Cornwall

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My recent addiction to the BBC TV series Poldark made me desperate to go to Cornwall and see the beautiful scenery that forms the background to the characters’ lives for myself. For those of you who don’t know, Poldark is set in the late 18th century, in the tin-mining community of south west Cornwall. This area is now a World Heritage site, thanks to the historical significance of the remaining mine workings, which are scattered along the cliff edges. Into the early 20th century, they provided a livelihood for many locals, and have shaped the landscape, with most of the towns and villages in the region built by tin miners for themselves and their families. When my best friend and I discovered that we could go and visit the mines where they filmed Poldark, we were sold on our summer holiday destination; booking ourselves a lovely airbnb in the old mining town of St Just, we packed up and headed down for a blissful week of exploring. We’d both been to Cornwall frequently as children, but never as adults, and we couldn’t wait to rediscover the dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches and rolling countryside we remembered so fondly.

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It’s a long drive to Cornwall from London: much longer than I had remembered, but we were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day for our journey, and made two lovely stop-offs at National Trust properties in Dorset and Devon on our way, Montacute House and Castle Drogo, which are both fantastic places that deserve posts of their own. We arrived in St Ives in the early evening; this fishing harbour is one of the most popular destinations in Cornwall thanks to its history as an artists’ community, and it’s easy to see why when you arrive. The light there is incredible, and the sea wraps around the town’s sort of H shape formation, giving it two broad, sandy beaches and grassy cliffs to climb for fantastic, far-reaching views. We were too late to visit the St Ives branch of the Tate, but we were definitely right on time for a fish and chip supper on the beach, and we tucked in while watching the sun start to go down on the horizon. It was a perfect start to our holiday, and we thought we couldn’t do any better until we started driving to our cottage, and began spotting the ruins of mines on our way. When we walked into the cottage and looked at the view from the window, we were in heaven; not only could we see the sea, but directly in front of us was the chimney of a mine. We couldn’t have picked a better location!

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Our first day saw us heading straight to explore the mines at Botallack, which is where Poldark was filmed and is now owned by the National Trust. There is a very interesting display in the visitor’s centre to get you acquainted with the history and suggested walking routes, and then you’re free to wander around the cliffs at your leisure. A word of warning – it is wise to have sensible shoes. My friend and I didn’t, and it was a bit tricky negotiating the paths which can be steep and rocky in places, so if you’re planning on going, bear that in mind! We were enchanted by the old mine buildings hugging the cliffs, with the sea pounding so fiercely against the rocks below, and the sheer number of them in such close proximity revealed how busy and thriving this area must once have been. The cliffs would have been swarming with workers and the air filled with the clanging of tools; hard to imagine now when all we could hear were waves and seagulls! The walk along the cliff top to see all of the mine ruins offers truly spectacular views and is worth doing even if you’ve no interest in the history of the area. We loved every minute, and could hardly bear to tear ourselves away. However, we had an itinerary to stick to, and so on we drove to Porthcurno, a beautiful cove just around the coast, which is famous not only for its beauty, but also for the Minack Theatre, which is carved into the cliffs above. The sun was blazing when we arrived, and so we lay on the beach and sunbathed for a while before hiking up the cliff path to the theatre in order to see the beautiful views. It is one of the loveliest places I have ever been to, and I highly recommend it; we were utterly entranced! Later that evening, however, we got a lesson on how unpredictable the Cornish weather can be after checking the news; while we were sunbathing, just a few miles around the coast it was pouring with so much rain that a village experienced a flash flood and its roads got washed away. We couldn’t believe our luck, especially as we had planned on going that way but decided against it as we wanted tea and cake instead!

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Our second day was a little cloudy and cool, and threatened rain, so we decided to opt for an indoor activity. We drove into the middle of Cornwall to visit Lanhydrock, a National Trust property with some fantastic Victorian interiors. Nestled in beautiful gardens and amongst gorgeous countryside, it was a brilliant place to visit and we loved exploring the cosy, welcoming rooms and finding out about the tragic history of the last owners, who saw their prominent heir killed during WWI, another son made so traumatised by what he saw at the Front that he killed himself afterwards, and their daughters remaining unmarried thanks to losing much of their generation in the trenches. We had planned on making it a short visit, but actually spent all day there, as there was so much to see and do, as well as the opportunity for eating plenty of cake!

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Our final day in Cornwall saw us visiting St Michael’s Mount, which is a tiny tidal island joined to the pretty town of Marazion by a causeway that becomes impassable at high tide. Perched atop its rocky tip is a castle, still lived in by the St Aubyn family, who have owned the island since the 17th century. The castle isn’t massively exciting inside, largely because much of it is inhabited by the family and so not on show, but what is worth visiting are the incredible terraced gardens that contain an amazing array of exotic plants, as well as the castle roof, which offers stunning panoramic views. We had a brilliant time wandering around before the weather suddenly changed and the rain came down. The tide being in, we had to take a tiny boat back to the mainland, and then, amidst lowering clouds, we drove out to Gunwalloe beach, which features in Poldark and offers magnificently dramatic views across the cliffs. It was very windy, so we didn’t stay long, and managed to make it back to the cottage before the rain set in. Later that evening, before the sun went down and while it looked dry, we went out for a walk to Cape Cornwall, which is a lovely piece of cliffside by our cottage. The views were amazing, but the heavens opened, and we were drowned rats by the time we made it back to the cottage – the only thing to do was warm up with lots of tea and some Poldark on the laptop! We had such a fantastic time, despite the weather not always being on our side. Cornwall offers so much beauty and history, and yet we only had time to explore a tiny patch – I know I’ll be back again soon to see more!

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19 comments

  1. I love your photos! Ever since reading Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, Cornwall has been high on my list of must-see places here in England. I’ve been trying to gently strong arm my husband into us taking a trip there!

  2. Lovely, Rachel – simply lovely. I would love to see all of this, but, especially St. Michael’s, and more so the terracing and gardens. Is this the filming locale for Doc Martin?

    1. I hope you can make a visit one day, Penny! Yes I think Doc Martin is filmed in Cornwall, but not sure where…I’ve never watched it so I haven’t seen the locations!

  3. Few places can beat Cornwall in the sunshine or even on cloudy days – so atmospheric. The Minack Theatre is superb, would love to see a performance there one day

    1. Oh, yes. I had decided to change all my life plans and move by the end of the holiday! We had tickets to see a play at the Minack on our last evening, but unfortunately the weather was so bad we didn’t bother – I didn’t fancy shivering my way through it with rain dribbling down my face! Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to go back and see one in the sunshine.

      1. unfortunately that is the drawback to open air theatre. My husband takes part every year in a festival and so many performances have seen him very wet and bedraggled

  4. I love Cornwall so much I’ve made it my holiday destination five times even though I live in Los Angeles! We usually go to the Scilly Isles and i heartily recommend them to you, if it is enchantment you’re after. No cars there (except a farm vehicle or two), just islands to explore. Only one disappointment about your otherwise heavenly post: I wanted to see a picture of the cottage where you stayed!

  5. Beautiful photos! I enjoyed reading your post too. Would love to visit Cornwall some day not just for the picturesque landscape but as a pilgrimage to the land immortalized by Daphne du Maurier.

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