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August 3, 2012 8:27 pm
A Weekend Retreat : The Old Coastguard, Cornwall
The further west you travel in Cornwall, the more laid-back and alternative it becomes, until, in the Penwith peninsula, things get positively eccentric. Arriving in the westernmost town of all, we found road signs announcing “St Just – twinned with your wildest dreams”. A raucous festival was under way, with people dressed up as sea creatures and pigeons, bands of children carrying flowers and singing hippy songs, and a hefty amount of local ale being consumed.
Mousehole is close by, on the south side of the peninsula, and although it is picture perfect – Dylan Thomas called it “the loveliest village in England” – it has none of the prissiness of other smart English seaside resorts. There are fishing boats, not Sunseekers, in the harbour; artists’ studios, not yachty clothes shops, in the backstreets.
The Old Coastguard suits the mood perfectly. It is in many ways a classic Victorian seaside hotel, but rather than starched tablecloths and retired colonels dressing for dinner, it is blissfully relaxed, just right for a summer holiday. Returning from the beach in the late afternoon, we found family groups sipping pink champagne on the terrace, couples sitting on benches reading beneath the palm trees in the garden, and toddlers running around naked on the lawn.
The hotel was taken over last year by Charles and Edmund Inkin, owners of the (almost always fully booked) Gurnard’s Head, a rural inn on the north coast of Penwith. Their renovations of the Old Coastguard are ongoing, and in places the decor is tired, but it is easy to forgive the odd scuffed skirting board and the woodchip wallpaper because all the other details are spot on. The flowers are fresh (elegant arrangements of hydrangeas and escallonia), the food is fabulous (and reasonably priced), the service is warm and genuine.
Dolly Pentreath is said to have been the last fluent native speaker of Cornish. She died in Mousehole in 1777
Even the notes in the room are charming – for example, advising guests that if there is no hot water, they should come down to the bar for a free glass of champagne while it heats up. And at the bottom are the personal email addresses and mobile numbers of both Inkin brothers, in case guests have any comments or complaints.
There is no spa or swimming pool, but something much better – a wooden door at the bottom of the garden opens on to the sea, where a resident seal will accompany you on your morning swim.
The Old Coastguard
The Parade, Mousehole, Cornwall
01736 731222, www.oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk
Doubles from £110
Penzance station is three miles away. Trains from London take five hours
Hot holidays: Cycling
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