Is this the best holiday house to rent on Cornwall’s north coast?

The Great British summer (and May half-term) is looming large and trying to find the perfect place to holiday in is no easy feat. Until now, says Rosie Paterson, who went to stay in what might just be one of the best houses in Cornwall right now.

These days, the village of St Agnes is more synonymous with tourists than full-time residents, but there’s evidence of the latter dating back more than 7,000 years. Their flint tools trapped in the coarse loamy ground for millenia. 

Barrows — a type of burial mound — from the Bronze Age also survive, and the pockmarked moorland serves as a reminder of the industrious tin and copper mines that once scarred the landscape here. The industry reached its peak in the mid-19th century, mackerel and pichard fishing boats propping up the working harbour until its own demise in 1917. 

In another 100, 1,000, perhaps even 10,000 years, what will the archeologists working down in north Cornwall discover about us? Our silicone cooking utensils will have long decomposed (50 to 500 years); our lost loved ones have been buried in churchyards, rather than in hemispherical mounds of earth, for some time now; most of the seafood we eat in the UK is imported and most of what we catch is exported… 

Sifting through the soil and reading between the lines, perhaps they’ll uncover our love of a staycation (still going strong post-Covid), second homes (more than 800,000 in 2022) and the sea (Surfers Against Sewage claim that the ocean was the environment we missed most during lockdown). 

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Perhaps they’ll stumble upon what remains — hopefully all of it — of The Barrels, a five-bedroom, self-catering cottage, overlooking Trevaunance Cove. 

The approach upwards to the former miner’s cottage — built using granite and slate — gives little away, apart from the expected. It’s symmetrically fronted and seemingly small. 

Inside is an entirely different story. The old cottage has been opened up and the granite walls left exposed, a poured concrete staircase climbing from the bowels of the building up into a timber-clad and glass, modern-day extension, almost entirely concealed by clever angles, the hillside and trees. 

Four of the five bedrooms are on the ground floor; the master is on the first floor — and all feel somewhat Scandi-inspired. Think neutral colour palettes and lots of natural materials, like those aforementioned exposed granite walls. 

The open plan kitchen and living space is on the second floor — inside the extension — featuring a humongous dining room table, ludicrously deep sofas and views of the village and beach through floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s also a terrace with some alfresco dining space and a cedar wood hot tub. 

On occasion, you may catch yourself watching the waves as the RNLI — who have a base here — practise launching and various manoeuvres.

The most unexpected bit? Take a peek behind the benign-looking door, half-way up the stairs, and you’ll find a well-equipped home gym and a cinema space. 

It’s a far cry from the rentals that characterised my childhood holidays — all teeny-tiny bunk rooms, sandy carpets (I’m likely guilty for bringing the sand in in the first place) and showers that either ran very hot or very cold, and never in that sweet spot in between. 

This is a space for adults and the odd, well-behaved child. How many, I wonder, have to be turfed out unwillingly at the end of their stays?

Walk east along the heritage coastline and you’ll reach Perranporth; to the west, by some distance, is Gwithian. A three mile stretch of golden beach. However, there’s plenty to explore in between. And everything has a wonderfully quirky name, such as Sally’s Bottom (another beach).

In Newquay, this part of Cornwall’s most famous town — popular with surfers — and a 30 minute drive from the house, the new hotspot is the Watergate Bay Hotel’s new Zacry’s restaurant. 

It’s so close to the water — its full name is Zacry’s on the sea wall — it might as well be in it, and the menu goes someway to making sure that British fish ends up on British plates. 

The Barrels is available to rent through Cornish Gems from £3,529 a week. 

What else to do while you’re there

  • Learn to surf on Gwithian, Perranporth or Fistral beaches. Alternatively try your hand at sea kayaking or coasteering
  • Beach hop: as well as Trevaunance Cove, there’s Chapel Porth and Trevellas to explore — and that’s just in the immediate vicinity. If you’re willing to travel just a tiny bit further you’ll find a myriad sandy expanses to picnic on
  • St Ives — and the Tate gallery — are a 30 minute drive away, but it’s more fun to park in St Erth and complete the last bit of the journey by train, along the scenic St Ives Bay Line