As the hailstones drummed against the window, I sunk deeper into the sofa and took another sip of Cornish fizz. Outside the wind was picking up as Mother Nature showed off her wild side in the inky black winter sky. But inside, this vast living room was cosiness distilled, with sumptuous sofas, thick woollen curtains and a log burner with flames a-flicker.
Behind the duck egg drapes, sliding glass doors overlooked a perfectly manicured garden, and beyond, a distant streak of sea. I was surrounded by friends – all still glowing with the exertion of an afternoon walk along the coast path – weighing up whether to play another board game or make use of the wall-hung TV. As birthdays go, this one was getting off to a good start.
When I’d told my friends that I wanted to go to Cornwall to celebrate turning 30, I was met with some bemused looks. This was January – surely freezing and miserable on the coast – and Cornwall was rather a long way from London, where most of them lived. I also planned for us to try coasteering – an activity that involves scrambling over cliffs and jumping into swirling seas. Only for the brave-hearted in winter.
After assuring them that they could fly from Gatwick to Newquay in just over an hour, and promising that wetsuits these days are nice and toasty, they booked their trips. And I had another clincher to sweeten the deal – we would be staying in an incredible pad just above Watergate Bay, on the North Cornwall coastline.
With its stonking sea views, bright and spacious living areas and contemporary feel, Seamist was designed with large parties in mind. There was oodles of space – a vast dining room on the ground floor and sitting room on the top floor, as well as both a cinema room and games room complete with a ping pong table and table football.
Seamist, which sleeps 16, is one of the latest properties to be added to the collection from Beach Retreats, specialists in luxury self-catering holidays in coastal Cornwall. And there was luxury in spades – most of the eight bedrooms had en suites, with rainfall showers, large bathtubs and de-misting mirrors.
The kitchen was effortlessly chic, featuring teal walls and a central island with sleek grey worktops. It was kitted out for big numbers, with double quantities of virtually everything – two dishwashers, ovens, fridges and even warming drawers. There was nothing so inefficient as a kettle here – you used a special hot water tap – and the emphasis was kept local, with Cornish crockery and photos of Watergate Bay hanging on walls.
Even the two bottles of sparkling wine that had thoughtfully been left out for us came from the Camel Valley, just 15 miles away. We spent the first evening sipping it by the fire, content that, should the weather take a turn for the worse, we’d be happily holed up in this slice of coastal bliss.
The following morning, the wind had died down and sunlight pierced the clouds. There was nothing for it – coasteering was on. A 15-minute drive south took us to Newquay Activity Centre, where 12 of us zipped ourselves into wetsuits, clipped on helmets and buoyancy aids and followed three guides towards the cliff edge. Our lead guide, Brendan, explained that we were standing on a headland known as the Gazzle. “It means ‘armpit’ in Cornish,” he said. “That’s the shape of it and it gets washed clean by the waves every day.”
Then he explained exactly what coasteering is – basically traversing coastline using whatever means necessary, from climbing to swimming – and demonstrated how to get in and out of the sea safely. He also showed us how to wade through rocky pools, crouching with arms akimbo like a monkey. “Low and slow is the way to go,” he added.
Moments later we were a troop of monkeys, clambering down rocks that were slippery with kelp – and launching ourselves into ocean the colour of mouthwash. Pleasantly surprised the water wasn’t as icy as we’d anticipated, we swam towards another cliff, where frisky surf scrambled up against the crag. Here, Brendan demonstrated a penguin dive, leaping in head-first with his arms glued to his side, and we belly flopped and bombed in after.
“People like coasteering because it’s so accessible,” he said as we bobbed about in the water. “Unlike sports like surfing and climbing, you don’t need any previous experience to enjoy it, just a reasonable level of fitness and confidence in water.”
After two hours, we emerged from the sea, exhausted but exhilarated – and happily frostbite-free. I may have entered a new decade, but coasteering had made me feel like a kid again.
Cornwall offered plenty of activities for the land lover, too. Beach Retreats offers its guests guided coastal running, and six of us spent a morning pounding the South West Coast Path with local coach Helen Clare, while the others stayed at home for a table football contest. By 10am, we’d already run six miles up and down the headland and back to Seamist – a satisfying way to start the day.
After all that exercise, refuelling was key, so we walked two miles from Watergate to Mawgan Porth where we found Gusto at The Park, a newly-opened restaurant that prides itself on making food from scratch. We feasted on pulled pork, beetroot and yarg fritters, cauliflower cheese, greens and Yorkshire pudding, drizzled with watercress sauce, all for £12.
As we rolled out and made our way back towards Seamist, the sky was streaked with pink and gold and the setting sun soaked everything in sepia tones. It felt more like a summer’s evening than the middle of winter – and yet we still had the lure of the fire to return to. Who said having a birthday in winter was a bad thing?
This story originally appeared on Yahoo Style. Check it out here.