Organic B&B: the phrase does not exactly conjure images of luxury and relaxation. Indeed, the very concept sounds far too earthy and earnest to offer much in the way of creature comforts. Or at least that's what I thought until I heard about Bangors House in north Cornwall. This is one of only a few B&Bs in the country actually to be certified as organic, yet it is also a chic little outfit where you can enjoy a range of accoutrements more usually associated with a boutique hotel. It all sounded intriguingly incongruous, so I booked in.
Bangors House is located in Cornwall's quieter reaches, on the fringes of the village of Poundstock, five miles or so south of Bude. Although this area offers sandy beaches, semi-hidden coves, rolling pastureland and plenty of dramatic cliffs, it is often bypassed by holiday crowds who are lured further down the coast to fashionable Rock and Padstow. On a blustery weekday at the start of the season I zipped along half-empty roads and arrived mid-afternoon, after an 80-minute drive from Exeter.
A large Victorian house, Bangors sits sideways on to a stretch of the A39 imaginatively dubbed the "Atlantic Highway" by the local tourist board (you have to strain your neck to see the sea). Its proximity to a major road was at first a disappointment - I had been half-expecting a rural haven. But this was quickly mitigated by the warm and enthusiastic welcome from the owners and hosts, Gill and Neil Faiers. They live the organic way with appealing zeal. Not that they're on a mission to convert the world; you get the impression they simply want to share the good things in life, truly combining business with pleasure.
This spirit of generosity extends to the accommodation on offer. There are two spacious guest bedrooms in the main house, each pared-down elegant, and each with a huge bathroom with shower, roll-top bath, and his-and-hers basins. The rooms share a private sitting room with comfy sofas, local guide books and magazines, from Hello! to Waitrose Food Illustrated. Here you can lounge in front of the TV and help yourself to soft drinks (ginger beer, lemonade) or wines (all organic, naturally, including English Sedlescombe whites and reds), writing down your consumption on an honesty pad. Adjoining the main building, an old coach house was in the process of being converted into two more suites, each with its own sitting room, that is due to be completed by mid-September.
I had anticipated a hint of fastidiousness or perhaps an underlying sense of ascetic austerity. Yet any such expectation quickly vanished as I was shown my room, which was equipped with fluffy white bathrobes, tea and coffee facilities (all organic, of course), TV and even Green & Black's chocolates. Bathroom amenities, meanwhile, included Taylor of London natural shampoo and Organic Trevarno soaps.
Waiting downstairs was an afternoon tea such as you might have thought only exists in the world of children's story books: freshly baked saffron cake with deep yellow butter on the side; warm-from-the-oven Cornish splits - light, sweetish bread rolls - served with lashings of clotted cream and jam; tea in a comforting pot. And all of it, down to the pricey threads of saffron and the tea itself, organically produced.
From spring until the end of October Bangors House dining room opens to the public as a tearoom. More recently they have also started serving light lunches, as well as dinners on Friday nights. Gill does the baking, Neil grows much of the produce in the five-acre grounds and last year they took on young chef Ian Shute to work on the lunch and dinner menus.
The expansion has been remarkably swift given that Bangors House has been in business for just three years. The building had been empty for about a decade and was near-derelict when Gill and Neil bought it back in 2001. Restoration was a two-year labour of love, particularly for Neil, a painter and decorator by trade. Keeping as true as possible to the principal period of the property, circa 1885, was a priority. But without sacrificing comfort - underfloor heating, for example, has been added. Upstairs a panel of original 1880s wallpaper has been preserved. Downstairs is partly decorated with wallpaper designed by William Morris's daughter May. Fixtures and fittings were painstakingly sourced - from Victorian-style taps to basins and even lavatory cisterns.
But what about the organic aspect: was it difficult to qualify? Gill explained that by law, producers of organic food must be certified as such, and need to meet a number of strict standards (such as using no additives and only very limited amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides). The organic food sector is, of course, shooting up in terms of popularity and size, and at present there are 10 or so organisations in the UK that have government approval to certify and license organic producers. Such bodies include the Organic Food Federation and the Soil Association, which is one of the largest and is widely considered to be the most stringent. However, when it comes to catering in the organic sector, for the moment no certification is required - the implicit understanding is that an organic restaurant or café serves produce that has been fully certified. Yet in this respect Bangors is different - and pioneering.
After Neil and Gill opened Bangors tearoom in 2003 they asked the Soil Association to certify their organic credentials. It entailed proving that every food item used to make teatime biscuits, cakes, jam, Cornish splits and more was organic (the flour, sugar, spices and other ingredients) as well as, of course, the cream, milk and tea itself. To achieve this, a full inspection was made of the kitchen and of all the paperwork relating to suppliers - and fortunately Gill, as a former accountant, keeps meticulous records. Having been registered as the UK's first organic tearoom, Neil and Gill then asked the Soil Association to certify their B&B operation. "This was a first, again. And the Soil Association devised a new title for us, Bed and Organic Breakfast, since technically the accommodation isn't included," said Gill.
And what a breakfast they serve. I tucked into locally produced yoghurt with a compote of berries; toasted home-made brown bread and honey; and rich yellow scrambled eggs (having reluctantly skipped the porridge with clotted cream and the kippers). But given that many visitors are already dedicated to an organic way of life, is a Bangors breakfast always considered so special? "We do try to source the very best local produce," Gill told me. "And yes, most people are amazed at the colour - and the taste - of the eggs, the butter and even the milk." So, in effect, here is the crème de la crème of organics? "Well yes, you might say so," was the modest reply.
After such a feast there is plenty of glorious countryside in which to work off excess energy - and Neil and Gill have devised a variety of leaflets for local walks. Before setting out on an amble to the sea at Millook Cove a mile away down lanes fringed with cow parsley and vetch, I took a tour around Neil's nursery gardens. In February these too were certified as organic. Neil proudly explained his crop rotation plans, so that the soil can be naturally fertilised, and his companion planting so as to deflect parasites and boost growth. There were nectarines and grapes in the greenhouse; aubergines, tomatoes and cucumber in a polytunnel carefully tucked out of sight of the main house so as not to spoil the view. We sampled four types of lettuce and numerous herbs - borage, chervil, marjoram and more. We wandered through the young orchard where two Cornish apple varieties have recently been added. Butterflies danced over wildflowers in the sun, vibrant-blue dragonflies hovered over a small pond. The place exuded the happy sense of wellbeing which leaves you feeling, at least momentarily, that all is right with the world.
Bude can be reached by bus or coach from Exeter St Davids or Bodmin Parkway train stations (National Rail enquiries: 08457 48 49 50; www.nationalrail.co.uk).
STAYING & EATING THERE
Bangors Organic, Poundstock, Bude (01288 361 297; www.bangorsorganic.co.uk) is open throughout the year for B&B and Friday dinner. Double rooms start at £77 including full organic breakfast. Friday-night three-course dinners (the likes of seared scallops followed by slow roasted belly of pork and then chocolate and almost torte) cost £28 per person - there are vegetarian options available. Tea and light lunches are served from spring until the end of October: Organic Cornish cream teas cost £5.95. Lunches include Cornish pasty and salad at £9.75 and soups from £4.75.
Organic Places to Stay (01943 870 791; www.organicholidays.com) provides information on accommodation at organic farms, B&Bs and more across the UK and Ireland and in selected areas overseas.
Organic Fortnight, a nationwide celebration of organic food organised by the Soil Association, takes place from 2-17 September (0117 314 5000; www.soilassociation.org).
Bude tourist information: 01288 354 240; www.visitbude.infoReuse content