Cornwall England countrysideAfter I left Salisbury, I headed west to Cornwall, the farthest west you can go in England. The county is filled with farms, small towns (I stayed in Lostwithiel—population 3,000), and tiny fishing villages.

Cornwall is usually referred to as the backwater of England and its residents as rubes. Its image in England is like that of Kentucky or Tennessee in America. And, just like there, the stereotype is anything but true.

This simple lifestyle is what gives Cornwall its charms and is one of the reasons it’s been the best place I’ve seen in England. I could have easily spent the whole summer here.

Life in the east around London is busy. People in the street rarely acknowledge each other, it’s all business, and everyone is rushing somewhere. You keep your head down and go on your own way. In Cornwall, everyone was friendly, life was slower, the kids could stay out at night, and there’s a plethora of outdoor activities. Though this difference could be said about any rural/city comparison in the world, the analogy certainly applies here and is why so many couples and families move here from the Big Smoke.

I was out here visiting my friends Mat and Kat. I had met them while traveling Vietnam. They had been cycling around Southeast Asia, and I was taking the easier train/bus route. We met up occasionally and even biked the Mekong Delta together, though that turned out to be a disaster. When I told them I was coming to England, they were happy to have me and were amazing hosts who tirelessly showed me all Cornwall had to offer.

boats in cornwall

Cornwall, as it turns out, is very much like New England. On my first night there, we went to this riverside restaurant for dinner. I had fish and chips (the best I’ve had so far), and a few of their friends came down and we spent the night chatting away. The restaurant was located on the banks of a river dotted with little sailboats. Looking out over the river, I felt like I was in the Hudson Valley in New York, with only the accents of the locals giving the location away.

That feeling stayed with me throughout my time in Cornwall.

The following day we woke up early (9am) and headed to the Camel Trail. The Camel Trail is a 12-mile bike trail from Bodmin to the small coastal town of Padstow. The trail takes you along the Camel River through woods, estuaries, and eventually up the coast. It was a beautiful, easy ride, though by the end of the return trip I was a little tired since I’m pretty out of shape. Biking along, we stopped at the Camel Valley Vineyards, one of the few wineries in England to actually make something drinkable. Though I didn’t like their reds, their white wine was tasty.

Cornwall England countryside

From the hill they’re on, you can see the surrounding farmland. Farms dot the rolling hills, and cows and sheep can be seen for miles. The hilly area reminded me of Vermont with its farms, wineries, and dairy producers.

After a while, we ended in Padstow, and I felt like I’d returned home. All around me people were sitting at the marina, snacking on fried seafood and French fries as the seagulls circled overhead waiting for their meal. Tourists flooded in and out of the restaurants, and kids snacked on ice cream and fudge. Candy stores selling rock candy and taffy lined the streets, and adults sat outside with a beer. In the water, people sailed, wakeboarded, or swam while some boats headed out to sea.

Yes, I had returned home to Rockport, or Gloucester, or the fishing villages of Maine, where all the locals go in the summer to escape the city. I can remember many trips as a kid to places like this.

padstow cornwall england

We spent lunchtime there and, after digesting our meal, headed back home—but not before stopping off at the winery to pick up a few bottles of their white. That night, a BBQ erupted among the locals in the town center. Families kept showing up, and before you knew it, it seemed like half the town’s children were playing in the stream while the parents kept a watchful eye. It was a real, friendly, small-town atmosphere, and it’s part of the reason my friends fell in love with the place. Again, it was like being in New England. All around New England, small towns have a similar close and cozy feel. Everybody knows your name.

Maybe I enjoyed my time there because it reminded me of New England. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for the outdoors, and though I’m a city guy, I could easily spend a few months enjoying the country, with all those bike trails, rivers, woods, fishing villages, and impromptu barbecues.

Yes, Cornwall is a beautiful place, and if you ever want to get a New England feel in Old England, I suggest a trip out to Cornwall.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to England.

