When you think of the UK, I wouldn’t blame you if the first thing that came to mind wasn’t white sandy beaches and surfing.
Thanks to our weather, which is, granted, not amazing a lot of the time, people picture a rainy day in London when they think of our island nation.
What if I told you that there was, in fact, a corner of England that could, on a sunny day, easily mistaken for somewhere tropical? Yes, my friends, there are palm trees in the good old UK.
Cornwall is the most south-westerly county. It, along with neighboring Devon, is where huge amounts of ‘staycationers’ decamp to en masse every summer.
They do so at their own risk, because whilst it may be wall to wall sunshine, it may rain torrentially for the whole week. Luckily, though, rain or shine, it’s still an incredible place to explore.
It’s always been a little cut off from the rest of the country. The Tamar River is a huge natural barrier that even kept the Romans out. The Celts were, over the years, pushed back into this region of the country.
Much like Welsh, the Cornish language dwindled until it nearly died out, but there are now plenty of projects around that are determined to revive this ancient tongue.
The fact that it was, for a long time, completely separate from the rest of England which various invading forces were attempting to unite, means that it still has a very different feel to it.
As you cross the river, the architecture changes slightly and the scenery shifts, and becomes quintessentially Cornish.
The coastline is dramatic, with craggy cliffs plunging down to white sand beaches, sometimes lapped gently by still waters and sometimes ravaged by the power of the Atlantic ocean.
This is where Britain’s surfers flock, especially in the winter, when the waves, especially on the north coast, can be world class.
Anyway, that’s enough of the sales pitch. If you’re sold, then here a few things you need to know.
How to Get There
Cornwall is the most southwesterly corner of England, and it does take a fair amount of time to get there, whatever your mode of transport of choice.
The Great British rail network does make it this far, and lines that branch off the main London-Penzance route have survived, meaning you can make it to a few picturesque spots on the north and south coasts by train, including Looe, Falmouth, Newquay and St Ives. These are all wonderful spots to visit, so if you’re limited to public transport then you’ll be fine, just be aware that it does take longer than you would think to get anywhere.
You can also get a bus down from London, which may well be cheaper, although it will almost definitely take quite a lot longer. If you’ve got the time, you can do the journey on a Megabus for next to nothing.
This is, however, prime road trip territory. A car gives you that freedom to go from village to village and beach to beach, whether you’re chasing waves or views.
Where to Stay
If you do go down the road trip route, camping is a great way to see the area on a budget. There are plenty of top-notch campsites around, just try and avoid the huge ones with static caravans that are full of noisy families, unless you have a noisy family of your own.
Lots of them have their own bars or cafes and shops, or will only be a short walk from the local pub. That’s always a bonus, as nights closeted in a tent quickly lose their charm. Be sure to wrap up well whenever you go, as it can get chilly and wet even in the middle of the summer.
You might, though, want to avoid camping once winter sets in. There are wonderful Airbnbs all over Cornwall, whatever your budget and the traditional B&B is still alive and well, too.
There are plenty of YHA hostels in amazing locations in this part of the country. One of them looks out over Lizard Point, the most southerly point of mainland Britain and another is perched on the dramatic cliff edge just around the corner from Perranporth, a popular surf spot and home to the largest sand dunes in Europe. A tour of the region’s hostels would be a wonderful way to while away a week.
How Long to Stay
You could spend weeks exploring Cornwall, but try to stay for at least one week, to be able to stay in a few different spots and get a taste of the contrasts, from the wilds of the moors to the varied and impressive coastline, which changes every time you come round a headland.
You could stick to a long weekend, but if you aren’t driving then it’s best to set up camp (literally or figuratively) in one spot and explore from there, rather than moving ever night.
Where to Visit
The north coast is especially wild and untameable. Quaint towns such as Padstow and Rock on the Camel Estuary attract moneyed Londoners but are still worth visiting. Along from there, you’ll reach Newquay, which has crowded waves and crowded bars, attracting young people from all over for the surf and partying.
Go further and you’ll come to Perranporth, home to one of the most impressive beaches you’ll ever see, and the UK’s only bar physically on the beach. Coming to the southernmost tip, Land’s End is a bit of a circus, with busloads of tourists, but is worth it for the novelty.
On the south coast, heading east again, the Minack Theatre is an amphitheater cut into the cliff. Book well ahead for a stormy Shakespeare performance, and then marvel at the natural formation Logan Rock. Back along the coast, you’ll pass the famous St Michael’s Mount, the little sister of Monte San Michelle in France.
‘The Lizard’ peninsula is the most southerly point of mainland Britain and has a special charm. Along from there, Falmouth is a gem, and over the water is the Roseland peninsula, incredibly tranquil and picturesque, especially on a sunny summer’s day.
Carry on and visit Charlestown, which you might have spotted in Poldark if you’re a fan of the series, and then the small fishing villages of Polperro and Looe, in the southeast corner of Cornwall, can’t fail to charm you.
Rame Head, in the very south-east corner, is also a wonderful spot. There are countless coastal walks you can do, all of which are stunning.
Inland, explore Cornwall’s mining heritage. The area of Bodmin moor around Minions (yes, like the film), is incredible, with ruined mine buildings everywhere, ancient stone circles and dramatic natural rock formations. You can also stop off at the famous Jamaica Inn, setting of the eponymous Daphne Du Maurier novel.
Explore, enjoy, and find your own favorite hidden corner of Cornwall.