Have you ever wondered what the top places to visit in England’s most south westerly county are? Well, wonder no more. Here is my top ten of Cornwall.
One of my readers commented on a recent blog I’d written on Bude Sea Pool, asking where are the three places a first-time visitor to Cornwall must see. Having thought long and hard about this, my mind has changed every day, and I’ve come up with a top ten.
So, Shing – I hope you’re reading…
This pretty village on Cornwall’s wild north coast hit the headlines in 2004, when heavy rain led to major floods which swept 75 cars out to sea and wrecked buildings and bridges.
There are excellent coastal walks either side of the thick harbour walls. If walking is not your thing, you can spend time in the excellent Visitor Centre or the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
Read more of my writing on Boscastle here.
You might recognise Charlestown from BBC’s Poldark, where it plays the port of Truro. Situated on the calmer water’s of Cornwall’s south coast, it was once a busy harbour exporting China Clay from St Austell. Now it’s a sleepy place, and the harbour, with its tall ships, is owned by a film production company who rent it for period dramas.
Read more of my writing on Charlestown here.
Britain’s most southerly working port, it’s worth making the long journey down to Porthleven. A huge clocktower dominates the harbour, and in frequent stormy weather waves crash over the stone pier and up against this.
Rick Stein has recently set up a restaurant in town, and that may tell you all you need to know about the place. There are plenty of good quality eateries, gift shops and an artisan market making it a firm seaside holiday favourite, with good surfing beaches and easy access to the Lizard Peninsula.
Read more of my writing on Porthleven here.
7. Bedruthan Steps
When the sun is shining and the tide is out, there can be few better beaches in Britain than Bedruthan Steps, midway between Padstow and Newquay. Have a cake at the excellent tearooms and marvel at the rocky outcrops from the cliff path.
These stacks are said to have been the stepping stones of the giant, Bedruthan. Whether you believe that or not, you’ll love this photogenic beauty.
Forget all about modern life, go back in time and relax in this working fishing village that is the epitome of the word picturesque.
With whitewashed fishermen’s cottages, boats bobbing in the harbour, a lovely bakery and the cosiest pub of all time (The Blue Peter Inn), you might come to Polperro like I did for a day, but you’ll definitely not want to leave.
Read more of my writing on Polperro here.
5. Watergate Bay
This private beach just north of Newquay has a stunning setting underneath steep cliffs, two miles of sandy dog-friendly beach and is a mecca for surfers and foodies.
It is home to the Extreme Academy surf school, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and the Watergate Bay Hotel, which is the best place from which to view storms and sunsets.
Read more of my writing on Watergate Bay here.
4. South West Coast Path
This 630-mile walking trail hugs the whole coastline of Cornwall, plus Devon and parts of Dorset and Somerset. Wherever you choose to walk, you’re in for a cracker – whether it’s the rugged coastline, cliffs and sandy beaches of the north coast, or the gentler waters and fishing villages of the south coast.
My favourite is the stretch on the north coast from Perranporth to Porthtowan. This was once Cornwall’s hotbed of mining, and you will pass relics from the days when there was an important tin and copper mining industry such as the iconic engine house chimney at Wheal Coates.
As well as these man made works of art, you will see natural wonders like the huge sandy beach at Perranporth, mineral-stained cliffs and gorgeous green waters of Trevaunance Cove.
3. Port Isaac
For me, this is probably the prettiest place in Cornwall. You might recognise it as the fictional Port Wenn in ITV’s Doc Martin. There are twice daily Doc Martin walking tours, but you don’t need to join one of those – just grab a Kelly’s ice-cream and go back to basics, with a self-guided stroll around this gem of a north Cornish fishing village.
The roads are narrow, windy and very steep so leave your car at one of the carparks outside the centre. After watching local fishermen take their catch of the day to the fish market in The Platt, and taking the obligatory photo of Martin Clunes’ surgery, head to Port Gaverne – only a fifteen minute walk around the coast, and home to the Port Gaverne Hotel, for the best pub grub in the county.
Read more of my writing on Port Isaac here.
With a gorgeous soft sandy beach that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean, the village of Porthcurno – almost as far south west as you can go – gets my Cornwall number 2.
As well as being an absolute stunner, it has enough historic and artistic interest to keep you busy. Porthcurno was once the nerve centre of British submarine telegraph cable communication. Cables extended from the beach under the sea to British colonies all over the world, and it played a vital part in WWII, as coded messages were sent from abroad – cables can still be seen poking out of the sand.
On the cliff overlooking the beach is Porthcurno’s second claim to fame, the open-air Roman amphitheatre-like Minack Theatre. You can pay to enter and admire the gardens and the amazing views, or come to see a Shakespeare play or something more contemporary like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Read more of my writing on Porthcurno here.
1. Camel Estuary
My number 1 for any first time visitor to Cornwall is the point where the River Camel meets the Atlantic Ocean. The town of Padstow is on the south bank of the estuary, and is famed for its food after practically being taken over by TV chef Rick Stein. Enjoy his Seafood Restaurant, his fish and chip shop, a pasty from Chough’s Bakery and the best cake you’ll ever have at Cherry Trees before seeing the rest of this gorgeous harbour town.
Time your visit for May Day, and you’ll experience one of the country’s quirkiest traditions – the Obby Oss festivities to welcome in summer. A local dresses up as quite a scary-looking horse (Oss), and dances around the town with a troupe of followers dressed in white and carrying accordions.
If you get bored of Padstow, hire a bike and cycle the Camel Trail – a former railway line – to Wadebridge or even further to Camel Valley Vineyard to sample England’s best fizzy wine.
The Black Tor ferry crosses the estuary from Padstow to the resort of Rock, which has a reputation for being the playground of the rich and famous. The Beckhams and Prince William have been reported to be frequent visitors – I’ve never seen them, but once spotted Barry from Auf Wiedersehen Pet. The beaches around Rock are superb, and its windy conditions are ideal for sailing and windsurfing.
There are more top quality beaches on the Padstow side of the estuary. The Seven Bays (Porthcothan, Treyarnon, Constantine, Booby’s, Mother Ivey’s, Harlyn and Trevone) rank amongst the world’s best in my book, and you can walk to them all easily on the coast path.
Read more of my writing on Padstow here.
Read more of my writing on Rock here.
Read more of my writing on the Seven Bays here.