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Cornwall - A Tour of the Cornish Coast

Wendy Ashworth

Join me in a tour around the beautiful and fascinating coast of Cornwall. We start at the eastern end of the North coast at the village of Morwenstow. We then make our way down westwards towards and around Lands End, and then travel eastwards along the South coast. I am loosely following the famous South West Coast Path that is one of the most rewarding walks in the United Kingdom.
www.swcp.org.uk

Map of Cornwall

Map courtesy of Cornishlight

Morwenstow

Seven miles from Bude and best known for the larger than life character of Robert Hawker, a vicar come poet who introduced harvest festival in England. The coast here is rugged and windswept but somewhat isolated.

It is very atmospheric here and one can easily imagine the smugglers and wreckers working in bygone times. In the churchyard the figurehead of the Caledonia serves as a gravestone for its captain, who suffered the loss of his ship and all hands to wreckers.

Bude

Bude is just four miles from the border with Devon and some would say that it does not appear immediately "Cornish". The town is built around the mouth of the river Neet and the Bude Canal that runs parallel to it. It has a wide sea front, a good town museum and a castle to visit.

The main beach, called Summerleaze is a good place for surfing and there is lots of sand for small children too, but you have to watch out for strong currents in the area, so maybe not the ideal family beach. There is a seawater swimming pool near to the cliffs this is perhaps the best option for swimming as sewage stills discharges here.

Nearby Crackington Haven, situated between cliffs and crags over four hundred feet high with remarkable striations is a favorite with Surfers.

North of Bude you will find Crooklets, a favorite spot for practicing lifesaving but perhaps best for children is Sandy Mouth with lovely sand and some rock pools.
www.visitbude.info

Boscastle

The small port of Boscastle with its narrow finger of water has often been compared to a fjord. It is a steep, pretty village with several thatched cottages and a somewhat extraordinary museum of witchcraft close to the harbor.

In rough weather you can spot the Devils Bellows in action, a blow hole that sends water cascading across the harbor! This is fine walking country in the Valency Valley.

Tintagel

The village is nothing to speak of but of course this is home of the ruinous Castle of legendary King Arthur fame, looked after by English Heritage. The site of the castle is splendid with rugged cliffs and wide-open seascapes. Try and visit on a sunny day.
www.english-heritage.org.uk
www.tintagelweb.co.uk

Port Isaac

This is another cramped harbor that would make a good base for a short break in quiet and beautiful surroundings. The seafront is mostly unspoilt and it is worth walking down to - you pass attractive cottages of slate and granite to reach the beach. Fishing is still of importance here so you can hope to dine well on lobster and crab.

Port Quin is close by and is a hamlet of just a few cottages and a small hotel.

Padstow

Home of the famous, or some would say infamous Obby Oss, a parade on May Day when the town dresses up in medieval costumes and all have a riotous time. Like many traditions the true meaning is long since lost, but some historians believe fertility and the rites of spring are what first inspired this curious tradition.

The town sits within the estuary of the River Camel and still has a small working fishing fleet. Nowadays this industry takes second place to the tourist industry, much enhanced by the aforementioned Rick Stein of television fame.

Padstow is mostly traffic free with good parking on the harbor, but arrive early in the day to be sure of securing a space. It is a pleasant enough place to while away a few hours with an interesting harbor and good views along the Camel estuary.

Here you will find the Camel Trail, a 17-mile long route that once used to be a rail track route. It is popular with walkers, particularly families and cyclists. Details can be found on the Destination Cornwall website.
www.destination-cornwall.co.uk

On the south side of the estuary the beaches are quite good with the DOOM BAR a mile or so out of town. This sandbar has been responsible for wrecking nearly 300 vessels with many, many hands being lost. Continue north around Stepper Point and you will come to Harlyn Bay with a fine sandy beach, good for surfing and swimming but care must be taken with currents. Constantine Bay is perhaps a better surfing beach though and it also comes complete with rock pools.

