West Cornwall is a stunning part of the Uk and perfect for summer holidays in the South West. Here our writer discusses some of the best activities to do while in this magical part of Cornwall.
Cornwall was among the last parts of England to be incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Perhaps because of this, the country making up the island’s southwestern tip retains a sense of independence, of difference from the rest of the nation. The rolling hills and endless moors appear much as they must have done before the industrial revolution. It’s not only actual history that you can find here, though: Myths and legends abound, from Jack the Giant-Killer in the hills to more recent pirates and smugglers along the coast.
I’ve been visiting Cornwall all my life, either camping or renting one of the thousands of summer homes within walking distance of the many beaches throughout the county. As just about the only place in the UK where you can reliably get a tan, it’s been a popular holiday location for well over a century, and has retained its popularity even while Britain’s other seaside towns fell into disrepair in the wake of cheap long-haul flights to more exotic destinations. Perhaps Cornwall’s relative success is down to it’s stubborn uniqueness in the face of an encroaching Anglo-Saxon culture and language it’s been holding off, with varying degrees of success, for over a thousand years.
Of all the parts of Cornwall, the area known as West Penwith or West Cornwall is the most special to me. it’s here where my parents brought be on holiday as a child and I keep returning because the atmosphere and culture here is pretty much the same as it was when I was young. For more information on tourism in West Cornwall I recommend this website from the National Trust: http://www.westcornwall.org.uk/
Surfing in West Cornwall
These days, Cornwall’s main attraction for me is the surf. Surfing in the UK may not have the exotic appeal of Hawaii (you have to wear a chin-to-ankle wetsuit even in August, for one thing – no surf shorts for you) but there’s a variety of surf available along the north coast of Cornwall, making it easy for beginners who hangout in the whitewater and challenging for the experts who can paddle out to the reefs and sandbanks where some impressively huge waves can crop up. There’s great surf at Gwithian beach, near Hayle, and more at Porthmeor just a short walk from St. Ives. If you’re a total beginner – no problem! There are over 60 surf schools in Cornwall and most of the best beaches have at least one school nearby (and many hotels and resorts likewise offer surfing lessons in-house).
Walking the Coast Path
For less adventurous types who still want to get outdoors, there are dozens of walking trails throughout West Cornwall, particularly around Hayle, the first Cornish town to be designated a ‘Walkers Are Welcome’ area. All the footpaths around the town are well looked after, and you can walk to St. Michael’s Mount Paradise Park, a wildlife sanctuary with exotic and tropical birds and red squirrels, which have been displaced by the American grey squirrels in much of the country but find a home here.
Other great walking areas include the South West Coast Path which almost surrounds West Cornwall. Some of my favourite hikes in this region, include stretches of clifftop trails around Zennor, Land’s End and Lamorna. These sections are simply stunning, affording great views of the rugged Cornish coast and rolling Atlantic waves. There is some great accommodation for walkers in West Cornwall such as St Ives Hotels, Mousehole cottages and B&Bs in Penzance. There are also some secure and secluded campsites dotted around West Penwith, which make great bases for walking adventures and other sightseeing activities.
Explore the Cornish Countryside
Still in West Cornwall you’ll find a two-hundred and fifty acre woodland area, Tehidy Country Park, near Camborne which is the largest woodland in the area. At Kit Hill Country Park, located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can explore Cornwall’s rich heritage as you walk through an area with over 10,000 archaeological remains.
Get Arty in St Ives
If you’ve still got some energy left and fancy taking in a bit more of West Cornwall’s history and culture, head over to St. Ives. There you can visit the Tate St Ives gallery. One of four Tate galleries in the world, Tate St Ives houses work by, among others, JMW Turner, Britain’s greatest landscape artist, who is widely credited with being the first to discover St. Ives’ beauty. Appropriately enough, there’s a painting school for all ages in town, too, for those who are inspired by the master to take up a brush and palette.
Go Wildlife Spotting
You can head out into the harbour to get a closer look at Godrevy Lighthouse, which partly inspired Virginia Woolf’s modernist classic To the Lighthouse. Further out, Seal Island, which is the summer residence of a mid-’90s R&B singer… Or perhaps actual seals. (Okay, it’s the latter. They’re very friendly, but their singing’s terrible. Don’t tell them I said that.)
Relax in a Cornish Pub
After a hard day’s surfing, walking, painting and sailing, you can wrap up your visit by dropping into the Sloop Inn for a pint (of Cornwall’s finest cider, naturally). The inn dates to the fourteenth century, so you can even tell yourself it’s all very educational as you doze off in a corner of this ancient watering hole.
Get a taste of West Cornwall with this video: