THERE was a time when you needed a full tank of petrol and at least a week off work to visit Cornwall. Nowadays, with Friday lunch-time and Monday night flights, you can head to this most remote corner of England for short break (and probably spend less on plane tickets than you would on fuel).
So with Lake District fatigue, we decided to head south for a walking weekend on the South West Coastal Path, swapping mountains for sand dunes, and blissfully, waterproofs for T-shirts. There are people sunbathing in bikinis down there, in March.
The flights go from Manchester to Newquay; a place that's picked up a reputation in recent years for sixth-formers contracting chlamydia on their first holiday without mum and dad. This being early spring, and our apartments being on a beach-fringed peninsula away from the busy centre, we didn't see that side of the town at all.
Instead we saw long, quiet beaches, surfers backed by sunsets, and the sea, or to be more accurate, the ocean. The sight of the Atlantic stretching out before you does something good to your eyes and your insides if you're from a land-locked city.
The apartments we stayed in, Natural Retreats Fistral Beach, had a similarly calming effect. Spacious to the extreme, you could lie flat out in the bath and slide across the heated floorboards like a child in a supermarket aisle. The balcony was bigger than my kitchen at home. The kitchen was big enough for ballroom dancing.
Floor-to-ceiling windows, neutral colours, chintz-free styling, and a huge TV. It was the kind of place you want to stay indoors for. A welcome hamper full of organic essentials like bread, butter and wine, suggested this nesting reaction is common amongst new arrivals.
The people at Natural Retreats like to try to predict everything you might want from your holiday. The concierge booked us into a restaurant and advised us on walks in the local area. She would have enrolled us in surf school too if we hadn't been such land-lovers: west-facing Fistral Beach is known as one of the best surfing destinations in England.
Lewinnick Lodge was within strolling distance of the apartments, and judging from the number of couples dining, is what you could call a 'date restaurant'. Perched on a cliff-top on the Pentire headland, there's only a few metres of decking between you and infinity. If they put you in a window seat, you can alternate looking into your partner's eyes with watching the sky darken over the Atlantic.
It's overshadowed by Jamie Oliver's place on the north side of Newquay, and Rick Stein's place further north still, but it was holding its own with an excellent chicken liver parfait and a daily-changing menu fresh fish alongside the staples of Cornish duck legs and belly pork.
Saturday we spent sight-seeing on the wild northern coast, stopping at cliff-top car parks to watch waves crashing into unreachable coves, and standing hypnotised as a thick sea mist raced towards us. In the afternoon we walked along the vast, hazy beach of St Ives Bay. Rock pools, caves, sand dunes, kites, and a lighthouse out to sea – it was the archetypal seaside scene.
For longer walks, we headed to the south coast of Cornwall, to Helford on the Saturday, and Fowey on the Sunday. The walking down here made Northern treks across bleak moorland and up cloud-covered mountains seem like an unnecessary expenditure of energy. It was gentle, easy and beautiful. The sea air mixed with the spring air of woodlands waking up after winter, the gorse was flowering on the cliff tops, and the sea kept changing colour from turquoise to cobalt blue and back again.
The only difficulty was keeping moving forward rather than staying in one place – on an empty beach, or at a seaside pub with fresh crab sandwiches – and letting the day pass there.
We managed to shift ourselves fast enough to fit in a trip to Lizard Point – the most southerly point on the mainland. Like the rest of Cornwall, it was on low-season so The Most Southerly Gift Shop and The Most Southerly Café were deserted. It meant we couldn't eat fish and chips watching the sunset but we could revel in being The Most Southerly People for a few minutes, until we were usurped by some girls from the nearby youth hostel.
In search of food, we followed the advice of a friend from these parts, and headed to his home village of Cadgwith. With its jumble of thatched cottages, fishing boats and narrow, winding streets, it felt like a cross between Hobbiton and Cockleshell Bay. In the Cadgwith Cove pub, where the walls are covered with photographs of lifeboat crews, shipwrecks, and fishermen posing next to shoulder-high sharks, we telephoned him to say where we were.
He was revising for exams back at college up north and beyond envy at our location. Sitting in the Cadgwith Cove with a pint of the local ale was the place in the world he'd most like to be, he said. Cornwall in spring time has that effect, whether you grew-up here or not.
Natural Retreats (www.naturalretreats.com; 0844 3843166) is offering a two night stay at Fistral Beach from £170 for a one-bedroom garden apartment.
Low cost airline, bmibaby, flies direct from Manchester Airport to Newquay up to six times a week. Fares start from just £29.99 one way including all taxes.
bmibaby flies to 34 exciting European destinations from its four UK bases, East Midlands, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester airports.
bmibaby offers many passenger benefits including allocated seating, online check in and the opportunity to join bmi Diamond Club – the UK's most generous frequent flyer programme.
For more information or to book a flights, visit www.bmibaby.com.
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