From the hidden beaches of the Roseland Peninsula to the blustery cliffs of the Lizard, this trip uncovers some of Cornwall’s unmissable experiences.
Bodmin Moor: Best for wilderness
Bodmin Moor begins
close to Launceston near the Cornish border, and takes around half an hour to
cross by car
It is early
morning, and there is not a soul to be seen on Bodmin Moor. A cloak of mist
still hangs across the landscape, bathing everything in a hazy grey glow. In
the distance, a small herd of wild ponies ambles across the plain, and a few
crooked tors are silhouetted against the sky. Otherwise, the moor seems
deserted. It is like a forgotten world.
the moor’s wildness is what makes it beautiful,” smiles Dominic Fairman, a
second-generation farmer whose family smallholding sits right at the heart of
Bodmin Moor, near Blisland. “We’re only a few miles from the north coast
beaches, but we might as well be on another planet,” he adds.
around 80 square miles between Bodmin and Launceston, Bodmin Moor is a corner
of Cornwall that few people take the time to explore. It is one of the county’s
oldest and most fascinating landscapes: a high heath formed on a ridge of 300
million-year-old granite that’s been weathered by aeons of wind and rain,
forming a rugged panorama of scattered boulders, twisted tors and craggy hills.
the moor’s wildness makes it a haven for wildlife, from dormice and otters to
skylarks and stonechats, and on sunny days adders and grass snakes can
sometimes be seen warming themselves on the bare rocks. Anyone concerned about
the legendary Beast of Bodmin Moor should take consolation from a Ministry of
Agriculture, Food and Fisheries report that concluded there was “no verifiable
evidence for the presence of a ‘big cat’”.
The moor is
also a draw for hikers who like their landscapes big, wild and empty: from the
highest peaks, Brown Willy and Rough Tor, the views stretch all the way from
Penwith to Dartmoor on a clear day.
the moor has a rawness that you can’t find anywhere else in Cornwall,” Dominic
says. “There’s a beauty in its emptiness. When I’m away I miss the big skies
and open spaces. I feel cooped up in the town, but the minute I turn off the
A30 back onto the moor, I know I’m home.”
talks, the blanket of cloud that has been cloaking the moor all morning
fractures, and shafts of sunlight turn the landscape a rich, tawny gold. The
moor lights up in a rainbow of colours; beyond it, on the northern horizon,
there’s a faint glint of silver from the distant sea.
Where to eat
Hidden in Cardinham Woods, a few miles
from Bodmin, Woods Café
serves homemade food using local ingredients (quiches, salads and sandwiches in
the summer; stews, sausage rolls and hotpots in winter) and does a mean cream
tea. It shuts up shop at 5pm sharp in summer (mains from £6). For evening meals,
head to The Blisland Inn.
Where to drink
Ale enthusiasts travel from all over the moor to one-time Campaign for Real Ale
“pub of the year”, The Blisland Inn. Toby jugs, beer mats and vintage photos
adorn the walls, and there are at least seven ales and a local scrumpy on tap.
A blackboard tallies the total number of different brews served since the
owners arrived – nearly 3,000 at the last count (drinks from £2; meals from
£6.50; 01208 850739).
Where to stay: Trevenna
This secluded barn complex boasts a
level of design that could put many top-end hotels to shame. The barns range in
size, sleeping from two to eight: all have the same open-plan feel, with
A-frame beams and exposed stone walls left in situ to provide rustic character
(barns from £120 per night; 01579 320 013)
For more details on Bodmin, visit bodminlive.com.
The Roseland Peninsula: Best for beaches
The Roseland is
southwest of Bodmin, 45 minutes by car
summer crowds flock to the north coast, wiser heads make for the quieter sands
of the Roseland Peninsula. Ros is an old Cornish word meaning promontory, and
this remote spit of land still feels one step removed from the rest of
Cornwall. Bordered to the west by the Fal Estuary and to the east by Veryan
Bay, it’s a long way from anywhere: the only route entails a 20-mile
cross-country drive from Truro, or a trip across the River Fal on the King Harry Ferry.
is a rambler who has been tramping the Roseland for over 20 years. “I’ve spent
nearly half my life exploring it, and I still find something new every time I
come,” he says, as a kittiwake circles lazily overhead, wings spread out
against the brilliant blue sky. “I can walk for hours, even in the middle of
summer, and only pass a few other people. Come winter, and I’ve usually got the
whole place to myself!”
for a rocky cove beneath Nare Head. It is summer but, apart from a couple
walking a dog, the beach is empty. Tangled bladderwrack and kelp stir gently as
waves wash in. Golden sand curves under the cliff-face, pockmarked with
boulders covered in barnacles and limpets. Rock pools glint in the afternoon
light. “Not bad, eh?” laughs Dave, as he clambers over rocks in search of crabs
carried in by the tide.
