An inky black sky hung over us at midnight as we crunched our way down a gravelled pathway in a quaint Cornish farm. A busy little beagle followed in our footsteps, as we shone our torches across a sea of darkness. But then my husband and I had been warned by Chris Fellows, the owner of Pencuke Farm, about Spencer the beagle and his penchant for midnight walks.
Who was more eccentric, you might ask? Spencer for his midnight walks or could it be us with our plan to set out glamping, in the middle of autumn.
Glamorous camping or glamping is the newest trend in the world of the travel-happy. Since we have been there and done that with camping —scouting for a camping site, setting up tent, checking for wind cover and the works — we were craving the creature comforts of home. And at the other end of the scale, I’m a bit jaded with the modern hotel experience — I don’t want to be insulated from nature.
So, when we came upon the idea of glamping, offered in fascinating bell tents, yurts, tipis, eco-pods, airstreams, vintage vans, wooden gypsy caravans called roulettes, and even horse-drawn carriages, we jumped into the market. We opted for a yurt in the middle of the 20-acre Pencuke Farm in Bude (North Cornwall).
Lit up by lanterns and a crackling fire in a log burner, our dwelling was a wood-framed one, true to the original yurt that is a native of the Central Asian steppes. It was spacious with a massive oak-framed bed, crowned by a circular skylight. The surprise factor? It was without electricity, and so, we had to pile in wood into the fire burner. As I did it, I felt a bit like a girl scout. But, sadly, the fire eventually dies out. And chances are, you’ll wake up early with bright light streaming in through the skylight. Nevertheless, your bleary senses quickly relay the information that you are in a refrigerated yurt.
In the morning, I checked out the furnishings inside the yurt — from the wooden lattice structure on its cloth walls to the porthole-like openings. It was our mini-home, kitted with a dining table, chairs and a chest of drawers. It even came with a small stove and all sizes of pots and pans, guaranteed to bring glee to a diehard camper armed with packets of noodles. I am not, so we nibbled instead on bakery-bought pain au chocolat.
Even though a lot of glamping sites offer activities such as gold-panning, sport, crêpe making and fairytale themes, Pencuke (Cornish for ‘Swallows End’) chooses to avoid all these gimmicks.
Located in the parish of St Gennys, it offers the authentic farm experience.
Accordingly, we plodded through the muddy fields to meet the farm’s livestock — a pair of Exmoor ponies called Alex and Jasper who were off to explore the farm by themselves. Then, there were a primitive breed of small deer-like sheep called Castlemilk Moorits, some Portland sheep, and the large white, British Lop pigs.
My favourites were a pair of beautiful horses — Mouse, a male Shire cross, and Ebony, a Welsh cob crossed with an Arab. Ebony was a female with attitude — she insisted on showing us her beautifully shaped hind quarters, much as we tried to coax her.
Yes, the natural experience without any extras is what adds to the charm of glamping at Pencuke Farm. As Fellows points out, “Here you are camping but with the material comforts — our showers and bathrooms are a cut above the basic camp site shower blocks. And, we have limited the number of yurts in the farm to four.”
The glamping experience was complete as we hit the great outdoors and went climbing cliffs in Kynance Cove around the southernmost Cornish point of Lizard Peninsula, rambled around the ancient town of Marazion and St Michael’s Mount. Negotiating the cliffs around Kynance Cove are decidedly tricky. My husband insisted on making us walk thin trails bordering the steep cliffs and each time we tried them out, I had an onset of an attack of the nerves. Alas I had none of the hartshorn — that would be aqueous ammonia made from carbonate of ammonia distilled from the shaved or powdered horns of a male deer — which revived delicate heroines from fainting fits in Georgette Heyer’s post Regency world.
The market town of Marazion, situated on the shore of Mount’s Bay, east of Penzance, is a beautiful little parish. Cobbled streets, alleys that peek into the sandy beach and shimmering blue waters, along with holiday makers and quaint tearooms make it a worthwhile stop. Amble down the causeway of granite setts at low tide that links this town to St. Michael’s Mount and you reach what locals refer to as The Mount. As you come nearer to the island, formed of slate and granite, that looms up on the horizon, you know that its Cornish name, Karrek Loos yn Koos, makes complete sense. Karrek Loos yn Koos is translated as ‘the grey rock in the woods’.
Local folklore makes claims about St. Michael, the Archangel, who appeared to local fishermen on the Mount in the fifth century AD. There is an ancient stone chair at the entrance to the medieval castle, passed down generations of St. Aubyns, on the island that is supposed to be where St. Michael made himself known. There is another legend that adds to the charm of St. Michael’s Mount. It goes thus. A mythical giant, Cormoran, once lived on the Mount, and used to wade ashore to steal cows and sheep from the villagers to feed himself. A local boy called Jack rowed out to the island one night and dug a deep pit. As the sun rose, Jack blew a horn to wake the angry giant. Cormoran staggered down and – blinded by the sunlight – fell into the pit and died.
While The Mount is home to a church that was built after the Norman invasion when St. Michael’s Mount was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St Michel in France, it is supposed to be as old as the Bronze Age since relics dating back to the Bronze Age were discovered on the island in 2009.
After all our excursions when we flopped down inside the yurt, we were relieved that we did not have to get down to the business of folding our tents the next morning. That for us was the golden moment of glamping. Quirky, off the beaten path, and, one with nature.
(A version of this story was published on February 10, 2013 in The Telegraph)