Days out in Cornwall
When you visit Cornwall, you’ll find it’s a place you can really discover. But with just one city, the inland capital of Truro, it’s the numerous towns dotted along north and south coasts that Cornwall is perhaps best known for. It’s here that the county’s outdoor activities, attractions, and days out feature most prominently, offering history, heritage, and plenty of family fun.
High on the list of recommended places to visit and things to do is beautiful St Ives. Some say the jewel in Cornwall’s crown, and alongside two stunning beaches and coastal walks, it’s home to the Tate St. Ives art gallery, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the stunning open-air Minack Theatre, with all three being renowned cultural highlights.
There’s also the Land’s End experience complete with iconic signpost, Newquay Zoo and wildlife park, full of rare and endangered animals, together with Helston’s Flambards theme park and Camel Creek Adventure Park near Wadebridge, with each attraction offering a fantastic family day out.
But perhaps Cornwall is most famous for the iconic north coast beaches of Perranporth, Newquay, and Fistral, all surfing hotspots for beginners and pros alike. But the south coast is also famed for its areas of outstanding natural beauty and picturesque towns of Mevagissey, Fowey, and Looe, alongside plenty of things to do, with opportunities for walking, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding – and more surfing.
Topography, geology, and climate
At its peninsula, Cornwall is fully exposed to weather coming in from the Atlantic and is well known for its rugged and rocky coastline. Inland, the spine of Cornwall is formed by granite outcrops, exposed upland, and rural, hilly countryside. With several long, sandy beaches on the north coast and generally more sheltered positions along the south coast, it creates a rich and diverse landscape.
Both coastlines predominantly feature free-draining, low acid, loamy soils with patches of lime-rich sandy soils in the north and acid, loamy soils over rock in the south. Away from the coast, there’s a wide mix of soil types. In the east, there’s similar free-draining, low acid, loam soils with both permeable wet, acidic, peaty upland soils and blanket bog peat soils around Bodmin Moor.
The same can be found on the northern peninsula of west Cornwall. But the southern Lizard peninsula is largely made up of two soil types: free-draining, mildly acidic, base-rich soils and slow absorbing, seasonally wet, acid soils of loam and clay.
Thanks to its position, Cornwall’s weather patterns are changeable and greatly influenced by its ocean surroundings. With mild temperatures throughout the year, Cornwall benefits most from the Gulf stream, and averages 18ºC (65ºF), often with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country. Mild winters are also common, averaging 5ºC (41ºF), with frost, snow, and extreme temperatures being rare.
Annual rainfall in Cornwall is similar to Devon and averages around 1,035mm (40”) on higher grounds such as Bodmin Moor. Coastal rainfall is not dissimilar, averaging 1,000mm (39”), while inland surrounding areas average 740mm (29”).
Cornwall’s parks and gardens
With some notable exceptions, much of Cornwall’s rugged inland areas are largely free of open parks and gardens, but the characterful coastal areas provide plenty to savour. Taking advantage of Cornwall’s climate, there’s a wealth of natural, wild, and wonderful gardens for keen horticulturalists to explore, with more formal gardens in some of Cornwall’s historic houses for a relaxed, family day out.
- North Cornwall
As one of the most unusual gardens in Cornwall, The Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan, near Newquay, provides calm and tranquillity. With authentic Japanese design, this acre of land is home to a collection of small gardens, water features, and a vast collection of diverse plants, trees, and shrubs. A real feast for the senses in any season.
And popular National Trust property, Trerice Manor, sits just a few miles inland from Newquay in nearby Kestle Mill. This Elizabethan manor features a small but perfectly formed set of gardens
in its grounds, and shows fine examples of lawns and borders, as well as the Elizabethan Knot Garden and the potager organic kitchen garden.
- South Cornwall
As a garden restoration, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is perhaps one of the finest. Once completely overgrown and ‘lost’, this 200-acre paradise near St. Austell has been transformed into a much-loved attraction for all gardeners and families to discover. Explore the productive gardens, the pathways around the pleasure grounds, and the jungle, out to the wider, working estate that includes meadows, woodland, and an abundance of wildlife.
Just around the bay is Caerhays Castle Gardens, near Gorran, overlooking Porthluney Cove and the Atlantic ocean beyond. Open during the first half of the year, Caerhays features a wonderful 140-acre garden providing an immense display of flowering magnolias, camellias, hydrangeas, and a collection of champion trees. There are also plenty of walks to enjoy, both around the estate and down to the sheltered cove.
- East Cornwall
- National Trust property, Cotehele House, near Saltash in the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty gives visitors a stunning stately home and glorious gardens to enjoy all year round. The 15th-century Tudor manor house features 14-acres of formal gardens and terraces with a mix of seasonal borders and a 12-acre orchard, plus plenty of walks around the estate, taking in the surrounding woodland and wildlife.
Bicton, just east of Liskeard and Bodmin Moor, offers a really local, hidden gem. Not your standard Cornish garden, Ken-Caro Gardens, is 5-acres of free-flowing, landscaped lawns and gardens with an abundance of bold varieties of herbaceous plants, borders, and magnolias. Providing plenty of colour all year round, Ken-Caro also has meadow walks, a woodland trail, and stunning countryside views.
- West Cornwall
The National Trust’s Trelissick, in Feock, near Truro, features 400-acres of gardens, parkland and enjoys panoramic views out to the Fal estuary. A visit here lets you explore trails and pathways before taking in formal gardens, featuring sub-tropical plants and vivid borders, plants, and shrubs, and walks out to parkland and woodland towards the estuary.
Not far from the Penzance coastline, near Buryas Bridge, Trewidden House and Garden sits in 15-acres of gardens, planted by the original owner, Thomas Bolitho. This wonderful collection includes over 300 camellias and champion magnolias alongside a magnificent group of tree ferns and creates the stunning surroundings to the main Grade II listed manor house.
And not far away is perhaps one of West Cornwall’s most famous attractions, St. Michael’s Mount in Marazion. The iconic island features a medieval church and castle, half a mile from the mainland and only reached by boat or by walking across the causeway at low tide. But once there, Make your way along winding pathways up to the terraced gardens to discover a deluge of colourful plants, flourishing in the Gulf streams subtropical microclimate.