A long Cornish weekend stretched ahead of us, and Tall Dark and Handsome and I had grand plans to use our time at Gwel an Mor to lounge in front of the fire, read books and snooze. The car was laden with a variety of coats, wellies, tennis rackets, swimwear, a stack of films, Somerset bacon, books (from Blyton to Balzac), watercolour paints, and several bags of wood. TDH guided our trusty jalopy through the coastal village of Portreath and on up the steep incline to Gwel an Mor, and we found the 5* resort set up on the cliff top overlooking the fishing port and the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
We glided into the complex and were surprised straight away at its not inconsiderable size. The thirty Scandinavian-style cabins are laid out in ‘streets’ with parking outside each of them. We were greeted at the reception by friendly smiles and a large sleepy rabbit. We were directed to our VIP lodge and made our way there, a little tired but keen to explore. Like all the lodges, the layout has been turned upside-down with the bedrooms and bathrooms downstairs and the open-plan living area on the first floor, to make the most of the views out towards the sea. TDH immediately set about getting the wood burner fired up; whilst I unpacked our copious supplies into a spacious kitchen area. The wood burner was a modern glass-fronted beauty, and it was soon roaring away thanks to TDH’s incomparable man-skills (he shunned the fire-lighters with disparagement as he busily twisted kitchen roll into artful briquettes). So prepared had we come that we even had with us logs from our own wood store at home. While it felt rather wonderful to establish our own home-fires in deepest Cornwall, it was rendered in some senses superfluous by the handsome basket of wood and kindling with which we had been provided, and which I’m sure would have been amply refilled had the need arisen.
The lodge was spacious, and with three bedrooms could sleep six people in comfort. The master bedroom had an en suite shower room and a door out on to the decking, with steps down to the private hot tub. As it was our first night we decided to leave the kitchen behind and have a meal at the Terrace Restaurant, with its bright and contemporary décor and informal atmosphere. The menu is hearty and inviting. The chefs use local Cornish ingredients and herbs from the garden outside. I started with Cornish scallops on a Cornish Hogg’s pudding (a sort of sausage cake that delighted TDH no end) with apple puree. TDH opted for the tasty duck salad. As a main course I opted for a seafood risotto, the generous expanse of which might not have been unwelcome had I been out surfing all day. TDH had a West Country reared Aberdeen Angus steak and chips. After our sizeable meal and a pleasing bottle of house red, we curled up in our cabin with a cup of tea and made some plans for the days ahead - which turned out to be busier in prospect than we had initially intended.
The following morning I dragged myself with a measure of reluctance from the rather comfortable bed and propelled myself in the direction of The Wellbeing Spa. Situated no distance away beside the main reception, the atmosphere within the spa is serene and calm. I was greeted with a whispered good morning and the customary short form to reassure all concerned that I was highly unlikely to expire if exposed to the rigours of a treatment. I opted for a hot stone massage using warmed basalt stones designed to detox my body and relax my nervous system… and whatever else it may have accomplished it certainly felt quite wonderful. I managed to unwind to such an extent that I entirely forgot that my masseuse was even in the room, which is really quite an achievement on her part when she was actively pushing stones between my toes. The Spa Treatment Menu is full of delicious sounding options and I could easily have lost several days being pampered head to toe and coated in different lotions and potions by different sets of hands. In a tranquil state I joined TDH in the indoor heated pool and we bobbed along together in a watery embrace before having a blitz in the sauna.
Gwel an Mor is within walking distance of the beach and we had a wander along the sand before taking the opportunity to head to nearby St Ives for a look at The Tate. I was 11 years old when I was last in St Ives. My mother bought me a limited edition print of a white cat, of which I am still very fond; so, with such a happy association still prominent in my mind, I retain great affection for this Kernow town. We came away with some lovely art books from the St Ives Tate shop and a Proper Job pint glass, procured from an emporium of local brews in which TDH showed inordinate interest, whilst I surveyed the vast array of improbably-titled concoctions with casual bemusement.
