There’s England, and then there’s Cornwall. Expect both the mystical and the magical with a generous dose of outdoor adventure when you make the trek to this southernmost point of the United Kingdom.
When you think of England, chances are, you think of London. And when you think of London, there is an even better chance that you think of a big, bustling, cosmopolitan city with an intriguing mix of culture, history, and sightseeing. But what about that small, outer edge of the UK that stretches further south and takes you to nature’s paradise?
Cornwall is what I would like to call one of England’s best kept secrets; under the radar and tucked away outside of the urban sprawl, it will not only take you by surprise, but it will take your breath away with every curving and winding road, too. The best way to explore this hidden gem is by car and with minimal hotel options that don’t exactly come at a cheap price, the best place to rest your head at night is arguably under a tent. Camping may not be an obvious choice for everyone, but for the adventurous traveller, it is certainly a no-brainer in the summertime.
So pack your car, grab an outdoor-loving, hiking-enthusiast friend and hit the narrow roads with anticipation. Here is what you should see, do, and taste for your next 5 wild days in Cornwall, England.
Day 1: South Milton Sands, Charlestown Harbour, and Penrose Campsite
If you are driving from London, you will want to give yourself ample time to make your way to Cornwall via the motorway. Watch out for speed cameras, they are as sneaky as mice and the UK government will have no problem billing you more than one ticket for your journey down south.
Arrive at South Milton Sands and explore the beautiful beach. There will likely be kite surfers, and if it is warm enough, maybe even paddle boarders too. There is the option of renting a paddle board there yourself, but only if it is nice enough outside. Before you jet off to your next destination, make lunch out the back of your car and have a picnic—it is hard to predict where the next restaurant may be! It will take approximately 2 hours to get to Charlestown Harbour from there (don’t trust Google Maps travel times, they do not take into account the incredibly narrow roads). Wander around this timeless town and grab a snack if you wish. Snap some photos at the pier and then part ways to head to Penrose Campsite for the evening. If you have time along the way, stop at Falmouth to do a bit more exploring.
Day 2: The Lizard, Kynance Cove, Mullion Cove, Poldhu Cove, Cadgwith and Rick Stein Porthleven
The Southwest Coast Path will be your best friend for the duration of your trip. This path is England’s longest marked footpath and national trail. It stretches for 630 miles from Minehead, Somerset along the Devon and Cornwall Coast until it reaches Poole Harbour in Dorset. The section you will be walking will take roughly 50 minutes, and it will take you from The Lizard (park in the town of Lizard and walk to Lizard Point, the southmost point of England, to start your trek) to Kynance Cove. Along the way you will see magnificent beaches, views, and coastline. When you walk back you can choose to take the same SW Coast Path route or you can walk inland along the road—both ways will take you back to where you parked. When you return, buy a much deserved Cornish pasty for lunch at one of the local cafes in town—this is a Cornwall delicacy and tradition you cannot miss out on.
Next, drive to Mullion Cove and from there, walk to Poldhu Cove and back for another hour long walk (roundtrip). Technically you can walk from Kynance Cove all the way to Mullion Cove on the SW Coast Path, but this will be a very long journey.
Before you head back to your campsite, stop at Cadgwith for a genuine small town England experience. This charming area is centred around fishing and boasts some of the cutest cottage homes you will ever see. After you return to your campsite to recuperate, go for dinner at the famous Rick Stein Restaurant in Porthleven (make a reservation ahead of time). The prices are not cheap, but they offer incredible food that will blow your camping meals out of the park.
Day 3: St Michael’s Mount, Pedn Vouder Beach, Porthcurno Beach, Nanjizal Beach, and Lands End
Start your morning off with a visit to St Michael’s Mount, the Cornish counterpart of the famous Mont Saint-Michel in France. Plan your visit ahead of time by looking here for tide charts; you can only visit this area by foot at low tide. Entering the grounds is free, but going up to the castle will cost you money.
Next, drive to Treen and park there to start your walk to Lands End. Walk from Treen to Pedn Vouder Beach along the SW Coast Path then make a right toward Lands End. The entire walk to Lands End is roughly 8.5 miles and will take you past Porthcurno Beach,Porthchapel Beach, Porthgwarra Beach, and Nanjizal Beach, which are all spectacular. Eventually, you will reach Lands End where there will be many tourists and numerous opportunities to buy lunch.
Once you’ve taken a photo with the iconic Lands End sign (the westernmost point of mainland England), take the bus back to Treen. You’ll want to take the 1A, which travels to Penzance via Treen. Ask the bus driver if you can get off at Treen Hill, where you will make your way back to your car.
Day 4: St Ives, Chapel Porth Beach, St Agnes Heritage Coast, Padstow, and Rosebud Farm Touring Park
Pack up your tent and belongings and drive 17 miles to St Ives, one of the most popular postcard towns in Cornwall. Once you have explored this area and visited Porthmeor Beach, drive 25 miles to Chapel Porth Beach. Start your journey here by taking the path to the right of the parking lot (when you’re looking at the water) and walk to St Agnes Heritage Coast. Take the same route back or opt for the inland road and the entire walk is about 6 miles long. Along the way you will see an old mining building where you can stop to take photos.
Before heading back to your new campsite, Rosebud Farm Touring Park (in Saint Teath), make a pit stop at Padstow for some traditional English fish and chips.
Day 5: Polzeath, Coasteering, Port Isaac, Boscastle and St Nectan’s Glen
In the morning, drive 9 miles to Polzeath where you will start your Cornish Rock Tours coasteering adventure in the sea. This is an epic daytime experience that will take you swimming, climbing, jumping off rocks, and discovering neat caves. This should be booked in advance, and it is only recommended for those who are comfortable with their swimming abilities and looking for a real adrenaline rush.
Afterward, drive to Port Isaac, the famous town where Doc Martin is filmed. Grab a bite to eat and walk to the large grass hill on the other side of the harbour to catch a stunning view of the entire port.
Finish your day with a visit to St Nectan’s Glen and Boscastle Village. Boscastle is another magical fishing village with crystal clear water and a unique witchcraft museum.
To get to St Nectan’s glen by foot, park in the free car park situated just off the road in Trethevy and follow the signs to reach the wooded area, and eventually, the beautiful waterfall. The walk is moderate in difficulty and will take about 25 minutes. It will cost you £4 to enter the tea garden and waterfall.
Bring your walking shoes, a camera, and an eagerness for adventure and this journey will surely not disappoint.
Side note: It may be helpful to purchase a National Trust membership prior to leaving for this trip, as many of the locations mentioned above are situated on National Trust land. You can choose instead to pay a fee each time you enter one of these areas, but the costs may add up to be more than the total membership price if you decide to visit a significant number of National Trust parks/areas.
by Roslyn Kent – University of Calgary – Canada