Cornwall & Devon, UK
“Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It’s geometrically perfect. It’s tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful natural setting, or you can observe it in your own backyard.” Gretchen Rubin
These two counties have an ongoing dispute as to whether the cream or jam goes first onto a scone, so they will baulk at me putting them together in on one blog. But from the perspective of a Grockle (outsider to you and I) they collectively make up the most beautiful corner of the UK, so it’s worth visiting both.
Cornwall and Devon offer quaint fishing villages lined with cobbled streets and old cottages, rolling hills and beaches so stunning that in summer, you’d barely believe you were in the UK. And of course cream tea (tea and scones) can be found at every corner.
These counties bloom in summer, all the shops, beach cafes and restaurants re-open to offer what is, in my view, the perfect holiday. But pick the towns and villages you visit carefully.
At the south western tip of the UK, Cornwall has a strong fishing history that’s still thriving today. This is the home of the Cornish pasty, a traditional meal of meat and veg encased in pastry that causes as much debate and division as scones – are their origins Cornish or not? To add carrot or not?? Either way they are delicious and well worth a try.
St Ives is one of Cornwall’s most popular towns, and for good reason. While the centuries old fishing industry is still present, it’s also now popular with artists for its beautiful landscapes and unique natural light.
The headland has four fantastic beaches, a Tate art gallery, delightful art and gift shops in the rabbit warren of tiny streets and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants. The whole village is accessible by foot and the train station makes it a viable destination by public transport, even from London.
Porthcurno hosts the Minack Theatre. An outdoor amphitheatre made of rock and grass overlooking the sea, you can watch live theatre here for around £10, with your own picnic and wine and the sound of crashing waves beyond the stage. It’s one of my top experiences in the UK. Porthcurno village itself is tiny, a great spot to get away from it all. In general, the smaller villages offer character and authenticity that deliver a truly British experience, well worth a look.
Padstow is a traditional fishing village on the west coast, the Rick Stein fish restaurants here are so famous the village is often referred to as ‘Padstein’. Although dominated by wealthy second home owners, it is still charming and beautiful. The village offers great food, lovely walks and bike rides on the nearby Camel Trail, and there are vineyards nearby selling delicious local wines. A ferry runs over the River Camel to Rock, a hamlet popular with the rich and famous for its beauty and seclusion.
Sennen Cove is tiny and charming, with a great glass and art gallery, small beach and great views. Worth a stop if you’re driving past. As for other villages, I hear Fowey and Tintagel are also worth a visit, they’re on my list!
Word to the wise: avoid Lands End. It is what it says, the most south westerly point of the UK and a bit of a landmark, but you have to pay around £5 to park your car, visit a paltry visitor centre and stand on the edge of the land. It’s an embarrassment to UK tourism. Also be wary of Newquay, although still a popular surfing village with world renowned waves, the non-surfing crowd these days tend to be young, rough and rowdy.
Devon is on the way to Cornwall and it’s worth stopping on the way. While perhaps not quite as quaint as Cornwall, Devon has plenty to offer. The beaches on the north shore are my favourite spot, while Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks have some beautiful walks and old stone circles.
There are some lovely harbour towns on the south coast and the county has a suitably strong reputation as a sailing destination, protected from the rougher seas of the west coasts of Cornwall and Devon.
Woolacombe’s beach was voted best in Britain by TripAdvisor reviewers for 2015 and 2016, and deservedly so. The three miles of sand offer plenty of room for everyone, with easy waves for beginner surfing or bodyboarding and good facilities nearby. The town itself is a mish mash of architecture, so while it isn’t the prettiest, it’s compact size and layout makes everything accessible with just enough shops and restaurants to service a week’s holiday. This is one of my favourite spots in the region.
Just down the road from Woolacombe, Croyde is a pretty village set back from the beach with a few tourist shops and traditional English pubs serving great food. A circular walk from Woolacombe to Croyde takes in the beach and villages with country lanes in between, gorgeous, especially on a summer’s day.
Exeter city is full of lovely old stone buildings built around the River Exe. One of the nicer cities in the UK, it’s surrounded by countryside with fantastic views, riverside walks and a sprinkling of watersports on offer. A good stopping off point on your way to/from the delights of Devon and Cornwall. Overall, this is my favourite part of the UK and on my list of potential retirement destinations. This region keeps drawing me back and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.