Great beaches, fine food and a dash of culture – there's plenty of summer fun to be found on Cornwall’s north coast
Seaside holidays might be an easy find along the English coast but beach breaks – we’re talking sand, surf and some serious beach volleyball – are a rarer treat. That’s unless you head to the north coast of Cornwall, where beach towels, surf boards and flip-flops provide local shops with a brisk summer trade.
Cornwall and sun generally mean crowds, and this is especially true on long weekends. The centre of Cornish beach culture is Newquay and its heaving summer crowds, but you don’t need to head to Britain’s surf capital to get that summer holiday feeling.
Just 15 minutes south of Newquay is Perranporth and its three glorious miles of golden sand. A few miles further south still is the village of St Agnes, which has some wonderful accommodation options and even better cliff-top walks. Either is a perfect base from which to explore the Cornish coast, though you’ll still need to book well ahead in summer.
We gave surfing a miss, opting instead to spend two days trying its newer coastal cousin. Cornish beaches present some of the best conditions in Europe for kite surfing, with the beaches at Perranporth and Hayle offering smooth sand and excellent wind. A nice windy day along these shores and the skies are awash with kites. But you need more than a day to master this adrenaline-charged sport. Our instructor, Tim Ovens, patiently took us through the basics of kite control on the first day, which was spent almost entirely on the sand at Perranporth. The second day saw us take to the water, learning to stand on a board while a 15-m kite gathered speed overhead. I nursed my bruised ego in the surf as the sun went down.
After a day trying (and failing) to shoot the breeze at Hayle, we followed the road around the coast for a quiet wander through the Tate’s St Ives offshoot. Cornwall has been home to a vibrant artistic community since the late 19th century, when two schools were developed at Newlyn and St Ives.Yet there was no public exhibition space for these works until the Tate opened in 1993. Much of the art on show here is inspired by the sea, so it feels appropriate that it’s possible to walk out the door of the gallery and straight on to the beach.
You don’t need to be a beach bum, though, to enjoy what nature offers in one of England’s most beautiful regions. From Perranporth, it’s an easy drive to the magical world that is the Eden Project, though it’s best to arrive early to avoid the crowds. It’s a fascinating look at a ‘global garden’ and our reliance on natural resources. A less popular but no less enchanting alternative is the Lost Gardens of Heligan, also near St Austell. Here, it is sometimes possible to hide away in a tropical garden or in a corner of a jungle and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist.
It’s not hard to while away time in Cornwall, and it’s scarcely harder to stuff yourself silly – usually on seafood – at the end of each day. There’s no better place to achieve this than in Padstow, at the northern end of the peninsula. Here, you’ll find the hub of super-cook Rick Stein’s kitchen empire. The TV chef has cornered the culinary market in Padstow, with no fewer than four restaurants – including a wonderful fish and chips shop – plus a deli, a patisserie and a gift shop.
Even without its most famous son, Padstow would be a lovely place to spend some time. The people here like to describe the place as a working port that wears a holiday hat. The same could be said of much of this region. The sand and the surf may draw you here, but look beyond the waves and you’ll find plenty of other things that will draw you back time and time again.
Where to stay
Beacon Cottage Farm in
St Agnes is a wonderful campsite just a few hundred metres from the cliff tops. It has space for tents and caravans, and also has two cottages for those wanting a few more home comforts. The farm shop opens each morning to supply milk, eggs and bread for breakfast.
For a little bit more luxury, head for the Rose-in-Vale Country House Hotel, St Agnes, an 18th-century Georgian manor house hidden in the woods. Rooms from £120.