A slightly more peaceful beach can be found at Porthcothan.

Near to Padstow is Prideaux Place with a newly restored sunken garden and many fine walks. Some of the 1996 production of Twelfth Night was filmed here, see the section on "Lanhydrock" for further details. The house is also open for guided tours and more information is available on the Gardens in Cornwall website.
www.gardensincornwall.co.uk

You could also seek out the church of St Enodoc where Sir John Betjeman is buried close to Daymer Bay. It is a beautiful spot.
www.rockinfo.co.uk

Bedruthan Steps

Coastline Bedruthan Steps

Bedruthan Steps is a deservedly popular spot on the Cornish Coast because of the beautiful sweeping coastal views across the cliff tops. There is a car park adjacent to Bedruthan owned and managed by the National Trust at Carnewas. The Trust has recently rebuilt a staircase down to the beach but it must be noted that it is exceptionally dangerous to swim here.
www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Not far from here is Watergate Bay, a very popular surfing beach but good for the family too with rock pools but watch out for very strong currents.

Newquay

This is perhaps Cornwall's premier resort. It is very popular with young people as it has a fabulous selection of Surfing beaches and possibly the best nightlife in Cornwall.
www.newquay.co.uk

Fistral Beach is the most popular with the "in crowd" but there are plenty of quieter beaches suitable for families; Towan, Great Western, and Tolcarne for example.

Tolcarne has recently upgraded its facilities and there are now two new cafes that have been recommended in the local press.

A personal favorite is Holywell Bay close to Crantock with acres of sand, a stream and dunes. It is not a good place for children to swim however as the surf can get quite high here.

Surfing has become exceedingly fashionable here since we last visited with many new ventures including Hibiscus a surf school for women only.
www.hibiscussurfschool.co.uk

Big Friday provides an all inclusive surfing week end traveling from London in a big bus and Wave Scapes offers all inclusive week ends away close to a beautiful surfing beach.
www.bigfriday.com
www.wave-scapes.com

Newquay has the amusements of the British traditional holiday some of which are not particularly desirable, if you don't like amusement arcades, but it does have something for everyone. There is a huge variety of accommodation here too from B and B to big cliff top hotels and a good selection of Vacation Rentals many of which are currently in the process of dragging up their standards.

Newquay's beaches are it's crowning glory with further details below.

The Gannel estuary runs into Crantock at the fine sandy beach. There is much fun to be had at low tide playing in and crossing the stream but extreme care must be taken at all times as when the tide is coming in it quickly becomes a river in full spate. This is a lovely area with sand dunes backing the beach and some fine coastal walks.

Close to Newquay is Mawgan where you will find a delightful Japanese garden with some marvellous specimens of Bonsai in the nursery.
www.shimbo.co.uk/leisure/garden2.htm

Perranporth

This is another seaside town now totally given over to holidays. It lacks charm, but the beaches are good if the weather is fine. If not they can be cold, as they are wide, open, windblown spaces.

The town was once reliant upon copper and tin mining, traces of which can be seen at nearby St Agnes where there is a small, free museum in Penwinnick Road. There are disused 19th century mines visible at Wheale Martin and Blue Hills Tin Streams at Trevallas Combe about a mile northeast of St Agnes. See the Cornwall Tourist Board for further information.
www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk

Portreath

This is another former mining town with a working harbor up until the 1960's. Now surfers congregate on it's beaches although again this is not one the county's cleanest beaches. It is a good point to walk from to see Hell's Mouth a cauldron of waves and shiny black rocks below cliffs of 200 feet high.