  1. The sad thing about Cornwall is it’s the poorest county in England, but because it’s the most popular destination for people escaping the cities, locals increasingly struggle to live there or find homes – the difference between average incomes and average house prices is higher in Cornwall than it is in London. If it carries on that way there will be no-one left to look after all the tourists…

    Great post though – Cornwall is a very special place.

  2. Hi Matt!
    Sorry for the absence these last weeks, but unfortunately it wasn’t due to some summer holidays… ;))
    Loved to see your Cornwall pics! And of course the Prague post!!
    As far as the toilet resto is concerned, I skip… 😉
    Meanwhile Blogtrotter is now at the MoMA for Art and New York lovers! Hope you enjoy and wish you a great week!

  3. Theresa

    Maybe it’s just because I’m from Kentucky (and awfully proud of it), but I can think of a lot of places in the U.S. I’d think of as being “backwater” before I thought of KY. I’m glad you said that is an untrue characterization, because it’s a charming, beautiful, friendly state. (That just happens to not be a bastion of liberal thought, though if you take a good look at one of those red/blue state maps of the U.S., you’ll see it’s in plenty good company….unfortunately I must add.)

    I think I’d like Cornwall. Looks very picturesque.

  4. NomadicMatt

    @theresa: cornwall is very lovely!

    @geoff: I heard a lot of complaints by locals about the tourists! they were not fans.

    @eva: I’d be right there with you. Cornwall was just stunningly. I have nothing bad to say….though I’d live in Lostwithiel with my mates.

    @trotter: no worries! glad to see you are still around

  5. Eva

    I luuuuuurve Cornwall!! Spent my Easter holidays there when I was living in the UK a couple years back – if it wasn’t so darn far from everything (part of its charm, I realize – but makes it difficult to be a travel writer who actually does much traveling) I would have gotten a working holiday visa and moved to Penzance by now!

  6. When I first went to Padstow a seagull took a whole pasty from a girls hand, you’ve gotta hold those pasties tight and keep your eyes peeled!

  7. Yep Cornwall is a beautiful place, I recently moved back here from Spain and can’t believe the property prices, they are asking 1/2 million for an apartment overlooking the beach in Newquay!

  8. Laura Hughes

    Cornwall is one of the best place to visit. This destination offers tons of activities to do to make your vacation lively, worthwhile, and unforgettable.
    When planning for a weekend getaway or just a simple holiday vacation with family and friends, I just blogged about the wonderful places to stay in Cornwall.

  9. Cornwall is beautiful, St Ives in particular. It’s up there with my favourite places to visit, there’s a real charm about the place. I personally prefer my holidays in a much colder climate where skiing and chalets are in abundance, but for British breaks, the South West is lovely.
    Stella, Dynamic Lives

  10. Tiana Kai

    Hi Matt! I’m heading to UK for a month long road trip and am hitting up Cornwall on day 5. Do you recommend St.Ives or any other spot besides Padstow? I heard all of it is gorgeous, just not sure how many days to dedicate to Cornwall. After that I want to visit Wales and the north then skip over to Scotland for two weeks.

  11. George

    I lived in Cornwall for 3 years of my life, and it’s such a wonderful place. I couldn’t agree more with your opinions on London/the city life, it’s nice for a visit but it’s just too hard to live there for any extended period of time. Cornwall, on the other hand, I intend to return to as it’s by far my favourite place in England!

    Incidentally, I have a funny feeling the fish and chip shop on the river you refer to was ‘Harbour Lights’ in Falmouth? If it is, you found the best fish and chips in the world.

  12. Luke

    Great post! Im from the south west of England, Devon actually, which boarders Cornwall.
    Im so glad you enjoyed it! Padstow especially is gorgeous! Looe, St Ives and St Austell are lovely too!
    Just signed up to your site, enjoying reading your back catalogue whilst sat in Phnom Penn!
    Keep up the good work!

Leave a Comment