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Byline: JON BIRD

TEETERING on a cliff edge, 150ft above crashing waves, our lives were hanging by a thread.

Clipped to finger-thick overhead wires that spanned the 300ft-wide Cornish cove, my 11-year-old son Luke and I were about to take a ride on "Europe's longest, highest and fastest zip line".

Instructor Carl had been full of encouragement - "Think happy thoughts, think Peter Pan" - but my heart was still trying to escape through my chest as I stepped off the platform.

An exhilarating icy blast smacked our faces as we zinged down the wire and up towards the opposite cliff. Moments later we had stopped sliding back and forth and were lowering ourselves 40ft on to Lusty Glaze beach in Newquay.

Now I could think happy thoughts - how I felt like a portly Peter Pan, knowing part of me would never grow f up, and that even on our fourth visit in five years Cornwall was still full of surprises. The Bird family's migration to the rugged, rolling and thrilling toe of England was early this year. We were part of the first big wave of summer visitors to land on its shores.

But first there was trial by car -350 miles in nine hours with traffic jams, rain, fog and four utterly fed-up boys.

The passengers cheered when we eventually arrived at our home for the week, Haven Holiday's Perran Sands park at Perranporth.

In no time we had settled into our spacious, comfy and heated static caravan and Sam, nine, had planned the evening's entertainment. "Dr Who then a spot of clubbing," he suggested.

Clubbing at Haven was a family affair, with trips to the Showbar for bingo, kids' party dances and a chance to meet Rory the Tiger and his muckers.

There was also some quality cabaret from the likes of resident band Hot Property and the Moscow Circus. We would have been regulars there had the days not been so action packed and tiring. You see, the dank fog of Saturday soon lifted and the weather just got better and better.

The next day I strolled through the wind-brushed marram grass of the camp's sand dunes and, from the clifftop, spotted the tiny figures of hardy surfers bobbing around in the sea. I thought they were mad.

But by Monday the lure of the turquoise waters at the spectacularly beautiful Kynance Cove, near Lizard, was irresistible and three of us squeezed into wetsuits and went bodyboarding.

A winding path took us from a barren clifftop car park, over boulders and past towering walls of red and grey granite before depositing us on the silvery sand of the sheltered cove. The waist-deep water in May was bracing but the thrill of riding waves made it worth any discomfort.

The secret of surfing, like comedy, is timing and being naturally over eager doesn't help. Sam and Luke were far more successful.

We also visited the equally beautiful little beach at Trebarwith Strand, near Tintagel, and Lusty Glaze where the surf was excellent.

These small coves were a revelation but staying at Perran Sands you have a majestic, broad sweeping beach and fabulous Atlantic rollers on your doorstep.

But even if you're not blessed with brilliant weather, don't worry. Cornwall, and the holiday park in particular, has plenty to offer.

Perran Sands not only has swimming pools, go-karting and crazy golf but also stacks of activities. My six-year-old, Gabriel, took swimming lessons on three mornings as well as trying his feet at some football training.

Sam and Luke had fencing and archery lessons and I joined them for a session using aqua-jets in the pool under the careful super-vision of the magnificently-named sports manager, Chris P Chicken.

The jets are like giant handheld fans which propel you through the water rather like James

Bond in Thunderball. But as they are very popular, sessions need to be booked early in a stay.

Away from the park we had excellent trips cycling the Camel Trail, visiting Newquay Zoo, going down a tin mine and trying a Victorian murder case.

The trail follows the Camel River as it widens from river to estuary. The easy five-and-a-half mile journey from Wadebridge along a former railway to the pretty town of Padstow took us through dappled sunshine' railway cuts littered with red campion, foxgloves and centranthus, and a slate gully. By Padstow we had done enough exercise to deserve fish and chips from Rick Stein's chippie on the quay. Like the aqua jets, the Camel Trail is popular and bikes need to be booked in advance. Try Bridge Cycles on 01208 813050.

The zoo (pounds 28.50 family ticket) is relaxed and well laid out with generously-sized animal enclosures, a minimal number of cages and informative talks. There are also trails for kids and unusual creatures such as the fossa, a cat-like relative of the mongoose.

But the undoubted highlight of our visit was getting the chance to see the African lions Connie and Ronnie in action.

Two papier mache zebras, made by local students, containing meat had been put in their enclosure and they were dispatched with a few mighty swipes of Connie's massive paws.

If it's wet the 150ft descent into the Poldark Mine (pounds 19 family ticket), near Helston, is a good option as it will, if nothing else, make your kids appreciate how lucky they are not to be living in 18th century Cornwall. For 80 years boys and men spent 12 hours a day, seven days a week, excavating blue/grey tin oxide from the granite and manhandling it to the surface where women and girls using sledgehammers smashed it into a powder. Every 100 tons of rock produced a meagre one ton of tin. On a happier note, 40ft below the surface a mine chamber now has a postbox and hosts weddings - presumably for those deeply in love.

Before we left Cornwall we were called up for jury duty at Bodmin's Shire Hall (pounds 8 family ticket) to try Matthew Weeks for the murder of Charlotte Dymond, who was found with her throat slit in 1844. After the fascinating reconstruction we were asked for our verdicts. The case was leakier than a sieve and we all pressed the not guilty button.

In real life the farm worker was less fortunate and four days after his conviction he was hanged outside Bodmin jail. A visit to the court's grim and cramped holding cells merely intensified our sense of injustice.

But, rather selfishly, my overwhelming feeling of unfairness was at having to leave Cornwall.

A wonderful destination whatever the weather but, after a week of sun, arguably as magnificent as anywhere in the world.


PERRAN Sands Holiday Park has self-catering accommodation from the luxurious Gold to economical Star. Prices include entertainment and use of facilities.

Autumn breaks are available from pounds 79 for a midweek break, or pounds 89 for a threenight weekend break (based on a family of four in three-star self-catering caravan accommodation). A week in the summer holidays costs around pounds 719 for selfcatering in standard accommodation.

For full details visit haven or call 0870 242 2222 or direct to the park on 0870 4050 1 44.


BIRD ON A WIRE: Luke gets ready to ride the zip cable' PAT'S HELPERS: Sam, Luke and Gabriel at Poldark Mine postbox' EVERYBODY'S GONE SURFING: The beach at Trebarwith Strand and, right, Hank Bird
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 26, 2006
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