Cornwall is a county in the far-west of south England, famous for its beautiful fishing villages, the impressive coastal scenery, the unique Cornish attitude of its inhabitants, and for being inspiration and setting of many famous writers such as Thomas Hardy, Conan Doyle, and – of course – the (in)famous Rosamunde Pilcher. 😉
This last aspect was one of the reasons to come here, as I fulfilled a promise to another very important lady in my life – my mother – by taking her here on a holiday last summer. So pacing of this short extended weekend trip will be a bit slower than my usual travel writing, and less focused on taking pictures and instead more on just enjoying the beautiful moments.
Day 1: Morning Flight into Stansted, Stonehenge, Bath
Day 2: Looe, Polperro, and St. Austell
Day 3: Penzance, St. Michaels Mount, Minack Theatre, Land’s End, Saint Ives
Day 4: Lanhydrock and Drive Back to London
Day 5*: Return flight early in the morning
Trip Date: 07/2017
Trip Cost (all in): 150€ p.P. /day (moderate)
Trip Duration: 4 days (w/o travel time)
Vacation days required: 1 day (one holiday in between)
I picked up my mother from her home and we took the early morning Ryanair flight into Stansted. Ryanair – awful as always – at least was on time and I was able to quickly pick up an Toyota Aygo as a rental car. I had prepared all maps on my phone and driving through London (early morning traffic meant the ring roads were full) was surprisingly easy. Signposting is good and – in contrast to other aspects of their government, at least traffic in the U.K. is well organized. Last time I toured the country was as a hitchhiker 16 years ago…
Getting to the far west is a long drive and I did not want to take too many hours in one go, so we headed towards Bath as a first stop and for some roman history. On the way – and only a minor detour – a must-vist: Stonehenge. I wrote earlier that this trip was not about me and not about me spending hours to get good pictures as I usually do, so I took mostly just snapshots with my cell phone. However, my co-traveller had gotten her hands on my old Casio camera and was happily shooting away. Only that the motifs were not quite the same. So while I took this:
That’s what ended up on her camera. 😀
Stonehenge is amazing, but there is little to see. The various segments are built throughout different millenia, with the oldest being almost 5000 years old. Little is know of the culture that built them and they are still surrounded with tales and myths.
As amazing as the site itself is also the price. Even with the Pound in fast decline, the entrance fees are steep. You should consider buying a combined Heritage ticket to reuse it at other sites you want to visit. Also book online in advance – tourist numbers are high. Don’t have a tunnel view and head straight for the ruins, you miss out on the endless poppy fields nearby:
We took our time to stroll around the site and then continued onwards to our destination for the day: The ancient Roman City of Bath. Bath is another heritage site in the U.K. and I had been here several times before. I had booked us a rooms in an old manor house just outside of the city, which was also the site of a weddning on that day. Sadly the weather was very typical English… We dropped our stuff, freshened up and then headed into the city center. Bath features four essential locations: The royal crescent, the abbey, the roman baths and Pulteney Bridge. Parking is not very convenient in the city, but there are some underground garages. If you are good on foot, the city is easy to explore this way. However, we were not that mobile and stayed in the city center. This means we skipped the Roycal Crescent in favor of the other three sites. The Abbey and the Roman Baths are right next to one another, and it is less than a 10minute walk to the Bridge. The Baths were built by the Romans on top of natural hot springs and are still fully accessible. They are well worth a visit, as is the Abbey, although for both locations tourist numbers are very high.
After exploring the historic sites we went for a light dinner (by British standard):
And then walked it off with a stroll near the river and to Pulteney Bridge, which is one of only four bridges in the world that have shop buildings on both sides across their entire length.
After this it was time to head back and get an early rest.
For day 2 I had planned to take an early drive to Polperro, a famous coastal fishing village. Fully confident we had reached it and unfaltering in my resolve, I instead drove us into a village called Looe. That was probably the best mistake I made, as Looe is much less touristy and even more beautiful. It actually is famous locally as a seabath, but I had never heard of it before. Check for yourself:
We got really lucky as there was a boat racing regatta on that day and we just sat at the beach, had a coffee break and some light snacks and watched them compete.
