Liverpool Echo, Travel

Getting to Kernow you at Watergate Bay

There are two types of people in the world.

Those who love Cornwall. And those who have yet to visit.

Because a visit is all it takes to be swept off your feet by this gorgeous granite hunk, gloriously poking out into the wild Atlantic.

Cornwall’s got the weather, the food, the sea … it’s got Ross Poldark. Really, what’s not to love?

So, I can never quite believe my ears when I meet someone who says they’ve never visited.

That might be more pasties and cream teas for the rest of us Kernow-philes but, people, you really are missing out!

So, for those who prefer the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, may I offer an introduction by way of Watergate Bay.

It’s a spectacular stretch of sand, sea and clifftops on Cornwall’s coast north of Newquay where a hotel of the same name is the last word in relaxed, contemporary seaside comfort and fun.

What’s that? Cornwall’s too far to drive? True, the county is 80-miles long and 24-miles wide on average but Watergate Bay is at the long-weekend-away Devon end of peninsula.

It’s also not as remote as you might think. Newquay railway station is just down the road with direct trains from across the UK during the peak season. And for the deeper-pocketed, Newquay Airport is five-miles in the other direction.

A suite with a bathtub overlooking the bay
Take in the view from your armchair
Sea and sand sophistication
The view over the beach from the spa sundeck

The hotel at Watergate Bay pulls off the trick of being all things to all visitors without compromising on the experience for anyone.

Families with kids of all ages will love the unstuffy, relaxed, come-as-you-please atmosphere. Dreamy couples seduced by the crashing passion of the Cornwall coast will love the contemporary vibe and seaside sophistication.

Even your dog’s tail will be waggier than usual. There are no restrictions on the beach and Rover can join you in The Living Space, the cool eat, meet and greet lounge overlooking the sea, or The Beach Hut, a separate informal restaurant nearer the beach.

And don’t miss Zacry’s in the hotel itself where you’ll have breakfast but also dinner if you’re wise.

Maybe it was Cornwall casting its spell but Zacry’s was my best meal out this year. Chef Neil Haydock draws on international influences but still delivers recognisably British dishes with a Cornish twist. Non-residents are welcome: two courses £34 and three for £40.

There’s a big choice of rooms at Watergate Bay reflecting the breadth of its appeal. For the hopelessly romantic, choose a suite with a bath overlooking the bay. For families (with or without dogs), there are connecting rooms or family apartments a short distance up the hill from the main hotel.

But whichever you choose, the barefoot comfort and fresh, coastal colours will keep you bonded to Cornwall’s beauty.

There’s never any shortage of things to do and see. For the do-ers, there’s surfing, swim classes, yoga, coastal fitness weekends and the hotel spa and pool.  For those who prefer to watch from The Living Space with a beer and nibbles, there are events throughout the year to enjoy from stand-up paddle-boarding to polo on the beach (on horseback not in the sea, of course!).

For days out, the rest of Cornwall is on your doorstep. Bedruthan Steps just up the road must be one of the National Trust’s most spectacular coastal property – and it’s certainly one of the most accessible.

Whether you’re a Cornwall virgin or you long since stopped counting the visits, Watergate Bay is an exceptional hotel in an exceptional location.

The coast at Bedruthan Steps

Another Place

If Cornwall really is too far, you might want to consider Another Place, Watergate Bay’s rugged Lake District cousin.

Formerly the Rampsbeck Hotel on the west coast of Ullswater, it aims to channel the same relaxed vibe, outdoors-life vibe. Surfing is off the menu here so there’s lake swimming, sailing and fishing and much else to try, including stargazing for the less athletic.

A sympathetic extension to the original hotel is home to family apartments as well as a lovely spa complex.

Another Place hotel from the lake pier
The view north over Ullswater
Liverpool Echo

A New Year resolution that costs nothing: kindness

Another year is on the turn and the papers are full of advice on resolutions. What to make and how to keep them.

But rather like cheap toys and teenage hearts, New Year resolutions are made to be broken.

So, this year, I’m not bothering with my regular resolve to drink less wine, eat less chocolate and take up jogging.

I know that instead of feeling smug at my achievements – another 5k done! Go me! – I’ll just feel shame at my inadequacy. An emotion which usually hits as I sit with a glass in one hand and a giant Toblerone in another.

Instead, I’m resolving to do something which is a bit less quantifiable. I’m going to be kinder.

I’m going to try to be kinder in 2019. Even to him.

Now, I know this sounds soppy but think about it. Couldn’t we all do with a bit more kindness in our lives – especially in a world where it sometimes feels in chronically short supply?

Better still I have made a list of targets for my kindness to keep me on track:

  • Anyone who voted for Brexit. I’ve rolled my eyes at you for too long and it’s gotten us nowhere. I can’t agree with you but I will try harder to understand. It might be our only way out of this mess
  • The people who run the Mersey tunnels. So many queues, apparently so few toll booths open. I’ll try harder to relax and enjoy the radio rather than shouting random profanities as the start time for my morning meeting slips by
  • Rough sleepers. Sometimes I give cash, sometimes I don’t. But I’ll now try to always give time. A few kind words costs nothing
  • Shoppers in Tesco who go to the self-service tills with overflowing baskets and take an age. I will tut no more
  • People who are strangers to correct grammar on social media. I will not judge. Ok, I will but not as much

Me. And you. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves. Buy the dress, eat the chocolate, binge on the box-set. Not every day, of course, but just enough to keep us sane in this mad world.

