3 Perfect Days Walking in Cornwall
11th February 2018
I was fed up with the city and city breaks. I wanted to go somewhere open and wild, with high hills and long views of the ocean. I wanted to walk a dirt path instead of concrete. And really get out into the elements.
I hadn’t been to Cornwall for at least a decade, when I drove with a friend to St. Ives and Land’s End in south Cornwall for a long weekend. One of those days we inadvertently walked the super challenging path from St Ives to Zennor – but that’s another story!
It did, however, give me a taste of what the southwest coastal path is like, with all its beauty and grandeur, and I’d never forgotten that trip.
The South West Coast Path is a 630-mile walking route that follows the coastline of the entire South West Peninsula in England. It has stunning scenery, an abundance of wildlife and some extraordinary geology. Whether you want an afternoon walk, a challenging hike or a multi-day trip, the must-have resource is the South West Coast Path website . This site has everything you might want to know, with day-by-day guides including detailed maps and descriptions for each section of the trail, a trip planner and distance calculator, as well as suggestions for accommodation, baggage transfer, companies that provide guided walks, and so much more.
A walking trip was a new kind of solo trip for me and even though I’m a runner and do my bit in the gym, I wasn’t really sure what kind of shape I was in for hiking. I was really wary of over-estimating what I’d be able to do and hesitant about doing it alone. Even so, I really wanted to do this.
Serendipitously I’d just seen an episode of Doc Martin – which is filmed in Port Isaac in north Cornwall – on TV. So, Port Isaac became my starting point. Just north of Port Isaac are the ruins at Tintagel – which I’d never explored – and north of Tintagel is Boscastle, which I vaguely remembered from my student days.
My 3 perfect days in north Cornwall
Day 1: A circular walk from Port Isaac south to Port Quin and back, about 6 ½ miles in total. The route to Port Quin along the coastal path is a very challenging walk but the return via overland route is much gentler.
Day 2: Drive to Tintagel, explore the ruins, and time allowing, walk part of the coastal path south of Tintagel.
Day 3: From Boscastle Harbour, north to Beeny Cliffs and back, about 5 ½ miles. A relatively easy walk up from the harbour to the coastal path past the Boscastle Farm Shop and Pendargon Falls, then a challenging climb up very steep steps to the top of Beeny Cliffs.
How to Get There
London to Port Isaac
Being a Londoner, I rarely drive, although I do own a car. It’s about 250 miles and, depending on traffic, it can be anywhere from 4 – 4 ½ hours by car from southwest London to Port Isaac, with a choice of 2 main routes. The nearest train station to Port Isaac is Bodmin Parkway – about 4 hours from London’s Paddington Station (about £112 off-peak open return) and then 30 minutes by taxi to Port Isaac (about £50). Given that I wasn’t staying in one place I decided I wanted the freedom a car gave me. So I drove.
I took the M4 west to Bristol and then the M5 south to Exeter instead of the M3/A303 southwest route, which is slightly shorter but can take longer. Although after the initial excitement of driving out of the city – less than hour out of London and the countryside is mostly farms and pastureland – the motorways became pure monotony. The A30 from Exeter towards to coast is a good dual carriageway but the last hour on the A395 and then the final 30 minutes on B roads felt really tough. These B roads are narrow and winding, and seem barely wide enough for 2 cars.
There are plenty of rest stops along the way, though, about every 30 miles or so, and I took full advantage of them. So, with stops and the inevitable traffic, it took me a full 6 hours to get to Port Isaac. Pretty exhausting on one’s own.
Port Isaac to Tintagel
Port Isaac to Tintagel is only about 10 miles, but it’s mostly along country lanes so it took me about a half hour. But beware, Google Maps will take you the shortest route, which isn’t actually the easiest or quickest, one turning of which was down a very steeply twisting lane that was so narrow the brush at the side of the lane touched both sides of my car! I don’t know what I would have done if someone was coming in the other direction up the lane, there was no room at all to pull over or pass.
Tintagel to Boscastle
Tintagel to Boscastle is only a further 3 miles and 10 minutes along another narrow B-road, and Google Maps led me down a really hairy steep lane to the hotel. I found out later that there was a much easier way!
Where to stay
Port Isaac: I admit it, Doc Martin had me hooked so I just had to stay at The Old School Hotel and Restaurant – a Grade II listed building with just 12 rooms, dramatically located on the cliff above the village overlooking the harbour.
They sell out really quickly and I booked the last room available, a single room, 2 nights B&B at £67 a night. The room was called Physics and though it was very small, it was comfortable; however, be warned, it was right next to the door exiting onto the car park on the ground floor, so it was noisy with people going in and out, and I could hear the people in the neighbouring rooms. Having said that, when it was quiet, it was really quiet; I could hear the surf crashing at the entrance to the harbour and the raucous cries of the seabirds in the morning.
I also ate dinner one night in the hotel restaurant and both the food and the ambience was superb. Breakfast was in the same dining room and was also excellent, but service was really slow. Though I do wonder if this was because I was on my own. Sadly, one of the things I’ve found when eating solo is that service is either way too fast or way too slow. And, too often, they try to seat you at the least desirable table! My advice: don’t let them intimidate you! If you don’t like the table, ask for another one. If they are ignoring you, speak up. And don’t let anyone rush you if you want to linger.
Boscastle: The Wellington Hotel is one of the oldest coaching inns in Cornwall, dating back to the 16th century and I LOVED it. It’s tucked into the hillside at the base of the harbour, though I couldn’t actually see the harbour from my room. I stayed in room #18, a double room in what I believe is the older part of the hotel, for £140 B&B per night. I did have a look at the newer refurbished rooms and they were lovely but with less character. I just loved the beamed ceilings and the window seat in my room.
The service here was exceptional and the people so incredibly friendly. I really felt welcome. The 2 AA Rosette restaurant serves modern European cuisine with a touch of classic French cooking but I ate dinner in the pub, the Long Bar, which is all old oak beams and roaring fire. Good Cornish ale and cider on tap and traditional pub food, though you can order from their more formal restaurant menu.
See more photos from my trip in the ‘3 Perfect Days in Cornwall’ Photo Album.
In my next few posts I’ll write about each my 3 days in more detail!
Next post: The rollercoaster walk along the Southwest Coastal Path from Port Isaac to Port Quin