant when he visited. Well, that may just be because the locals can’t afford it, nor can they afford the increasingly sky-high property prices in the area. In 2007 both Stein and Jamie Oliver, another famous chef running businesses in Cornwall, were threatened by Cornish nationalists incensed at their inflationary influence on the county.
Anyway, that’s enough of that. In Elizabethan times Sir Walter Raleigh used to hang out in the town while serving as Warden of Cornwall. By the 19th century Padstow was a thriving commercial port, although larger vessels were prevented from using it because of the Doom Bar sandbank (see previous post). A ferry links Padstow to Rock, avoiding a long roundabout journey via Wadebridge, and in summer there are boat trips, including a ‘safari’ option to see seals and other wildlife. Down by the harbourside is the National Lobster Hatchery, which aims to safeguard the lobster population with its conservation work. St Petroc’s church in the centre of town was built in the 13th century, and its features include a memorial to Sir Nicholas Prideaux, who built the 16th century Prideaux Place, just outside Padstow, an Elizabethan manor with a deer park.
Padstow has a number of events during the course of the year, but probably the oldest and best known event is known as the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival, held on May Day. The event is thought to be a relic of an ancient fertility rite traditionally held at the start of Spring. The Oss (horse) is a man dressed in a black ‘cape’ with a grotesque masque who dances around the town trying to grab young girls. I must confess I have never been to Padstow for this event, but I remember being terrified by the idea of it as a child.
For a list of events in the Padstow area follow this link.
|Photo by Simon Huguet, via Wikimedia Commons|