West Country: Cornish pastiche

The estuary at Crantock Beach, Cornwall
The estuary at Crantock Beach, Cornwall
  • Unpredictable wildlife, humid rainforests and glam safari tents... Could this really be a family holiday in Cornwall, asks Warren Chrismas?
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It’s 8.25am on Monday. I’m sitting at a wooden table outside a tent, enjoying tea and toast with the warmth of the early morning sun on my face.

The only noise is from seagulls some way off in the distance, and the occasional sound of a zip being pulled, as relatively late-rising campers stumble from their tents and into a new day.

The biomes at the Eden Project, Cornwall

The biomes at the Eden Project, Cornwall

The last safari tent I stayed in was with my then new wife in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Seven years – and three children later – we’re in Trevella Park, a picturesque campsite in Crantock, near Newquay.

Instead of hunting ‘big game’, we’re looking for a week of fun and games with the kids – Oscar, aged five, two-year-old Dylan and baby Alex, who’s barely eight months old. Neither my wife nor I have been to Cornwall – or, indeed, ‘glamping’ - before, so it’s an adventure for us too.

The safari tents here are split into separate living and sleeping areas, accommodating all five of us. Pleasingly, they have wooden floors, proper beds, a futon, a microwave, a toaster, a fridge and even a TV.

My vision of campsites requiring Bear Grylls-style survival skills is quickly shattered.

In fact, I even spy one tent with a satellite TV dish and another with a full desktop computer on a makeshift desk. Clearly glamping is all about being close to your creature comforts.

At Trevella, it’s also about being close to some of Cornwall’s top family attractions. Of course, there’s a beach just a few minutes’ drive away.

Crantock is a beautiful bay with a huge expanse of sand and a river that’s great for paddling. Annoyingly, the only access from the car parks to the beach is over or around a huge sand dune, which is quite inconvenient when you have three kids, a double buggy and a host of beach and baby paraphernalia to transport.

Nevertheless, we visit several times, mainly late in the day when parking is a little easier and the sun isn’t too harsh. On one occasion, while rockpooling, my son Oscar catches his first fish. At least I think it’s a fish. I don’t have a microscope and marine encyclopaedia to hand. Either way, we release the 5mm-long creature back into the water.

Our first proper excursion is to Dairyland Farm World, a working farm with various attractions predominantly aimed at young kids. Despite its Disney-esque name, it isn’t too commercialised.

We arrive just in time for a ‘Pat-a-pet’ session with a rabbit, but throughout the day, young visitors are also able to try milking and bottle-feeding cows.

Small bags of food for goats and birds are available for 70p each. Just as my wife remarks that two of the goats look totally disinterested, a third one sticks its head through the fence and snatches the food from her hands.

It gobbles up the lot – including the paper bag – leaving us to wonder if we’ve been the victims of a well-rehearsed routine!

The following day, we head to Cornwall’s Crealy Great Adventure Park, where lots of activities (most of which are included in the admission price) are suitable for young children. We spend nearly two hours in Swampy and Dina Land, where Oscar loves the collection of mini fair rides – especially the spinning teacups. Of the water rides, he prefers coming down a huge slide in a dingy with his mum, to the log flume with his dad, but the entire family enjoys seeing me get soaked.

Being so unusual, we feel the Eden Project is a must-visit while in Cornwall, even if our kids are too young to appreciate the biological aspects of the biomes. In fact, predictably, our youngest two boys fall asleep as we tour the humid Rainforest biome. Oscar, meanwhile, asks if there are water slides. “Er, no, son...”

Nevertheless, there’s still fun to be had here for youngsters, with natural play areas scattered around the grounds, an educational centre and extra attractions during summer holidays. Oscar loves the rampaging Tyrannosaurs Rex (now set to be a regular summer visitor). And at the explorer’s camp during the evening, we all sit around a fire, eating freshly-cooked popcorn.

But we have to leave, to put the kids to bed in preparation for an early morning start the following day, at the Crantock Bay Surf School. Sadly, my own boys are too young to try it, but I see kids as young as eight surfing confidentially – with huge smiles on their faces – after just one or two lessons.

This middle-aged lump of a man isn’t quite as accomplished, although I do manage to stand on the board for a split second – just enough, I think, to legitimately say, “I’ve been surfing in Cornwall”.

On our final day, we discover Lappa Valley Steam Railway by accident, after Oscar spots a road sign and begs to be taken there. It’s a small adventure park that’s ideal for toddlers and young children.

The top draw is the woodland railway circuit with its miniature petrol-driven locomotive. (Just overlook the fact it looks a bit like it’s been built with the spare parts from a Mini Metro and fitted with chairs from the local village hall.)

Oscar goes on it at least 10 times, sometimes without us parents, while Dylan explores the toddler-friendly playground and tries the pedal cars and diggers. We all get together to play a round of crazy golf.

A safari in Cornwall may be a world apart from the Maasai Mara, but as far as our kids are concerned, it’s every bit as thrilling.

• Warren Chrismas was a guest of Trevella Park, where a seven-night glamping holiday from July 31 starts from £692, for a family of up to six in a safari tent . Ranger Adventures are provided free in school holidays (01637 830308, www.trevella.co.uk)

For ideas and activities of what to see in Cornwall, download the free AppForCornwall.com.

Crantock Bay Surf School, a lesson is £30 (crantockbaysurfschool.com).

A ticket for a family of four at Cornwall’s Crealy Great Adventure Park costs £57.44 when booked online and in advance (www.crealy.co.uk/Cornwall). A family ticket to the Eden Project is £58 when booked online (www.edenproject.com).