I have always enjoyed water (although not at the scalding temperature that my wife enjoys her bath) and in an idle moment of speculation wondered which was the closest beach to my house.
I was living at the time to the north west of Derby and, being a bit bored, dug out our old AA road map to find out.
It transpired it was Skegness but I also discovered that Derby (and my house in particular) was the furthest point in the UK away from its coastline – a fact that was both interesting (in a pub quiz kind of way) and a little bit depressing.
I had recently sold my business (publishing) and was dabbling unsuccessfully with a new one (bespoke tailoring) but I was feeling a bit unsettled.
As I was explaining this to my wife (at the time, my girlfriend), she told me of her many childhood holidays to Cornwall and especially the Isles of Scilly and of her long-held desire to live in Cornwall one day.
Well, I didn’t need telling twice!
Within months, the house was on the market, 4 of our 7 children had been ejected, and I had rented a large old house behind a garden centre just outside Bude in north Cornwall.
And so, with 3 children still in tow, our adventure to Cornwall to live by the sea began ….
A change of pace – living in Cornwall
We had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Cornwall and had no clue what we were going to do when we got there but we did have a house to live in so that was a start.
We soon discovered that Cornish time is unlike anywhere else in the UK! There is no rush, no panic and if you need anything done, it will be done “dreckly” which basically translates into “when I can be bothered”.
Our first trip to the supermarket however (a trip I normally hate) was a delight. The girls on the checkouts were happy, chatty & friendly and I was called “my lovely” so many times I felt like a superstar until my wife pointed out that they call everyone “my lovely” including her!
Other oddities in Cornwall include the rather superfluous use of the word “to”. Instead of the usual question “where are you?” the Cornish version is “where are you to?” This applies to a variety of questions and even some answers, which can lead to a certain amount of confusion to the uninitiated.
Overall however, the charm, friendliness and warmth of the Cornish quickly won us over to a point where neither Heather nor I can imagine living anywhere else ….
Fantastic Falmouth – a thriving Cornish gem
Having initially settled in Bude on the north coast, one of the ejected sons decided to go to university in Falmouth and within weeks was telling us that this was the place to be. We were not convinced – what appeals to an 18 year old is often not the same as would appeal to a slightly more mature 45+ year old.
Two trips to see him later, however, and having sampled a good selection of the pubs and restaurants on offer, we had to begrudgingly admit he might be right.
We have now lived in Falmouth for over 6 years and can honestly say that we still think it is fantastic!
As a town, it has more festivals than you can shake a stick at – from Sea Shanties, music festivals & sailing regattas to our famous Oyster festival – there seems to be someone celebrating something virtually every weekend.
Added to that, there is an excellent and eclectic mix of bars and restaurants, lovely blue flag beach and the historic Pendennis castle – not to mention the varied assortment of activities on offer from paddle boarding, kayaking and scuba diving the wrecks to beach volleyball and beautiful coastal walks.
This is not a town that goes to sleep in the winter!
The birth of the Oceanic – madness or inspiration?
Having decided Falmouth really is the place to be, we set about looking for a business to run and a place to live.
After a few days scouring the internet, we came across a dilapidated old hotel which appeared to be going cheap but was in a perfect position – on the edge of town so only 5 minutes’ walk to the shops, bars and restaurants, but not too close to be noisy, the beach again only a few minutes’ walk away, Pendennis castle with its lovely walks around the peninsula virtually on our doorstep, great views over the harbour – what was not to love?
We soon found out!!
On arrival for our first viewing, I thought Heather was going to run away screaming. Walking into the Palm Court Hotel, as it was then, was like walking into a 1970s time warp –a mixture of Faulty Towers and Rising Damp. The “dining room” sported a plywood railway carriage as the main serving area and there was a particularly hideous mural covering the main wall depicting scenes from around the UK.
Upstairs was a little better as an attempt at modernisation had been made and several of the bedrooms had had a shower cubicle installed on the carpet next to the bed to make them ensuite.
The top floor was condemned so we could only imagine what that was like. In addition, there were no foundations at the back (there was actually a tree growing through the back wall!) and the side extension was falling away from the main house.
