The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Porthgwarra
Porthgwarra

Travel guide to... Cornwall

The perennially popular county offers miles of beautiful beaches, waterborne activities, great food and gorgeous gardens as well as secret spots to seek out

Harriet Obrien
Thursday 02 June 2016 11:45
Comments

A swan glided past as I paddled up Frenchman’s Creek. In the gently rippling water, its bright white reflection heightened the serene beauty of the little channel, which is so thickly bordered by gnarled and ancient woodland it looks as if it might have strayed out of a fairy tale. The peace was palpable, in striking contrast to the blustery waters of the Helford Estuary we had just crossed.

I was on a guided kayaking trip with adventure company Koru Kayaking (korukayaking.co.uk; two-hour guided tours £40 per person), learning not only how to paddle properly but also about the wildlife and history of this part of Cornwall – and its secret places, too. Frenchman’s Creek was, of course, the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s hugely romantic novel of the same name; it’s a magical, hidden little stretch of water (in reality du Maurier’s galleon would never have squeezed in here) and you need insider knowledge to find and enjoy it.

And that’s the thing about picturesque Cornwall: it offers myriad offbeat places where you can get completely away from the crowds - despite the region’s popularity. The county’s appeal is, of course, many and varied. Head to the north coast for the biggest beaches, the coolest surfing culture and the most acclaimed restaurants; go inland for wild moors and bucolic farms; the west has a vibrant arts scene – along with spectacular, remote cliff scenery and some of the most intriguing remains of Cornwall’s industrial heritage; the Helford River area is quite jaw-droppingly lovely; and the south coast is dotted with hidden coves and punctuated by buzzing Falmouth and gorgeous little Fowey.

The village of Gweek on the Helford River

Diverse, yes, but there’s a common theme to the landscapes of Cornwall: the wonderful, fuschia-lined lanes that you travel down to find hidden beaches (Chapel Porth on the north coast; Porthgwarra on the south) or far-flung sites (Levant mine on the south coast; Godrevy cliffs and lighthouse in the extreme west).

On the water

Cornwall is synonymous with surfing, and the north of the county attracts wave-hunters from across the UK and beyond. Among the hotspots are Widemouth Bay, Polzeath (a favourite of the Camerons), Mawgan Porth, Perranporth, and the pretty little town of St Agnes, in the next cove. To the west, Newquay is ideal for beginners, and has plenty of surf schools to choose from; Cornwall Surf Academy (cornwallsurfacademy.com) offers half-day lessons from £25 per person, including equipment hire.

The south coast, meanwhile, is the place for yachting. Learn to sail or hone your maritime skills in Falmouth with Falmouth School of Sailing (falmouth-school-of-sailing.co.uk). Half-day taster sails from £55 per person.

Falmouth School of Sailing offers taster sessions

For more watery activity head to St Mawes, where you can charter a traditional fishing boat, the Madeleine Rose, and take mackerel catching trips or make a leisurely putter up the River Fal (fishandtripstmawes.co.uk; £120 for a half day for up to seven people).

Further east along the coast, Fowey is full of retro charm, not least with the Fowey Picnic Boat (foweypicnicboat.co.uk), a wonderful, 1930s wooden launch that you hire complete with skipper for gentle excursions on the River Fowey or intriguing explorations up some of the area’s hidden creeks. A two-hour cruise costs £120 for up to six.

Dine out

The county offers a veritable feast of gourmet options, from Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac (nathan-outlaw.com) to Jamie Oliver’s 15 at Watergate Bay (fifteencornwall.co.uk). Not forgetting, of course, Rick Stein (rickstein.com) and Paul Ainsworth (paul-ainsworth.co.uk) at Padstow. The latter’s six-suite Padstow Townhouse reopened in December after a major makeover; doubles start at £280 B&B, with dinner-inclusive packages also available.

Bath-time at the Padstow Townhouse

Yet, Penzance is starting to vie with Padstow as a gourmet centre, thanks to three seriously good foodie venues. The Coldstreamer pub (coldstreamer-penzance.co.uk) at Gulval offers beautifully devised Cornish dishes in a great setting; Bruce Rennie’s The Shore (theshorerestaurant.uk) is a small outfit with fabulous cuisine that glories in local produce; and the Tolcarne Inn (tolcarneinn.co.uk) in Newlyn, on the edge of Penzance, has been making waves since Ben Tunnicliffe took over in 2012.

Arts and crafts

Don’t miss Penzance’s Penlee House gallery and museum (penleehouse.org.uk; £4.50). Set within a converted Victorian house, the museum’s collections span thousands of years of west Cornwall history. The current exhibition (to 11 June) is Fred Hall: from Newlyn School to Caricature, focusing on on the artist’s diverse range of landscapes and caricatures.

The Barbara Hepworth Museum

Although that the Tate St Ives is closed for refurbishment until April 2017, the nearby Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden, also run by Tate (tate.org.uk; admission £6), is still open, housed in the artist’s former home, studio and grounds.

Scene stealers

In south-west Cornwall, Helford River Cruises has already spotted several dolphins on its excursions this year. Apart from these possible wildlife sightings, the company’s spectacular trips in a Cornish fishing boat take in sublime scenery of little creeks as well as the Helford River itself (helfordrivercruises.co.uk; £20 per person).

The trip passes amazing Trebah (trebahgarden.co.uk; £9.90), which you’ll probably want to come back to explore – it’s a subtropical utopia of palm trees, acers, giant ferns and more.

Alternatively, take in the wonders of Glendurgan Garden (nationaltrust.org.uk/glendurgan-garden; £9) by the Helford River, with its maze, its carpets of wild flowers and its impressive tree collection.

A rope bridge at Heligan

For more of the county’s horticultural best, visit the beautiful Lost Gardens of Heligan (heligan.com; £13.50) close to St Austell, currently celebrating Heligan Wild Week (to 5 June) with family-friendly activities. Or explore the exotic plants in the biomes of the nearby Eden Project (edenproject.com; from £22.50).

On foot and hoof

So often bypassed in the rush to the coast, Bodmin Moor is a brooding landscape of granite tors and sweeping uplands that are rich in standing stones and Bronze Age remains. Here Hallagenna Riding (hallagenna.co.uk) offers guided riding and walking breaks with accommodation in a converted stable block; three-day riding holidays start at £200 per person, seven-night walking holidays from £505.

The Southwest Coast Path (southwestcoastpath.org.uk) skirts around Cornwall’s coastline, attracting long-distance hikers as well as day-walkers. The stretch around the Lizard peninsula takes you through some of the county’s most picturesque scenery, and to mainland Britain’s most southerly point; set off on the well-marked trail from pretty Mullion Cove.

Mullion Cove

Travel essentials

Getting there

Newquay airport is served from across the UK by Flybe (flybe.com), which is adding to its routes this year with flights from Liverpool, Glasgow, Doncaster and Aberdeen.

You can also catch the Night Riviera Sleeper (gwr.com) from London Paddington to Penzance, waking up in Cornwall as the train passes through spectacular scenery.

Getting around

The most convenient way of getting around Cornwall is by car, but the roads can get clogged with traffic in summer. Public transport offers some great options for admiring the scenery: hop on the St Mawes-Falmouth ferry (falriver.co.uk) for a picturesque 20-minute ride across the River Fal; take the Fowey-Mevagissey ferry (mevagissey-ferries.co.uk) and you may see dolphins on the 35-minute journey. Or enjoy one of the most beautiful train routes in the country, the St Ives Bay line from St Erth (greatscenicrailways.co.uk).

More information

visitcornwall.com

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in