The tiny village of Morwenstow lies on the North Cornish coast near the seaside town of Bude. It’s main claim to fame is that it was the home of the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker (1803 -75), a wonderful eccentric who came to the village as a young man, having finished his studies at Oxford. As an undergraduate, he won the Newdigate Poetry Prize and married his rich godmother, many years older than him. In 1834 he became the vicar of Morwenstow and spent the rest of his life in what was then a desolate country parish on the storm-swept coast. The coast is still desolate in the winter, but these days, Morwenstow is a holiday destination and a place to experience delicious food!
Last Sunday we ate at The Bush Inn in the village. We made for a table in their large garden with a wonderful view of the sea, glimpsed through the lush curves of the valley. Behind us, the inn’s vegetable garden was full to bursting with all manner of delectable eatables. We chose to sit in one of the two covered tables, under a thatched roof with the view ahead of us. It was a very warm but cloudy day, however the lack of sunshine was more than compensated by the Sunday lunch. The roast beef from a local butcher in the nearby village of Kilkhampton was delicious and there was plenty of it. A huge yorkshire pudding accompanied the meat and our charming waiter then produced a large dish of vegetable that included celeriac, parsnips, two types of courgette – yellow and green, and roast potatoes, crisp and done to a turn. All the vegetables came from their productive garden and you could taste it! The gravy was good, too. Very often badly made gravy can let down an otherwise excellent Sunday lunch.
What more could you wish for in England during July? A fabulous view and well-cooked, traditional English food; wonderful. After the meal we walked along the coastal path and made our way to Hawker’s Hut. Looking like a garden shed, built into the cliff side, it’s constructed of ship’s timbers. A slightly forbidding place in its time, it is now owned by the National Trust and the steep path you have to walk down to reach it has been made safe and gives you the most fantastic view of the coast and the Atlantic ocean.
In this small hut, the Reverend Hawker came to meditate, some say to smoke opium and to compose romantic poetry. The hut is full of carvings going back years. Lovers have written their names and the dates of their trysts in the wood. We sat awhile and took in the beauty of the view and tried to evoke the spirit of Hawkins. But he was obviously busy elsewhere on that day, so we walked back to the village and explored the church and the churchyard, populated by local people and sailors who met their end on that ferocious coast.
That took us to tea time and we made our way to the tea shop in the village and enjoyed a sumptuous cream tea with lashings of strawberry jam, fresh scones and Cornish clotted cream. Yum! What struck me about both these restaurants is that, although it is the height of the summer season, there was ample parking and plenty of seats. Everyone we met was friendly and chatty and the service was excellent. The prices were manageable too, particularly if you were feeding a family.
This is what summer eating out is all about. Long leisurely walks by the sea or in the countryside, charming setting and glorious views, pleasant people and lots of smiles to frame your meals. Too often, at our holiday resorts, we have to deal with surly waiters and bored waitresses, managers that don’t give a fig about you and food that is uneatable and hugely expensive. When it works, like it did for us in Morwenstow, it’s wonderful. I hope the delightful Reverend Hawker will be spinning in his grave with joy!