Back at Gwel an Mor we used the last of the sunlight to take out our loaned bicycles, which had been conveniently left for us on the deck behind our cabin along with appropriately-sized helmets, and went for a delightful ride through the nearby woodland. The sun was low and we whizzed past families and dog walkers all enjoying the spring light and crisp air. As dusk drew in we settled down to enjoy a home-cooked curry and to play a spot of chess. When I say ‘play’ I use the term somewhat loosely; I mean rather that TDH (a chess aficionado of some years’ standing – is there no end to the man’s hidden depths and talents?) started to teach me the rules and patiently coach me through the basics of this ancient game. I have to say I was rather good at it, and have high hopes that Grandmaster status may be achieved with just a few more trips to Gwel An Mor.
The Gwel an Mor complex is clearly expanding, and over the lane from our cabin other dwellings were popping up. This new development is known as The Residence, and comprises attractively simple wood-framed eco-bungalows, fully furnished and finished to a high standard. These designer retreats are available for outright purchase or on a shared ownership basis, allowing the owners to buy a little piece of the Gwel an Mor experience for their regular use. It will be interesting to see how the site develops; with talk of a riding stable and golf course to be added in the near future, the appeal of the place seems only set to broaden.
Just alongside Gwel an Mor is Feadon Farm, and the following morning we were booked onto a ‘Wildlife Experience’, which was to comprise of a Woodland Safari and a visit to their animal centre. I had relatively low expectations of the woodland safari proving to be the highlight of my trip. This was not because of the prospect that my suede heels would get ruined on the walk, but rather that as an only child raised in a tiny village on the Dorset/Devon/Somerset border, my knowledge of native flora and fauna is relatively extensive, and I did not anticipate learning a great deal. However, I was excited at the prospect of feeding the rescue foxes.
The resident guide, Gary, clearly loves his job and as we ambled at a child-friendly pace along the structured route, he shared a great wealth of engaging facts and anecdotes with his merry band of followers. In a field towards the end of the walk, sheets of corrugated iron had been placed flat on the ground to shelter animals and insects. Lifting one ‘lid’, Gary plucked a little vole from its slumbers. I must confess that I had never come face-to-face with a field vole, and I was transfixed as it wriggled woozily around in Gary’s hand. We were taken back to the farm and introduced to the animals housed on site. Particular highlights included a tank full of baby harvest mice (again an animal I’ve never managed to see in the wild) and watching TDH handle a grass snake (I’ve even seen him draped in a thirteen-foot Burmese python in the past, and cannot tire of the combination of nonchalance and gentle care with which he approaches all serpentine creatures). As though we’d not been treated enough, we were taken to feed the tame foxes with cat treats and fly the beautiful barn owl. It truly was a charming experience, I already love our British wildlife but with Gary’s passion and energy I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this opportunity.
After a trip to Falmouth, a Cornish pasty, and a raid on the art department in Trago Mills, we arrived back after sundown. We had brought our tennis rackets, but they sat hopefully in the boot of the car and remained there as we opted instead to spend the evening in the hot tub. It was certainly crisp outside, but the cold air was no match for the luxuriant warmth of the water. The night was clear, we took drinks outside and turned off all lights, thereby facilitating a fine view of the starscape as we idly competed with one another in the energetic sport of satellite-spotting.
We’d thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cornwall and could happily have stayed another week. We hadn’t watched a single film and managed barely a dent in the pile of books we’d brought with us. We’d enjoyed the Gwel an Mor’s ambiance and facilities, a fine dose of Great British nature, the whole Cornish experience and one other’s company. Gwel an Mor certainly offers a stress-free holidaying option. The ease of being able to pack your car up, throw in the kids/dog/kite and then unload it all into a spacious cabin without negotiating an airport or ferry terminal in the intervening period will surely appeal to many individuals, couples and families.
We thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn at Gwel an Mor and have vowed to return before long for some more hot tub stargazing and further exploration of this delightful part of the world.