Day 1: Polzeath & Port Issac
After a 6 hour drive from south London, we arrived in Cornwall and – knowing we couldn’t check into our accommodation for a little while – headed to Polzeath beach. A couple of hours chilling on the sand, watching the surfers, searching rock pools for crabs, reading, and eating Cornish ice-cream was just what the doctor ordered.
End of a Hard Day’s Work
Our first two nights were spent in the tiny fishing village of Port Isaac, with a delicious meal on the first evening at Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen. Highlights from the seven-course tasting menu included: raw scallop with ginger, cured monkfish with coconut, and whole Dover Sole. Delicious. It was a chilly walk uphill to our flat afterwards, past the harbour and precariously-perched cottages, but probably necessary to work off the baked cheesecake.
Pretty in Pink
Day 2: Tintagel & Padstow
We were gifted a gloriously sunny day for exploring Tintagel Castle and its picturesque cove. Crossing the natural chasm between clifftops on the newly-built Castle Bridge, you can’t help but gawp in awe at the stunning coastline. The bridge itself is an impressive structure – two cantilevers that stretch towards, but don’t quite meet, each other, leaving a four centimetre gap in the centre (representing, we were told, the transition from present to past). Paved with Cornish slate, to sympathetically blend with the landscape, it unites the two halves of the castle complex for the first time in over 500 years. But would, I imagine, be bloody scary in high winds!
Medieval ruins and Arthurian tales await on the far side. And it’s an enjoyable amble across the island, taking the clearly-marked (and now strictly one-way – thanks Covid!) clifftop paths, weaving through the remains of the 13th century fortress. A couple of factoids for you: the tourist site is part of the Prince of Wales’ estate; and is understood to be where Uther Pendragon and Igraine (the Duchess of Cornwall) conceived the boy who would one day pull Excalibur from the stone and acquire himself a Round Table.
Haven of Delights
But back to those views…turquoise waters, rugged shorelines, and cliffs stretching into the distance in both directions; seagulls screeching, waves crashing, and the odd seal to be spotted frolicking in the surf. Wow. And worth the ticket price alone to descend to Tintagel Haven (the aforementioned golden-sanded cove) where at low tide you can walk through ‘Merlin’s Cave’, a 300 meter tunnel beneath the island, and wonder at the slender waterfall cascading onto the beach.
North Cornwall Coast
Bridge to the Past
After an obligatory Cornish pasty (I went off-piste with a delicious lamb and mint combo), we headed down the coast to Padstow. The little town has been a foodie destination for decades, but apart from seeking out a good-quality cream tea, we didn’t have time to fit in a Stein or Ainsworth on this trip. A pause here to settle a long-standing dispute about scones: jam first, always. Glad that’s sorted.
We had a quick mosey around the shops and art galleries, before walking to St George’s Cove, just over half a mile from the harbour. And from there, taking advantage of the low tide, sauntered all the way from St Saviour’s Point to Harbour Cove and neighbouring Hawker’s Cove at the mouth of the Camel Estuary. It is here where the sand forms the infamous Doom Bar, the curse of ships for many a century (and from which the local ale gets its name). I am just full of useful information!
Dog Walker’s Dream
Day 3: Camel Valley
The second of our three homestays for the week was close to Porthscatho on the beautiful Roseland Peninsula. Amazing destination, but the least said about this bridging day the better. After an ill-advised attempt to visit the beach at Trebarwith (it was raining and the tide was in, covering every inch of sand), it took us over an hour to get back into Port Isaac for an oyster lunch (the tourist traffic having inexplicably quadrupled). I can’t even eat oysters, so the journey was even more painful.
Fresh from the Sea
Finally en route to the south coast, we made a stop mid-way at Camel Valley vineyard, intending for the non-drivers to enjoy a tasting and the drivers to take in the view and purchase some bottles from the shop. All good in theory. Expect the handbrake on bro-in-law’s car failed and the vehicle ended up amongst the vines, having rolled down a steep incline and smashed through a fence on its way. Oops.
After a local farmer pulled it out with his Landover, we dusted off the grapes and waved goodbye as it was toed off to a Cornish car graveyard. Not a great day.
Day 4: Minack Theatre and Porthcurno
Whilst our holiday mates dealt with their insurance company, Paul and I drove to the far tip of the county (just 4 miles from Land’s End) to meet up with friends Rob and Laura. The Minack Theatre had been strongly recommended by a few people before the trip, so we were eager to see what the fuss was about. Another fantastically hot and sunny day greeted us, and – since we’d arrived a little early – we had a stroll along the cliffs to Porthchapel Beach. The sea was a vibrant aquamarine, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was such a peaceful spot that I could have happily have stayed there forever.
The Perfect Cove
But then I’d have missed Minack, which was as great as everyone had claimed. An open-air amphitheatre, built completely by hand by Rowena Cade – a rich eccentric – and her gardener Billy in the 1930s, the theatre is quite the spectacle. Perched on a granite outcrop, the seats and stage where chiselled by hand, the sand for cement having been hauled up a man-made stone staircase from the beach below. Dotted with sub-tropical plants, the ocean-view terraces are surely the best seats in any theatre.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Nearby Porthcurno Beach is always found on lists of Cornwall’s best beaches. Often somewhat disingenuously labelled a “hidden gem”, when in reality everyone is quite clear where to find it! We had a really lovely, chilled out afternoon on the sand, eating crab sandwiches and ice-creams, reading and watching Harvey (their dog) frolic in the waves. I even donned Rob’s rash vest and braved the sea myself…absolutely bloody freezing, but fantastic once you were immersed.
