In less than an hour you can go from the bustling sophistication of Padstow to the heart of Bodmin Moor, one of Cornwall’s most ancient and varied landscapes. Much of its 80 square miles are pure wilderness and remain open access, allowing visitors to roam freely from disused mines to ancient stone circles, wild swimming spots to tourist traps. But with so much to see, what can you do in just 24 hours?
Stones, caves and a giant’s house
Bodmin Moor is home to several sets of standing stones dating back to the Bronze Age. Their original purpose is lost in the mists of time, but that hasn’t stopped locals from inventing fascinating tales. The Trippet Stones are said to be young maidens frozen mid-dance and the Hurlers on the eastern side of Bodmin could be men engaged in Cornwall’s rough national sport, Hurling.
The village of Minions is a useful base if you’re short on time. Nearby are the nine foot tall ‘giant’s house’, Daniel Gumb’s Cave and the Cheesewring, an impressive formation of circular rocks said to be the result of an epic battle between giants and saints.
Big Brown Willy
Cornwall isn’t known for its mountains but the biggest hills are all on Bodmin Moor. Brown Willy is the tallest, at 420 metres, or you could try the delightful walk to neighbouring Rough Tor.
Starting from the car park at Poldue Downs, you pass through eight kilometres of land scattered with Bronze Age stone circles and Neolithic monuments. Ascending Rough Tor, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping, mostly deserted vistas of North Cornish moorland.
Preserved in the popular imagination as the moody windswept pub of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Jamaica Inn has lost much of its famous atmosphere but the wind at least remains. Positioned more or less in the centre of the moor, close to the A30 at Bolventor, Jamaica Inn is still a good place to pick up souvenirs and a spot of lunch.
Jailhouse (granite) Rock
On the southern edge of the moor, Bodmin’s imposing granite jail has a fascinating and sometimes bloody history. Since it was built in 1779 it has hosted 55 public hangings, but was also the first British jail to offer inmates their own cells.
The site is now a popular visitor attraction where, despite the commercialisation, you can still find corners that retain a dreadful atmosphere, making it a popular destination for both historians and ghost hunters.
Surprisingly, Bodmin Moor is also a fine place for a secluded swim. Accessible via a pretty walk across the moor from the village of Minions, Goldiggins Quarry is hidden in a grass amphitheatre and fed by crystal clear spring waters. Around the water’s edge are quarried stones, ideal for sunbathing.
Siblyback Lake is a great location for watersports, offering equipment hire and tuition. And if you’re looking for something mythic, take a dip in Siblyback’s mysterious neighbour, Dozmary Pool where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur is said to be submerged.