Visit Britain’s western tip when the crowds dwindle, to discover how mining and maritime exploration have shaped the region, plus enjoy wild landscapes, surf and artistic communities.
Cornwall’s nature reserves, such as Windmill Farm, on The Lizard, are popular with twitchers year- round. The coast draws birds such as the razorbill, guillemot, gannet, cormorant and several types of seagull. Inland, you may see birds of prey, such as sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards. Come winter, resident and migratory birds congregate around estuaries and rivers.
The southwest coast gets myriad visitors, including porpoises and dolphins, and there’s a resident pod of 10 bottlenose dolphins in the sheltered inshore waters.
You might find dolphins following you if you take a boat trip with Padstow Sealife Safaris. Alternatively, the best places for land-based sightings are Land’s End, Cape Cornwall and West Penwith.
Looking like a Bond villain’s lair, Eden’s bubble-shaped biomes, the largest greenhouses in the world, maintain miniature ecosystems that enable all kinds of weird and wonderful plants to flourish – from stinking Rafflesia flowers and banana trees in the Rainforest Biome to cacti and soaring palms in the Mediterranean Biome. Come winter, a full-size ice-rink opens.
The southwest’s sheltered estuaries and rugged coasts make paddling tempting, as do sightings of seals, dolphins and basking sharks. Falmouth-based Sea Kayaking Cornwall stages one- and two-day sessions where you’ll learn how to paddle forward, manoeuvre and explore the coast while enjoying the invigorating Atlantic air.
For an atmospheric winter coastal walk, you can’t beat the South West Coast Path – a 630-mile adventure that takes in cliffs crowned with tin mines, sparkling bays, pretty fishing villages and swathes of rural idyll. A Twirl of the Cape is a 4.8-mile walk that starts and finishes in the old mining town of St Just, and takes in historic mining sites, before reaching Cape Cornwall. The lane and tracks are decent enough even in winter.
Cornwall has the most consistently good surf in England, and people have been surfing here for more than 100 years. While Newquay is the county’s surfing capital, more relaxed surf hubs include Polzeath, Perranporth, Budeand Sennen Cove. Thicker wetsuits mean you can surf year-round; and, perversely, the biggest swells usually come with autumn and winter low-pressures.
Just outside Bodmin, this quintessential Victorian manor provides a fascinating insight into the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ lives of the Cornish gentry, namely the Agar-Robartes family. Even when the house isn’t open, the estate – with 800 acres of woodland, cycle trails and gardens – is well worth exploring.
Geevor Tin Mine Museum
This historic mine closed in 1990 and now provides a powerful insight into the dark, dingy and dangerous conditions in which Cornwall’s miners worked. Above ground, you can view the dressing floors and the original machinery used to sort the minerals and ores, before taking a guided tour into some of the underground shafts.
National Maritime Museum
The sister outpost to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich focuses on Falmouth’s history as a seafaring port, supplemented by nautically themed exhibitions. A highlight is the Flotilla Gallery, where small boats are suspended from the ceiling. From the top floor of the Lookout Tower there’s a panorama across Falmouth Bay.
Flybe flies from major UK airports to Newquay, while easyJet flies from Liverpool in the summer months. The main train route from London passes through Liskeard, Truro and Camborne en route to Penzance.
There are also branch lines to St Ives, Falmouth, Newquay and Looe. The main bus operator in Cornwall is First: the FirstDay ticket offers unlimited travel on its bus networks for 24 hours.
Having a car comes in pretty handy when visiting rural areas, but count on traffic jams in peak times.
WHERE TO STAY
Merchant House is a smart Victorian house that’s handily located for Truro. The refurbished rooms are bright; some have skylights while others overlook the garden.
Venton Vean in Penzance is the picture of a modern b&b, with stripped-wood floors and stylish décor. Rooms 1 and 2 are the most spacious; the former overlooks Penlee Park. Breakfast is a real feast
Romantic hideaway, The Lugger, teeters on the harbour’s edge in Portloe. Find sumptuous rooms in the smugglers’ inn and adjoining fishermen’s cottages, with decadent beds and the sound of waves breaking below.
St Ives Art Connection
Links between St Ives and the Avant-garde go back to the ’20s, when potter Bernard Leach started a workshop in St Ives, with Japanese ceramicist Shoji Hamada. Leach developed an influential style, fusing Eastern ideas with Western materials.
Painters Cedric Morris, Ben Nicholson and Kit Wood soon followed suit. During a visit to St Ives, Wood and Nicholson saw the work of self-taught Cornish painter, Alfred Wallis, whose naive style informed their work.
In the ’30s and ’40s a new artistic community established itself in St Ives. At the forefront were Nicholson and his wife, and sculptor Barbara Hepworth.
Through the ’50s and ’60s a wave of young artists, such as Terry Frost and Patrick Heron helped consolidate St Ives as a hub of creativity.