Why Cornwall is the perfect place to grow old

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Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Octogenarian author ELizabeth Mapstone tells is why Cornwall is ideal for living life to the full in later years

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Getty Images/Ingram Publishing - Credit: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

No one should imagine that my late husband and I left Cornwall because it had lost its appeal. An absurd idea! No, we finally left the county nearly five years ago because our options had become decidedly small, and moving to Oxford where we had both been students seemed the best option. By this time, my husband was 90 and frail, and I was in need of medical care. If we had not fallen in love with a gloriously isolated house between Tintagel and Boscastle, nearly a mile up a rutted farm track forty years earlier – and if we had given in to the obvious demands of increasing disability – then we would undoubtedly have found somewhere comfortable and practical nearby. However, we delayed until clearly the best option was to move nearer family.

My husband John Tyerman Williams died nearly a year ago now, and I am returning to mark the anniversary with old friends in Cornwall. He spent nearly 60 of his 96 years there, and only Oxford had enough charm to entice him to move – great libraries and giant intellects like his own. But his extraordinary courtesy allowed him to listen to people of all ages and all abilities without their ever feeling devalued - so my return to the county where we lived together for so long will be a home-coming.

Walking is one of Cornwall’s greatest pleasures, and even as I was developing arthritis, we would find walks along the cliff that were possible for both of us. Or we would go for long walks through the woods, perhaps even getting in the car, and going to Golitha Falls some miles away. This glorious place has now been easier for those who simply cannot

walk on difficult terrain, with flat paths and comfortable spots to sit.

Dr Elizabth Mapstone

Dr Elizabth Mapstone - Credit: Archant

More energetic walkers can make their way upstream for some miles, well worth the effort for spectacular views.

For years we both went swimming in the sea. Near Tintagel, low tide is usually essential, but Boscastle is wonderful at any time, as you can swim off the rocks and round almost to the open sea. I have friends who used to venture out towards the enormous rock that apparently hides the harbour from boats at sea, but my experience is that at a certain point you can find yourself being carried away up the coast – something to avoid!

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Swimming near the mouth of the harbour is quite blissful. If you are lucky, you may even find you are being accompanied by a seal.

There are times, of course, when the sea becomes dangerous, and a sensible person makes sure s/he is aware of this. The surface can suddenly change,

and the edges of the water suddenly move deeply up and down. Though this might seem exciting, it is a warning: get out now, before you find you simply can’t. Even strong swimmers cannot fight the power of the ocean. John had been a horse-rider for many years before we met, and I managed to keep my fear of the animals a secret until one day I was trapped by his beastly creature, who was perfectly aware that he inspired terror! John however saw the dangers, and immediately challenged his wretched horse until it had to accept that his master was in charge, permanently. I stayed

safely out of reach from then on, while John would ride to hounds all over the county, sometimes coming home across the moor in the dark, even trusting the animal to avoid life-endangering bogs that he could not see. He was almost ninety before he finally gave up.

Theatre was how we got to know each other, after we kept meeting at local art galleries or friends’ get-togethers. He had been an actor before giving it up to care for his first wife – and perhaps he enjoyed finding someone who really did love theatre as he did. We began attending theatres together as often as we could, going as far as Exeter or Plymouth or Truro, to see Imelda Staunton before she was famous, or the splendid group Fascinating Aida. It was losing his hearing that made John give it up, and these days I understand his frustration.

Cornwall has a great deal to offer even the aged – especially if you keep well. It is perhaps no surprise that more people retain their faculties for longer in the county than anywhere else, as there are so many things to do that will keep you fit. I enjoy being near Oxford now, as it is near my family, but I shall be glad to visit Cornwall again and to remember my husband with old friends.

Elizabeth Mapstone is the author of The Porcupine’s Dilemma available now.

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