Because kindness, like charity, begins at home.

Have a happy New Year.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 29 December 2018.

Charles Dickens, christmas, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Playhouse

Dickens of miracle on Church Street

“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women  open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

So wrote Charles Dickens, the man responsible for A Christmas Carol, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year

Now, some of Mr D’s writing can be a bit hard to understand – he never used one word when 50 would do – but that quote is as clear as a bell.

And all these decades later it still resonates.

I was thinking about Dickens and his old miser Scrooge this week as I battled crowds, rain and queues in pursuit of my last bit of seasonal shopping.

On the face of it there was a singular lack of kindness or charity or forgiveness to be found in the city centre five days before Christmas.

Fellow shoppers barged past. Over-excited kids screamed blue murder while tired mums juggled rolls of wrap with bags and pushchairs. 

Rough sleepers endured the wet to sit on bits of cardboard and watch as the rest of the busy world scurried by.

Meanwhile, the news agenda was dreadful, dominated by squabbling politicians and grounded planes.

But then came a series of minor Christmas miracles.

I met a shop assistant who went so far out of her way to help I could have kissed her. Then came the woman behind me in the queue in Marksies who made me laugh so hard I lost my place in the line and didn’t mind.

Carollers were collecting loose change by the fistful and a group of the kids forgot it was cold and wet and they were bored as they gathered around the Nativity scene in Church Street, faces alight with wonder at a collection of plastic figures.

It was Christmas and the spirit of the season was abroad after all.

It took a bit of finding but Mr Dickens would have been proud.

I touched a nerve this week when I mentioned on Twitter that I couldn’t open my wardrobe for fear of a precariously balanced stash of gifts tumbling out.

Lots of readers got in touch to sympathise, many saying what a nightmare it was to keep prying little eyes at bay at this time of year.

I couldn’t agree more.

Except my kids are 21 and 18.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 22 December 2018.

christmas, Liverpool Echo

Mandatory fun that’s not worth your dignity

Christmas jumpers. Discuss.

I have no problem with them on small children. I have no problem with your uncle wearing one on Christmas Day after several glasses of Bailey’s. I will even tolerate them on a celebrity or two as long a sit’s on the Graham Norton show.

But in the work place? I don’t think so.

I have lost count of the number of reasonable, grown-up people I see – usually attired for 11 months of the year in businesswear – who lose all sense (both common and fashion) come December and take to sporting hideous knitwear.

From 3D comedy Rudolphs to flashing snowmen and giant Christmas puds, the Christmas jumper remains as ubiquitous and as irritating as ever.

I just don’t get it. Why spend even a few quid – because let’s face it, these things are usually as cheap as chips and won’t stand to be near a naked flame – on something you can only wear a handful of times?

And God forbid you’re caught rolling your eyes at Gary from Accounts in his festive sparkly number because then you’ll be labelled someone who is No Fun and possibly even Miserable.

And at this time of year Fun is Mandatory. Whether you like it or not.

So, if you haven’t succumbed as yet to this fashion fiasco I urge you not to.

It will be the saviour of your dignity.

And my sanity.

It’s only worth looking ridiculous for one day a year ….

And talking of eye rolling – I did my fair share when I heard some radio stations had decided to ban that staple of many a Christmas playlist, Baby It’s Cold Outside. 

The argument is that in these post #MeToo times the lyrics are questionable at best and at worst frankly disturbing.

My first thought was: what a load of nonsense.

It’s a cheery tune, beloved of department stores and covered by everyone from Dean Martin to Lady Ga Ga.

What could possibly be the problem?

But then I listened to it. Then I Googled the lyrics. And the problem is there for all to see.

“I’ve got to get home,” warbles the woman. “But baby it’s cold outside,” replies the bloke.

“The answer is no,” she continues before asking“Say, what’s in this drink?”

And so it goes on – her trying to leave, him pressing her to stay.

It’s creepy and inappropriate. 

I know it may have been written in simpler times – the 1940s to be exact – but that’s no excuse here in 2018.

Time to change the record.

First published Liverpool Echo, 15th December 2018.

cheshire oaks, christmas, Liverpool Echo, royal mail

Posties: the human touch in online world

DID you read the story of the little lad who sent a birthday card to his dad in Heaven and got a note back from the Royal Mail saying it had been delivered?

Jase Hyndman is only seven and lost his father four years ago. Nevertheless, he sent a card to him, asking the postman to make sure he received it.

He was, as you can imagine, thrilled when a reply came back, confirming delivery and how Royal Mail had had to “avoid stars and other galactic objects” to get it there.

What a lovely thing to do. An act that cost nothing but brought so much.

