Carly White was taking her sons, Harry, eight, and Finley, two, for their daily stroll on Carbis Bay beach. A seal bobbed up as she pondered the prospect of world leaders including Joe Biden heading to this faraway corner of Cornwall for the G7 summit in June.
“I’m excited, surprised and nervous. It will be a boost for the economy. The bars, restaurants and hotels are excited but I’m imagining road blocks and loads of police armed with guns. There is bound to be disruption. By and large, Cornish people don’t relish change.”
White’s wedding reception took place at the Carbis Bay hotel and estate, the main site for the summit. “It’s odd to think of some of the most powerful people in the world sitting there,” she said.
The announcement that Carbis Bay (population about 4,000) will host the summit has been greeted with a mixture of joy and concern in the far south-west of Britain.
The UK government and Cornwall council highlight the economic benefits but there are also worries. Will the ring of steel that will be thrown around the village cause mayhem? How will Biden’s cavalcade negotiate these tiny lanes? Will the broadband cope? Might the influx of delegates, entourages and media cause a Covid spike? And what about the protesters who will flock here?
“There will be short-term pain, there’s no doubt,” said Glenn Eldridge, who owns the Ocean Sports Centre on the beach. “But we’ve had so many challenges over the last year. I think we’ll cope.”
Eldridge was checking on his six-person Hawaiian canoe. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Angela Merkel came and had a trip out on one of these?”
Linda Taylor, the Conservative councillor for Lelant and Carbis Bay, loves the idea of Air Force One landing at Newquay airport on the north Cornish coast but hopes the US president will slow down, fall into the Cornish way and do things “dreckly”, a south-west version of “directly” – which, like the Spanish use of mañana, means at some unspecified future time, or possibly never. “I’d like a nice cup of coffee with Mr Biden to get to know what he is all about.”
The world leaders might be surprised at the sight of their destination at the moment. The estate, where visitors pay the best part of £1,000 a night for beachside lodges, has the feel of a building site rather than a luxury retreat. A two-storey spa extension featuring a new gym, treatment rooms and infinity pool is under construction.
For understandable reasons, nobody is saying exactly where the leaders will sleep. The lodges have hot tubs and spectacular views over the Atlantic but are not huge and not particularly private. It is hard to picture Biden, Merkel and Boris Johnson relaxing in their respective hot tubs a few metres apart.
Not all recent online reviews for the resort have been kind. One guest complained: “Pool closed, spa closed ... random people pacing back and forth what is supposed to be a private walkway.”
The resort is not popular with all neighbours. The main hotel building is a traditional 19th-century affair but the modern beachside development has been compared by some to a tacky Spanish resort – “Costa Del Cornwall”. One wag nicknamed the concrete sea defences the “Trump wall”.
But Hugo Tagholm, the chief execuitive of the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), which is based a few miles up the coast, expressed delight that the summit would be staged on the ocean.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for Cornwall. Decisions made here at the G7 and later at Cop26 [to be held in Glasgow in November] will set the world’s course on how we tackle climate change, protect the world’s environment and create a more sustainable future.”
In the nearby harbour-side town of St Ives, which will also be used during the summit, Raven Williams, the owner of the Common Wanderer shop, which sells environmentally sustainable clothing, was pleased at the idea of Biden’s visit.
“I guess the general feeling was that Trump was a knob. Biden may not be welcomed as a hero but I guess will be received well as someone who appears more rational and progressive.”
Fisher Aiden McClary, who was helping land a catch of mackerel, said he did not think he would see much benefit. “Not unless they come down here to buy fish off the quay. I don’t expect we’ll see Boris here.”
The editor of the St Ives Times & Echo, Toni Carver, said the summit was a coup for the local Tory party. “But local opinions seem very mixed. Some think it will be far too early in the post-Covid period – if we are in it by June – and will constitute a spreader risk.”
Bert Biscoe, an independent Cornish councillor and a bard of the Cornish Gorseth, which maintains the Celtic spirit of Cornwall, was in sanguine mood.
“Let’s hope that the unique resonances, inspirations and light of Kernow [Cornwall] lead the seven and their guests to find common ground which encourages equality, urgent environmental action, social justice, unity and peace.”
A rough guide to Carbis Bay for G7 attendees
Where’s best to take a walk?
There is a lovely stroll into St Ives from Carbis Bay with spectacular ocean views across to Godrevy lighthouse, said to have inspired Virginia Woolf. There are prehistoric field systems, glimpses of shipwrecks if the tide and weather conditions are right, and signs of the area’s mining past.
What about if they want to take in some art?
The quality of the light has drawn artists here for hundreds of years. Tate St Ives exhibits artists who lived and worked here including Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, set in the artist’s former studio, is a treat.
Any chance of a massage to de-stress if negotiations get tough?
The Carbis Bay hotel has candlelit treatment rooms, including one for couples. The hotel invites you to “sit here in your fluffy robe, holding a hot mug of herbal tea or glass of Ruinart champagne, and just … relax.” A revitalising swim in St Ives Bay is an option but watch out for the special forces’ boats and battleships. The surf may be up at Porthmeor beach. Or just sit on the balcony with a romantic Rosamunde Pilcher novel. She was born down the road and the hotel appears as the Sands hotel in some of her work.
What if they run out of batteries/face masks/other essentials?
There is not a wide range of shops in Carbis Bay but they could try Lilliput Stores on the main drag. Free deliveries for orders over £25. The Carbis Baypharmacy is next door. If they need to go bigger, there is a Tesco supermarket on the road into St Ives.
What if they feel peckish?
This is Cornish pasty land, obviously. You do not have to go far to find one of the county’s most famous culinary creations. The family-run Becks fish and chip shop is well regarded – cod £5.60, chips £2.55, mushy peas 90p, pickled onion 45p. The Spanish restaurant La Casita can rustle up a paella, tapas or a pizza.