The perfect trip: Cornwall
Surrounded on three sides by the sea, and cut off from the rest of Cornwall by the deep furrow of the Helford River, the Lizard Peninsula was once infamous for smugglers and shipwrecks, but it is now better known for its wildlife and coastal scenery.
Few people are more passionate about the Lizard’s landscape than Rachel Holder, who has worked as a National Trust warden here for the past nine years. “The Lizard is an incredibly special place,” she explains. “Originally, the peninsula belonged to a separate landmass, and its unique geology and coastal climate mean that many plants, insects and wildflowers thrive here that can’t live anywhere else in Britain.”
She heads off along the coast path high above Kynance Cove, a craggy, island-studded inlet that gives one of the Lizard’s most memorable views. On every side the clifftops are ablaze with wildflowers: milkwort, bloody cranesbill, lady’s bedstraw and kidney vetch, speckled with patches of pink thrift and Cornish heather. Butterflies and honeybees drift lazily among the gorse, while below us the sea glimmers cobalt blue in the sunlight.
“In summer, this stretch of coastline is one of the best places in Cornwall to spot basking sharks,” Rachel says, gesturing out to sea beyond the grassy islands clustered around the mouth of the cove.
Suddenly, a dark shape darts across the path ahead: it is a Cornish chough, a member of the crow family, easily distinguished by its bright-red bill. This iconic bird was once a common sight around Cornwall’s shores (so common it even features on the county’s coat of arms), but by the 1970s habitat loss meant that the chough had been all but wiped out. Happily, it has made a comeback since several wild birds unexpectedly returned to the Lizard’s cliffs in 2001.
“When I first started work here, bringing choughs back to Cornwall was still just a dream,” Rachel notes. “But the fact that they’ve returned on their own shows how healthy the habitat around the Lizard is. As a nature warden, that’s incredibly rewarding and very exciting to see.”
We hike on along the coast path, tracing the clifftops west from the lonely lighthouse at Lizard Point to the tiny fishing hamlet of Cadgwith. As we descend into the village, we stop and listen to the metallic crash of the Atlantic on the rocks below, and the hollow call of a gull somewhere out to sea.
Where to eat
Where better for tea and cake than Kynance Cove’s own beachside Kynance Café, where you can fill up on crab sandwiches and Kelly’s ice cream while enjoying the views of nearby Asparagus Island and Gull Rock? It’s eco-friendly, too, with fully biological loos and power from solar panels (lunches from £3.60).
Where to drink
Clifftop pubs don’t come much cosier than the 500-year-old Halzephron Inn, outside the village of Gunwalloe. It is a classic Cornish kiddlywink, or beer house, with low ceilings, brass bar trinkets and local ales – not to mention a menu that boasts crab salad, lamb tagine and beef fillet (wines from £3.40 a glass; mains from £9).
Where to stay: Landewednack House
This is an elegant b&b in a former rectory halfway between the Lizard village and Church Cove. Outside are two acres of private gardens, a heated pool and a converted coach house. Inside, its six smart rooms are decked out in classic Homes and Gardens style, with frilly curtains, creamy carpets and antique furniture (doubles from £110).
Mousehole and Newlyn: Best for fishing villages
Mousehole is 28 miles from the Lizard, 50 minutes by car