You just can’t beat Cornwall…
It might be England’s worst kept secret, but that’s of course only for good reason!
Wild landscapes, a breathtaking coastline and white-washed harbour towns - and the charm and lifestyle to match!
What better way to experience it than packing up a VW bus with a wetsuit and surfboard, spending the day at the beach and picking a good spot up on the cliffs to watch the sun go down?
On the other hand, if it’s history, art galleries and good food that sounds better to you - then you can do just that! What's great about a road trip is that you can do it exactly the way you want to do it! We’re going to have it all in this blog post - just be sure to leave some room for spontaneity!
If you’re driving down to Cornwall, then that’s simple enough - start at “PART ONE”. Of course, another option is to get a train and hire a vehicle once you’re here - you could get the train to St Austell, Newquay or Falmouth to name a few, and easily amend the itinerary to create a sort of circular route.
It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of the places and car parks around Cornwall are owned by The National Trust, and that’s great! Not only is conservation a big part of what they do, but you can pay for a membership and end up saving a lot of money too! Some of their car parks are even licensed for for motorhomes, offering lots of cheap overnight camping options!
Finally, we should warn you about the narrow country lanes - especially so when the roads get a bit busier in the summer! Better yet, plan your visit for the spring time, avoiding school holidays of course! Off the A roads, you'll want to drive at a reasonable speed because you never know what's coming right around the corner, which also means that you'll probably have to pull in and let people pass, or someone else will have to do the same for you, so give them a smile and a wave when they do - and remember that it’ll all be well worth it! Now, Let’s hit the road!
PART ONE - Bodmin Moor
The majority of people driving down will end up on the A30, taking you via Launceston with it's very own castle to explore and conveniently leading you directly into the wildly beautiful Bodmin Moor! At 420m above sea level, Brown Willy is a fine example of an excellent hike and so is the slightly smaller Rough Tor, both with their panoramic views.
Exiting the A30 and heading south takes you to Colliford Lake, which definitely makes for a scenic and enjoyable drive through the moorland. Golitha Falls makes for a lovely woodland walk alongside the River Fowey and more hikes around the town of Minions and Caradon Hill are not too far away at all. Our favourite places in this area are The South Caradon Mines and The Cheesewring. Nearby is also Lanhydrock House, Bodmin Jail and Jamaica Inn - not to mention Adrenaline Quarry just outside of Liskeard, which offers an inflatable aquapark, a giant clifftop swing and more!
PART TWO - South East Cornwall
Often referred to as the forgotten corner of Cornwall, you’ll be sure to find some peace and serenity in the south east. Not only do you have the impressively rugged Rame Peninsula, but secluded, sandy beaches too. From Freathy Beach all the way to Looe, you have Portwrinkle, Seaton and plenty more places being well worth a stop!
On the other side of Looe, which is home to one of the UK’s only music festivals on the beach, sits one our favourite little Cornish villages called Polperro. There’s a semi-natural harbour and even a semi-natural tidal pool! To be honest there’s not much other than that, but it is a great look into the lifestyle of the locals - or even what the lifestyle used to be like considering the roads aren’t quite wide enough for cars.
Continuing on, you’ve got a few more small bays before finally getting a ferry (£5 per car) from Bodinnick to Fowey - a town situated at the mouth of a stunning estuary within an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, famous for it’s maritime history and favoured amongst sailing fans. Alternatively, you could take a detour north of Fowey Estuary and pay a visit to the ruins of Restormel Castle.
PART THREE - St Austell & The Roseland Heritage Coast
After Fowey, the next places of interest are Polkerris, Par, Carlyon Bay and Charlestown. The latter of which is a frequent filming location for Poldark, and is home to a spectacular collection of old ships. There are a number of reasons as to why you'd also want to visit The Eden Project too - inducing a zip-wire and other adrenaline inducing activities!
