Walking the breathtaking coast paths of Cornwall

When visiting the UK it’s easy to be seduced by the breathtaking architecture, dense cultural history and exciting nightlife of its large cities, but if you want to venture beyond the urban sprawls of London, Manchester or Liverpool there is also a rich array of countryside to explore. Cornwall, the county at the very south-west tip of England, boasts rolling fields, dramatic cliff faces, picturesque coves and long clean beaches peppered with abandoned tin mines, quaint fishing villages and strange remnants of its Celtic past. Though part of England it is distinctly separate from its neighbours and signs of its people’s pride in their unique culture are evident at every turn.

Walking and wandering

Everything I’ve mentioned can be explored by walking on the meandering paths that make up the Cornish part of the South West Coast Path. The route starts at Cremyll, a short foot ferry ride from the city of Plymouth, and follows the perimeter of Cornwall’s coastal border right round to legendary Tintagel, the birthplace of King Arthur (or so they say)! It is over 295 miles, so you’ll probably want to pick a shorter section to suit your sightseeing desires. Walks on the path are graded from Easy to Hard so you can choose your route depending on your mobility and how much effort you’re willing to spare.

Seasons and weather

The path is a joy to walk at any time of year, though my personal preference is during the Spring (May and June) when flowers burst from borders and hedgerows, and butterflies and dragonflies dance around you as you go. In Summer it is possible to pick up a tan in heat which is unusual for the UK, and in Autumn the leaf mulch that gathers on forest paths offers a rich comforting aroma to your stroll. All along the path you will find glimpses of countryside and stunning sea views. Coast paths can be rough underfoot and if there has been any rain they can become boggy, so it is always advisable to wear good sturdy footwear and to have some sort of emergency wet weather gear about your person. In winter, a flask of hot drink or money for a pint of mulled cider from the nearest pub are an absolute must!

If you’re lucky, you might find this lot dancing outside!

A Cornish welcome: food and fun!

Food and drink are an essential part of Cornish heritage. The “Cornish cream tea” – a scone with jam and clotted cream – is a great afternoon snack and can be bought all over the county. When you buy one, be wary and observe the local custom by putting the jam on your scone before the delicious cream. To do it the other way round suggests that you are from Devon, the neighbouring county and Cornwall’s fierce opponent when it comes to all matters scone related! Similarly, you may notice that the pasty, the most famous of all Cornwall’s foods, has a crimp down the side whereas the Devon variant has one on top. The crimp is traditionally for a miner to hold with his dirty hands while at work and would have been thrown away, but its thick pastry goodness makes it my favourite part. To add to its native charms Cornwall has some unmissable tourist attractions for young and old alike. The Eden Project, near Par on the south coast, is a sprawling set of gardens and biomes, each warmed to a different world climate, that was built in the derelict remains of a china clay pit. Botanists, educators, artists and enthusiasts flock to this eco-inspiring site to wonder at flora from all over the world (and warm up from the sometimes blustery Cornish climate in the tropical biome!). The Minack Theatre, also on the south coast and visible from the path, is cut into the very rock itself and looks over the sea from an impressive height. It is enjoyable to visit whether you want a daytime nose around or an evening watching one of its many summer theatrical productions, and if you go for the latter I heartily recommend bringing along a blanket, a picnic and a bottle of wine to make a magical evening of it. Tickets for both of these attractions can be booked in advance online.

Wild Cornwall

Nature can be found everywhere in Cornwall, and the seaside has some unique examples of flora and fauna. The glossy black Cornish chough, of the crow family, was thought to have abandoned Cornwall until 2001 when a few returned and spawned the latest generation whose distinctive red beaks can be seen around and about. Deer, badgers, and foxes can all be seen in fields and hedges. In hedgerows you will find a variety of delicious berries, wild garlic, and edible flowers should you need a mid-walk snack, and closer to the water live all manner of strange succulents and impressive seaweeds.

Sometimes wild, sometimes bare, but always beautiful

Accommodation: indoors or out?

For the hardy and adventurous, nights can be spent camping in Cornwall’s many picturesque campsites. Two of my favourites are the eco-friendly campsites at Cerenity, near Bude, where you really feel a part of the sleepy farmyard in your wildflower-surrounded field, and Maker Camp in the south-east, which boasts beautiful seaside views from its windy lower field and has yurts available to rent for a reasonable fee. For those looking for a little more comfort after a long day’s hike, there are B&Bs at every turn, and there are also high-rated hotels scattered around the coastline, including many with spa facilities and sea views. My favourite is the eco-friendly just-for-adults Scarlet Hotel, where you can relax of an evening in the warmth of a cliff-top hot tub!

Solo and group travel

Cornwall’s coastal paths offer a unique combination of exercise, enchantment and exhilaration. They are a spectacularly romantic setting for a couple or a brilliant way to tire out an excitable young family, but importantly they are also safe and friendly enough for anyone, old or young. Because of this warm local welcome, the Cornish coast makes a great holiday for solo travellers. In fact, whoever you are, you will find that almost everyone you pass offers a “hello!” as though you were a local yourself.  

Ilse Knight

Wanderlusty creative based in Cornwall, UK. Experienced sailor, sofa surfer and illustrator. I write about places, adventures, running, teaching English, illustration and coping with life as a terrible dancer with no fashion sense.