Cornwall: A Beach Holiday without a Passport

How did I not know about Cornwall?

I knew about it in a geographic sense–located in the south west corner of England. I had heard about it as a place where people go to surf, and I knew they had a thing about pirates. But that was really about it. I had three days off work and I just wanted to go somewhere on the coast. So despite my distinct lack of knowledge about the place, I booked train tickets in and out of Penzance.

Seriously, how did I not know how awesome Cornwall was?

I arrived into Penzance early on Tuesday morning. I’d taken the 23:45 train from London–possibly the most uncomfortable train I have had the fortune to be on. But by the time I was sitting outside by the harbour with coffee and a full English breakfast I had forgotten how rough that night had been.

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The view from the Harbourside Cafe!

Having left my bags at the hostel, I had the morning to kill before I could get into my room around 2pm. The weather was gorgeous, so I decided to take the coast bus out to Land’s End. The double decker buses that run the coast route have an open top and come through every 45 minutes or so. Though admittedly the times aren’t great, they are very convienet to get around Cornwall without having a car! I had planned on going out to Land’s End, quick trip out, and then back into town.

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Just walk a little bit away from the tourist center of Land’s End and you will find a whole other world to explore!

When you first approach Land’s End it is a collection of tourist sites–restaurants, shops, small exhibitions, and the like. Once you head past the famous sign post–which you have to pay to have your photo with–you find yourself out on the coast path.

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The Land’s End sign post

If I had to describe the coast it would be like someone took Newfoundland, Canada and dropped it in the Mediterranean. The sea is stunning dark shade of blue. There are rocky crags, sandy beaches, and miles of trails to walk. I had only meant to go on a short hike, however the path and the sun had a different plan for me. I followed the coast down and then turned a corner and could see a huge swath of sand just down the hill. The plan changed again, I’d go as far as the beach and then see about heading back into town.

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Out of all the beaches that I saw on this trip, Sennen Beach was my favorite. Glorious stretches of white sand, places to rent surf boards (or take a lesson if you want), and a wonderful rolling surf that’s not too bad for a day at the beach even if you’re not going to surf. Also right off the beach is a small town with all the things that you need at a beach–such as ice cream, sausage on a bun, and surf shops! Oh, and the bus stops right off the beach. As the day had suddenly gotten away from me, rather than walking back to Land’s End, I caught the bus from Sennen and headed back into Penzance.

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Sennen Beach

Pro tip: That SPF 50 sunscreen that you bought, doesn’t help you if you leave it in your bag back at the hostel.

My second day was more hiking and beaches. My beach this day  was the Porthcurno Beach. Set down in a secluded cove the waves are far more manageable if you have small ones that don’t handle high waves as well. I got there towards the end of the day when the crowds on the beach were starting to thin. I was able to claim my square of sand to enjoy my afternoon with ease. This time I actually remembered my sunscreen.

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Porthcurno Beach

Getting back into Penzance, I had a fish and chips take-away in a park that ran along the sea front. Then taking the long way back through town, slowly made my way back to my hostel. Penzance is a beautiful little town, and very walk-able. You are spoiled for choice as to where to eat. Though my second night I had a take away, my first night I went to a wonderful pub that I’d recommend as much for the atmosphere as for the food. The Turk’s Head was supposedly first opened in 1233 and is still in operation today. It’s a pirate experience without the kitsch. You can sit indoors, or if the weather is nice, the back garden is a wonderful place to spend the evening.

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Exploring Penzance

My last day in Cornwall came far too fast–I could have spent a week there just going out walking. However, London and work were calling and I had tickets on an afternoon train back to the city. But before I headed back, there was time for one last trip–St. Michael’s Mound.

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St Micheal’s Mound, castle and gardens

St. Micheal’s Mound is a castle on a tidal island. You can take a boat across at high tide, or wait for the tide to go out enough for you to walk across for free. While waiting for the tied to go out I happened to overhear the best statement of the trip, “The tide must be going out, the water is wetter!” Once you get onto the island you can choose to pay to go into the castle, into the gardens or both. With how beautiful the weather was and how little time I had before having to get to the train station, I opted just to do the gardens. Go early or late in the day as the mid day crowds are insane. Once back on the mainland, I strongly recommend the fresh crab sandwiches from The Chapel Rock Cafe (a good place to kill time while you’re waiting for the tide to go out too!). After a bit of a walk down Marazion Beach, I had to say my goodbyes to Cornwall, and head back to reality.

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Newlyn Crab sandwich from Castle Rock Cafe

Cornwall Top Tips:

  • Sunscreen is a must, but so is bug repellent. I got attacked by sand flies, so much so that it looked like someone had had a go at my arm with a lit cigarette. Bring bug repellent.
  • Think about dinner reservations. Remember, these are beach towns and in the height of summer it may be a bit difficult to get a table. If you want to go somewhere specific, do consider making a reservation before hand.
  • If you can, take more than three days. I barely scratched the surface, you really need a minimum of a week to do justice to the area.
  • Buy the 24 or 72 hour bus tickets. You pay cash and buy them from the driver. Unless you have a car, you will be taking the bus a lot. It is definitely far more economical to buy the multi-day tickets. It will get you wherever you need to be, whether it’s just as far as Land’s End or as far as St. Ives.
  • The buses are great, in that you can get to all the major sites without having to have a car and you get to have a wonderful open top view of the country side. However, they do not keep to schedule. The bus will come late, and then it is a fairly long trip to get much of anywhere. If you need to be somewhere for a certain time, do plan accordingly.

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