St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, England.

Road Trip: A Cornish Loop

21 November 2016

Lovers of the Lake District and the Cotswolds may disagree, but Cornwall is arguably England's most scenic region – not least because of its spectacularly rugged coastline, which played a starring role in the hit TV series Poldark. With public transport sparse, you'll definitely need your own wheels to explore what the late English poet John Betjeman described as 'like another country'. Despite being part of Great Britain, Cornwall – or Kernow – has a distinctly independent spirit. As you navigate this captivating peninsula on this 450-kilometre road trip, expect to see signs in Cornish (Kernewek) as well as English, and black-and-white Cornish flags fluttering from houses and pubs.

The rugged Cornwall coastline is strewn with wildflowers as the sun sets. Cornwall's rugged coastline is irresistible to road-trippers. Picture: Getty Images

Highlights

  • Enjoying breath-taking coastal walks and lounging on stunning deserted beaches.
  • Savouring freshly caught Cornish crab, oyster and lobster by picturesque harbours.
  • Sipping pints of Cornish ale in old smugglers' inns.
  • Catching a show at the dramatically located Minack Theatre.
  • Picnicking in some of Cornwall's entrancing gardens.

Day 1 – Newquay To Port Isaac

The town of Newquay in Cornwall, England. Newquay is a happening hideaway in Cornwall. Picture: Getty Images

Fly into – and pick up a hire car from – Newquay, which has a lively, surfy vibe and Cornwall's most raucous nightlife. For something a little calmer, head north to the yacht-blessed coastal villages of Padstow and Rock, where celebrity chefs Rick Stein and Nathan Outlaw run some of the country's most esteemed restaurants. The clifftop trail along the Seven Bays edging Padstow makes for a wonderful post-prandial stroll.

Later, scoff Cornish ice cream while getting lost in the steep cobbled streets of another enticing seaside village, Port Isaac. It's a cosy place to spend the night – with plenty of cottage accommodation – and doubles up as Portwenn in Doc Martin (the long-running comedy-drama with Martin Clunes).


More English inspiration:

Hit the road: Best Day Trips Under Two Hours From London

Make a splash: Britain's Best Beaches


Day 2 – Port Isaac To Bodmin Moor

The ruins of Tintagel Castle sprawl across the Cornish hillside. Make like a knight amid the ruins of Tintagel Castle. Picture: Getty Images

After a caffeine hit and a Cornish pasty (try Port Isaac's May Contain Nuts cafe), hit the road to Tintagel Castle. This ruined clifftop fortress is steeped in myths and legends –it's said to be the birthplace of King Arthur (he of the Knights of the Round Table fame). A new artwork depicting the wizard Merlin has been carved into a rock face close to where Arthur was (apparently) conceived.

After lunch in Launceston, a historic market town on the Cornwall-Devon border, drive to the bleakly beautiful Bodmin Moor and hike amid its wildflower-strewn heaths and granite outcrops. One trail leads to Brown Willy, at 419 metres, Cornwall's highest point. Have a pint with pub grub at Jamaica Inn, the atmospheric setting of Daphne du Maurier's eponymous haunting novel. You can sleep here, as well.

Day 3 – Bodmin Moor To Charlestown

The village of Fowey in Cornwall, England. The village of Fowey tumbles down the slope to the water's edge. Picture: Getty Images

Veer south to Fowey (rhymes with joy), the elegant estuary town where du Maurier lived. Lunch by the water, or up at Fowey Hall Hotel, which occupies a handsome old mansion above the town. It's believed to be the inspiration for Toad Hall from The Wind in the Willows (author Kenneth Grahame was a regular guest).

Spend the afternoon roaming the giant geodesic domes and tree-top walkways of the Eden Project, an awe-inspiring, eco-friendly attraction that has mushroomed on an abandoned clay pit. Stay in the historic town of St Austell, or nearby Charlestown, a quaint harbourside village home to vintage tall ships.

Day 4 – Charlestown To Marazion

A rabbit nibbles on grass in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, England. Not all creatures are lots in the gardens of Heligan. Picture: Getty Images

Drive to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, possibly the most alluring of Cornwall's green spaces. After lying derelict for almost a century, this Victorian-era site has been restored to its former glory; renowned for its rhododendrons, bluebells and quirky sculptures.

Refuel in Truro, the snug Cornish capital, or Falmouth, where the award-winning Maritime Museum Cornwall charts the region's seafaring heritage. Pit stop in picturesque Portloe for an afternoon tipple, then enjoy dinner and shut-eye in Marazion, a village that, with its palm trees and whitewashed buildings, feels vaguely Mediterranean when the sun's out.

Day 5 – Marazion to St Ives

The castle island of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, England. Explore the castle island of St Michael's Mount. Picture: Getty Images

After breakfast, take the boat – or walk the causeway – to St Michael's Mount, an abbey-capped island, where you can explore a fortified castle and soak up jaw-dropping battlement views. Drive to the pirate-flavoured port of Penzance for lunch, then Land's End, for a selfie at mainland Britain's most south-westerly point.

Later, head to the Minack Theatre which, between April and October, showcases Shakespeare and the like. You should also stroll by the ghostly clifftop mines of Botallack – where much of Poldark was shot – before hitting St Ives, where you can hunt for souvenirs, browse trendy galleries, feast on seafood and sun-bake on glorious beaches. You probably won't want to leave Cornwall, but Newquay airport is just under an hour away by car.

* Featured image: St Michael's Mount (Getty Images)


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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.