One of the ways we judge ourselves ready for parenthood is that we’ve achieved many of our dreams and ambitions and are ready for a more selfless existence based on more than the demands of ‘Me, me, me!’. We’ve got all – or most – of our ego-trips out of our system and are ready for the self-sacrifice that being a mum or dad entails.
Indeed, it was to please – and accompany – my eight-year-old son Ethan that I found myself stepping into the chill Atlantic Ocean in Cornwall at May half term, a surfboard under my arm. I had never had the slightest interest in surfing or the vaguest inclination to try it for myself – in fact, I found the suicidally passionate surfer of the movie Point Break laughable.
We were staying at the ultra-family-friendly Bedruthan Hotel & Spa at Magwan Porth, a gorgeous rugged beach not far north of surfing hotspot Newquay and Watergate Bay, home to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, and just south of Padstow. A mecca for well-to-do parents with young kids, the Bedruthan Hotel & Spa combines chic styling with a whole array of facilities and activities for all the family, including indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, a jungle gym, kids’ clubs for various ages, children’s entertainment, and outdoor play equipment for all ages, including a zipwire.
In terms of practicalities, there’s a children’s tea served in a dedicated diner, a family dinner in Café Indigo, and an excellent adults-only dinner in the main Indigo Bay restaurant – you take your choice. We opted to let the kids eat early and take advantage of the adults’ dinner, which is made possible by the baby-listening service available in all rooms, linked to reception, who give you a pager and buzz you should you need to return to your room.
We stayed in one of the spacious apartments in the hotel annexe, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge area and heartstopping sea-views, although we also liked the look of the smaller ‘villas’ with French windows opening onto private patios and beyond them the toddlers’ play area. Smaller families can also fit into the hotel rooms, where an extra bed or a cot can be set up.
This is a place where so much thought has been put into parents’ needs that a note in rooms urges those stressed out by crying babies in the night to bring them down to the ballroom for a cup of tea and a chat with the understanding porter until they’re settled. Or where, along with a cocktail or a latte at the bar, you can buy a carton of milk for your in-room fridge.
On a two-night mini-break here, with the weather largely good, we were little inclined to venture out from the hotel, with all that there was to do. My younger sons, three and seven, were very happy to spend a morning in the kids’ club while Ethan and I took to the waves and their dad indulged in a spa treatment.
I wasn’t in the best mood for my surfing initiation. The morning started out grey and blustery, and I hadn’t slept well – when the wind is high, the Atlantic Coast isn’t the quietest place to lay your head. And I positively hate cold water – even heated swimming pools are often too chilly for me. Part of me wanted to cancel our lesson and make the most of the other facilities.
For the sake of my son, I resisted the urge. And despite the struggle to get into a snug wetsuit (and to get it off and on again, when our instructor Will told me I’d put it on the wrong way round) and the steep walk from the hotel’s Surf Shack down to the beach carrying our boards, I was glad I didn’t bail out. Ethan loved it, but then I knew he would – he’s an adrenaline junkie. Even when I pelted into him and knocked him flying off his board (not one of my prouder moments as a mum), he was laughing with the sheer exhilaration of it.
But I too was hooked within minutes of entering the water, oblivious to – or perhaps energised by – the sea-spray whipping my face. I wasn’t even very good – I managed to stand on the board only momentarily, while Ethan showed a natural ability that put me to shame. But being any good wasn’t the point.
Had we been staying on at the hotel or in the area, I would have hired boards and wetsuits for Ethan and me and gone out every morning. Unfortunately, we were homeward-bound the following day. But I left the sea unwillingly and have every intention of investing in a wetsuit and trying my hand again at surfing whenever the opportunity arises. That might well be at Bedruthan Hotel & Spa, to which both we and the kids would gladly return. For future reference, I noted that the Surf Shack runs a school-holiday (from Easter) kids’ club for ages 8–12, including surfing but also beach games, beach exploring and lifeguard skills.
Parenthood is far from the end of your dreams, I’ve discovered. In fact, in some cases, it can show you the futility of your old dreams and awaken new dreams of an entirely different nature. As at PGL Barton Hall in Devon, I tried something unfamiliar and slightly intimidating, and found a whole new interest, or at least potentially. Something that I wasn’t really expecting to happen at my age – and it’s all thanks to having kids.
Read more about Cornwall family holidays and breaks, including days out with kids.