Having visited north Cornwall regularly for more than a decade, it’s fair to say that I know the place pretty well. However, the majority of tourists seem to think that the county consists mainly of Newquay and the Eden Project, but there’s far more to it than that. Here are your more laid back and often less crowded alternatives in the land that the locals call Kernow, from Lusty Glaze to Padstow and beyond, where you can genuinely relax.
Our first stop is just a stone’s throw from Newquay – in fact, you can walk there in a few minutes along the coastal path, before traipsing down the narrow steps to the beach, complete with cafe/restaurant and beach huts. Fact fans should note that it featured in an edition of Blue Peter, where the finer points of lifesaving were discussed in a digestible, child-friendly manner, obvs. More obscure fact fans should also note that I once went in the sea here on Christmas Day and it wasn’t as cold as I’d anticipated.
Ok, so I’m a little biased on this one, as I have close family living there, but I would recommend a stay in Porth to blow away the cobwebs and help you disconnect from the 9-5. The waves are a bit calmer than at neighbouring beaches such as Fistral, so this is a good place to swim or body board, or you can trek up to the headland for stunning views along the coast and also the chance to see where an old Iron Age settlement once stood.
This is one for brand name lovers, thanks to the prominent branch of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant that overlooks the sea, bringing in a steady stream of tourists on its own merit. But, brushing Fifteen aside, the much better attraction is the bay itself, with excellent conditions for surfing and body boarding. Anyone with an interest in photography should pop down to try and capture the surfers at their best, or just look out for the occasional bit of sand art that you can spot on the walk down from the coastal path.
Not just for Rick Stein devotees, Padstow will appeal to anyone who needs to feed their shopping addiction or their new-found lust for the great Cornish pasty. However, if you are going to indulge in fish and chips, Stein’s should be your number one choice, though don’t expect to be able to eat inside during peak holiday times. After your meal, grab a pudding – of sorts – in the old-fashioned fudge shop down the road, or enjoy a Cornish Hokey Pokey ice-cream at the shop next to the ever-popular Whistlefish Gallery, where you can grab 10 watercolour greetings cards for £5 here – bargain.
If you can avoid the Crocs brigade and the mums wearing rugby shirts and juggling golden retrievers and husbands, there’s a lot to love about Rock. Catch the ferry over from Padstow if you don’t want an inconvenient drive, then hit the beach, check out the small selection of shops, browse in the independent art gallery or just head to the pub. The local brew is Doom Bar, which I can recommend. There used to be a nice cafe along the main road, but sadly it didn’t last long (we’re talking about five years ago, but I still remember the coffee and cakes).
The Camel Trail
Running between Padstow and Wadebridge and also further onto Bodmin, the Camel Trail is a former railway line that is now the perfect place to cycle or hike. I’ve cycled the Padstow-Wadebridge leg (and back again!) on the back of a tandem bike, which was a fun way to spend the afternoon. The route is flat and you get to explore the countryside in a different way, as most of Cornwall is more suited to walking, sailing or driving.
A little more off the beaten track, but close to an awesome fish and chip shop that you shouldn’t try to pronounce after a few too many shandies (it’s Friar Tuck’s, if you’re wondering), Constantine is the place to head if you want a classic British day of rock pooling, wind break assembly and swimming or paddling in between the red and yellow flags to avoid rip tides and strong currents. Even if the weather turns dodgy, you can just amble along the coast and enjoy the scenery. If you are going to dip your toes into the sea, look out for the wedding ring that my dad lost here in the 1970s, which may be blinging up a hermit crab’s home or hiding in the seaweed.
Heard the hype about St. Ives? Well, you should believe it. Not only is there a must-see branch of the Tate Gallery overlooking Porthmeor Beach, but there’s also a nice range of shops to explore, from surfer girl stores to hippy homeware boutiques. Aside from the Tate, there’s the Barbara Hepworth Museum and there are also plenty of commercial galleries worth checking out, mainly focusing on seascapes and abstract art.
So, those are my top suggestions, but what would yours be? If you’re a Cornwall aficionado then let me know any great places that I should have included on my list.