‘Up the creek and with a paddle’ is how I have just found myself!
An introduction to the world of coastal kayaking is not something that you would normally associate as being available at a sedate golfing country house hotel in Cornwall.
Bridge weekend, yes! Gourmet weekend, yes! Golf and pampering yes! But to find yourself all at sea cruising the creek’s of Helford Passage well that is another matter.
However this turned out to be an inspired customer development by the hotel management team.
Joining in with one experienced and two novices kayakers plus two leaders it turned into a most delightful experience for all who ventured on the two hour plus excursion around the Helford River near to Falmouth. With the obligatory health and safety over it was leader Tom whom we followed from the foreshore of the Budock Vean hotel into the gentle flowing waters of Helford.
After a few navigational errors at first, ‘Left hand down a bit’ from the novices including myself, it was soon before we were all under control and heading in the right direction. That direction was to take us across the estuary to what is known as ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ whether it was Daphne du Maurier’s idea or not the creek was certainly an ideal location for a visit. Any Buccaneer would I am sure wanted to use it as a secret, sheltered, smuggling stop. Its location up around a bend in the river, yet close to the open sea, would have any customs officer in the channel scratching his head and wondering where his quarry had gone!
It has just provided a secret place for contempory pop singer Kylie Minogue to film part of her recent pop video ‘Flower’ at several key locations in the same creek. She was seen laying seductively over a large fallen tree branch that tumbled into the creek and a swing was constructed on a grass bank opposite. One of our kayaking crew could not resist the chance to recreate the scene but even as a shower passed over however she did retain her dignity and did not fall in! I think Kylie was wearing a little less than our volunteer.
Gently cruising around the tidal creeks you get access to areas that are often out of bounds from the land, also up close and personal to some of the wildlife, herons, waders and even the more exotic egrets, there have also been encounters of the friendly kind with seals and dolphins.
As an addition to the ‘things to do’ section available for guests at the Budock Vean I really rate this experience, suitable for most ages, the Helford River is generally very calm and the sheltered estuary gives clients a safe and gentle way to get to grips with kayaking, especially, as a first timer. This allows you to concentrate on enjoying yourself and not having to worry about the safety aspects of wind and waves, as you would do if you were in the sea for real. Tour leaders Tom and Hetty of Koru Kayaking are enthusiastic and take great effort to ensure that you are looked after in terms of safety and for you to get the very most of the time on the water with them.
Back in the hotel itself and the efficient friendly staff push the boat out too, and make your stay a real joy.
The privately and family owned Budock Vean sits in its own huge well cared for 65 acres of sub-tropical gardens, which includes a very popular 9-hole golf course, indoor heated pool, outside hot tub and spa facilities. The hotel has its own private foreshore with a sunroom and sitting out area bordering Helford Passage.
In the dining room, the crew there run a very efficient ship and the food coming out of the kitchen is first class. They pride themselves on using produce with a local provenance most items come from the immediate area of West Cornwall or the seas around it.
Some extremely good and local wines are available too. Camel Valley wines appear more than worthy to lay alongside many others in their cellar.
The dinner experience as well as the superb food is at many times the insistence that men wear jackets and ties. The age range at the time of the visit was 50 and over and for these people jacket and ties are very much par for the course. Younger guests may find this to be an arcane ruling but it does somehow work really well and dressing for dinner does help to enhance the experience. I do not have a problem with that ethos, so be prepared in the wardrobe department.
As a base the hotel makes for a great location allowing guests to fan out over a very wide area of West Cornwall from it. For on its doorstep are so many places and going further afield than around 12 miles seems to be almost a waste.
Directly from the hotel you can walk the coastal footpath, play golf, play tennis or croquet, go fishing and within a few miles there are some 9 delightful sub-tropical gardens. There are many excellent pubs to visit close by The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage, the 15th century Red Lion at Mawnan Smith or a little further to the Pandora Inn at Restronguet.
The nearest town is the busy port of Falmouth, part industrial, part leisure and tourist. A ferry ride across the harbour from the town quay will take you to St Mawes an excellent day out and a chance to visit the twin castle fort that was used to guard one side of Falmouth Harbour, the other being at Pendennis Castle back on the town side.
Falmouth itself has a whole range of events on during the year, Henri Lloyd Falmouth Week, Spring Festival and one that has grown in popularity is the Oyster Festival in October. This under cover event runs for 4 days and includes food, drink, stalls, markets, music and the odd celebrity chef or two! All this takes place adjacent to the Maritime Museum in Events Square.
I do not play golf, tennis or croquet but the hotel that can allow you to do so much more right on its doorstep. With plenty to do, you just need to make it for more than a weekend, for a weekend is just not enough.
The Budock Vean is an excellent homely comfortable base with perfect food and such a great and convenient location.
And that kayaking adventure ‘I should be so lucky lucky lucky lucky’ (Kylie Minogue).