CORNWALL had always appealed to me – the golden sands, days of unbroken sunshine, pasties – but with three children to transport and a ten-hour drive I couldn't garner the enthusiasm. Then a cousin researched the English side of my family tree and found that our Yorkshire coalmining ancestors had originated in Cornwall.
Intrigued, I got online and discovered what everyone else already knew – there are flights to Newquay in summer from Scotland. Perfect! What could be easier than to jump on a flight that will have you in Cornwall in an hour and the kids on the beach that afternoon? And we could take a look at the quaint Cornish village where my ancestors came from – perhaps there would be a Daphne du Maurier Manderley-style country mansion waiting for us?
In the meantime we'd booked into Retallack Resort at St Columb Major where an open-plan five-star lodge was a hit with both me and the kids. Beautifully decorated with Villeroy & Boch bathrooms and Smeg kitchens, it had everything you could want to cook for a large family. And our lodge had a pool table in the vaulted lounge upstairs that meant the teenagers were sorted.
When I was able to drag them away, we headed for the tennis courts, swimming pool and what must be the resort's main draw, the Waverider. A wave machine that allows surfers to practise, it's the only one of its size in the UK and was hugely popular with my teenage sons who couldn't get enough of it, especially when conditions at nearby Watergate Bay were too calm for surfing.
Husband and wife team Amy and Jason Keyter took over the 160-acre site three years ago and currently have 110 properties, plus an Elemis spa and health club that attracts the posh hen weekend market. And for families, there are children's activities such as arts and crafts and circus skills laid on, along with a tennis academy and video evenings.
"The Waverider is our latest innovation and it's thrilling. People don't have to drive to the beach if they want to surf. They can do it here," says Amy.
Even more surfing will be available when an artificial beach and surf wave is complete, for Retallack is still expanding, with another 300 properties, including 100 one-bed surf suites, cabanas and beach homes, most of which are for sale then rented out.
After four nights in our four-bed lodge, we were sorry to go, but Camellia Cottage in the hilltop village of Trevarrian, near Mawgan Porth, was every bit as welcoming, especially when we discovered groceries courtesy of Food4myholiday which negated a 20-minute supermarket drive to Weybridge or Newquay.
With four spacious bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen, dining room and its own backyard sunspot, Camellia Cottage is typical of the contemporary self-catering property from specialists Beach Retreats. With plenty of space for families, it's within walking distance of a fantastic beach just down the hill and welcomes dogs, who would be in heaven if those we saw leaping in the surf were anything to go by.
The children would happily have spent the whole time at the beach, and who could blame them? Watergate Bay is huge and surf, body boarding, kite surfing and waveski lessons and equipment are all available at the Extreme Academy run by Carl Coombes, former waveski world champion.
"Watergate Bay is beautiful and ideal for extreme sports, from paddle boarding to surfing in howling 300 knot winds. You can surf all year round and we offer lessons for everyone over eight years. It's a magical beach," he says.
I'm not normally a wetsuit kind of person, but ten minutes after meeting Carl I was zipped up and in the sea with my children, crashing up on to the shoreline with each successive wave like a wounded elephant seal and having the most fun I've had in years. I'm unlikely ever to be able to surf, but anyone can body board and your kids will love you for joining in.
Watergate Bay is hugely popular and not just with extreme sports enthusiasts like me – it's a hit with ordinary families and knee-deep in celebs too. Justin Lee Collins and his family were two beach blankets along from us, and earlier in the day Fern Britton had grinned in response to my greeting before I realised I didn't know her, she was someone off the telly.
Watergate Bay is also the location of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant, where youths who have lost their way are given a second chance, and the menu looked fabulous. We chose to eat on the floor below at the Beach Hut, with its more laid-back vibe, excellent, value-for-money, food and beautiful views out over the beach and the UK kite surfing championships. And this is just one of the great beaches on offer; Fistral, Polzeath, Harlyn Bay and Daymer Bay are all worth packing your bucket and spade for too.
When I did manage to entice the children away from the beach, it was to find the village my ancestors had lived in. Four hundred years in one place – it must be nice? Well, no. Roche is situated in a landscape that looks like a location from Mad Max. Huge, white slag heaps scar the countryside surrounding the village that owes its existence to the clay and tin mines centred around St Austell.
I should have known my family would have come from the industrial wasteland part of Cornwall as opposed to the fishing village and bucolic idyll side. The nearby museum at Wheal Martyn gave us an insight into the harsh lives of the men, women and children who toiled away at the china clay and tin. As for us, when we emerged into the sunshine, how much more we enjoyed splashing about on the beach and counting our lucky stars.
We never did make it to the Eden Project, Jamaica Inn up on Bodmin Moor, Padstow, St Ives or Truro. But now we know how fabulous Cornwall is, we've vowed to return. After all, it's so easy to jump on a plane. As long as a volcano doesn't erupt and leave you stranded, a ten-hour drive from home. With trains fully booked, I held on to our hire car and set off on a journey that made me appreciate the plane trip even more. The first "Are We Nearly There Yet?" occurred at Bristol…
Cornwall – it's cool, especially with kids, but take my advice and let the plane take the strain.
Retallack Resort and Spa (01637 882400, www.retallackresort.co.uk). Self-catering accommodation for eight in July, 1,150 per week. Camellia Cottage booked through Beach Retreats (www.beachretreats.co.uk), 1,350 for seven nights in July.
Waverider tuition, 40 each, subsequent sessions 25 an hour. Extreme Academy (www.watergatebay.co.uk/extremeacademy.htm).
Fly with Flybe from Edinburgh to Newquay, from around 109 return in July.
Car hire: Easy Car from Newquay Airport, for five days, 230.
This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday on 20 June.