I’ve travelled to every continent on our planet (bar the icy bookends), yet never seen Cornwall, practically in my back garden by comparison. Was it as jaw-droppingly beautiful as my late night Googling promised? With staycations the safest, most dependable way to holiday this summer, I looked west for my getaway fix.
Set just beyond the surfer mecca of Newquay, Fir Hill Estate covers 62 acres and has been owned by the Hoblyn family since the late 16th century - descendent Charlie Hoblyn is the current-day keeper. The crumbling mansion, abandoned and reclaimed by nature in the 40s, has been replaced by a shiny new barn and cowshed, almost entirely powered by massive gleaming solar panels on the grounds - risky given England’s temperamental climate, but the site only operates in the summer when fair weather is all but guaranteed.
On the gently sloping hill sit a dozen fat brightly coloured Mongolian yurts, each on wooden decks, like iced cakes in a bakery window. Views overlook Porth Reservoir and the sheep-speckled fields clustered around it. London suddenly feels a million miles away.
Where is it?
Just a few miles from Newquay but well off the beaten track, Fir Hill sits deep in rural splendour. We took the Paddington to Penzance train, bliss levels rising as pretty country scenes replaced grey, urban sprawl, swapping onto a slower, local train at Par to complete the last leg onto Newquay.
Whether you choose to travel west by road or rail, you’ll need wheels once you arrive. Fir Hill Estate is rural with no public transport nearby, although The Cornish Way Cycle Route (Route 32) passes right by its wildflower-dotted doorstep. Having a car, your own or locally hired, also means you can explore Newquay’s beaches and the dramatic Cornish coastline at leisure - the locale’s biggest draw.
All very laid back: after check in and a quick tour, Charlie and estate manager Dean leave you to your own devices, making it perfect for those who value their privacy. The renovated cowshed houses the bathrooms (each assigned to a yurt) and the communal chill-out area has the feel of a youth hostel, with books left by previous guests and comfy sofas to flop down on. Light streams in from the skylights, and a wood burner sits primed to take the edge off chilly nights. Outside, picnic tables overlook the reservoir, which is also a bird sanctuary. On a clear day, you can make out the tiny village beyond the water, its church tower piercing the sky.
The yurts are the only accommodation options. There are nine family yurts (sleeping six, there’s one king size and two double beds) and three smaller ones for couples or small families, all with wood burners to keep things toasty. They all come with a firepit and kitchen shack, with a gas stove, cool box, and running water for drinking and washing, up as well as pots, pans, plates and cutlery.
There’s enough distance between the yurts to stop noise carrying, which my excited group of six put to the test as the evening rolled on. There’s also an orchard with apple and cherry trees, as well as a bluebell wood which blooms to life in spring.
Aside from the bathrooms and common area, Fir Hill also offers a terrace with a large BBQ grill for open-air cookouts. The Estate is missing a trick by not offering food and drink supplies on-site - so far from town, they would clean up by offering locally sourced extras in partnership with a neighbouring farm shop. However, I was assured that plans are underway to introduce a hamper service later this year.
WIFI is only in the cowshed, although you might be lucky to catch a signal in one of the closer yurts. Use it as an opportunity to disconnect properly.
There’s plenty to do in this part of the world. Top of the list is exploring the gigantic glass biodomes of the Eden Project (edenproject.com), a 30min drive away. Currently, the entry price gives you access to the gardens for a whole year, giving you more reason to return.
Postcard-perfect Padstow, home of chef Rick Stein, is also a speedy 20 minute zip up the B3274. Stop off at any of the harbour-facing chippies for proper, salt-encrusted chips, followed by double scoops at tiny ice cream parlour Roskilly’s. Walk off the calories with a stroll around the Trevose Head Heritage Coast - Harlyn Bay is an excellent starting point, and it’s less than 10 minutes drive from Padstow central.
Of course, with Newquay a stone’s throw away from Fir Hill, a spot of surfing may be high on the bucket list. Newquay Activity Centre (newquayactivitycentre.co.uk) offers surfing lessons for adults, children and families who wish to conquer the waves.
Food & Drink
None to speak of at the Estate (be sure to stop off at a supermarket before your arrival) but Newquay has plenty of eateries to whet the appetite. We enjoyed our main holiday feast at Cove24, a smart restaurant and bar decked in interiors that would make any East Londoner feel at home; think teal banquette seating, pale straw lampshades and enough greenery to rival the Eden Project. The menu showcases British classics made, where possible, with local ingredients. The Philip Warren Cornish beef picanha for two (£55) was such a triumph, it made my dining partner wriggle with sweet satisfaction.
As a party of six, the family option was the most fitting during our stay, and even with six fully grown adults, the yurt felt spacious. The wooden floor was dressed with colourful rugs and after a quick tutorial from Dean, we were able to man the wood burner skillfully - handy on the wet and stormy nights we stayed. A chest of drawers stood by the door, topped with baskets and anti-bac hand gel - a thoughtful touch in these times. And all beds offered a decent night’s kip.
Although everything worked perfectly well, the furnishings lacked the polish one would expect in from a proper glamping experience - this is more function than frills. That said, if you’re reuniting with friends, or have a schedule packed with outdoor pursuits, Fir Hill makes a great base.
Thrill-seeking families with boisterous older children, and long-plotted weekends with pals.
Yurts cost from £110 per night (minimum stay three nights), www.firhill.co.uk