The Penwith Peninsula

The Landscape here is wild and rugged and very beautiful. There are traces of an industrial past to be seen everywhere, but particularly at Geevor one of the last tin mines to close and now open to the public as a museum.
www.geevor.com
www.penwith.net

At Pendeen there are more remnants of the mining industry. Here you are very aware that you are in the land of myth and legend as you come across several standing stones, quoits, and stone circles. Look at the site listed below for some great photographs.
www.brycchancarey.com/places/cornwall/stones.htm
www.shimbo.co.uk/gallery/photo62.htm

St. Ives

Once the hub of Cornwall's fishing industry, St Ives is now dedicated to holidaymakers, particularly those who are interested in art. It has two good beaches, Porthmeor and Portminster, with good clean water, unusual for a town with a working harbor.

It is a lively, higgledy-piggledy town that can get very busy in summer. It still manages to charm and if the crowds get too much there are some quiet corners to visit for respite. One such is the St Trewyn Subtropical Gardens in Bedford, or try the Barbara Hepworth Museum on Barnoon Hill. A combined ticket with the Tate Gallery is available for the latter and both are highly recommended.

The Tate is small, but filled with light and the sound of the sea. It reprises the art from 1925 1975 when St Ives was a very popular artist's community. As you enter you will see the largest unleaded glass window in the world by Patrick Heron. It is very beautiful. The galleries although small, include work by Alfred Wallis the nave painter who didn't discover his flair until he retired from fishing, as well as pottery by Bernard Leach and sculpture by Peter Lanyon. The whole school of local artists is very well represented, including Ben Nicholson and Wilhelmina Barns- Graham.

There is a very good cafe on the top floor with wonderful views over the coastline and good light meals.

A the Barbara Hepworth Museum you will be treated to seeing many of her beautiful sculptures set in a very peaceful garden as well as personal artifacts. If you like her work you may want to seek out the church of St Ia where there is a Madonna and Child in memory of her son who was killed in 1953 during RAF service.

St Ives has a lot to offer and makes a good base if you don't want to drive. There are good art galleries/shops and crafts shops in abundance.

Lands End

Coastal view near Landsend

You must visit this famous landmark. There are wonderful coastal views but the commercial attraction is not recommended, unless you have small children with you who might enjoy the sound and light show.


Sennen

Sennen Cove

A broad beach of lovely sands here Whitesands Bay popular with Surfers and good for children too but it can be rather exposed and may not be suitable for swimming. Sennen has a good website and a web cam (not working right now).
www.sennenbeach.com


Porthcurno

Porthcurno Beach

The beach here is of lovely golden silky sand and the setting so dramatic; it would be a shame not to spend some time here. It should be noted however, that there are dangerous currents offshore and that it is not recommended for swimming.

Above the beach sits Rowena Cade's Minack Theatre. It is just incredible! There is a good small visitor center dedicated to her life's work, but do go and see one of the plays as well. The season runs throughout the summer, but whatever the production the star is always the setting. If you are lucky you will be able to watch dolphins leaping behind the set.
www.minack.com

Here too you will find the Marconi Wireless Museum and be able to seek out the Logan Rock, a large stone resting on two small piers that rocked until one day Oliver Goldsmith's nephew removed it and it rocks no more!
www.porthcurno.org.uk

Mousehole

Mousehole Harbour

A delightful village (pronounced "mow-zul") with an interesting history, set around a small horseshoe harbor.
www.kernowcottages.co.uk

Parking is restricted to a small car park on the harbor, or park before you get into the village by the Coastguard inn. There are lovely views over to St Michaels Mount, which you reach from the village of Marazion.

The approach to St Michael's Mount (another National Trust property) can be made by boat or at low tide you can walk across the causeway. It is not as magnificent as its French namesake, Mont St Michel but does make a very different half-day trip.

The beach at Marazion is firm sand and the water quality is now good.

