The sea off the coast of Cornwall isn’t the warmest at any time of the year, so imagine my apprehension when I decided to dip my toes in mid-March, writes Fiona Dryden.
In fact, I did more than dip my toes – the entire body followed as I embarked on my first surfing lesson in what can only be described as the surfing capital of the country.
I am, of course, referring to Newquay, where long moans about “freezing cold temperatures” are met with a slight look of disdain, and high winds are positively applauded.
‘When in Rome,’ I told myself as I headed to the beach with a surf board tucked under my arm and an enthusiastic instructor from Newquay Activity Centre, who told me I’d soon get the hang of it.
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My confidence was pretty low but at least I didn’t have sharks to contend with and I’d been promised a hot cup of tea on my return.
The first foot went in and after the initial shock wore off I didn’t notice the cold for the next few hours.
We started with basic body-boarding – the practice of lying on the board as, in theory, you skim across the water back to the beach – easier said than done.
There were a few wipeouts and a good deal of sea water swallowed, but it was incredible fun at the same time. The hardest part was battling against the waves to get a decent enough distance away for the journey back in.
Once mastered, we moved on to the harder part – standing up.
As usual, my ambition far outweighed any talent I had and realised this wasn’t something that was going to come naturally.
The instructor told me there were five parts to standing up – four strong paddles as the wave hits you, pulling your knees underneath and hauling your body upwards, keeping the knees bent for balance and your arms relatively low.
My fiancé fared better than I did, but practice makes perfect and this is one activity I intend to go back to.
Fistral Bay may be synonymous with surfing, but it’s a beautiful stretch of beach with towering cliffs and sandy banks and rocks teeming with mussels, perfect for a long stroll.
Tucked away among the cliffs is Bodhi’s – a bistro-come-café where you can feast on some of those lovely mussels drenched in white wine and cream or the most succulent home-made burgers I’ve ever tasted. The view from the balcony is spectacular and the atmosphere relaxed – the best place to be after working up an appetite.
Newquay itself isn’t quite what I expected. There are plenty of lively bars in the rather rundown-looking town centre, but if you’re looking for a nice wine bar that’s a little more up-market then you will struggle. Saturday nights are a bit of a cattle market in town, but I highly recommend the Red Lion Inn, a popular place with the locals which hosts some decent live music and isn’t overwhelmed by teenagers or stag and hen dos.
Little Italy in the heart of the town is also not to be missed. The pizzas are huge and the anti pasti starter is seventh heaven. The food is high quality at fantastic prices and the ambience is spot on.
Further afield, perched on yet another cliff edge and a good 20 minutes walk away from the main strip is The Lewinnick Lodge. With a good wine list to hand and a menu to match I really was in seventh heaven.
Newquay is predominantly a place for young people but is also a great base for exploring the rest of the delights of Cornwall, from Lands End and Padstow to the Eden project.
If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s a step up from the surfers’ hostel then boutique hotel The Harbour has beautiful, excellently-furnished rooms with amazing views over Newquay Bay.
The breakfasts are to die for with a choice of everything you could possibly want, from healthy muesli and natural yoghurt and fresh strawberries, to smoked salmon and scrambled egg and, of course, the full English if you need setting up for the day.
I may not have actually ridden on the crest of a wave given my surfing skills required a bit more practice, but I’d definitely return to Newquay for more of the action.
Fiona travelled from Leicester to London with East Midlands Trains – cheapest fare £22 and then London to Newquay with First Great Western for £92 with super off-peak return.
At Harbour Hotel, double rooms as B&B are from £76.50 a night.
For information on Newquay Activity Centre, with surf lessons from £30pp, visit:
For more information on where to go and what to do in Newquay: