North Cornwall: In defence of a quiet NYE

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Cornwall isn’t exactly the first destination you’d think to head to for a bangin’ New Year’s Eve. Family holiday, certainly. Writers’ retreat, maybe. But heading to Land’s End for the biggest party night of the year? Surprising.

As 2014 drew to a close, however, the thought of waking up on New Year’s Day feeling fresh as a daisy became very appealing. Just once, I decided, I would like to start the year as I mean to go on – well-rested, full of energy and able to keep down food.

With visions of coastal views and rolling hills spurring me on, I logged onto AirBnB and booked five days in a converted barn in Crackington Haven. It was mid-July but I could already smell the salt spray. 

Fast forward five months and my excitement for my peaceful New Year’s retreat hadn’t waned. As friends desperately compared NYE options, unwilling to commit in case they had a better offer, I rode out the post-Christmas panic with a smugness that comes only from forward-planning.

The drive to North Cornwall was long, but beautiful. I frequently pissed off my travel companion in the driver’s seat by craning my head to admire the spectacular view and shouting “Oh WOW!” at five minute intervals (I still get embarrassingly excited at my first glimpse of the sea). Even the navigation was relatively painless; the trusty SatNav got us almost all the way and the hosts had provided detailed directions to guide us directly to the front door.

We pulled up outside The Treehouse (our home for the week) and were met by our hostess, who lives in a house at the top of the drive. The couple who own The Treehouse were perfect hosts; helpful without being interfering. They even came down to the house before our arrival to turn on the fairy lights and provide us with firewood so that we felt welcome. There really couldn’t be a better advertisement for the joys of AirBnB.

As I turned the key in the lock, I felt a little apprehensive. I had, after all, extremely high hopes for this holiday and they all hinged on our accommodation living up to my expectations.

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I needn’t have been worried, of course. The Treehouse is my dream home. Huge sofas face a wood burner, beyond which lies a large mahogany desk. A small kitchen opens up onto a marble dining table on one side and a wet room and sauna on the other. A stereo system with surround sound is topped off with a turntable and a large collection of vinyl records. An upright piano stands next to double doors out to the garden. In the daytime, there are stunning views of the surrounding valley. Plush rugs cover the wooden floor. An enormous bed is framed by thick cream curtains. The space is lit by the soft glow of fairy lights, strung across the beamed ceiling. It is warm. It is cozy. It is perfect.

We spent a dreamy five days exploring the Cornish countryside, cooking and eating local ingredients, sitting in the sauna (a sauna!), reading by the fire, watching films and talking about our hopes and plans for the coming year.

A particular highlight of the trip was our accidental visit to Tintagel, supposed birth place of King Arthur (which, surprisingly, I hadn’t heard of before my visit). We had been on the hunt for a mysterious waterfall – which turned out to be a little too mysterious for the SatNav. Instead, we let curiosity be our guide and chased the sea view into the coastal village, parking the car and following signs towards the castle on foot.

Tintagel castle is spectacular. Brave the climb up the cliffside and you’ll be rewarded with the most amazing view over the Atlantic from the upper courtyard. The castle ruins are on an island, connected to the mainland by a perilous-looking bridge (tip: not to be attempted by those with vertigo, it’s extremely steep and narrow). The island was closed when we visited (one of the perils of Cornwall tourism in the Winter) but we had a great walk along the cliff face on a crisp, clear day, the wind blowing out the cobwebs and turning our ears numb with cold.

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Crackington Haven itself is also a wonderful spot. The small, stoney beach is in an enclosed bay, surrounded by cliffs. After a hunger-inducing seaside walk, stop for a snack at one of the beach cafes, serving yummy pasties, crab sandwiches and scones. When we visited, the Cabin Cafe had an outdoor fire – a perfect excuse to huddle up, sip a hot chocolate and talk to strangers. They also sell local meat for you to cook up at home (we tried the burgers and they were delicious).

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Our New Year’s may have been quiet, but it was exactly what I needed. I arrived in Cornwall feeling rundown, stressed and in need of some R&R. I left feeling refreshed, centred and energised. A whole lot better than starting a new year with your head in a toilet.

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