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.
“For me, 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.
Covering 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.
Unsurprisingly, 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.
“For me, 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.”
As he 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
While 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.
Dave Rogers 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!”
He makes 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.
The 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.
Later, at 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.
“Cornwall 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 580321).
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 evening rush.
Tucked away 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.
“I suppose 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.”
The 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.
“There’s an 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 from £85).
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
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
EIt’s the 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.
Like many 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.”
He turns 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.