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Tide on the turn for wonderful Newquay

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 07, 2013

  • Picturesque Newquay is losing its rowdy party image thanks to the residents supporting the Take Back Our Streets campaign

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Gillian Molesworth finds Newquay is coming of age and growing out of its drinking culture.

"I'm sorry…did you say Newquay?" I hear you ask. "Let's move to Newquay? Why would I want to move there? It's full of stag and hen parties and free-for-all festivals. I've had my fill of that thank you. You can keep your Newquay."

Readers! You do Newquay a disservice. This is a fine town with a proud history. This is one of the most naturally beautiful places in Cornwall. This is a place where residents are taking a stand for a better balance between nightlife and normality. This is a place with an airport, for heaven's sake! How many Westcountry towns can say that?

Let us first review some of the town's natural attributes and its history. Then, we'll hear from a man who has mounted a crusade to clean up Newquay's streets. Lastly, a property expert will tell us why Newquay is attracting more families and fewer festivals. Don't turn that page.

Newquay lies on Cornwall's North coast, smack in the middle. It boasts no less than nine long, accessible sandy beaches, flanked by green cliffs. Its most well-known beach is probably Fistral, cherished by surfers for its long, clean wave break.

As far as its history is concerned, the hint's in the name. So when was the old quay replaced? In 1439, Bishop Lacey of Exeter gave the medieval equivalent of planning permission to the burghers of Towan Blistra for a New Quay. There we are, one for the pub quiz.

Thus began Newquay's career as a major Cornish fishing port. You can still visit the whitewashed "huer's hut" at the top of the town, where a sharp-eyed sentinel would watch for pilchard shoals. Hearing his cry of "Hevva!" the men on the beaches would launch their gigs and row, row, row, to cast their nets round that most lucrative of fish.

As the fish stocks dwindled through the Industrial Revolution, Newquay's exports shifted to tin, lead, and china clay. There was still a place for those burly rowers – now, they raced to the big cargo ships, to guide them into port for a pilot's fee.

As soon as the railway arrived in the mid-1800s, entrepreneurs clocked Newquay as holiday gold. The late 1800s was the era for Newquay's grand Victorian hotels: the Atlantic, the Headland, the Victoria. Visitors enjoyed fine dining and music to complement their holiday diversions. The turn of the century left many pretty legacies in the town, including Trenance Leisure Gardens, with their landscaped walks, bowling green, tennis courts and boating lake. Many an Edwardian town-house took in respectable guests in this and the decades that followed.

Two wars and the advent of affordable air travel took their toll on Newquay, like most British seaside resorts. The town was still growing larger though, with more baby boomers and less industry to support them. In the 1970s and 80s, money-makers shifted their sights to a promising new market: young adults, pockets jingling with disposable income, and looking for good time. Newquay could become the British Ibiza. Nightclubs and bars proliferated, and festivals with an "extreme" theme were heavily marketed: the Ripcurl Newquay Boardmasters, the Run to the Sun, the Zapcats Fistral Grand Prix.

The upside was a lot of new tourist pounds to prop up the ailing holiday business. The downside was a lot of antisocial behaviour deplored by locals.

From early Friday evening there were lads mooning busses and chanting football songs, and scantily clad girls in devil horns staggering into shops or doing something unpleasant into a drain. Newquay, many a resident would tell you, was going to the dogs.

Well, that's turning around now.

Hotel owner and town councillor John Coltman is passionate about re-branding Newquay.

In 2009 he was an instigator for the Take Back Our Streets campaign, when Newquay residents marched to the Cornwall Council to air their grievances.

"The authorities were very supportive," he said. "The police adopted a zero tolerance approach to unsafe and antisocial behaviour. If a lad was walking around in a mankini, he was immediately made to go and change. If underage children were caught drinking, their parents were called and told to come pick them up, no matter where they had to come from.

"We have seen a massive reduction in antisocial behaviour and it's getting much better.

"Newquay is a wonderful place with beautiful natural surroundings. We've got to get people to understand that it's much more than the stereotypes. St Ives is always winning awards for being people's favourite Cornish destination – we have some work to do yet, but I know Newquay could win it. It's all here."

Indeed, Newquay has a thriving community scene: it has a tennis club, golf course, rowing club, running club, football and rugby clubs. And that's just the athletics.

John says Newquay could learn a few things from Bournemouth, where he lived for years.

"It had a lovely mix of people, with old and young, and students," he said. "They all managed to get along and have a good time, with none of this irresponsible behaviour.

"People have labelled us as anti-nightclubs, but we're not – young people should have fun places to go and enjoy themselves. But it doesn't mean there aren't any rules for how they behave.

"We're now attracting more investment, and getting more restaurants. Newquay is going to get back to being a good place for families."

Dean Lonergan from Stratton Creber's Newquay office agreed that the town's profile was changing. "There is a lot of development going on in Newquay right now," he said. "There are three main developments, including land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.

"New houses have been built even in the past 12-18 months. These do seem to be attracting more families to the town."

"Newquay has a blend of accommodation. There are the older style fishermen's cottages, Victorian townhouses, and modern buildings and developments.

"The town council are trying to turn away from the town's party atmosphere. It does seem to be having a positive effect on investment."

Well, we all know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Among the lads and ladettes were surely some nice young people who treasured in their hearts a holiday in Newquay, and may return here with their children to enjoy what made it great in the first place: its history, amenities, and of course those long, golden beaches.

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