Meanwhile, here in Merseyside the ECHO recently highlighted a scheme where posties are keeping an eye on elderly customers, calling on them to check they’re safe and well as the winter weather bites.

All it means is that they knock and say hello to customers but for many that might be a lifeline – and the only human interaction they get from day to day.

The Royal Mail sometimes get a bad press and it’s all too easy to take posties for granted.

But in this digital world when so much is facelessly online they remain embedded in the community, a humanitarian resource.

We should treasure them more.

SO, off I went last weekend to the seventh circle of hell – also known as Cheshire Oaks at Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – there were bargains to be had – but the pay-off was the stress caused by a lack of parking, the queues, the crowds. And the toilets.

How can somewhere as big as Cheshire Oaks get toilets – specifically the ladies – so badly wrong?

I get there are renovations going on at the moment. I get temporary loos are nobody’s idea of fun.

But why are there so few of them – and so many out of order? Where was the water to wash your hands? The cleaner to empty the overflowing bin?

Meanwhile, over at the gents, there was no queue in sight.

Given it’s predominantly women who’ll be lashing out a fortune this Christmas it would be nice if shops made it a pleasure for us to spend a penny.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 1 December 2018.


Cash and vision needed for St John’s

St John’s shopping centre. Picture John Bradley

I’VE written before about Liverpool’s St John’s Market and its ill-fated refurbishment but things seem to have taken a turn this week with the news that its very future is now in doubt.

Liverpool Council is in talks with other organisations about taking on the centre, which has lost around £1m since it relaunched two years ago.

What’s happened here? Why has a market with such a rich heritage and with such potential slid into its present parlous state?

Well, for a start it doesn’t help that it looks a bit like a correctional facility with all its soul sucked away. Sure, it needed modernising but that seems to have come at the cost of atmosphere.

I also know many of the traders who moved back in after the refurb have done their best – they work hard to offer great products at good value prices – but there aren’t enough of them in there.

St John’s Market should be a bright, viable destination for shoppers looking for an alternative to high end brands and high street prices.

It always was – and could be again – a real community asset where people go to meet up and exchange news and bag a bargain.

Of course, it’s easy to look through rose-tinted specs at how it was 20, 30 or more years ago when it was the bustling heart of the city centre; never more so than at Christmas.

But those days are gone. The city and its retail offering has changed beyond recognition and the past isn’t somewhere to which we can return.

The future, however, is ours to create and St John’s could have a great one.

All it takes is some cash and some vision.

SO, how was Black Friday for you? Did you stock up for Christmas? Load up on bargains? Or did you turn the telly over when the ads came on and studiously ignore it?

I was in the latter camp and instead of FOMO – fear of missing out – experienced TOMO: Thrilled Over Missing Out.

I let go of the stress of taking part in Black Friday, the relentless push to buy something, anything, as long as there was money off, the pressure to trawl web-sites or battle queues.

For a start, I’m not convinced all those money off offers are true. I have also failed to make a Christmas gift list yet so have no idea what anyone wants anyway.

And it’s November.

When it comes to Christmas shopping stress I’ll stick to tradition and wait until December.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 24th November 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Trendy kids’ Goose is rightly cooked

AS a 14-year-old schoolgirl – and like every other 14-year-old before me – I loathed school uniform.

So, I would roll the top of my skirt over to make it shorter, push my socks down to my ankles and insist on sporting a coat which was the height of fashion but non-regulation and which got me into detention on a regular basis.

“It’s not a fashion parade,” the headmistress would chide.

But it was. And still is.

canada goose
Canada Goose coats banned by Wirral’s Woodchurch school

So I am wholeheartedly behind the plan by one Wirral school to ban pupils from wearing designer coats in a bid to combat “poverty shaming”. Brands on the hit list at Woodchurch High include Moncler, Canada Goose and Pyrenex.

Of course, “poverty shame”’ has been with us for a long time.

I remember the kids in my school dinner queue who had to present token to get their lumpy mash and runny custard – denoting they were on free school meals.

But designer brands were unheard and – free school meals or otherwise – me and my school chums were all generally in the same boat; I didn’t know anyone whose family had cash to splash.

Here is 2018, however, there is a real gap between the haves and have-nots and the pressure on mums and dads to help their kids fit in by wearing the latest trainers or labels is enormous.

I know some parents are against the ban. After all, if they’ve shelled out their hard-earned cash for a coat why shouldn’t their kid wear it?

But why would you send your kid to school in a piece of clothing worth hundreds of pounds that’s in danger of getting lost or nicked?

And if it helps reduce poverty stigma – even if its unintentional – then what’s the problem?



I KNOW the John Lewis Christmas advert hasn’t been met with universal acclaim – there’s a definite lack of schmaltz in it for a start. And I understand why it’s accused of being a shameless plug for Elton John.

But there’s something about the message contained in it – that you never know the effect one gift can have – that strikes a chord.

For Elton it was a piano which led to a lifelong love of music and a billlion-dollar career.

For me it was a set of pens which led to a lifelong love of words and a job on the ECHO.

If only I’d been given a guitar …

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 17 November 2018.