I took Heather to the pub and after a few bottles of wine, persuaded her that it could be a fun project!
Six weeks later, we were the proud owners ….
Creating the Oceanic concept
It took 3 months to empty before we could even see what we had bought. Even the homeless charities didn’t want what we were trying to give away but the dogs home did have the blankets.
I had told Heather that it shouldn’t take much longer than 6 months to rebuild (I have always been a bit optimistic!) but in the end it took about 2 years.
We lived onsite throughout the renovation, often without heating or hot water or, on occasions, walls – we sensibly decided to take down the rear of the hotel and rebuild it (with foundations this time) in the coldest February in Falmouth for about 30 years. Heather cooked on a camping stove and kept me, 3 children and an army of builders remarkably well fed.
We wanted to create something a bit different – small enough to be able to run ourselves without the need for extra staff and to enable us to offer a very personalised experience to our guests.
As neither of us had any experience in the hospitality industry, we approached the concept from our own experiences of being a guest.
No. 1 on our list was space – not that we don’t like each other – but if we go away somewhere, we like to feel that we are treating ourselves and being confined to a bedroom is not our idea of luxury. Also Falmouth is a university town and we have had experience of visiting children at uni – either having very uncomfortable chats sitting 3 on a bed in a hotel room, visiting your child’s lodgings (a complete no-no!) or meeting in a pub which invariably means buying copious rounds of drinks for your child and their friends who randomly seem to turn up as if by magic (or possibly by WhatsApp group invite). We therefore wanted separate lounge areas!
No.2 on our list was NO KIDS. We like kids (we have 7) but our youngest had now just turned 18 and whilst your own kids are obviously lovely, most other peoples’ kids are not.
No. 3 is related to food. I wake up starving and ready to eat. Heather will not step outside the bedroom door without at least an hour’s preparation. This invariably leads to early morning disagreements when we need to meet people at breakfast time, and so our solution was to provide the ingredients for guests to enjoy their breakfast in the privacy of their own apartment at a time that suits them.
We also felt that whilst eating out is good, sometimes you just want to be a bit of a slob, get a pizza and watch TV.
Lastly, most of us that drink will have experienced sneaking a bottle of champagne or wine up to the room in your bag and then drinking it warm out of slightly toothpasty tumblers from the bathroom. We have a small honesty bar for convenience but provide most of what you need for a good night in (champagne and wine glasses, etc) within each apartment.
And so the Oceanic concept was born. All we needed to do now was turn it into reality ….
From concept to reality – the Oceanic style
I love sailing and I am well on the way to persuading Heather that we should eek out our dotage on a boat sailing around the world. Some people are inspired by supercars – all carbon fibre and chrome. I hold a romantic nostalgia for the polished wood and aluminium motorboats of the 1950s with Audrey Hepburn sunbathing on the deck.
Heather was not impressed with the idea of turning the hotel into an Audrey Hepburn shrine, but I did manage to get through the wood and aluminium theme which is featured throughout the hotel.
Our logo was also a subtle ploy to get Heather to accept the sailing idea – I think it is called subliminal messaging!
My greatest pleasure is when guests mention the doors. I spent ages choosing them with Heather nagging that “they are only doors and no-one will notice them anyway”. We have had many complimentary remarks about the doors and I never fail to ensure that she is reminded!
Like many projects, we keep adding little bits and our latest addition is a large grass bed in the garden. Although since I have built it, it has been too cold or wet to try it out so we are eagerly awaiting some sunshine ….
When we finally opened our doors over 3 years ago, we probably scared our first guests to death – we were so excited and over-enthusiastic. We have settled down a little since then although perhaps not –a recent TripAdvisor reviewer described us as “an interesting and lively couple”!
We love entertaining and ensuring that everyone gets the most out of their visit to Cornwall. We have even spelt out a marriage proposal in rose petals for one guest – fortunately she said “yes”.
Thanks to all the kind feedback that we have had from our guests, TripAdvisor have this year awarded us their Travellers Choice Award for being in the “Top 25 Hotels in Europe”.
We are looking forward to the next 3 years and making many more new friends.