Bristol Evening Post - 17 November 2007
When Melanie Greenwood and her daughter enjoyed a surfing weekend in Cornwall, they didn't expect to bump into Jason Donovan about half a dozen times
It's a rare treat for me to get away these days, so with my three-year-old daughter at home with my husband, I'm having a weekend break, in Cornwall with her 19-year-old sister, Laura.
Watergate Bay is a stone's throw from Newquay airport and it's a laid-back magnet for serious surfers.
We drop our bags at The Hotel, which is perched on cliffs and head down private steps to the beach, passing Jamie's Oliver's Fifteen restaurant and, beneath it, the cafe/restaurant The Beach Hut, where we spy actor and singer Jason Donovan filming.
And no wonder they chose this spot. Around us there are towering cliffs, two miles of beautiful beach, the Atlantic ocean (warmed by the Gulf Stream), great waves and - from shore to horizon - wet-suited surfers.
I smile at Laura and say: "Great scenery". She knows I'm not talking geographically because I'm humming It's Raining Men.
We travelled to Cornwall by plane, rather than car, not wanting to waste precious hours of sun, sand and sea by sitting in traffic.
Watergate Bay is 40 minutes from Bristol International Airport, followed by a five-minute taxi ride. We're here for a surfing session at The Extreme Academy, linked with The Hotel. But to start, some relaxation was needed so it was sunbathing, swimming in the outside (heated) pool and relaxing in the Jacuzzi before dinner.
Behind its solid Victorian stone, The Hotel, hides a 21st-century, £2 million-revamp and the family-owned, award-winning, 70-room hotel, feels bright and contemporary with its driftwood seascapes, cosy light-filled bedrooms, power showers and friendly staff, who don't mind people traipsing in with wet towels and ice cream-covered children.
The Brasserie has an AA Rosette, and offers a great combination of excellent food and relaxed atmosphere, where children are welcomed, parents unwind and non-parents don't feel they need ear protection from the youngsters.
The restaurant prides itself on fresh, seasonal produce, with sustainability in mind and an increasing focus on eco-tourism. Three courses cost £28 and is good value for money. I loved the grilled Cornish pollock with white beans, mussels and fennel in white wine sauce, along with the vanilla bean panacotta with poached pear.
From the bar, it's a few steps to some spacious, pale decking on the cliff edge. Here, there's a bird's eye view of crashing waves, surfers and kite flyers. Elsewhere on this complex are a little playground, a games room and tennis court, plus beauty and therapy treatments on offer. It's certainly a unique retreat, where we sit dangling our legs from the private veranda, wine in hand, watching Mr Donovan make his TV series, which we're told is called Echo Beach.
And there he goes, wet suit on, paddling furiously into the sea, followed by a staggering cameraman, battered by waves up to his chest and wobbling all over the place. There are endless takes.
In the morning, we listen to seagulls and waves, the light is lemon sharp and we walk for miles along the dramatic cliff-edge coastal path, watching surfers like black dots below us, catching the early tidal waves. "That'll be us soon," I say to Laura, "hope I can get into a wet suit, never mind on a board." After all, the hotel breakfast was substantial.
It was here we noted that real surfers head for the sea with definite style - board tucked under arm and trotting all the way, until they can't do the "surf-jog" in the water.
Some paddle in standing up, or do a manly-type one-arm crawl. So we have a practice at this, laughing.
The Extreme Academy was founded in 1999 and it's one of Britain's leading beach venues offering surfing, kite surfing, wave ski and mountain boarding sessions, plus wetsuit and board hire.
We struggle into the rubbery suits like they are Victorian neck-to-ankle corsets, then grapple with huge beginners' boards, that are supposed to be an easier ride.
We drag them over the sand like logs, and the intensive lesson begins with warnings about rip tides and carrying your board so it doesn't smash your face as waves pound past.
If we get in trouble we can wave for our blond instructor, 6ft 2in Ricky Jenkins, and quite a few women learners visibly brighten at this possibility.
Then it's into multiple instructions on how to paddle, jump, balance and stand, all tested on solid sand, not jelly-on-a-plate water, so we launch ourselves at the ocean thinking "fat chance".
However, they are fantastic hours of exhilarating fun. Needless to say, I manage a micro-second of success, going from knees to near-standing, but spend most of the time clinging to the board like a mollusc.
Laura gets it and glides by so often I'm tempted to push her in, but my arms are now too weak to even tackle the zip on my suit. With glowing faces, eyes running with mascara and topped by disaster hair, we are all very happy.
At our next session the following day, I use a body board, so have my own bit of ocean to myself, while the surfers cruise by.
In between playing with Mother Nature, we sunbathe, read, watch surfers (and actors) and then head for lunch at Fifteen.
It has an ignominious entrance, across a main Watergate Bay car park, which is enhanced by surfers in various stages of wet suit on-and-off.
The venue, however, is simply gorgeous, all tasteful dark wood tables and chairs under scores of delicate tear-drop shaped, balloon lights, and the view overlooking the ocean is gorgeous, too.
Staff are friendly, knowledgeable and of course, the food, with its Italian essence, is divine. About 80 per cent of seasonal produce is bought locally and includes bruschetta of line-caught mackerel fillets, "wicked fish stew", and nettle gnocchi, with asparagus, peas, mascarpone cheese and mint. We were so full after all this, that we shared a dessert of divine chocolate torte with creme fraiche and poached oranges. Lunch cost £24.50 per person and it would be such a waste to visit Watergate Bay without booking for this experience, even if you can only stretch to a bacon buttie breakfast.
Although there's lots to see with Padstow just a half hour away one way and Newquay six miles the other, we fell in love with this quiet, wild space of bay.
If hotels just aren't your thing, then try the self-catering beach retreats called The Waves Apartments with balconies, sea views, under floor heating and stylish decor.
With no local shops, you can get food delivered from local Trevilley Farm, providing own-grown vegetables, homemade bread, sausages, bacon, drinks and other goodies.
On our last night we ate at The Beach Hut, and there was Jason, again - by now we'd seen him that often, we dropped the Mr Donovan.
As he left the venue for Newquay, one girl asked for a photograph and we followed the entourage outside. He agreed to take one of us, too, we handed our camera over to someone, got ready to say "cheese" but there was no click. Our little disposable had run out of film. There was an awkward silence before we all turned and walked away. "Only we could do that," laughed Laura.
Back at the Beach Hut, we decided this was the most relaxed of places.
Looking through the window on to the beach, the sun dipped into the sea and the last of the surfers rode waves in near darkness.
We clinked our glasses to near perfection and I am humming that song again. Laura joins in.