Roseland’s biggest beaches are at Carne and Pendower, which join together at
low tide to form an unbroken sweep of sand that stretches almost a mile from
Nare Head. Even quieter coves can be reached via the coast path: some are
firmly on the beaten track; others can only be found with local knowledge and
an Ordnance Survey map. The most secluded of all are cut off by cliff and tide,
inaccessible to anyone without their own boat.
dusk, Dave hikes out to one of his favourite viewpoints, the 19th-century
lighthouse at St Anthony’s Head. “That’s one sight I never seem to get tired
of,” he says, pointing west across the water towards the lights of Falmouth
Harbour and the ink-black cliffs of the Lizard beyond.
just gets into your soul,” he says. “And once it’s there, it’s there for good.”
Where to eat
Olga Polizzi’s Hotel Tresanton has brought a dash of
Riviera style to the St Mawes seafront, and the restaurant is just as glitzy as
the hotel. With its timber-clad walls and sea views, it's like dining inside a
posh ship’s cabin. The sophisticated menu is strong on locally sourced meats
and seafood (three-course dinner £43.50).
Where to drink
Portscatho’s Plume of Feathers
is an ideal pint stop on the coast path from St Anthony’s Head. The building
dates back to the 17th century, so it’s all inglenook fireplaces and wonky oak
beams. The pub grub’s good, and there’s a decent supply of ales courtesy of the
pub’s owners, St Austell Brewery (beers around £3, mains from £8; 01872
Where to stay: The Nare
This plush hotel overlooking Carne
Beach prides itself on its old-fashioned values: round-the-clock room service,
croquet on the lawn and afternoon tea served on bone-china crockery. The 36
rooms range from small boltholes to full-blown suites; you'll definitely want
one with a sea view (doubles from £262)
For more on St Mawes and the Roseland Peninsula, visit stmawes.info.
Falmouth: Best for food
Falmouth is about
an hour’s drive from the Roseland via Truro, or you can take a shortcut on the
King Harry Ferry
It is 4 pm,
and the day’s catch has just arrived at The Wheelhouse. Crates of plump
mussels, coral-pink scallops, spiny lobsters and spider crabs are piled high on
the counter, waiting to be popped into one of the pots bubbling away on the
kitchen stoves. "Just looking at it makes you hungry, doesn’t it?" says owner
Tina Hopton, as her chefs start prepping the shellfish in readiness for the
along one of the narrow slips lining Falmouth’s waterfront, The Wheelhouse has
built up a passionate local following since it opened its doors at the
beginning of 2010. The premise is refreshingly down to earth – local shellfish
cooked and served as simply as possible, chosen from a tiny menu that is
dictated by what turns up in the fishermen’s crates each day. It’s an honest
approach that’s mirrored in The Wheelhouse’s rough-and ready décor: the
crockery and furniture mostly comes from charity shops and car boot sales, and
the bar has been built out of reclaimed packing crates.
it’s fair to say I’m not a big fan of fine dining,” laughs Tina, who runs The
Wheelhouse with her partner Matt. “When we started, we just wanted a place that
local people could enjoy and afford to eat in. I love peasant food, the kind
you find in a Madrid taberna or a Breton oyster bar. We wanted to bring that
ethos home and give it our own Cornish spin.”
Wheelhouse is one of a new breed of businesses in Falmouth contributing to the
town’s growing reputation as a gastronomic hub: from hand-picked southwest ales
at The ’Front and freshly roasted coffee at Provedore to elegant brasserie food
at Oliver’s and sustainable fish and chips at Harbour Lights. In October, the
town also hosts an annual festival in celebration of the long tradition of
oyster farming on the nearby Helford River, where the precious bivalves have
been cultivated since the 12th century.
exciting atmosphere in Falmouth right now,” muses Tina. “We have some of the
county’s best ingredients right on our doorstep, and I think local chefs have
really started to tap into that. Above all, we’re passionate about showing off
all the wonderful things Cornwall has to offer. If we achieve that, then I’ll
be a happy lady.” She gives us a wink then disappears back into the kitchen to
the sound of steaming pots and clattering pans.
