Sunshine, seagulls, roaring surf and miles of sandy beaches – add to that a stunning coastline, clifftop walks, views to take your breath away, picturesque harbours, secluded coves and bustling towns, and you have that most glorious of places – Cornwall.
Read on, as we tell you the best spots to visit when you visit Cornwall in a campervan.
TOURING CORNWALL IN A CAMPERVAN
Cornwall is a mecca for people touring in their motorhomes and campervans – us included. We love Cornwall and have been visiting and exploring for many years and feel like we know it inside out. So we decided to share the love, and let you in on some of our favourite places…
Cornish Fishing Villages & Harbours – Our Top 3:
1. St Ives
You can’t actually get much better than St Ives, especially if you visit out of season when the crowds have left it to its wonderful quality of light and its raw beauty. Park up on the outskirts and meander down toward the town and the harbour.
St Ives has been an artists colony since the end of the 19th century and still draws artists from all over the world today. Its artistic residents are much in evidence with its many galleries and of course the magnificent Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth museum and sculpture garden.
Don’t just stick to the main streets though, it is worth exploring and taking the time to soak up the atmosphere. Be sure to walk around the higgledy-piggledy streets of the old town surrounding the harbour, where you can see the whitewashed fisherman’s cottages (with marvellous street names such as Teetotal Street). It really is quite magical.
Did you know?
Before the musician Donovan became famous, he busked and lived in St Ives with his friend Gypsy Dave. Donovan wrote the songs To Try for the Sun and Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness) about his time with Gypsy Dave.
At any time really, but to see it at its best avoid the most crowded times and go for a dry clear day out of season.
Don’t attempt to drive down into the town itself – as with a lot of places in Cornwall the streets are narrow and not suitable for campervans or motorhomes.
Padstow was one of the first fishing villages we visited in Cornwall in our campervan, and as such, has a special place in our memories. These days it has become a mecca for foodies due to it being the home of Rick Stein’s restaurant and various other ventures.
Though many moons have passed since we first discovered Padstow, it’s still a lovely place to visit. There are shops to browse and plenty of places to get sustenance and have a relaxing drink. It’s nice just sitting on one of the benches around the harbour and looking at the boats. Or if you fancy it, you can take the ferry over to Rock (the other side of the estuary) it’s a scenic ride across and takes around 5 or 10 minutes.
If you are feeling energetic then we can highly recommend hiring a bike and cycling the Camel trail. Its route takes you out of Padstow and over the bridge (see picture below) and along the side of the estuary. The Camel Trail runs along a disused railway line all the way to Wadebridge (the first section) then onto Bodmin for the second. You can do as little (or as much of it) as you like and the trail is level and traffic free. It’s a fabulous way to see the scenery.
Did you know?
Padstow’s famous ‘Obby ‘Oss festival is a celebration that takes place on May day, and is thought to be one of the oldest surviving festivals in the UK. The streets and harbour are adorned with flags, flowers, and greenery, ready for the grand procession where two “osses”, one red and one blue, emerge from their stables and swirl and dance through Padstow’s streets. The event attracts thousands of people each year.
On a clear calm day to ride along the camel trail, or a warm evening so you can stroll around the harbour and maybe get some fish and chips from Rick Stein’s takeaway.
If you are not exploring the camel trail by bike, it is still a pleasant place to take a walk and enjoy the scenery.
Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzel”) is a lovely little harbour village not far from Penzance. The pleasure of visiting Mousehole starts on the drive there as it gives stunning views back over Mounts Bay to St Michaels Mount. We parked our campervan on the side of the road (with all the views) and walked along into the village.
Mousehole is only a tiny village but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in charm. Centred around the harbour, the narrow streets are wonderful to explore. We were amazed to discover a plaque outside one of the houses telling the story of how Mousehole was destroyed in a raid by Spaniards in 1595, and that the whole village was burned to the ground.
It turned out that the only surviving building was the one we were standing outside (see picture below). The plaque (not shown) reads – Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here on 23 July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards. Wow!
Did you know?
That Mousehole is famous throughout Cornwall for its Christmas lights. They are switched on in mid-December, and for 40 years have been drawing people from far and wide to see the quayside, harbour, and cottages, illuminated with lights.
On a dry day when you have time to explore the streets around the harbour, or at Christmas time to see the lights.
Do as we did and park outside the village, then enjoy the sea views and the walk into Mousehole. It’s not too far and there’s lots to see on the way.
It was such hard work narrowing down our top 3 Cornish fishing villages & harbours, that we couldn’t bring ourselves to finish without mentioning just a couple more…
Cadgwith Cove on the Lizard is like taking a trip back in time, small and beautiful with a sense of nothing having changed for a 100 years. Be aware that it is quite a walk down to the cove, but the glimpses of thatched roofs and blue ocean make it worth it.
Tip: If you drive past the first large car park, you will find another smaller one further down the hill.
Porthleven – now we know that Cornwall isn’t always sunny, so if the wind is picking up and there’s a storm brewing, then head to Porthleven harbour and experience the exhilaration of watching the crashing waves.
