Tips on visiting Cornwall in the winter months

Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan - Credit: Archant

Thousands of tourists swarm to Cornwall each summer, so if you want to enjoy this beautiful county at your own pace, consider a quieter visit in the winter months

Watergate Bay, see from The Village apartments

Watergate Bay, see from The Village apartments - Credit: Archant

Cornwall is more than just a piece of land. Its earth is imbued with romanticism, myths and legend; from the conspiracy of silence that enabled smuggling to flourish in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the enduring legacy of King Arthur (the ruins of Tintagel Castle on the northern coast purportedly mark his birthplace).

In summer, scores of tourists descend on this south-westerly county. Teenagers enjoy their first independent holiday, children play with buckets and spades and professional surfers compete at Fistral Beach. We decided to escape the madding crowds by booking a winter break, when Cornwall has other pleasures to offer: windswept walks and bracing explorations, along with the perennial pleasures of Cornish food.

A social media and marketing campaign has been promoting Cornwall as a destination for dog-friendly holidays. So, instead of packing the pup off to kennels, we took her for her first holiday.

The beautiful Watergate Bay was our base. Just a few miles from Newquay, it’s a charming little hamlet with a jutting headland that squats over a perfect yellow beach. We stayed in The Village Apartments, a destination in themselves. Eco-aware and built into a hill, they are beautifully accoutred and decorated according to the best nautical taste. Decks overlook the bay – perfect for sunbathing in high season and equally well-suited to shivering over hot chocolate in the colder months. Dogs are welcome in some apartments, and will certainly appreciate a romp on the sand.

Cornwall is known for its gardens, but instead of visiting the Eden Project – the headline act, as it were – we chose the Lost Gardens of Heligan. A mysterious, beguiling place, it manages to combine international renown with the air of a secret garden. In 1990, Tim Smit and John Willis, a descendant of the Tremayne family who established the estate, discovered gardens that had been allowed to fall into ruin after the First World War. Renovation works were recorded in a popular television series. We enjoyed unexpected pleasures like the Grey Lady sculpture, while the four-legged member of the family loved barging through the undergrowth, especially in the Tropical Garden. As well as hidden treasures like Britain’s only remaining pineapple pit, there’s a well-stocked farm shop on site, where we stocked up on essentials and indulgences.

The next day we embarked on the 40-minute drive to St Agnes, and the dog-and-surfer-friendly beach at Trevaunance Cove. After a bracing walk along the cliff path, and with appetites well and truly worked up, we headed to the cosy Driftwood Spars pub.

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On a warmer day I would have jumped at fish and chips from the traditional shop, but the wood smoke spiralling from the pub’s chimneys lured us inside.

Dogs are welcome in the bar area, and the food was simple but well executed. The pub lies on the route of the South West Coast Path which snakes around Cornwall, but rain stopped play before we reached our intended destination, Chapel Porth.

Driving from picture-perfect village to village was a pleasure in itself, and on the long drive home (Cornwall’s a long way from most places), we passed the time by planning our next visit to the county.

Until this visit, my main source of knowledge about this part of the world was the novels of Daphne du Maurier. Indeed, this ia a much-celebrated connection - a museum and hotel on Bodmin Moor takes Jamaica Inn as its name. And on the evidence of this visit, I can see why du Maurier never tired of writing about this place.

Where to stay

Each two-storey apartment at The Village has everything you need for a self-catering break in the most stunning surroundings. Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the sand and surf, there’s a barbecue area at the top of the complex and surf stores outside each property. There’s also plenty of space to entertain or chill out on the decks facing the ocean, making the properties perfect for families and groups of friends alike.

Where to eat

Driftwood Spars at St Agnes is a dear, cosy little pub. Food is fairly conservative but well done, and the log fires and comfy chairs are very welcome after a walk on the beach. At Watergate Bay, The Beach Hut serves delicious breakfasts, as well as more substantial meals and cocktails in the evening. There’s a fun bonfire area out back. If you feel like splashing out, there’s an outpost of Jamie Oliver’s upscale social enterprise chain, Fifteen, near the water. to get there

You can fly from London Gatwick to Newquay with Flybe, or do it the old-fashioned way, as we did. Think of it as a way to catch up on your favourite audiobook. It takes around seven hours from Sussex, travelling via Southampton.