Mousehole has a very fine Male Voice Choir that we have been privileged to hear on several occasions. If you can't make it to a concert they practice in the church at the nearby village of Paul on Monday evenings from 7:30 in the summer, but in the Methodist Chapel in the winter.
www.mouseholemalevoicechoir.co.uk

This is a strong tradition throughout Cornwall so look out for concerts.
www.cornishchoirs.co.uk

During our stay Mousehole was hosting "Salt, Sea and Sail" a lovely festival held biannually to celebrate the best of living in Cornwall. There were cookery demonstrations featuring fish and notably pilchards of course, bands, music and dancing -old Cornish traditional dances, some dating back hundreds of years, sand modeling for the children as well as a book trail. There were several visiting ships and races were held between them. It was all tremendous fun and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Newlyn

Still very much the hub of the fishing industry in Cornwall but times are hard these days for fishermen. The Pilchard House is the county's best museum of fishing.
www.cornwall-online.co.uk/westcornwall/newlyn.htm

It became home to The Newlyn School a colony of artists who established themselves here in the 1920's The light on the peninsula was one of the main draws and it remains a very popular destination for artists of all kinds along with St Ives.

In December 1981 a tragic event occurred when the Solomon Browne Lifeboat put out to sea to try and rescue the crew of the MV Union Star. The story is told on the website of the R N LI. The crew were posthumously awarded medals for gallantry and there is a Memorial Garden dedicated to this united team of men all eight of whom came from Mousehole.
www.penlee-lifeboat.co.uk

Newlyn is currently the subject of a huge investment to upgrade and improve the facilities for the local people as well as tourists but work is still at the planning stages.

Penzance

Jubilee Pool, Penzance (late evening)

Penzance is an interesting town featuring the only promenade in Cornwall. It has some lovely architecture with a highlight being the Egyptian House in Chapel Street. This currently let out as holiday apartments by The Landmark Trust.
www.penzance.co.uk

Art Deco lovers must visit the Jubilee Pool on the seafront and perhaps take a dip in its rather cool waters. The subtropical Morrab gardens are delightful and Penlee Memorial Park is a peaceful haven.

The Penlee Art gallery, features the Newlyn School. This is a delightful gallery with a good cafe and bookshop set in delightful grounds. Highly recommended. My favorite painting was "The Rain It Raineth Every Day" by Norman Garstin.
www.penleehouse.org.uk

An excellent Geological museum can be found at St John's Hall in Alverton Street.

Penzance is where you get the boat or helicopter to The Isles of Scilly.
www.scillyonline.co.uk/
www.scillyhelicopter.co.uk/

We are planning a long week end there next year possible staying at The Island Hotel.
www.tresco.co.uk

The Lizard

Kynance Cove

This is one of my favorite parts of Cornwall. It is famous for it's serpentine rock, once very popular with Victorians due mostly to Queen Victoria's fondness of the stone. She had several fireplaces fashioned out of it for Osborne House. Sadly it fell out of fashion when people realized that the stone was not very durable. It is black streaked with green and blue and very shiny and derives it's name form the scales of a snake. It is now predominantly used for small decorative objects many of which can be bought in the town of Lizard, the southernmost village in mainland Britain.

Kynance Cove is most beautiful, rich in serpentine and with turquoise water; it is a popular beach with holidaymakers. There is a car park and disabled viewing bay provided by the National Trust. Getting to the beach requires a long walk down a cliff path and a steep walk back up. Swimming is not recommended, as once again there are strong currents offshore.

Safer swimming can be found around the bay at Kennack Sands, which is also one of the few Cornish beaches that will permit dogs access in the summer.

Cadgwith and Coverack are former fishing villages that both make delightful spots to take in the views and soak in the salty atmosphere.

Gardens are very much a feature of The Lizard. Glendurgan, features a maze and a lovely walk through to the hamlet of Durgan, where you can rent a waterside house through the National Trust. Trebah is also delightful, running down to Polgwiden Cove, where the US Infantry embarked on D Day for Omaha. Both were once part of the famous Fox family garden and are now run by the National Trust.
www.greatgardensofcornwall.co.uk
www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Trevarno garden is also delightful and features a museum of gardening.
www.trevarno.co.uk

A recent addition to Gardens open to the public close to Helston is Bonython Manor, featuring a walled garden.
www.bonythonmanor.co.uk

Deep in the heart of The Lizard you will discover The Helford River made famous by Daphne Du Maurier's aforementioned book "Frenchmans Creek". This is a very special area of Cornwall and I cannot recommend a visit too highly. I feel that Du Maurier's words, "still and soundless, surrounded by the trees, hidden from the eyes of men," are still very valid today, even in August!