The drive from St Austell to Mevagissey is particularly nice via Porthpean and Pentewan, but you’ll probably want to stay away from Mevagissey’s town centre - especially if it’s the middle of summer! Instead, we’d recommend spending some time at The Lost Gardens Of Heligan or Caerhy’s Castle. You also have lots of quiet little coves well away from the crowds all the way down to St Anthony’s Head, but by this point, we wouldn’t blame you if you went straight to St Mawes, where you’ll find one of Henry VIII’s most perfectly preserved coastal fortresses and astonishing views from the mouth of the Percuil River, and perhaps pay a visit to the St Just In Roseland Church on the way!
PART FOUR - Falmouth & The Lizard Peninsula
Crossing The Fal River is certainly an experience in itself (£6 per car with King Harry Ferry), and it also takes you right to Trelissick Gardens. On the way to Falmouth, where you’ll find Pendennis Castle and a few stunning beaches such as Swanpool, you may want to stop by Kennall Vale for a great woodland walk amongst the remains of an old gunpowder works.
Following Falmouth, you have the optional detour to Trebah and Glendurgan Gardens - the latter of which is the one you want if you’re with The National Trust. From there, you’ll likely get to The Lizard Peninsula via Queek, where you could stop by the seal sanctuary, or you could go via Helston and spend some time at Flambards Theme Park!
Where you’ll want to go next is where it gets a bit tricky because you’re certainly a bit spoilt for choice! You could start at Coverack, Kennack Sands or Cadgwith Cove, but the places that you should definitely see are Mullion Cove, Kynance Cove and Lizard Point.
PART FIVE - West Cornwall & Mount’s Bay
Heading onwards from The Lizard, you’ll quite quickly come to Porthleven, which is probably at it’s most impressive in stormy conditions with huge, crashing waves. In late April, it’s home to The Porthleven Food Festival, and is also a popular spot amongst some of the more experienced surfers, so a great place to get a good look at some surfing! The same can be said about the next beach along, Praa Sands, but before that there’s Rinsey Head, and just a short walk away, Trewavas Mine standing tall up on the cliff top. After Kenneggy Cove, the next beach along is Prussia Cove, which gets it’s name from The King Of Prussia - one of Cornwall’s most famous smugglers!
As nice as the walk to Cudden Point is because of it’s views over to Mount’s Bay beyond Perranuthnoe Beach, what you have waiting for you in Marazion will only trump it tenfold! Through breaks in the trees and quaint little cottages, there is quite literally a castle out on it’s own little island in the sea, only accessible by boat or the causeway at low tide! Words do not do St Michael’s Mount justice, and you should probably spend the majority of the day taking it all in. However, West Cornwall has plenty more to offer, including Mousehole Harbour, The Minack Theatre and Porthcurno, amongst many more charming little coves such as Lemorna, Porthgwarra and Nanjizal. Finally, the best way to finish the day would be to watch the sun go down at Land’s End - the most south westerly point of mainland Britain.
PART SIX - St Just, St Ives & St Agnes
Starting the day at Sennen Cove, it’s a short drive to St Just, where you’ll find Cape Cornwall, Porth Ledden and the relatively secret Porth Nanven - known to some as Dinosaur Egg Beach! A little further up the coastline are astonishing views at the Botallack mines, followed by Levant Mine and finally Geevor Tin Mine, where they offer an underground tour!
Much like St Michael’s Mount, the drive from St Just to St Ives is simply beyond words! It might just be one of the best and most scenic drives in all of the UK! Pendeen Lighthouse is quite a popular spot to stop at, whilst Gurnard’s Head is a good one for the adventurers.
Arriving in St Ives, you might be surprised to find yourself in a subtropical paradise, with numerous beautiful beaches, lush vegetation and the UK’s mildest climate! Oh, and even one of only four Tate Galleries in the world! Sitting just outside of St Ives Bay is the fantastically photogenic Godrevy Lighthouse, which is best admired from Godrevy Beach on the opposite side of the bay.
