OFFENSIVE autumn rain is lashing against our cheeks, but the rugged view across to Logan's rock, a Cornish landmark, is still magnificent. And the sea is shockingly aquamarine. We are standing on the stone stage at the famous outdoor Minack Theatre trying to remember some of Hamlet's most dramatic lines. Perilously positioned at the edge of the cliffs at Porthcurno, the audiences bring flasks of tea, umbrellas and even duvets to survive the performance storms.

Meanwhile, Rory Moore, our tour organiser, is venturing behind the 'Actors Only' signs. 'I fell out with the Minack Theatre when they found me and my guests clambering over the rocks, trying to catch a glimpse of the performance,' he says. 'They're very inflexible; they won't let us come in for a quick look around.'

So we are, in fact, lucky to be in here at all. The 750-seater amphitheatre plays host to different theatre companies all summer. In season we would have been reduced to crawling among the rocks below and gazing painfully upwards. No one ever said the Discover Cornwall trip was a cushy option.

Sitting cosily in a farmhouse kitchen on the edge of Bodmin Moor sipping hot chocolate, the much-travelled and slightly odd Mr Moore is explaining the ethos of Discover Cornwall. 'It is not about going to Newquay,' he says. 'We travel in a Land-Rover so that we can get to the more remote and less touristy places.' He had the idea while travelling in Sumatra four years ago and thought it would appeal to backpacking Australians and New Zealanders visiting Britain. 'That's why I come and pick you up at Marble Arch in London,' he says. 'A lot of people have said that this attracted them to the trip.'

The emphasis, it has to be said, is on the cheap and cheerful. We are talking serious budget travel. When presented with the choice between a quaint cafe and a Happy Chef, Mr Moore - a self-confessed greasy spoon man - has no trouble deciding on the latter. The accommodation, thankfully, has improved dramatically since his early days. 'Then it was chicken shit and cold, greasy breakfasts,' says Mr Moore, without any noticeable tone of regret.

These days, he rents half a farmhouse. Sleeping is in bunks (couples get a double bed), and washing and toileting involves a race for one of two bathrooms, but it is comfortable. Added extras include calves being born noisily in the middle of the night and Mr Moore's meandering explorations into self-analysis.

In the visitor's book - strangely limited to addresses only - there is an entry marked 'Sue from Putney' which reads 'Lies, lies, lies, but wonderful.' It does not take us long to find out what she means. There are eight of us, all women - one New Zealander, one Australian, two Londoners, one American woman and her mother plus two older Californians. Our first morning is spent in Boscastle on the north coast. The rain is up to its customary Cornish tricks and Rita, a 26-year-old solicitor from Eastham, has a severe bout of vertigo. Oblivious, Mr Moore has launched into a pet theory that involves the formation of slate and the insignificance of mankind.

Amid the pixie gift shops and crystal boutiques is the Boscastle speciality - the witches' museum. An extraordinary cultural experience, it features fart bottles, a two-headed piglet in a bottle, pins used to torment so-called witches in medieval times, a personalised commentary that waffles on about 'buxom bouncing-breasted Cornish maidens who dared to dance on the Sabbath' and lots of Seventies-style sensationalist witch rituals recreated with fashion dummies. 'There are an awful lot of naked bodies in there,' opines Mr Moore, 'and it does seem to be very orgy-orientated.'

By the time we get to Tintagel, hotbed of Arthurian legend, Mr Moore has switched into scathingly contemptuous mode. 'It really is far too commercial,' he says. 'They've really plugged the King Arthur bit, and basically it is one big gift shop.' At this juncture we have to concur. There's the King Arthur bookshop, pub, car park - even English Heritage has to admit it is unlikely that King Arthur ever visited the castle, never mind ruled from there. Mr Moore is right - the sign of Merlin on a surfboard is Tintagel's saving grace.

Having supped scrumpy in the ancient fishing village of Port Isaac, Mr Moore, as determined as ever to emphasise the outdoor nature of this trip, tries to persuade us to eat outside. He fails in my case. We, the three keen walkers, are pointed in the direction of the coastal path. 'It's just an hour's easy stroll,' he intones. Two hours and many steep steps later, we knew what Sue from Putney meant. Mr Moore has an extreme tendency to underestimate the walking part of the holiday. What is more, he thinks it's funny.

