National Trust holiday cottages: sleeping with the past

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We're all aware of the term "busman's holiday". But how many of us have actually been on one? (I discount those with the surname Bussman.) Well I can now say that I have. I'm a radio presenter, and recently went to stay at Wireless Cottage in Cornwall.

The cottage is one of a pair of chalet-style buildings perched on the cliffs near Lizard Point in south-west Cornwall. One is a holiday cottage; the other was used for experiments by radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi early in the 20th century. The latter has now been restored and turned into a museum. Short of a week sleeping on Dave Lee Travis's couch, this could be the ultimate radio-geek getaway.

Having negotiated a couple of days away from my family, I was looking forward to a quiet break alone in one of my favourite counties … until I checked the information from the National Trust, which portentously informed me: "Access to the cottage is via an uneven track (about half a mile in length) and along a field."

There was more: "The foghorn, which is half a mile away, sounds every 30 seconds day and night when there is reduced visibility." My panicked townie mind flickered with scenes from the films Misery, The Shining and Scott of the Antarctic. I packed my wireless internet dongle and prayed for adequate 3G coverage before loading the car with survival food, a wind-up radio and a shotgun. Yes I may be exaggerating a tad, but to fully enjoy this unique and magical residence, it was important to switch off totally from "city" mode.

As I drove up the final dirt track to the turning for the cottage, all mobile phone signal disappeared. Oh the irony! Here of all places, I thought, where Marconi set us on the path towards global telecommunications, I am completely incommunicado!

"What if I have a seizure? What if I accidentally slash an artery while prising a pie from a dish? I'll die."

Yet after the initial bodyshock of pure uninterrupted solitude, the sensation started to become pleasant, addictive even.

When I said the cottage was "on a cliff", I meant literally. To the left is a path down to the original coastal radio station and the tiny but charming village of Lizard; to the right is a path down past the imposing and beautiful working lighthouse, which continues eventually to the national full stop that is Land's End. As far as the eye can see (as long as the foghorn isn't sounding) your senses are assailed by beautiful, dramatic seascapes.

After a spume-flecked yomp around the coastline, returning to this cosy cottage is like returning to the womb. I was there in February yet the cottage was warm and inviting, with beautiful period furniture evoking those days a century or so ago when Marconi became the first person to bridge the Atlantic by wireless. (Many scientists believed the curvature of the earth would prevent wireless waves, travelling in straight lines, from spanning the Atlantic. Marconi set out to prove this was not the case, choosing this site and one in Massachusetts.)

The cons today are very mod, with a nice little kitchen, TV and radio (thanks Guglielmo) to remind you that there is an outside world.

Next door, the Marconi museum is an impressive outbuilding that punches way above its weight, representing a pivotal moment in history that heralded a new era of mass communication, instantly shrinking the world while broadening our view of it. The National Trust has preserved much of the equipment on which Marconi made test transatlantic transmissions, and there are many impressive photos of him and his men perching on cliff edges securing massive antennas with guy ropes in high winds. To think he went through all that just so I could mutter smut into the ear of Britain between The Smiths and Sam and Dave …

Thankfully the peninsula was fogless when I was there, so the deafening and relentless honk of the foghorn was absent (a relief seeing as I get enough of that at home courtesy of my youngest child). But no matter how tight you pull the curtains, the pulse of the nearby lighthouse is always visible. To add to the filmic atmosphere, you have the crash and swell of the waves beneath. This may make it sound like the least relaxing of destinations, but the sounds and rhythms become a hypnotic lullaby. Close your eyes and you could be an ancient mariner in his cabin – though without the seasickness, scurvy, rats, amputations and violent premature death.

Such is the majesty of the immediate surroundings that it is quite tempting to remain cloistered in the craggy magnificence – but that would be a mistake. There is so much to see just a few minutes' drive away, like the caves of Kynance Cove, and the otherworldly seaside village of Cadgwith. To see woodsmoke spiralling from within the fishermen's cottages and higgledy-piggledy houses that crowd the coastline, yet not set eyes on another human, is like travelling back to an age before combustion engines, computing, deadlines, and Britain's Got Talent.

Another few minutes up the A3083 and you're in Helston, one of Cornwall's oldest towns, bustling with sightseers, pasty emporiums and ancient drinking establishments, such as the gorgeous brew pub The Blue Anchor. Helston is home to no fewer than seven barber's shops, including the superbly named Keith Richards Gents Hairdressers. Though I am almost certain Keith would get a free short back and sides if he ever popped in, apparently they are still waiting. If it's a pasty, a pint or a preppy buzzcut you want, Helston is clearly the place for you.

After 24 hours of oneness at the Wireless Cottages, Helston seemed like New York did to Bob Dylan when he first arrived from Minnesota – impossibly kinetic and crowded. I was relieved to return to my windswept temporary home on the edge of the kingdom, where I could watch for ships in distress and invading Celtic heathens. As it turned out, none arrived, so I watched the Brits on TV instead, and had a pasty.

• Accommodation was provided by National Trust Holiday Cottages ( Wireless Cottage sleeps two, from ?194 for a two-night stay

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