Fish and chips may once have been a staple in Bude, but Jeremy Gates discovers a wider menu on his visit.
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. Children paddling towards Camel Rock turned back to the shore and playful terriers at last stopped kicking up the sand with their hind legs.
As for me, I paused for moment or two to savour a meal prepared by Thinh Nguyen Nho, a chef from Vietnam who already boasts Rick Stein and The Lanesborough Hotel in London’s West End on his CV, and now appears nightly at The Beach House and Hotel on Widemouth Bay.
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. There are acres of sandy beaches, one reaching inland for hundreds of yards, swathes of public lawns, a mini castle and a canal surrounded by cobbled walkways.
Widemouth Bay became a natural bolthole after our first clifftop picnic and it’s an area perfect for the simple pleasures, like fish, chips and mushy peas on an outside table at sunset.
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, 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 steep 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. Hawker’s Hut, where the racy rev sometimes took his opium, remains on the clifftop.
Going south, beyond superbly restored Boscastle, lies magical Tintagel Castle, a breathtaking treasure enhanced by the tender touches and wooden walkways of English Heritage.
After that it was time for some R&R back at the holiday home on the Kennacott estate to savour a chilled bottle of India Pale Ale brewed with American hops by the newly-formed Harbour Brewing Company, down the road in nearby Trekillick.
Kennacott, which has 20 holiday homes, sleeping between two and 11 people, in converted farm buildings and newer terraced cottages, has gold award from Visit Britain and within the complex are all the important facilities – heated indoor pool, full size snooker table, Sky Sports.
Dotted around its 70 acres, there’s also a mini-golf course, two all-weather tennis courts, a football pitch, a 15-acre nature walk, a purpose-built sports barn, a games room and even a skittle alley.
However, the gilt on the gingerbread of our glorious week was the chance to enjoy food – and drink – produced locally.
When it comes to restaurants, you will be truly spoiled for choice. Two were quite exceptional on this visit.
With a wide, open terrace carved into the grassy cliffs which overlook Summerleaze Beach in Bude, Life’s A Beach seemed a huge hit with every generation on the night we visited. My hunk of local turbot made a great dish with baby Cornish veg and creamy mashed potato.
For a fine dining experience, try Paul Ainsworth at Number Six in the heart of heaving Padstow who trained with Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsay, and has turned an 18th-century townhouse into Padstow’s premier gastronomic address.
We were welcomed with a glass of cider, which tasted better than champagne, and an oyster nurtured on the other side of the estuary at Porthilly Oyster Farm.
I thought things couldn’t get better after my starter, Cornish mackerel which had been “torched”, but indeed they did, rounding off with ice cream which it was quite impossible to leave in the dish.
Book up early, and be prepared to splash out, this part of the world deserves to be savoured.
Jeremy Gates stayed at Kennacott Court, Bude, part of Premier Cottages 2013 programme, where a week’s stay starts at £249 in a unit sleeping two. A week’s stay in The Granary, sleeping six, costs £600 per week. For reservations, call 01288 362 000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travel Republic (020 8974 7200) currently lists rooms at The Beach House Hotel, Widemouth Bay (01288 361 256) from £32 per night.