The sun is glowing at Polzeath, young surfers are pouring down the beach and we are off again. This is John Betjeman country and we are going in search of the church of St Enodoc where he is buried. This could be a case of ABC which, in gritty Aussie parlance, is Another Bloody Church. (Stonehenge, for example, was described as just 'a load of rocks in a paddock'.)

With its crooked spire, St Enodoc is almost hidden from view and was once covered by sand after a series of violent storms. It is peaceful under the wispy, evening clouds, but this ' 20-minute stroll' already has extended to an hour and we have yet to find our way across the dunes to the Land-Rover. On the beach we find the three older women stranded by the incoming tide. 'Rory told us we could walk back across the sand,' they complain. A trek over the dunes ensues and Mr Moore, not for the last time, is in the doghouse.

Now that we know what to expect from Mr Moore and the weather, Wednesday is a welcome surprise. It's sunny. Mountain-biking through nearby Cardinham Woods is a muddy and exhilarating experience. We do not see any sparrowhawks, badgers or woodpeckers, but still have a superb time.

Afterwards Mr Moore takes us to Trago Mills, a thrift store crammed to the rafters with tacky bargains. He admits he is dressed head to foot in cheap clothing from the store. The store's owner, a Mr Robertson, has a sense of humour. He erected a statue outside the premises depicting the head of the local council chairman in a noose. Mr Robertson says that he did not like the council's attitude to his entrepreneurial ideas. Unfortunately, complaints about the statue forced him to remove it.

Walking from Talland Bay - scene of an enormous hash smuggling operation in the late Seventies - to the quaint Polperro takes us until lunchtime. Meals are taken in pubs. Sadly, the pubs in Cornwall do not seem to have heard of fresh vegetables, salads or soups that do not come out of a tin. But Polperro is worth the trouble, with its tiny alleyways and cute cottages.

The smugglers' museum bears a remarkable resemblance in style to the witches' museum in Boscastle. The presentation is simple and concentrates largely on the great range of hiding places utilised by smugglers of old - from stilettos to children's dolls.

At least some of the information came in handy. I managed to find a slender, brown-peaked magic mushroom on the coastal path from Polperro to Sennen Cove. The only trouble was that I could not find any more, and I think you need at least 25 to make a decent brew. Yellow gorse, white sea campions, blue cornflowers and all manner of strange fungi enliven the cliff paths. We even managed to disturb a 'courting couple' who had strayed across one of the routes. Sex, drugs, rocks, sea - Discover Cornwall has it all.

Mr Moore takes a perverse pride in his casual attitude to his guests. By the end of the week, Rory jokes are commonplace. They all go along the lines of 'If Rory says don't take your raincoat, dart back immediately and get it'. One of his more successful outings was to take us mushrooming (not the magic variety). Although this is meant to be, in brochure-speak, 'the visit to a working farm', it turns out to be a bumpy ride through a friend's fields. Having spotted the spectacularly massive wild mushrooms, we leap out and gather them in. Non-greasy fry-ups for breakfast are one of Mr Moore's more positive points.

No one volunteered for abseiling, which left us the option of archery in a chicken shed. Bryan, a former paratrooper from Lancashire, lets us loose with his bows and arrows, then has a good laugh as we stretch and strain. His hens do not seem to possess an iota of common sense and place themselves dangerously close to the targets. Or perhaps they do, as my arrows all seem to land up on the back walls. Our star performer is Connie from California. 'I last did it 35 years ago,' she reveals, putting her achievement into

perspective.

Mr Moore admits he is not one for culture, which he refers to as 'all that crap', so his historical references are at times somewhat bizarre. Asked what a stone Celtic cross would be constructed for, he answers: 'To hold milk churns for the farmers.' Ignoring old tin mines, he would prefer to point out, idiosyncratically, the Ambrosia factory where he once labelled rice puddings. He manages to mention Daphne du Maurier when we visit Jamaica Inn, but there are no references to Thomas Hardy (who often visited Boscastle) nor to D H Lawrence (who wrote Women in Love when he was in Zennor).

Discover Cornwall is a different kind of tour. If you remember that Mr Moore is an eco-budget man and you are energetic, patient and laugh at his jokes - all will be well. Be warned, though - he is thinking of diversifying into Scotland and Ireland. And they are very cheap.

Discover Cornwall: 0892 516 636. At the moment Rory Moore is picking up from Marble Arch on Monday mornings. Touring and full bed and breakfast costs pounds 158.

(Photographs and map omitted)

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