Afterwards we continued to the original destination Polperro. You are not allowed to drive into the village and must stop on a parking area outside. It is about 1.5km walk into the village. Not steep or tough, but if you are older or it is a hot day (like it was when we were there) not easy. We fixed that with a large Ice cream and lots of breaks. 😉 Again – make sure you look left and right – the little houses and gardens are so beautiful:
Polperro is laidback and relaxed. There is a little smugglers museum in town if you are interested. We went straight for the little port, bought ourselves some sandwiches and drinks, and enjoyed the ocean view over lunch:
From Polperro it was still a 1.5hr drive to our overnight destination Penzance. So I had planned another stop for the late afternoon: The Lost Gardens of Heligan near St. Austell. The Gardens are the former estate of the Tremayne family and the real thing: A genuine secret garden, lost for decades, left to overgrow, re(dis)covered and a definite must-visit when in Cornwall.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
The evening we spent in Penzance, which is also a famous fishing village in the south, but we found it boring and [not recommended]. Although the ale and pubfood near the harbor was great and our Bed&Breakfast host family was absolutely lovely.
Penzance’s saving grace is the nearby located St. Michaels Mount. Similar to its famous French Cousin Mont St. Michel, St. Michaels Mount is smaller, less well-known and therefore also less tourist. The site is especially beautiful in the morning and evening and parking is free at those times, so go for it!
This was our early morning stop right after an extensive English breakfast and we had a fun time chatting with the other (mostly German or Dutch Rosamunde Pilcher fans :D) tourists in the B&B. Afterwards we took the small and windy roads further west. Drive carefully as the locals go very fast and there is usually not enough room for car+local bus + stone left+ stone right.
Our destination was the Minack Theatre, which is a strong testimonial of what you can achieve with dedication. It is the result of the life’s work of Rowena Cane and an open air stage right above the cliffs. What more fitting a site as a setting for Shakespeare’s The Tempest?
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The nearby Porthcurno beach is beautiful, also for swimming.
From the Minack theatre it is just a short trip to Land’s End. The westernmost tip of England. The cliffs at the end are beautiful and you can start here for many great hikes. However, the site itself is *very* touristy, which really takes a lot of the fun away. [Not recommended] Still, if you are nearby, come for the view, ignore the shopping and tourist horrors and then head-on.
We did not like it that much and instead headed for St. Ives. This is arguably one of the most beautiful of the coastal towns and both the scenery of the bay and the little cafés nearby the waterfront are great. St. Ives has a bustling art scene and even its own Tate Gallery, if you are so inclined.
For us, the combination was an enjoyable break and the gallery café has an excellent view of the beaches. We had another *light* British dinner in town and then went back to our B&B.
I had planned the entire day for the drive back, with lots of time for stops and breaks in between. Most noteworthy and a recommended location to stop by is the Lanhydrock Estate, with its beautiful gardens and Victorian manor houses.
After this long driving day, we stayed another night in a B&B near London and then took the first flight back home in the next morning and I headed back to work.
Trip focus was not on taking photographs, so less recommendations than usual.
- Lost Gardens of Heligan
- St. Michaels Mount (early or late)
- Minack Theatre Views
- St. Ives, Looe, Polperro for fishing village impressions
- Stonehenge (Duh!)
- Bath: Crescent and Bridge for the architecture
- Tourist numbers are very high. This means hotels sell out fast and get expensive. Book early
- It also means that you should head early or late for the main tourist sites, as especially for small “remote” fishing villages, this takes all the fun away.
- Book online tickets for some of the tourist sites (like Stonehenge). In peak season even the visit times are pre-fixed.
- Credit card works almost everywhere.
- Tipping is the standard 10%
- Cornwall is not so green by chance. It rains. A lot and often. Bring raingear.
- It can be chilly and windy at the coast, even in summer. Bring a windbreaker.
- Driving on the left is no problem at all. Just avoid the traffic jams you have in almost all city centers. Most cities (Bath, St. Ives etc.) offer park&ride.
- Otherwise England is perfectly organized, safe, polite and very tourist friendly.
- Plan for enough time in/around London, traffic is often jammed.
- Tintagel. Not even the real King Arthur castle and a mostly unimpressive ruin.