England: Cornwall's Watergate Bay - go catch a wave

by Susan Hughes

Watergate Bay - a two mile stretch of glorious sandy beach on the north Cornish coast - is where your addiction to surfing will begin and you won't hear a moan from the kids all day!

"Mum, I'm bored!"

Sound familiar?  

Well, get the family down to Watergate Bay, a two mile stretch of sandy beach on the north Cornish coast between Padstow and Newquay, and book them in for a half-day surf lesson and watch their mood change. Make a short-break of it and stay at the Watergate Bay Hotel, book a lesson with the Extreme Academy, then dine at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Cornwall.

Tucked beneath rugged, sheltering cliffs, the flat, sandy beach stretches the whole length of the bay - perfect for sunbathing, beach games, making sandcastles or exploring the few caves at the far end. A cluster of rocks at each end makes it ideal for rock-pooling. This beach featured in the TV drama series Echo Beach

This is a really laid-back kind of place: a mecca for surfers and other watersports enthusiasts because of the powerful surf created by the Atlantic waves that crash onto the beach. However, it is probably less ideal for inexperienced swimmers or really small children, although the beach is manned by lifeguards in peak times. Access to the beach is via a sloping slipway or steep steps.

The guys at the Extreme Academy (Watergate Bay, Cornwall, TR8 4AA; 01637 860840; www.watergatebay.co.uk) on the beach slipway, will help you get the best out of the sea conditions. Small group surf sessions offer the best option (£30 half a day). They've got all the kit you need and you don't even have to be mega-fit, as the instructors know their stuff, are very enthusiastic and work out what your limits are pretty fast - but they'll push you just far enough to get the best out of you safely. As well as surfing they offer kite surfing, paddle-surfing, wave-skiing, kite buggying, traction kiting or mountain boarding (12+ for most activities except surfing 8+ and kite surfing 18+).  If you stay at the Watergate Bay Hotel, kids get a free 2 hour "taster" surf or mountain board lesson.

A small shop on the beach sells buckets, spades, body boards, surf-fashion and footwear and all the kit you might need for beach and water activities, or you can hire kit instead.

All that activity and fresh air will give you an appetite. The Beach Hut (Watergate Bay; 01637 860543) café/restaurant is right on the beach and offers bistro-style food in an informal setting.  Wetsuits are only allowed on the outside deck but it's a great view.  Daily specials are varied but mainstays, such as the fish pie, are fantastic. Equally the burgers are thick and tasty. The wine list is varied, catering for most tastes. Succumb to the Extreme Hot Chocolate - heaven in a mug! Alternatively, if you just want a quick, cheap snack there's a takeaway kiosk next door - try the excellent Cornish pasties - serving rolls, ice cream and hot and cold drinks.

Alternatively, try Fifteen (Watergate Bay; 01637 861000; www.fifteencornwall.com) upstairs and sample some of the best locally-sourced and presented food in the south west, while admiring the fantastic beach view through the wall length floor to ceiling windows (you need to book well ahead or, if you're willing to chance it, check on late availability. There are set dining times for families with children under 12). At £55 without wine for the tasting menu, it's not cheap, but well worth it. Lunch is less expensive at £25.45 for the three course set menu and just as good. The menu changes daily but the antipasti is one of the best outside Italy, the home-baked bread very moreish, the meat and fish are locally sourced and served with interesting vegetables like local samphire and the desserts such as panna cotta with poached apricots are not to be missed - or anything with chocolate in it is equally good.

Right on the clifftop is the beach-chic Watergate Bay Hotel (various packages - mid range family room B&B £210-£323, DB&B £235-£347 family of four, per night), an informal, family-friendly place - kids coming up from the beach and trailing sand on the slate floor are met with a smile and a vacuum cleaner, no questions asked. Rooms are bright and tastefully furnished with wooden floors. Our family suite was a good size with a separate kids' bunk room (with their own satellite TV and MP3 docking station) and shared en-suite bathroom.  Front facing rooms are quieter (and more expensive) and The Coach House at the rear allows pets.

The outdoor and indoor pools are small but with new changing facilities. An OFSTED registered nursery caters for 3-7 year olds, various activities are arranged for the 8+ including an evening film which allows parents to dine alone in the hotel, Fifteen or Beach Hut - just let reception know where you are. A bank of PS3s keeps the teenagers happy.

In the hotel you can eat or just enjoy a drink in The Living Space - check out the awesome view - just snack on chunky sandwiches, Caesar salad or pizza or something more substantial like the spicy chicken curry. The Hotel Brasserie offers good quality restaurant food with daily specials, but lacks atmosphere.  

If you want to exercise your mind rather than your body another day, head for The Eden Project (Bodelva, St. Austell, Cornwall PL24 2SG; 01726 811911; www.edenproject.com) - an oasis of green sustainability (family ticket includes two adults and up to three children £38; online £36).  Drive time from Watergate Bay is under an hour, but watch those twisty, narrow Cornish roads. 

Watergate Bay is easily accessible by car (give or take those Cornish roads)  and Newquay airport is a five minute drive away with flights to and from most major UK cities and a few in Europe. Car hire is available at the airport.