Where to eat
For beachside dining, look no further than The Cove. It is in a wonderful
location just behind Maenporth Beach, with a patio for sunny days and a
minimalist dining room for when the weather turns. Chef Arty Williams’s menu is
spiced with Mediterranean and Far Eastern flavours, and the tapas is perfect if
you are just after pre-beach snacks (mains from £13.95).
Where to drink
When the sun is out, you’ll find half of Falmouth squeezed into Gylly Beach Café, overlooking Gyllyngvase
Beach. It covers all bases, from frothy cappuccinos to local ales, but early
arrival is essential if you want to be sure of a place on the deck outside. It’s
popular for breakfast, too – the pancake stack should keep you going until
dinnertime (drinks from £3, lunch mains from £5).
Where to stay: The Townhouse
This Georgian former sea captain’s
house overlooking Falmouth harbour has been given a boutique-style
makeover: neutral tones, quirky furniture and Korres natural bath goodies, plus
a cocktail bar downstairs. Moving up the price scale is worth it: you’ll have
more space and better views, and be further removed from the bar noise (doubles
The Wheelhouse is open Wednesday-Saturday 6pm-9pm (01326 318050). The Falmouth Oyster Festival
runs from 13-16 October 2011.
The Lizard: Best for coastal walks
The Lizard village
is 40 minutes from Falmouth by car
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
light in Cornwall that’s different,” says Roy Connelly, as he sets up his easel
in the sand and seaweed in Mousehole’s harbour. “There’s a dreamy quality to it
that’s almost impossible to capture on canvas. I think that’s why I keep coming
back here. I can’t resist a challenge.” He smiles wryly, then rummages around
in his bag for a fresh tube of oil paint.
Roy is one
of many artists who sought inspiration in West Cornwall. Painters, poets and
writers have been drawn here since the 19th century, when Stanhope Forbes and
the other artists of the Newlyn School set out to depict the tough lives of
fisherfolk. Many of them never left: Forbes and his wife Elizabeth are buried
in the churchyard a few miles inland at Sancreed.
It is not
hard to see what drew them here. Mousehole (pronounced mowzle) is the
picture-perfect image of a Cornish village, a dense warren of cobbled lanes,
steep alleys and slate-roofed cottages, tumbling down the hillside towards the
granite breakwater and the sea. A century ago, this was one of the county’s
most important fishing harbours, but a crash in pilchard stocks during the
early 20th century moved most of the fishermen to Newlyn, a mile further along
the coast towards Penzance.
Cornish seaside villages, Mousehole has plenty of holiday lets and second
homes, but there is still a strong sense of community. Near Christmas,
volunteers put on a dazzling display of lights and, on the day before Christmas
Eve, The Ship Inn cooks up a traditional dish of stargazy pie in honour of local
lad Tom Bawcock, who supposedly ended a village famine by braving storms to
land a bounty of fish.
“I spend a
lot of time travelling in search of the perfect view,” muses Roy. “And I always
find myself coming back to this spot. We’re at the end of the land, where the
rock runs out and the sea begins. There’s something magical about that.”
towards the jumble of granite houses stacked up behind the harbour, then sets
to work as clouds roll overhead and boats’ masts clank gently in the breeze.
Where to eat
2 Fore Street bistro blends French
methods and Cornish produce, like fish off the boats at Newlyn. Owner and head
chef Joe Wardell trained under Raymond Blanc (mains from £11).
Where to drink
The Ship Inn is the place if you
want a pint with the locals. It’s lively in summer, snug in winter, with beams,
nooks and nautical knick-knacks aplenty (drinks from £3).
Where to stay: Boutique Retreats
This deluxe self-catering company
collects together some of West Cornwall’s loveliest pads. Properties include a
converted fisherman’s store with a wood-burning stove and Japanese plunge bath
and a former flower farm that was once used as a studio by artist Grayson Perry
(from around £750 per week in summer).
Oliver Berry is a film, travel and music writer
based in Cornwall, and a former holder of The Guardian Young Travel Writer of
the Year title.
The article 'The perfect trip: Cornwall' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.