There is no doubt that Cornwall gets in your blood, and more specifically, North Cornwall down to Land’s End. What happens as you drive along the A30, traffic jams abounding in the summer, is a change of pace, a return to a simpler life and the reality of nature. It seems that when you arrive at Indian Queen’s, the turnoff for Newquay, you really do enter a different country. The black and white flag of the county is in abundance, as a sign of tourist affection but also on occasion as a result of the strong sense of identity and separateness of a place so far away from London.
We’re off to stay in a rented cottage, a treat we’ve enjoyed over the years, starting when the children were small and continuing now as we enjoy our empty nester status. That said, we’ve still had some jolly times, hosting our adult brood and their partners in a larger house, with space for us all! We’ve stayed in some quirky places, houses so different to our own, and choosing a different one each year has become a pleasant evening’s pastime, adding to our anticipation of time in Cornwall. Just mentioning the name makes me think of barbeques on the beach, superb fresh fish dinners in humble-looking pubs and a sense of freedom. Suburbia it is not!
A visit to the Eden Project at St Austell takes you to other worlds. Here under space age biomes, plants from across the globe flourish. The largest rainforest in captivity is remarkable, remember to take water, it’s really hot. The gardens are wonderful, however this is just the beginning – the food is good, the education centre for youngsters exceptional and the calendar of events reaches all ages. If ecology and sustainability is your bag, the Eden project will inform and delight. I always leave feeling amazed by the planet we live on and keen to grow the most unsuitable plants in my Home Counties garden.
Another serious favourite is the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno. If you like a view, you’ll find it here! It is the astonishing result of human inspiration and intervention on a cliff face. The seats are not quite, but almost, vertically hanging above the stage, looking out to sea. When I saw Kneehigh Theatre’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’, swarms of pirates (all actors) climbed the cliff face to appear at the edge of the stage, terrifying us all. Every production utilises the dramatic setting to tremendous effect. We have celebrated birthdays there, wrapped in rugs and fleeces (the show must go on), marvelling at the actors’ ability to withstand the elements. For summer performances, book as soon as possible.
And so to the beaches, glorious, varied and wild. You cannot tame the sea! The surfing is excellent, my knees and stamina now sadly lacking, so graceful body boarding has taken its place. All ages, all shapes and all abilities plunge into the waves in wetsuits, tee shirts and the hardy in swimsuits. The water on the north shore is, after all, the Atlantic. Polzeath is a real pull for families of tourists, you park on the beach, with shops close by providing everything you could ever want. And, years of experience tell me, you are bound to bump in to someone you know! Other favourites are Watergate Bay, famous for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant (good food, book early), excellent walking along the cliff tops, and the chance of spotting a basking shark too. Fistral Bay in Newquay hosts many world-famous surfing competitions, being a spectator now satisfies the daredevil in me. Try Sennen too, just before Land’s End, for wild waves and a great beachside restaurant. My ultimate favourite is Gwenver, we sat on the cliff top, drinking wine (you do need to bring your own), watching the sunset as dolphins played in the bay. It was nature for real, magical and unforgettable.
Art lovers are in for a treat too. Galleries in Newlyn, St Ives and Mousehole offer a huge range from the frankly tacky to the excellent, much of it homegrown. The Penlee Museum in Penzance contains unexpected joys, more traditional but equally worthy of merit to those in the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden in St Ives. St Just, a place time nearly forgot, surprised me with a couple of quality artist owned galleries. Once you start to look and poke about off the immediate tourist track, little treasures emerge, the Essex Tyler gallery in Mousehole and Badcocks in Newlyn being fine examples.
Everywhere you go, proud chimneys of decaying tin mines litter the countryside, testament to the importance the industry once played. To really get under the skin of this county, a visit to Geevor tin mine at Pendeen is a must. You can go into the mine and visit the works, guided by a retired Cornish miner. It’s eerie, poignant and a further reminder of the importance of the physical world in Cornwall. What hit me most was that this mine only closed in 1990, and yet the conditions seem Victorian, if not earlier. Cornish miners were famous and travelled worldwide, in fact more Cornish pasties are sold in Bolivia than in Cornwall, or so I’m told.
Each evening, having had our fill of sea, sand, village wanderings and, if our luck’s been in, a fabulous sunset, we return to our cottage, delighted to be staying, once again, in our favourite county!
Take your National Trust card and walking boots, visit Tintagel, eat in Padstow – the list is endless. Cornwall is an exceptional county (country maybe), with mystery, history and awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Original Cottages.