Tip: Make sure to heed the warning signs and stay well back from any danger.
Touring Cornwall in a Campervan – Beaches
We are going to turn our attention to those glorious golden stretches of sand, and tell you about our favourite Cornish beaches…
Cornish Beaches – Our Top 3
We thought it was hard to narrow down the fishing villages and harbours to just three – this is going to be even worse. There are so many beautiful beaches in Cornwall… sigh. We are just going to have to do our best to whittle them down to our absolute, absolute favourites. Wish us luck!
1. Treyarnon Bay and Constantine Bay
For us, a trip to Cornwall wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Treyarnon Bay and Constantine Bay on the north Cornwall coast. If we are not staying on one of the campsites close by (the touring field at Treyarnon Bay Caravan Park or at nearby Trethias Farm) then we visit for the day. There is a large car park close to the beach at Treyarnon where you can park up and walk down to the sand.
Just a short walk along the clifftop and you come to Constantine Bay. Constantine has a gorgeous golden stretch of sand and when the surf’s up it’s a great place for surfers and windsurfers and on a calm day it can look almost like some south seas tropical beach. Climb the wooden steps at the far side of Constantine beach and you will see Booby’s bay – the perfect place for rock pooling.
Take the cliff path on the far side of Treyarnon beach for some stunning cliff top views. If you are feeling energetic you can walk all the way to Porthcothan beach. If you don’t fancy the walk then Porthcothan beach is only a short drive away, and has a car park just across the road.
Though the roads around this area can be tight and winding, the beaches and cliff path walks are stunning. I’m sure once you’ve visited, you too will be a convert. You can read more about all these beaches here – Seven Bays.
Did you know?
You can take the B3276 coast road from St Merryn (to Newquay) and about 5 miles out, you’ll come to Bedruthan Steps where there is a National Trust car park and cafe – there are walks from the car park and fabulous views across the coast from here.
On a sunny day to enjoy the beaches, a calm clear morning to take a gentle walk along the cliff path, or a windy day to see the waves crashing on the rocks between Treyarnon and Constantine.
While you are in the area pop along and visit Padstow (no. 2. in our top fishing harbours and villages). It is only about 3 miles away.
2. Gwithian and Godrevy
As soon as we parked up in the car park between Gwithian and Godrevy beaches and saw the dunes, the long stretches of sand and the glistening ocean, we immediately asked ourselves how it was that we’d never been here before. Enjoy a walk across the long flat sands of Godrevy beach – the views of Godrevy lighthouse are stunning from there.
We stayed pretty close by at Treglisson Campsite at Hayle, and each evening we’d join the other motorhomes and campervans parked up in the car park above the beach – everyone watching the surfers and windsurfers and waiting to experience the spectacle of the beautiful sunsets over St Ives Bay. This really is Cornwall at its very best.
Did you know?
That if you take a drive to North Cliffs, you can park up in one of the free car parks and walk along the coast path toward Godrevy point. There you can peek over the cliff and see the Grey Seal colony in Mutton Cove and also get a great view of the lighthouse on Godrevy Island.
Beaches – best visited in the evening to see the sunsets, or any time to watch the waves and enjoy the surfers and windsurfers. If you are walking up to Mutton Cove to see the seals, then make sure to go at low tide as the seals will be easier to see as they lounge about on the sand and rocks.
While you are in the vicinity, don’t forget to visit St Ives (no. I. in our top fishing villages and harbours).
3. Poldhu Beach
There are three reasons that Poldhu made it into the list of our top beaches. The first, of course goes without saying – it is a gorgeous beach! But as we are also considering the experience of visiting them in our campervan, then the large car park just over the road really helps.
We visited on a crisp, cold, but sunny day and the beach was almost empty, but with a blue sky and white-tipped waves it looked stunning, and the real icing on the cake was the great little beach cafe. We ordered a hot chocolate from the serving window outside and sat on one of the benches, cradling our warm drink while taking in the views.
When we’d finished we took a drive up the hill at the side of the beach to visit the Marconi Centre and Memorial Monument. We were able to park easily and the views from the top of the hill are fabulous.
Did you know?
That, thanks to Marconi, Poldhu Point became the site of one of the great technological advances of the early twentieth century. On 12 December 1901, a wireless signal was sent from Poldhu to Newfoundland in Canada. This first transatlantic radio signal was a forerunner of satellite communications, radio, television, mobile phones, broadband and the Internet. We certainly have a lot to thank Marconi and Poldhu for!
When it’s not too busy and you want to relax outside the cafe with a coffee or hot chocolate.
If you are going to be visiting the Marconi centre, then please check the opening times before you go.
Touring Cornwall in a Campervan – is worthy of a book, not just a blog post. There are so many other places that were screaming out for us to mention them, but we had to stop somewhere, and this is it. I hope you manage to visit some of the places we’ve mentioned and that you too experience the magic that happens when you visit Cornwall in a Campervan!
If you’d like to read about more of our trips (for ideas or inspiration) then check out our post – Where to go in your Campervan.
“Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.”
– Jamie Lyn Beatty