A beginner's guide to Cornwall

by ChelFlow

Planning a trip to Cornwall and unsure of where to stay and what to do? Here's how we managed to cram a little bit of everything the county has to offer in to a short first-time visit

The very first time we visited Cornwall, a couple of years ago, we were recommended Perranporth as a great base; we took up the suggestion and never regretted it. Situated on the glorious north coast between Newquay, with its bustling crowds, and St Agnes, steeped in mining history, it really is the perfect base for your first visit to this part of the country.

We stayed in Cornwall for five days, a good length of time for a short break. For the first couple of days, all we really wanted to do was unwind and relax in the glorious sunshine. Perranporth beach provided the perfect setting for this, with stunning golden sand stretching for two miles (making it one of the longest beaches in the county). We spent a couple of days soaking up the sun and swimming in the alluring sea, which is warm and clean. In the evenings we'd take a late-night walk on the beach while enjoying a fish and chip supper (Pickwick Fish Bar and Restaurant in Perranporth is a particular favourite of ours), watching the stunning views as the sun sank into the sea.

Further afield

After a couple of days relaxing, the urge to explore took hold. Before we set off for Cornwall, we searched the Internet for discount/2-for-1 vouchers for attractions and places to visit, and this is something that I would recommend doing, as it can save you a great deal of money. We also looked through leaflets that we requested from the Cornwall tourist board (www.visitcornwall.com) and made a rough list of the places that we would like to visit. This helped greatly with planning our days out – visiting attractions all located in a similar area on the same day saves a lot on driving time and petrol!

First off was a visit to Newquay, famous for being the surfing capital of England, with 11 miles of beaches to choose from. Not being surfers ourselves, we looked for other things to do. For animal-lovers like us, a trip to Newquay Zoo is a must. It's set in lush, subtropical lakeside gardens and, with over 130 different species, has much to see and do. Also well worth a visit is the Blue Reef Aquarium, by Towan beach in Newquay, featuring an amazing underwater tunnel and not only local marine species from the Cornish coast, but also hundreds of tropical species, including rays and sharks. Take your towel and swimming things with you and you can relax on Towan beach after all that walking around.

Heading west

Next, we spent a day exploring west Cornwall, with its rugged landscape and stunning beach vistas. We took a leisurely drive first to the National Seal Sanctuary. Set in the picturesque Helford Estuary, by the beautiful village of Gweek, the sanctuary is Europe’s biggest seal rescue centre. We had a great time watching the many seals and otters and enjoyed feeding time (for the seals, not us, unfortunately…).

From there, we headed to the Land's End landmark in Sennen – a must on any first-time visit to Cornwall. We spent some time exploring the cliff-top trails, visiting some of the attractions and enjoying a delicious Cornish pasty or two (or three…). One thing that we didn’t do, though, was have our photo taken with the famous Land's End sign, as we felt that it was very overpriced.

Further along west Cornwall, on the Lizard peninsula, is the imposing site of Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station. With over 60 dishes, Goonhilly is the largest satellite earth station in the world, and it was quite a sight to see the many satellite dishes (all named after characters in the King Arthur legend) looming over the landscape. Make sure that you send an email at the cyber cafe, reckoned to have the fastest Internet connection in the world.

North country

We also spent another day exploring up the coast further north of Perranporth. First, we headed to Tintagel Castle, which sits imposingly on top of a soaring headland. According to legend, the castle is supposed to have been frequented by characters like Tristan and Isolt, Merlin the magician and King Arthur. A word of warning: the climb down the hill from the village to the start of the castle site is pretty steep and can be quite wearing on the knees. We’d recommend that you pay a few pounds to get a lift back up the hill in a Jeep – worth every penny! Also, the castle site itself is accessed by an awful lot of uneven steps that work their way around the cliff, so I would only attempt the climb if you are relatively fit and mobile. We rewarded ourselves after all that climbing by enjoying a well-earned cream tea in one of the many cafes in Tintagel village.

From there, we headed further along the coastline to our final destination of the day: Boscastle. Designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty, and more recently known for the terrible flood that it suffered in 2004, Boscastle is one of the few remaining unspoilt harbour villages in Cornwall. We spent time walking along the harbour wall, and reading about the flood and how the village is being rebuilt. There are also some lovely art galleries in the village, perfect for picking up a special holiday gift or memento.

Grand finale

Finally, we felt that we definitely couldn’t leave Cornwall without taking a trip to the Eden Project in St Austell. Combined with the drive to and from Perranporth, you need to allow a whole day for this visit. We were blown away when we first walked through the entrance – the sight of the amazing biomes, full of plants from every corner of the globe, is something to be seen! We also spent time exploring the gardens, which are plentiful and have almost two thousand different species and cultivars planted in them. We took a packed lunch with us, and were glad that we did, as the food was quite pricey; there are plenty of places to sit and eat.

All in all, Cornwall is the perfect holiday destination, with opportunities to do as much or as little as possible. We felt that we’d seen a little bit of everything, and have since been back for even more!

Where to stay

Leycroft Valley lodges and bungalows in Perrancombe are a great place to stay. The site is only a 10-minute or so drive from Perranporth seafront (albeit a pretty hairy one down some very narrow country lanes). We stayed in a two-person lodge, which suited our needs perfectly, but there is a wide range of larger lodges and bungalows to choose from, depending on the size of your family. The site also accommodates dogs. Prices start from around a reasonable £250 for a short break.