After I left Salisbury, I headed 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 the United States. And, just like those two states, the stereotype of Cornwall 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 your own way. In Cornwall, everyone was friendly, life was slower, the kids could stay out at night, and there are a plethora of outdoor activities to keep you busy during the day. 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’d 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.
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 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.)
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.
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 similarly close and cozy feel.
I always had a soft spot for the outdoors, and though I’m a city guy, I could easily spend a few months enjoying the area, with all those bike trails, rivers, woods, and fishing villages.
And, especially, the impromptu barbecues.
Here are some other great things to do in Cornwall should you find yourself there:
(1 Lamorna Cove, +44 1736 732153)
This beautiful, unique, three-acre garden overlooks Lamorna Cove. It is a maze of steep pathways and terraces that have been carved into the rocks. It’s a great place to bring your own picnic. It costs 5 GBP to enter and children are free!
(Porthcurno, Penzance, +44 1736 810181, minack.com)
The Minack Theatre is Cornwall’s world famous open-air theatre. It is carved into a granite cliff and overlooks Porthcurno Bay. Prices vary depending on the event.
Chysauster Ancient Village
(New Mill, Penzance)
This Iron Age settlement is 2,000 years old and is one of the best examples of a settlement in the country. Archaeological investigations have revealed that these people were mostly farmers and might have also had pigs and goats.
Adult tickets are 4.80 GBP, with discounts for students, seniors, and children.
Hike or bike the Camel Trail
This was my favorite thing to do here. It’s one of the most popular bikes routes in the country and runs from Padstow to Wenford Bridge. The trail passes through wooded countryside, estuaries, across wineries, and through small towns. It’s extremely flat and easy to do and can be done in a day!
Visit St. Mawes Castle
(Castle Drive, St. Mawes, +44 370 333 1181, website)
St Mawes Castle is among the best-preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses and the most elaborately decorated of them all. It’s amazing, huge, and the displays are quite informative!
Visit Tintagel Castle
(Castle Road, Tintagel, +44 8407 70328, website)
Legen says this is the birthplace of King Arthur and you can visit nearby “Merlin’s Cave.” Set high on the rugged North Cornwall coast with dramatic views and fascinating ruins, even if Arthur was never born here, it’s one of the prettiest castles in the are! It’s open from April to August.
Book Your Trip to Cornwall: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
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Note: This article was originally published in 2008.