It’s a secret not many people know, but the best time to visit Cornwall is in September and October.
The summer holiday crowds are gone from the beaches. The turquoise sea is warm. The leaves are just starting to turn a golden orange and if you’re a surfer, good swell is just about to roll into town.
When you picture Cornwall, it’s often the Poldark image of this county that comes to mind – wild, windy with rugged cliffs dropping hundreds of feet into the tumultuous sea. But when the surf is flat, there’s more to explore than just the ocean.
The Vale of Lanherne near the village of St Mawgan couldn’t be further removed from this dark, dramatic version of Cornwall. We are stood here, completely silent, listening to the bird song.
“Tawny owl, great spotted woodpecker, mistle thrush, chiff-chaff, says Steve Crummay from Explore in Cornwall, rattling these names off at record speed and pointing in the direction of the birds’ call.
Steve is an ecologist and mountain leader who I can only describe as Cornwall’s answer to Bear Grylls.With over thirty years experience under his belt, this man knows (arguably) everything about the local Cornish botany, birdlife and geography.
I wouldn’t call myself a wildlife fan, but I never thought otter poop would prove so fascinating
We are staying at the Bedruthan Hotel in Mawgan Porth on Cornwall’s north coast to take part in a ‘Walking Fortnight’ with Steve as our guide.
The idea is you eat and sleep in relaxing confines of the Bedruthan Hotel while hiking and exploring the Cornish coastline in the day. First up, a short woodland walk, followed by a seven mile hike along the famous South West Coastal Path tomorrow.
“See this,” says Steve picking up what looks like small animal droppings from a large rock. “This is a sprainting station.” “A what?” I say. A sprainting station is essentially an otter’s toilet. Spraint is just another word for otter poop. “It means otters are in the area,” explains Steve.
Otters are notoriously hard to spot in the wild, as they prefer to hide away from the prying gaze of humans. But Steve is an expert in finding these elusive creatures.
Each piece of spraint (or poop) contains unique DNA protein that identifies each individual otter. It’s how otters let each other know they are in the area.
I wouldn’t call myself a wildlife fan, but I never thought otter poop would prove so fascinating.
Everything has a story – from the pitch of the birdsong to leftover hazelnut shells from resident dormice. Steve’s engrossing way of explaining everything brings the whole river to life.
Within a matter of hours, we go from prodding otter poop in our waterproofs to sipping artisan cocktails in the slick Bedruthan Hotel bar overlooking the setting sun.
Bedruthan Hotel has been a well-known Cornish establishment for decades. The 1960s style hotel has a swimming pool, spa, two restaurants and its own designer interiors shop.
Nearly every room in this contemporary hotel has a spectacular view over Mawgan Porth beach and the Atlantic Ocean. However, one thing we didn’t want to miss was the renowned cocktail bar.
The South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in the UK at 630 miles long
Sampling a drink at Bedruthan from resident mixologist Ian Vasey is an experience not to be missed.
There is no menu here. Ian will simply quiz you on your preferences. Do you like sweet cocktail? Gin based? With a hint of violet?
Before you know it, an icy glass is placed before you with a drink like nothing you’ve ever tasted before – mine was sweet, boozy with crushed raspberries – mixed with Ian’s home-crafted liqueurs and bitters.
But it was an early night for us, ready for our seven mile coastal hike the following day.
The South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in the UK at 630 miles long. We took on one of its most beautiful sections – from Treyarnon to Mawgan Porth – past sandy Porthcothan bay and the towering sea stacks at Bedruthan Steps.
Most of us walk coastal paths without giving a second thought to the plants and wildlife around us. With Steve as our guide, this definitely wasn’t the case.
We picked out edible wild flowers like sea scurvy grass, a white flower containing vitamin C and use to be carried on ships to help prevent scurvy.
Steve even pointed out potential lunch, sea beet, a green flower with leaves like spinach. “It’s excellent served with fresh mackerel.”
We could hear the song of the stonechat bird, named after its call which sounds like pebbles knocking together. It’s amazing what you can discover if you just stand still and listen.
After a delicious packed lunch supplied by the Bedruthan Hotel, we continued climbing the ragged rocky cliffs. Steve told us stories of the legendary giant that roams across Bedruthan Steps’ sea stacks at high tide.
The views across the pristine sandy beaches here are some of the best in the UK. You can watch the turquoise water crashing onto the white sand beaches below. In the sunshine, it could be the Mediterranean.
Feeling windswept and tired, we headed back to the hotel to relax in the spa. Wrapped up in a warm dressing gown, we sipped hot Pukka herbal tea and watched the cold North Atlantic waves crash onto the beach.
Wrapped up in a warm dressing gown, we sipped hot herbal tea and watched the cold waves crash onto the beach
Bedruthan Hotel has its own restaurant – The Herring – which focuses on fresh, local produce from warm sourdough from the Da Bara Bakery to Cornish caught mackerel.
Settling into a cosy slate grey booth, we tucked into crispy fried squid with miso dipping sauce and deliciously steamed lemon sole with buttery summer vegetables.
If you’re looking for more of a smarter fine dining experience, head down the hill to the Bedruthan’s sister hotel, The Scarlet. Here you can tuck into a seven course tasting menu with each wine perfectly paired to the courses. I couldn’t recommend their white chocolate mousse with honeycomb enough.
The beauty of Cornwall is you can spend the daytime wrapped up in waterproofs, hiking the dramatic Atlantic coastline and spend the evening sipping cocktails and eating world-class fresh seafood – all just a one hour flight from London.
If you didn’t quite make it away this summer then you know exactly where you need to go this September.
Bedruthan’s first walking fortnight will be held between 25th September and 9th October.
Prices start from £229 for a half-day walk, or £259 for a full day based on two people sharing. Prices include one night’s accommodation for two people, a picnic lunch and breakfast and dinner at the hotel.
To book visit: bedruthan.com