Cornwall had teased us ever since we moved to the UK; friends and colleagues would describe its stunning natural beauty, picturesque fishing villages, and distinct culture. For these reasons it was perpetually near the top of our list of UK destinations to visit, but always seemed to elude us. Finally, we decided enough was enough!
We planned a 5-day weekend between the May bank holiday weekends; we wanted to avoid the legendarily busy summer travel from London to Cornwall as much as we could. We chose to drive from London as opposed to flying into Newquay, and though the drive is a long one, we preferred it to the hassle of flying out of and into London. Driving in Cornwall itself was not nearly as harrowing as we expected; we had heard lots about the tight country roads and towering hedgerows, which were certainly challenges, but driving was actually quite comfortable. Visiting in the shoulder season no doubt helped.
Our Airbnb was based in a hamlet surrounded by farmland in the town of Sennen, about as far west as you can go on the Cornish peninsula. A public path runs from the hamlet through the farmland to the SW Coast Path, a walking trail that traces the scenic coastline in Cornwall and Devon; a 15-minute walk along the path brought us to a panoramic viewpoint over Gwynver Beach. We spent most evenings in, taking advantage of the kitchenette to cook meals with fresh and local ingredients from St. Buryan Farm Shop. Nearby Sennen Cove is an unpretentious coastal village with the expected (fish and chips and ice cream shops) and unexpected (the Vood Bar vegan food truck).
We spent most of our time in Cornwall west of Falmouth, but we broke up the drive in and out with stops in towns further up the peninsula. Padstow, which we visited on the way in, is perhaps best known as the hometown of celebrity chef Rick Stein. He owns a number of restaurants there which has increased the profile of the town. That increased profile has come with increased visitor numbers, and despite the tacky way in which the town has capitalized on its fortune, it was a worthwhile stop. We parked at Link Road Car Park and walked through the village and around the harbor before grabbing lunch at Rojano's in the Square (bianco pizza and fries).
Port Isaac, which we visited on the way out, is a classic Cornish seaside village. We parked at St. Endellion Car Park, walked along the coast to the center of town, then through the village and around the harbor. After lunch at Chapel Cafe (cream tea), we followed the SW Coast Path westward out of town. Within a few minutes it was as if we had left civilization behind; we crested a hill and the manmade beauty of Port Isaac almost immediately gave way to the natural sort. Back in town, we finished our visit with ice cream from the Ice Cream Parlour (blackcurrant cheesecake, clotted cream).
Our primary motivation for visiting Cornwall was nature, but we did spend some time visiting other towns on the peninsula. St. Ives, an artsy town and one of the county’s largest, is set on a dramatic harbor. We parked at Porthmeor Beach Car Park and walked the short distance to the Tate St. Ives, where we purchased combined tickets to the museum and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.
The Tate offered stories of St. Ives’ history as a British art haven, a status which accelerated during World War II, when artists sought inspiration away from the dangers of the blitz in London. After lunch at Porthmeor Beach Café (bread, green falafel, chickpea dahl), we walked through town to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. We enjoyed visiting her beautiful studio space and serene garden (which of course is peppered with her work). We walked through town some more and strolled along the seafloor at the harbor, exposed by low tide, before heading out.
We paid cutesy Mousehole a brief visit, parking by the Rock Pool Café and walking through the compact town center.
St. Michael's Mount, an island crowned by a medieval castle, is undoubtedly one of Cornwall’s top attractions. The website includes all the information you need to plan a visit (opening times of the castle, garden, causeway, etc.). We planned our visit around the causeway opening times, arriving at the main car park shortly after the tides receded to expose the stone pathway. It was a cool, cloudy, windy morning, but we made the best of it with a stroll through the gardens.
We parked at 50.045551, -5.654515 and walked down to Porthcurno, where we sat on the sand and soaked up the sun before walking westward along the SW Coast Path. We passed the Minack Theatre (which, though we’ve heard good things, we did not visit) on our way to the village of Porthgwarra, where we grabbed lunch at Porthgwarra Cafe (veggie pasty, cream tea).
Cornwall met our high expectations and played host to a relaxing and fulfilling long weekend escape from the city. If you’re visiting London and looking for somewhere else in England to complement your trip, look no further than this naturally stunning, culturally distinct peninsula.