Warning: do not visit Cornwall. If you want to stay satisfied with where you live and work, do not visit Cornwall. Travelling to Cornwall was like stepping back to a simpler time; we quickly lost touch with reality. As we climbed across rugged cliffs, strolled along picturesque beaches and explored ancient castles we happily forgot that we had jobs to go back to at the end of the week. We only had time to scrape the surface and we left wanting more.
In Exeter we explored The Quay, a tranquil area on the water (only pierced by the occasional screech of a seagull chasing our leftover lunch) with autumn leaves in every shade of yellow and orange lining the peaceful river. We slowly wandered the streets, taking in the interesting old buildings and boutique stores. Finally we made our way through Cathedral Green past the Exeter Cathedral, an area surrounded by more cute shops and restaurants. One of the standout buildings was the Royal Clarence Hotel, the oldest hotel in England. Sadly, this week a fire destroyed the historic building so we were glad to have seen it in its final days.
While leisurely driving along the coastal road as the sun rose over the hills, we made an impromptu stop as we caught a glimpse of the ocean. Jumping out of the car, I only meant to get a nice photo before continuing on our way. A gate blocked a grassy path, leading to some unknown destination, giving us no choice but to explore. As we made our way along the path, intricate details revealed themselves, pulling us further along: the terrain was covered with greenery interwoven with red bushes and flowers, all leading up to a spectacular view of the ocean framed by dramatic cliffs. The only sounds were the crashing of waves far below and the occasional bird waking up as the sun got higher in the sky and cleared the magical mist away.
Hayle beach and St Ives
We ate steaming Philps pasties – voted some of the best in Cornwall – while walking along Hayle beach, looking out to the calm bay, admiring the hilltop houses and inventing stories for people walking in the sand. It was too chilly for us to swim, but dogs splashed in and out of the water chasing sticks, balls and each other while owners relaxed in the sun.
On the other side of the bay is one of the most popular destinations in Cornwall: St Ives. We arrived full of anticipation, but our mood quickly declined as we tried car park after car park, each increasingly impossible to find a spot in which to park. Stressed men drove their ridiculously large SUVs around in circles searching for a space – we could only imagine their whinging children in the back seat and that was enough to make us want to get out! After much frustration navigating the steep and skinny streets we decided to leave St Ives for another trip.
St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is a lot calmer than frenetic St Ives (well, St Ives’ car park). St Michael’s Mount is an island separated from the coast tidally, topped by a medieval castle. Since the 1600s the island had been owned by a wealthy family but is now managed by the National Trust. During low tide it is possible to walk from the mainland but we had to catch a ferry to reach the island: heavy mist meant that we couldn’t see in front of the boat but we soon arrived in the harbour. Even after disembarking we couldn’t see the castle, but as we climbed up through the gardens to the top of the island, carefully navigating the steep and slippery stone path, the stone walls revealed themselves. The castle was very interesting, full of information about the St Aubyn family who had lived there for generations. Looking down through the mist we could see the beautiful gardens, which would have been fun to explore on a clearer day.
The Minack Theatre is spectacularly cut into the edge of a cliff on the southern coast of Cornwall. Rowena Cade, along with her gardener Billy Rawlings, built the theatre by hand in 1932 to house amateur play The Tempest. Rowena and Billy continued to improve the site for many years, often demolishing what they had built the year before to create the set for next season’s play. The Minack is now in high demand during the summer months (productions only stay for one week) and while we weren’t able to see a show we paid £4 to access the site. The theatre is intricately detailed; it is easy to imagine Rowena and Billy lovingly carving in the titles of the most recent productions into the backrests of handmade concrete seats. The arena is steeply terraced so that each seat has an amazing view of the stage, even if it is quite a long way down.
Padstow is a cute town on the river Camel. As we walked along the river to the town centre, there was one thing on our minds: a Chough Bakery pasty. These pasties are the Cornish Pasty World Champions of 2016, so we knew they would be amazing. We ate our (yes, amazing) pasties while watching children catch crabs in the harbour and seagulls searching for scraps. We then explored the town’s tiny streets and stores while eating a delicious Cornish ice cream from Roskilly’s.
Along the northern coast of Cornwall lies Tintagel Castle. The area has a long history, most famously being the apparent site where King Arthur was conceived. There is not much known about the area in the Dark Ages but it is believed to be where the rulers of Cornwall were based, however very little remains from this time. The current ruins are of Richard, Earl of Cornwall’s castle, built in the 1200s but rarely used so slowly deteriorated. We spent at least two hours walking through the ruins and along the spectacular cliffs but could have easily stayed longer as there was a lot more to see.
Cornwall has so much more to experience, with each area gorgeous in its own way. I would recommend hiring a car and giving yourself time to explore, make impromptu stops and relax in the beautiful places you discover.