Last week was Half Term (Spring Break to Americans) and we managed to go away for a few days. Our destination was Cornwall – a beautiful county in the bottom left hand corner of the UK. It’s rugged and gorgeous, with 400 miles of coastline. The north coast is the UK’s big surfing centre with massive beautiful beaches battered by big waves. It reminded me so much of Maine actually – that wild, coastal feel, the big skies, even the architecture! It’s a hugely popular tourist destination, which becomes problematic in the summer but wouldn’t cause any issues in the February half-term. I’d not been since I was younger than the Dude and the husband hadn’t been for 20 years so it felt really exploratory and exciting to us all.
We drove down on Monday morning – a long four-hour drive to Truro, the county’s capital city. There, we met a friend for lunch before he jetted off to South Korea to watch the Olympics and we explored the cathedral, built only 150 years ago but really quite beautiful.
One hour further south and we were at our first destination, the seaside town of Penzance where we stayed two nights at the youth hostel in a lovely old Victorian vicarage. Having dumped our stuff, we drove down to the coast and the tiny, adorable harbour town of Mousehole (pronounced Mow-sul). Dusk was gathering but it was really cute anyway!
Tuesday dawned hugely blustery and cold with a bitter wind, but it was dry…hurrah! Our goal was to explore the peninsula at the very end of the country including Land’s End which is (boom) the end of the land. En route, we stumbled on the tiny village of Porthcurnu where we found the most incredible beach. It was honestly one of the loveliest beaches I’ve ever been to…but it was so very cold we didn’t stay long. I’m dying to come back in the summer and enjoy it properly.
Lands End was okay…the views were gorgeous but developers have built the most depressing ‘village’ for tourists to visit whilst they’re there and it was all a bit miserable. It was also incredibly cold.
We headed on up the coast towards St Ives, stopping at one of the many old tin mines that used to be big business in Cornwall. Hearing about the life of the tin miners was really grim – it actually made me grateful for patriarchy so that women didn’t need to endure it. Imagine climbing ladders down almost a mile under the seabed and then walking out up to a mile under the sea, where temperatures reached 40 C and working all day in the darkness before having to climb all the way back up at night. To make it worse, the miners didn’t get paid for climbing those ladders and it could take 45 minutes each way. Horrible.
Our final stop that day was the lovely seaside town of St Ives. Apparently in summer it’s pretty hellish with tourists and their cars but on this cold, blustery day it was pretty lovely.
Wednesday dawned with buckets of rain the entire day but that didn’t bother us as we were heading to the Eden Project and we’d be inside most of the day. The Eden Project is a remarkable piece of regeneration – old, ugly clay pits have been transformed into giant greenhouses called ‘biomes’, the largest in the world, which are now a major tourist attraction. The big one is the Rainforest Biome and markets itself as ‘the largest rainforest in captivity’. It was really impressive – and blissfully warm on a cold, wet day. We particularly enjoyed the new platform suspended in the sky…the wobbling, shaky walkway was a lot of fun and the views were great.
We spent the night at the youth hostel at the Eden Project where ‘rooms’ were converted shipping containers. They were beautifully transformed, warm and snug with tiny bathrooms included. It was a little snug for the three of us (bear in mind the Husband is 6’4) but perfectly adequate for one night.
Our final full day was bright and beautiful with sunshine and blue skies. We headed up to the north coast, starting at the little port of Padstow. Padstow has been significant in the transformation of Cornwall due, in part, to some celebrity chefs who opened restaurants there – in this case, Rick Stein. We didn’t eat any fancy food – instead we walked the mile out to Lower Beach which was an incredible expanse of golden sand on the estuary. The Dude was in heaven.
Further up the coast, we visited Tintagel which was genuinely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to – in both senses. This ancient 11th century castle is built on a cliff and built on top of a 5th century castle, now pretty much vanished. To get there, you climb steep steps cut into the rock, with incredible views of the coast heading west to one side and a violently crashing cove on the other. Tintagel is allegedly the home of King Arthur and it was wonderfully atmospheric. The views were staggering. It felt like a really special place.
We spent that night outside Bude, at a B&B on a farm, where the people were super-kind, and then, the next day, we drove home stopping on the way at Cheddar Gorge. This is the biggest gorge in the UK and it’s pretty dramatic with grey limestone cliffs looming over the road which climbs up through the gorge. We did the 3.5 mile hike which involved a lot of climbing, more mud than I have ever walked through in my entire life and surprisingly few views of the gorge, but it was a great way to break up the journey and finnish the trip with a boom.
We really loved Cornwall and this quick trip – we kept it inexpensive by staying at youth hostels wherever possible and not eating out very much and it was a lot of fun. I really want to go back in the summer, out of peak season, and spend some time on those gorgeous beaches in the warmth…although I honestly can’t imagine being warm again, these days.
Thanks Cornwall for a cracking few days!