I made a radical travel decision. Instead of a foreign city break with a budget airline I decide to take the train to Cornwall to enjoy one of the best British autumns on record. 'You'll need to find someone to talk to', one friend had offered. Another had balked at the idea of travelling so far by train altogether, but by the time I arrived at Watergate Bay I was sure I was onto something.
The train has barely left London when I realise, to my horror, that my Apple Mac charger does not fit the plug socket. With that my plans to work on the five-hour journey go out the window. 'Oh yes, these trains were fitted before those I-thingys', the conductor says rather too cheerfully.
My iPhone still has battery, though, and an email comes through from a colleague. In it is a link to his piece in the Financial Times extolling the pleasure of train travel to Cornwall. 'Look at the glorious views, not the time or the upholstery', he urges. Silently thanking him, I decide to do something I never do when I am travelling - look out of the window.
The late afternoon sunshine lights up a cornfield. The British countryside rolls by. Day-trippers sit by a boat-filled canal. Fishermen line a silvery shore. The train rumbles steadily on. Gulls dot a muddy estuary where two girls dance into the water and a dog tumbles in the waves.
I spent my teenage summers in Newquay hanging out with surfers on the beach or in the local pub, the Sailors Arms. Will, the owner of the hotel at Watergate Bay just down the road, is firm, though: 'We are not in Newquay'. He is also clear about the concept for his family-centric hotel, which he describes as a ski resort on the beach.
'I hate skiing', I tell him and he looks crest-fallen. I daren't tell him I feel the same about surfing. I do appreciate, though, how unique and appealing a surf-in, surf-out facility must be. A sandy-footed sausage dog sashays into reception, where a grandmother is cuddling a baby. Another unique aspect of the Watergate Bay Hotel is it's genuinely relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
This makes the restaurant. Zachrys, all the more surprising. The lighting is beautifully designed and the seating inventively laid-out: I feel as if I am in a slick Parisian brasserie, but with attentive American-style service. 'Ok, guys, what can I get you? the waitress offers, serving me some very good, mostly local produce, including a standout starter of scallops, pumpkin puree and trompette mushrooms. Breakfast is a little less restful. I love Marc Bolan, but does anyone want to listen to glam rock first thing?
'We don't do shoes here', Amy tells me as she greets me for my massage barefoot, smiling broadly before doing an impressive job of getting rid of some serious knots in my upper back. Amy is also a skilled yoga teacher and I love the fact that the classes take place year-round on the beach. Yoga retreats around the world, take note.
I highly approve of the real log fire and the outdoor hot tub overlooking the ocean. These are just some reasons why the hotel attracts people year-round. 'I haven't heard a bad thing about it', my taxi driver from Newquay station, who has lived there for 40 years, tells me. The cardio room confuses, me though. Why have a gym when you have a beach as a playground? Surely the space could be better used as a steam room or sauna?
The beach hut restaurant in an old bucket and spade shop that has been modelled on a mourntain lodge in a ski resort is delightful. 'That is A-MAZ-ING' says a diner tasting the crab bisque and I agree with her. I tuck into fresh anchovies and salmon curry with bok choi, which are both excellent.
The next morning I have a surfing lesson booked. I am anxious. I don't like getting my face wet in the shower and get nervous at the current of the calmest Carribean beach. Nick the archetypal laid-back surf instructor at Watergate Bay's Extreme Academy somehow senses this. 'We can just go and sit on a rock', he suggests, but before I know it I am strapped up in a wet suit. Nick casually gets me to sign a disclaimer and waves away the necessity to know my next of kin, before I can change my mind.
And before I know it, I am riding the waves. Not just riding but surfing, standing up. I am not sure who is more surprised and delighted - Nick or me. It is only afterrwards I appreciate the skill of his teaching and the confidence he gave me. I do take one tumble, my face fillling with salt water and creating the washing machine effect. Nick guaranteed I would be standing by the end of the lesson, which I am, but afterwards he tells me: 'The only other person I have seen managing to do what you did is a 23-year-old marathon runner.'
Of course you don't have to surf to fully enjoy Watergate Bay at all, but it helps. After my lesson, Nick and I look back at the hotel which is right on the beach. We remark on how much it is integrated with the landscape and I reflect on how long ago it feels since I left London only the day before.Suggest a correction