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Read our review of a staycation at Fir Hill Estate in Newquay, Cornwall, where glamping yurts await...
‘I’m not getting in that – it’s a tsunami!’ Seth edges into the sea, warily gripping his dad’s hand, while I try to persuade his sister, Martha, to have a dip. When I next check, half an hour later, he’s jumping and diving through chest-height waves, shouting: ‘This is brilliant!’, oblivious to the chill that has descended on the beach. I can see his point.
The waves are so powerful that surfers, bodyboarders and swimmers line up to be swept in to the beach – a two-mile stretch of golden sand that curves towards Newquay. Tucked into the surrounding cliff is a cafe and shop selling bodyboards, floats, goggles, snorkels, buckets and spades; bronzed locals, wetsuits unzipped to the waist and surfboards under their arms, pad down the slipway towards the waves. This is Watergate Bay, where we’ve headed for the first afternoon of our holiday on the Cornish coast. We arrived earlier at our ‘glampsite’, the historic Fir Hill Estate – 62 acres of secluded meadows and woodlands. The brays and whinnies of various animals drift towards us over thick hedges, flecked with dock leaves and thistledown. Birds sing loudly in the ancient trees, and city life suddenly ceases to exist.
The Fir Hill Estate has been owned by the Hoblyn family since the 16th century and we are met by Charlie Hoblyn, who took over in 2012, restored the grounds and launched his 21st-century venture – an off-grid glamping retreat. Nestled in the woodland is a spacious meadow, dotted with 12 spacious yurts – each with its own terrace, firepit and outdoor kitchenette. They are breathtakingly beautiful, especially if – like us – you are seasoned campers but new to glamping. To date, the kids’ abiding memories of sleeping under canvas involve deflated mattresses, cold, hard floors, and playing cards under a dripping fly sheet.
Never have they seen camping like this. Not only is there a proper floor, but there are also lamps, art on the walls, mirrors, dressing tables, rugs and double beds. There’s also a log burner... but we don’t need it. Even with a fresh breeze blowing in from the Atlantic across the campsite, it’s as warm as freshly baked scones inside our yurt. We pick up fish and chips on the way back from the beach and eat them beneath the stars on the decking before turning in for the night, luxuriating in the comfy beds and freshly laundered sheets. Finally, we fall asleep to the sound of owls hooting and the distant chatter of other guests.
The facilities are all centred around a couple of new barns, with bathrooms, a kitchen (complete with coffee machine and NutriBullet), and a TV area with countless plugs for charging phones. After hot showers, we drive around Newquay to get our bearings (my husband is particularly amused by the key cutting shop called ‘New Keys’) and find parking right opposite the Fore Street Cafe Bar, where we’re booked for brunch.
Fore Street, with its eclectic shops, cafes and bars, is the centre of Newquay’s emerging foodie scene, and our delicious brunch is the stuff breakfast dreams are made of. Seth tucks in to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs; Martha opts for a delicious granola bowl; I fall in love with the vegan breakfast and Rufus swoons over the full English. It’s back to the beach in the afternoon, and then another trip into Newquay, this time for dinner at 12 Beach Road, which overlooks the fabulous Towan Beach. The menu includes Cornish fish, grills and sourdough pizza, but Seth’s teriyaki cauliflower and my shrimp tacos with aïoli were highlights and absolutely delicious.
After dinner, we decide to walk down the hill towards the beach when we hear a shout of ‘watch out!’ behind us. We squeeze in to the side of the road and just manage to avoid a well-refreshed holidaymaker cannoning down to the beach in a canoe. This is Newquay, after all. The next day, we head to the Bowgie Inn, a pub on the West Pentire headland with views overlooking Crantock Beach, a beautiful, Enid Blyton-esque cove surrounded by high cliffs. We make our way to the sea, clambering over rocky paths and sand dunes, with the sounds of huge breakers smashing against rocks in our ears and the caw of seagulls screeching overhead. Sea pinks dot the cliffs and briar-tangled hedgerows sing with birds. It’s truly idyllic.
As the path winds onwards, we find ourselves looking down at Crantock Beach from the top of a dune. We start to descend – but almost as soon as we set foot on the beach below, huge raindrops start to fall. Rather than risk a full drenching, we scurry back to the car and drive to The Cove restaurant for lunch, which serves up stunning views of South Fistral Beach alongside a delicious menu. We tuck in to fish and chips and burgers, but Seth declares the best bit to be his hot chocolate, which involves swirling an actual chunk of chocolate, set lollipop-like at the end of a stirring stick, into hot milk.
Later in the afternoon, the kids are booked in for a surfing lesson (Seth happily, Martha reluctantly) with the Quiksilver Surf School. As they stagger down the sand clutching surfboards, we perch on rocks on the beach, sipping coffee and relishing the peace. I keep a watchful eye on Martha, and am thrilled to see her wobble, then stand, on her board as the sea carries her to shore. ‘This is brilliant!’ she shouts. You see? The waves here work their magic on everyone.
How to book
Yurts at The Fir Hill Estate are available for weekend, midweek and one- week stays from May to October. Prices start from £110 per night. For more information visit thefirhill.co.uk. Surf lesson prices start at £35; book at quiksilversurfschoolnewquay.com.