In Helford, a delightful former smuggling village, you can follow the pretty stream down from the car park to The Shipwrights Arms, where you can enjoy a good lunch with marvelous views out over Carrick Roads, a busy inlet, one of the finest deep anchorages in Europe.
www.cornishlight.co.uk (Carrick Roads)
www.walkingbritain.co.uk  (information on walk)

Try and seek out Mylor, another good spot for enjoying riverside views and perhaps a light meal at Pandora's Inn as mentioned below.

Gweek features The Seal Sanctuary.
www.sealsanctuary.co.uk

The villages of Constantine and Mawnan Smith shouldn't be missed.
www.ukvillages.co.uk

Helston although slightly off my route is an interesting old market town with another strange ritual held on May 8th, called The Furry Dance. There is a superb award winning fish and chip shop called Hutchinsons at 95 Meneage Street. You can dine inside or take away but I can only endorse the awards; very, very good fish and chips!
www.helstonhistory.co.uk

Try and seek out Roskilly Barton Ice Cream Dairy, home of the delicious organic ice cream, now open as a tearoom and restaurant for light meals. You can also tour the farm and watch milking demonstrations in the afternoons.
www.roskillys.co.uk

Falmouth and the Roseland Peninsula

Starting in Falmouth you could easily take a boat trip to many points of interest around this beautiful area. Boats depart from the quayside several times a day throughout the summer season.
www.destination-cornwall.co.uk/infile23.htm

The Maritime Museum this is a world-class museum housed in a beautiful building on Discovery Quay. The website is very comprehensive and informative and fun in it's own right.
www.nmmc.co.uk

Pendennis Castle sits on the Pendennis Peninsula. It was built by Henry VIII as a defense from attack by the French. It is built to a cloverleaf design and sometimes it sets the scene for battles to be re-enacted.
www.cornwall-online.co.uk/carrick/falmouth.htm

Portloe is a small hamlet spectacularly set on the coastal path. The landscape around here was used for a famous television program called The Chamomile Lawn.

Veryan is a delightful village featuring five thatched roundhouses built so that the devil couldn't hide in any corners!

St-Anthony-in-Roseland is a pretty village with a lovely 12th century church. Visit St-Just-in-Roseland to see another lovely church, this time set on the side of a creek as well. A little further north you can get the King Harry Ferry across the River Fal (about every 20 minutes in summer) that saves a long drive to Truro or Falmouth.

Trelissick, another National Trust garden shouldn't be missed either with its beautiful waterside setting and glorious springtime displays. Again the Trust has holiday accommodation here and we once spent a week in The Water Tower in the gardens. It was great fun!

St Mawes is a charming place to while away a few hours. Here is the sister castle to Pendennis in Falmouth where you will get stunning views across the Carrick Roads to Falmouth from the small castle built to the same design as Pendennis. St Mawes is currently very fashionable, chic and very expensive!

Mevagissey

Although very busy in the summer months, Mevagissey still manages to hold its own as a busy town with a working harbor. It now serves as a gateway town for The Lost Gardens Of Heligan, once lost but now found and a major attraction in their own right. The website is excellent and says everything, but we feel privileged to have seen Heligan back in 1991 when it first started opening it's doors to the public. Look at The Lantern slideshow section on the site to get an idea of what I mean. In the early days you could not help but feel intrigued and excited about future revelations. Even our sons, then young, liked going to Heligan because you could pretend you were an explorer, particularly in The Jungle.
www.heligan.co.uk

Our first visit was in May 1991 and we slid up and down in the mud of the jungle. Future visits were just as exciting with the layers of the gardens gradually being peeled back. The Bee Boles, Italian Garden and Kitchen Garden remain our favorites, but we will always have a soft spot for the Jungle.

