Guides to Cornwall generally fall into one of two categories. They’re either rapturous reviews of its dramatic landscape and characterful towns. Or rants about traffic jams and ever increasing hordes of visitors.
Fortunately there is a third way – one that will allow you to see this beautiful part of the world from a completely different perspective. So ditch the car and get on your bike, unmoor your boat or even strap on a scuba. This is your chance to fall in love with Cornwall all over again.
The poet Sir John Betjeman once wrote that his trip from London aboard the Cornish Riviera Express was the most beautiful train journey he knew. It hasn’t changed, passing along the county’s east coast before delivering you to the Camel Estuary and into a different world.
There’s no more practical way to get around Cornwall than by train, with numerous lines offering a relaxed view of the coast and interior. Near Padstow you’ll find the Bodmin and Wenford Railway, a nostalgic journey by steam, taking many twists and turns over its 6.5 miles. Alternatively, while a day away on one of the modern branch lines, such as the Looe Valley, Maritime Line (from Truro to Falmouth) or the Atlantic Coast (Newquay to Par).
With so much coast to discover, it makes perfect sense to explore some of it by sea. And you can cut travel times by utilising one of the many available ferry services – some of which are spectacular enough to classify as tourist attractions in their own right.
Best known is the St Mawes to Falmouth ferry, a 20 minute crossing which offers scenic views of the Carrick Roads estuary with its two castles. You might even be lucky enough to be accompanied on your quick trip by dolphins.
A little to the south is Helford where a ferry has been taking passengers across the river since the Middle Ages. From here take a cruise down Frenchman’s Creek, the location of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name.
You’ll find cycle routes to suit all abilities in Cornwall and if you haven’t brought your own wheels there are several bike hire companies in Padstow. The obvious place to get warmed up is the Camel Trail, perfect for families and beginners. Following the course of a former railway line you are guaranteed 18 perfectly flat miles to Bodmin and beyond.
Another gentle meander through stunning natural scenery can be found at Goss Moor. Once chock full of cars, this 12 kilometre trail has been reclaimed for pedal driven humans and passes through the National Nature Reserve.
For something a bit different explore the Clay Trails around St Austell, a series of purpose built tracks through heath, woodland, coast and Cornish mining villages.
Under the sea
The UK’s warmest waters are also a great place to explore beneath the surface. Scuba diving opens up an underwater world of kelp forests, shipwrecks and colourful marine life and if you’re lucky you might even encounter a shy basking shark.
Many of the most popular locations are to be found at Pendennis in Falmouth with its wrecked German U boat and aquatic arches, and at Castle Beach, a great chunk of a submarine scuppered in shallow waters.
Closer to Padstow, off the coast at Port Isaac is the wreck of the Sphene. This 815 ton steam ship sank during a storm in 1946 and is now home to a spectacular array of marine life.
Alternatively you could take a Sea Safari and see a lot of wildlife including seals, dolphins, basking sharks, porpoise or Minke Whales from the safety of a boat.