The coastal road then starts to show you more of Cornwall’s wild and rugged side as it winds with the North Cliffs all the way to Portreath, which is then followed by Porthtowan - both of which are popular surf spots. The next beach along is Chapel Porth, which is a walk away from one of Cornwall’s most impressive mines, Wheal Coates (although it does have it’s own dedicated car park that’s quite a bit closer). Also nearby is St Agnes Head and St Agnes Beacon, but the views from Wheal Coates kind of beats the two.
PART SEVEN - Newquay & North Cornwall
The first of many surf spots coming up is Perranporth, which is home to “the UK’s ONLY bar on the beach” and multiple music festivals throughout the year! Holywell Bay and Crantock both have high-rising sand dunes, and the former offers the iconic “Gull Rock” as an awe-inspiring backdrop. Just past Pentire Head is the surf capital of the UK, Newquay, with too many beaches to count on one hand and also Boardmasters Music Festival!
The village of St Merryn is famously surrounded by “seven bays for seven days” - Porthcothan, Constantine, Booby’s, Mother Ivey’s, Harlyn and Trevone - each with their own unique character and qualities. Not only are they some of the best places for beginner surfers (Harlyn has it’s own surf school), but also some of the best coastal walks in between any of the two. One of our favourites would have to be between Porthcothan and Treyarnon, although just before Porthcothan is Bedruthan Steps, which is almost unbeatable for breathtaking views! Fans of Poldark might recognise Park Head and Porth Mear (also close to Porthcothan), but Trevose Head has arguably even better views right from the car park, and also boasts a lighthouse!
Depending on how much time you have or how many days you want to explore North Cornwall, you could stay for sunset at Trevose and continue up the coast the following day before returning home. Otherwise, you’ll be paying Padstow a very quick visit…
Chances are, you’ve already heard of the harbour town of Padstow and probably regard it as a bit of a foodie destination all thanks to Rick Stein. The truth is that it’s so much more than that, with activities ranging from cycling the Camel Trail to water sports on the Camel Estuary, or even the coastal walk round to Trevone via Tregirls Beach, Hawkers Cove and Stepper Point.
Just across the estuary is the village of Rock, which you can get the ferry to, although the ferry’s not suitable for cars. Rock offers it’s very own beach, as well as all of the same water sports as Padstow does, if not more! Most surfers however will head to the next nearby beach, Polzeath. The Rumps is another location just up the coast that is sure to leave you lost for words, as long as you’re prepared for the mile or so walk.
Port Quin is the next cove along, followed by Port Isaac, otherwise known as Port Wenn to Doc Martin fans and a short walk round to Port Gaverne - Port Isaac’s little brother. Even further up the coastline is the absolutely stunning beach, Trebarwith Strand, with it’s very own “Gull Rock” a short way out to sea.
Steeped in myth and heavily associated with the legend of King Arthur, Tintagel is home to castle ruins and the supposed home of Merlin! Not only that, one of the most amazing waterfalls you’ll have ever seen, St Nectan’s Glen, is only a ten minute drive away! A little further up the coastline you have an incredible semi-natural harbour, Boscastle, which is home to The Museum Of Witchcraft And Magic - perfect for Harry Potter fans!
The drive between Crackington Haven and Widemouth Bay, via Dizzard and Millook Haven is certainly not for the faint of heart, but not one that you’re going to want to miss either! The road trip comes close to an end in Bude, which has it’s own tidal pool and sandy beach - an absolute gem and another great surf spot sat within such a seriously dramatic stretch of coastline. Most noticeable is the change in rock formations on the beaches and in the cliff, which carries on across the Devon border - make sure you stop at Hartland Quay in particular if you’re already up that way!
Disclaimer: This blog post was written in partnership with The National Trust, although all opinions are own own. All images and content copyright www.bythecompass.com and www.alexstevenson.co.uk.