Free… at last! Enjoying a self-catering family break in Cornwall

You could hardly call it ‘back to normal’. We are not even back to last summer. Even so, there are few better ways to banish the grimmest winter in living memory than looking up at the stars, glass in hand, from a Cornish hot tub.

No sooner were the shackles loosened on Monday, than millions of us were making a beeline for a ‘non-essential’ shop or a pub. My family, meanwhile, was straight off down the M5 to Cornwall to make the most of the other big change in the rules.

For, as of April 12, we are allowed to stay overnight away from home in England and Wales as long as it’s in ‘self-contained accommodation’ (in Wales this can also include hotels with en-suite facilities). In Scotland domestic holidays are expected to be permitted from April 26, and in Northern Ireland self-contained accommodation can reopen from April 30.

Beach-ready: Richard Hardman was straight off down the M5 to Cornwall to make the most of the changes in the rules this week. Pictured is Godrevy Head at St Ives Bay

But given all the constraints still in place, can you still enjoy something that passes for a holiday? And is it worth it?

To which the response from my ‘bubble’ — three children, my wife and my mother-in-law — was a resounding ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

Just be prepared to accept that this won’t be quite like any previous holiday, and remember that these rules will still be in place come the next Bank Holiday weekend.

The most striking thing is the lack of human contact. My three are a pretty sociable bunch who always make friends at a beach, pool or restaurant. But that is almost impossible under the current rules.

Outside, there can be gatherings of no more than six people (children included) or two households. Try explaining that to a gang of competitive sandcastle-builders.

Spontaneity is off-limits; you need to plan ahead with military rigour.

The Hardmans at the Via Ferrata activity centre near Penryn where you clip on to cable pathways and make your way up cliff-faces

The Hardmans at the Via Ferrata activity centre near Penryn where you clip on to cable pathways and make your way up cliff-faces

For now, this is a reservations game and fortune favours the organised. At our Cornish resort, for example, we had the indoor pool all to ourselves — because we had to. Only one family can reserve a half-hour slot at a time (with a half-hour gap for cleaning). The spa has a first-class range of massages and treatments but you have little chance if you just drop in.

We had booked in to Landal Gwel an Mor, a collection of Scandinavian-style lodges in a parkland setting overlooking the north Cornish coast between St Ives and Newquay.

It has all the things you’d expect at a top resort — indoor pool, spa, tennis and golf course — plus a well-stocked fishing lake. It is also perfectly Covid-compliant because each lodge has three good bedrooms, a proper kitchen and (the clincher as far as my children, aged 13, 12 and nine, are concerned) a private hot tub.

Landal Gwel an Mor is 'perfectly Covid-compliant', writes Richard. Pictured is one of the single-storey lodges

Landal Gwel an Mor is ‘perfectly Covid-compliant’, writes Richard. Pictured is one of the single-storey lodges 

It’s a ten-minute walk down the hill to the harbour at Portreath. It was magical to find myself in a queue for ice creams again.

It’s strictly wetsuits in the water but the children sploshed around quite happily for hours.

Gwel an Mor (Cornish for ‘sea view’) also sits right on Cornwall’s coast-to-coast cycle path. We hadn’t brought bikes (the last time I tried to attach the bike rack to the car, it took longer than the holiday). But that was soon resolved. Coastal Trail Cycle Hire come to your door with everything. They also have bikes with electric boosters — heresy to purists, but we loved them.

One of the outstanding features of Gwel an Mor is Feadon Farm Wildlife Centre, with its reindeer, wallabies, farm animals and whatever creatures resident ranger Gary Zammit happens to have rescued lately.

By day, he does sessions on building camp fires or dens; by night, he leads safaris with a large infra-red screen on his back. We were transfixed by all the wildlife action in the woods (for now, Covid means it is just one family at a time so, once again, get booking).

As for the resort restaurant, The Terrace, you can eat outside, which is nice on a sunny day. But they also deliver to your door (do try the salt & pepper squid).

For more Covid-proof fun, head for the Via Ferrata activity centre near Penryn. It is like one of those harnessed tree-climbing adventures except it is built into the side of two huge granite quarries.

Named after Alpine climbing routes, you clip on to cable pathways and make your way up cliff-faces, along ledges and over lakes via tightropes and zipwires (falling off and dangling is all part of the fun). And you must try the clifftop cafe, where the cakes are as good as the views.

Covid still looks set to cast a shadow this summer. We have a long way to go. But from this week’s brief, revivifying toe in the staycation water, I would say the UK’s 2021 holiday prospects are already looking very promising indeed.