How to book your dream trip to Cornwall

The Cornish fishing village of Padstow. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Photos.
The Cornish fishing village of Padstow. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Photos.
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Fish and chips may once have been a staple for the seaside town of Bude, but Jeremy Gates discovers a wide range of haute cuisine on the menu on a trip to north Cornwall.

It is such a long, long time since I have sat by the beach as darkness descended that I had no idea of the excitement which would erupt when the setting sun slipped beneath the Atlantic waves in our quiet Cornish bay.

Suddenly, at 9.55pm, diners leaped from their seats to photograph the tiny, sinking slither of blazing red on the far horizon.

When you look at a map, this corner of north Cornwall looks a fair way from the big attractions like the Eden Project or The Tate at St Ives.

But Bude, a breezy clifftop walk away from Widemouth Bay, is an elegant seaside town, famous for its Sea Pool, refreshed daily by the ocean.

Widemouth Bay became a natural bolthole after our first clifftop picnic.

Somehow the whitewashed 1970s bungalows, the cars resting in the dunes and the irregular line of restaurants and bars dotted along the clifftop road looks the perfect backdrop for a family holiday.

It’s an area perfect for the simple pleasures, like fish, chips and mushy peas on an outside table at sunset.

One afternoon, we tried in vain to find a footpath leading from the beach to our holiday home, barely a mile inland.

But a walk along the clifftops in the morning haze in the opposite direction, towards Crackington Haven, was more successful.

By car, our expeditions along the Atlantic Highway - the dear old A39, weaving its way delicately between green fields and wind farms - rarely lasted more than an hour in stifling heat, but each one was memorable.

Following the line of the coast towards Devon, we reached Clovelly, a long narrow road of whitewashed houses on either side of a cobbled street.

On the way back, we found sleepy Morwenstow, a tiny hamlet with a stunning black Cornish chapel, where some pews were carved in 1575.

Legend suggests the celebrated Rev Hawker and his flock sometimes held false lights on the coast to boost their income from shipwrecks in Victorian times.

Certainly too many drowned mariners lie buried in the churchyard.

Hawker’s Hut, where the racy rev sometimes took his opium, remains on the clifftop in its original form, the smallest building in the National Trust portfolio.

Going south, beyond superbly restored Boscastle, lies magical Tintagel Castle, a breathtaking treasure enhanced by the tender touches and wooden walkways of English Heritage.

From its highest rampart, you look far out to sea and for miles along a deserted coastline, and then vertically down to shallow blue waters lapping gently over granite rocks into a cave which just might have been Merlin’s. It reminded me of a mystical Greek island setting in a John Fowles novel.

The Granary, our three-bedroomed holiday home which is part of the Kennacott estate, played a big role in a perfect week: when it was too hot to move, the massive 28-pane window in the living room could be turned into a primitive form of air conditioning.