I much preferred Heligan before the renovation was complete and it became famous, but do go and make a visit. It is still very special and evocative perhaps of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden - but the secret is definitely out!

Mevagissey is close to Pentewan Sands, a lovely beach but it does have a very large caravan park running behind it.

The Eden Project

Inside the Temperate "Biome" at the Eden Project

This is another world-class attraction, thanks to the skill of Tim Smit of Heligan fame. An abandoned china clay pit is now home to one of the most exciting projects in the UK. Full information on the website, including tips on the best times to visit as well as public transport links and cycle paths to the project. It is a very popular, large attraction so you should allow plenty of time for your visit.
www.edenproject.com

Eden is quite amazing. I wasn't expecting it to be so beautifully planted out but there is something here for everyone so I urge you to visit soon. I loved the outside swathes of color and the Mediterranean Temperate House was a joy to behold. There is much emphasis on providing education for children here but there is also a great deal of fun to be had with story telling and games.

They are currently building Eden 2 so you will need to allow a whole day for your visit when that is completed. At the moment four hours is probably the minimum amount of time you need to spend actually inside the park. Be aware that a lot of Eden is outside so you should try and visit on a dryish day!

Buying your tickets online ahead of your visit will save one queue but be aware that you should definitely take the shuttle bus from the car park to avoid a walk of about 40 minutes into Eden from the car park.

Fowey

Pronounced "Foy", it is famous for it's literary connections with Daphne Du Maurier, Sir Arthur Quiller-Crouch, and Kenneth Graham being the foremost. There is a small literary centre on South St.

Once the major port of the south coast of Cornwall during the 14th century, it later became very important for the export of the china clay trade. It is a busy, prosperous place still and I highly recommend a river trip or coastal trip to explore the area.

You can get a boat from the Town Quay just below Fore Street and the website will furnish you with all the information you need.
www.fowey.co.uk

The town has a famous regatta in August, so make sure you reserve accommodation well ahead. The easiest way to reach Fowey is by ferry from Polruan. Details on the website. Here too you will find details about the Du Maurier festival held every year in May as well as lots of other useful links.
www.foweytown.co.uk/river.asp

There are many wonderful walks in the area and if you walk south out of town you will soon come to Readymoney Cove, a nice patch of sand that gets busy in the season, with bathing water of a dubious quality.

Looe

I have never seen the charms of Looe but other people I know love it, so I will head quickly to Polperro but once again that is somewhere else that I have not yet fallen in love with. I am sure it is worthy of a short visit but probably not in the height of the holiday season.

Both towns get overcrowded very easily so I will report on these two if I get chance to visit them in Spring or Autumn!

Lanhydrock

Lanhydrock House

What better place to end a brief tour of Cornwall, although I must apologize as this famous country estate is inland not far from Bodmin. The gardens and grounds are open throughout the year but the house in summer only, closed on Mondays. Set in a 450 acreage it runs down to the river Fowey. There are over 50 rooms open to view and you get a strong sense of "upstairs and downstairs". The house was originally built in the 17th century but rebuilt in the 19th after an extensive fire.

It has been very popular with filmmakers of recent years, most notably Twelfth Night in 1996 with a cast including the late Nigel Hawthorne and Helena Bonham-Carter

A truly delightful place to visit seek out further details from The National Trust website but do allow plenty of time for your visit.
www.nationaltrust.org.uk


Wendy Ashworth lives in Surrey, England about 30 miles from London. She has a passion for Italy and Cornwall particularly as both have some of the most wonderful gardens in Europe. She works part time in Hampshire running a daytime information centre for young people. Thanks to Ricardo for the photographs.

© Wendy Ashworth, 2004

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