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Why Cornwall makes the perfect winter UK break

 Cornwall is known for azure blue seas and golden sandy beaches, but there's so much more to it, as a winter trip to the South West coast proved

Split screen of Mel in Cornwall
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
9 January 2024
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Every summer I hotfoot it down to Cornwall to spend a week frolicking in the sea, walking the South West Coast Path and generally recharging on the beach. When I return to London, I always feel refreshed and rejuvenated and much happier too – and there's a good reason why. A recent survey by the South West Coast Path reported that 80 per cent of people feel more positive after walking the coast, while three quarters feel less stressed and 57 per cent are able to sleep better. Perhaps due to the higher levels of oxygen in fresh clean coastal air.

Writer Laura Silverman, author of The Little Book for Wild Swimmers, notes that Cornwall's seaside location could also be responsible for the good vibes I feel when I'm on the coast.

"Spending 20 minutes regularly in or near blue spaces – large bodies of water – boosts our long-term well-being. Blue mind theory, developed by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, suggests that being around water encourages a gentle meditative state," she writes.

sunny empty beach in winter
Being by the sea is good for us - no matter the weather

"The blue hue may well be important: according to colour psychology, we associate it with feelings of peace and tranquillity. Watching the ocean has also been shown to increase alpha waves in our brain, which are those produced when we’re calm. Moreover, listening to the crash of waves or lapping water switches on our parasympathetic nervous system, the network of nerves that relaxes us."

Given that the winter is a more miserable time of year than summer, I wondered if a dose of Cornwall's magic would work in winter, too? I decided to give it a try, hitting the M4 in search of Cornwall's calming vibes, despite the roaring wind and pelting rain.

Arriving at the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa, I was struck by how quiet the beach the hotel overlooked was, with barely a soul on it save for a few overexcited dogs playing in the waves, but the deserted beach made me feel all the more serene. "Out of high season, Cornwall offers a quiet space to reconnect, get back to nature away from the hustle of city life," says a spokesperson for The Scarlet Hotel, where I spent a night during my quest for calm.

My rooms at both the Bedruthan Spa Hotel and The Scarlet (which are next door to each other) had floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the sea and I spent a blissful hour watching the waves as the sun set. I got another fix of sea-gazing while I was in the clifftop hot tub at The Scarlet. Perched outdoors on the edge of the cliff, I whiled away an hour relaxing in the tub, not even minding that the rain was pouring and the wind was howling.

The view from the clifftop hot tub at The Scarlet
The view from the clifftop hot tub at The Scarlet

The coastal location of both properties is key to their appeal, with Th Scarlet explaining: "Many of us feel more relaxed and at peace by the sea. Simply focusing on the sea can change our brain wave frequency into a mild meditative state.

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"Being either beside or fully immersed within the sea, acts as a form of mindfulness as people tend to focus on all aspects of it, – the rhythms of its waves, its temperature, taste and smell, rather than their busy, overactive minds and thoughts.

"We find at Scarlet being by the coast helps our guests to restore a balanced relationship with the natural coastal ecosystem that they take home with them. We encourage them to adopt a simple way of living that’s about slowing down, using less and appreciating more."

Cornwall clifftop walk
Clifftop walking is good for the soul!

The fact that it was blowing a gale for much of my time in Cornwall meant that when I ventured out of the spa and into the elements, the wind was against me on my coastal walks, with The Scarlet explaining this is part of the beauty of Cornwall.

"As well as encouraging people to slow down and reflect being by the coast is also about embracing the elements. The wind, the rain, the power of the ocean."

The pool at The Scarlet overlooks the sea
The pool at The Scarlet overlooks the sea

The Scarlet's indoor pool is framed by floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can see the sea at all times, and while I wasn't brave enough to take a dip in the choppy waters, The Scarlet explains being near the sea still likely had a profound effect. "Even without physically being in the sea, we find watching the elements in action can have a very powerful and profound effect on the mind, bringing the strength of the elements into a person’s mindset and approach. That’s why we try to have our guests get out and explore or simply find a quiet place and watch the wonders of our rugged clifftop location (whatever the weather)."

Indeed, during my trip, I was inspired to try cold water swimming for the first time ever, in The Scarlet's outdoor natural pool. I was certainly emboldened by the fact that seconds after exiting the chilly water, I could be in the outdoor sauna or safely back inside in seconds, but maybe the challenging weather inspired me too.

The natural pool at The Scarlet
The natural pool at The Scarlet

I've written about cold water swimming many, many times and never been inspired to try it, but after seeing an older woman serenely doing lengths in the outdoor pool, I found myself submerging my body in the icy waters.

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I can't say I liked it, but I did feel more energised than I ever had before and I could literally feel the blood returning to each part of my body as I warmed up, which was certainly unique. I also felt the most incredible sense of clarity about half an hour after leaving the pool, with things that had been bothering me for months suddenly seeming simple.

During my stay, I was treated to an ayurvedic attuned massage in The Scarlet's spa, and it was like being transported to an Arabian palace with low, sparkling lighting and tent style treatment rooms.

outdoor hot tub at The Scarlet
The outdoor hot tub at The Scarlet

Unlike any other massage I've had, this was tailored to me. My therapist asked how I was feeling and my plans for the day (which happened to be a coastal walk), and created a bespoke, energising treatment, designed to give me the get up and go required to tackle Cornwall's cliffs.

Normally I feel dozy post-massage, but when my therapist showed me to the blissful relaxation room to rest in post-massage, I only stayed for five minutes as I was feeling so invigorated I wanted to take on the day rather than take a nap.

Selfie in a bobble hat in Cornwall
The sun made a brief appearance!

All in all, my winter Cornwall visit was just as rejuvenating as my summer breaks – if not more so. While lounging on the beach is idyllic, the bracing cold weather helped clear my mind, and the sea's magical calming powers worked just as well during a storm as on a clear, summer day.

 Read more inspiring stories of the power of nature on HELLO!'s Nurtured by Nature hub.

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