Fish and chips on a clifftop bench back at the Peninsula rounded off a pretty memorable day. You don’t even need to worry about gulls nicking your chips in Cornwall; they’re much more refined than their Kentish cousins!
Day 5: St Mawes and Heligan
Wednesday dawned grey and, surprisingly, a little chilly. Ditching plans for the beach, we instead drove to Kastel Lannvowsedh – one of King Henry VIII’s seaside fortresses – in nearby St Mawes. Not particularly exciting, but the village itself is worth a visit. Situated at the southern end of the Peninsula, looking across the Fal Estuary towards Fraggle Rock lighthouse (yes, the Fraggle Rock!), the small village has a charming harbour, a decent selection of boutique shops and delis, good pasties, and – on a sunny day – plenty of seafront terraces for enjoying your cream tea.
Buoyed by the promise of afternoon sun, our next destination was the much-lauded Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey. Very glad, in retrospect, to have slotted this into the schedule. A restored Victorian Pleasure Garden, the eclectic mix of alpine ravines, ancient woodland, hothouses, sub-tropical jungle, kitchen gardens and farmland pasture are a delight to explore. Having taken several dozen photos there, I decided it deserved a post of its own, so click on the link above to take a gander.
And the clouds did indeed clear, providing perfect conditions for the walk and leading to a glorious harbourside sunset later that evening. Which we enjoyed from local fish restaurant The Watch House, where we tucked into grilled tiger prawns from the plancha, crispy squid and possibly the best lemon sole with caper butter I’ve ever eaten.
Day 6: Porthcurnick and St Just
Luckily, Chris and Ching’s final morning was hot and bright, with endless blue sky. And so – packing our picnic blankets, sun-cream and flip flops – we descended on Porthcurnick Beach. Another of the picture-perfect coves we’d travelled so far to discover. The beach has become famous for its café (The Hidden Hut), from which we purchased a very tasty crab and fennel chowder at lunchtime. More swimming, reading and lounging ensued, as boats bobbed on the calm waters, and I spent a long while contemplating how very fortunate I am.
Before journeying to our final stop, Paul and I called in at the very attractive Saint-Just-in-Roseland, a chapel and gardens perched beside a tidal creek ten minutes from Portscatho. Described by John Betjeman as “to many people the most beautiful churchyard on earth”, the much-visited 6th century Celtic shrine is really quite bewitching. Local legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea brought his boy nephew, Jesus, to Cornwall, landing in this spot. But you don’t have to believe that to enjoy the alluring trail around jumbled, lop-sided gravestones and ogle at the splintered rowing boats strewn across the creek.
Waiting for the Tide
Arriving in Fowey late afternoon, we checked in to our fisherman’s cottage and quickly headed to the estuary to witness the golden rays dipping below the horizon. Heavenly! We fell in love with the town immediately. Only helped by the amazing choice of restaurants. Dinner was at the superlative Appleton’s on Fore Street, where we devoured tempura’d anchovies, sardella, octopus with n’duja and monk’s beard, squid ink linguine, beef with wild garlic, and bee pollen cake. In snatched moments over the coming days, the RightMove app was scoured for affordable properties on the esplanade.
Day 7: Polruan and Fowey
A short ride on the petite “ferry” to Bodinnick the next morning saw us on a 7km National Trust walk around the tributary to Polruan, passing the small hamlet of Pont and taking in the gorgeous views across to Fowey from the opposite bank. With slightly aching legs, we congratulated ourselves with moules marinière at Lugger Inn (a must!) and an amble around the delightful streets of Polruan (another potential option for our seaside relocation project).
Back on the other side, an ice-cream at dinky Readymoney Cove was followed by a happy hour or two browsing the independent shops of Fowey: a variety of of nautical and aquatic wrapping paper getting purchased.
Colours at Dusk
Day 8: Lerryn and Par Sands
The next morning we arrived at Golant at high tide to join our guided kayaking trip on the river. Having learned how enjoyable sculling can be on a previous trip to New Orleans, I’d pre-booked the excursion weeks before and arrived brimming with excited anticipation. Despite his world-weary demeanour, the guide was informative and helpful with suggestions for improving technique. We paddled into “Wind in the Willows” Creek (Kenneth Grahame having holidayed frequently in the area and chosen it as the setting for his story), along to the picturesque village of Lerryn (where we stopped for lunch) and then looped back past the quaint quaysides and private jetties that dot the banks.
Mole and Ratty
Pulling My Weight
The latter part of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the dunes at nearby Par Sands. A contradiction of a beach, with pretty countryside in one direction but an unattractive china clay works in the other. Positioning ourselves correctly, we stayed until the evening light began to glint on the surf, then headed to dinner at Fitzroy. Wow! My lobster was huge and juicy, and the sea buckthorn meringue a revelation. Such a shame this place closes for the winter months, otherwise I’d have booked a second trip to Fowey immediately!
Dreaming of Returning