Visiting the Cornish coast was exactly as I imagined: grassy, windblown country roads running alongside the blue-gray Atlantic waves crashing on craggy cliffs. The light was something special here, and around every corner was another reason to pull over and take a deep breath.
We owe 99.9% of our itinerary to Corey’s good friend, MJ, who grew up surfing and adventuring along the Cornish coast. We plotted to drive to as many of his suggestions as we could during day light.
Our first stop was Portreath’s beach, scattered with rocks, strewn seaweed, and lots of dog walkers. The kids playing out in the sand had on snowsuits and Hunter rain boots. Corey was well-equipped in his own duck boots to explore the cave-like rock formations, and I just smiled into the crisp sunshine. I knew coming to the beach in February was a good idea.
We skipped the four mile footpath that would take us to Hell’s Mouth, and instead drove along the coastline to peer over the ledge into the ‘mouth’.
The roads here ranged from double lane highways to narrow roads lined with high grassy banks. Some of the roads hugged the coast line and some wove through sheep and cow pastures. I was basically driving through a game of Settlers in Catan with all of the resources at my fingertips. The sheep shop is open!
Visit Hayle for true pastys (pronounced ‘pass-tees’) on the quay (pronounced ‘key’. If you’ve never heard of a pasty, I would describe it as a potpie made into the shape of a large empanada. We learned from MJ that pastys were for the tin miners of the Southwest coast. The surrounding crust kept their food clean and warm. Miners would eat the chuck steak, carrot, swede (rutabaga), and onion first, and then there used to be an apple at the end for a sweet. Miners would throw the crust away as it would have collected tin dust from their working hands.
Now the Cornish pasty is registered with world heritage, which means there are shops abound down here all peddling pastys. We sampled three different shops along a less-than-a-mile strip in Hayle, and had the original steak filling at each stop.
Gold Medal Winner: Hampsons of Hayle (A very nice young man helped us with our order, and the shop is tucked away off the main road on Chapel Terrace. Perfect crust and savory filling!)
Silver: Warren’s Bakery (Lovely history printed on their take-away bags: The original shop was opened in 1860, making their claim as the Oldest Cornish Pasty Maker in the World pretty solid. Miss Harvey, the daughter of a local baker in St Just, made the pastry and baked the pastys while her long time love, Master Warren, provided the ingredients from the fields as he was the farmers son.)
Last Place: Philps (In my harsh review, I’d say the crust is one that I’d leave behind as the tin miners did back in the day. This location is the largest of the three shops on Penpool Terrace, but I’d say it’s just overcompensating.)
On to St Ives! We parked in the Barnoon car park which is important because it provides a stunning view over the Alfred Wallis cemetery and of Porthmeor beach below. The Tate St Ives displays modern and contemporary art in their newly expanded gallery (expanded in 2017). I liked the sculptures the best, and I loved that we could stroll along the beach to talk about the art after the museum’s early closing (4:30pm).
We drove to Zennor for a last stop before sundowners. The Tinner’s Arms has been the serving the town for 700 years! The low wooden ceilings, and the working fireplace, make any tourists feel as comfortable and as cosy as a local. Here, we set our plan for the evening in St Ives.
We secured a room at the Western Hotel, and I also secured an hour nap before heading to the Sloop Inn for seafood curry and bbq ribs- a strange combination but it worked after a day of driving. On our walk to the Sloop, we previewed the tiny galleries, fudge shoppes, and clothing stores along the main road. There were so many winding lanes to explore before we’d leave in the morning!
My run this morning probably shouldn’t be classified as exercise. I kept stopping to take pictures along my route, making my mile time a record sixteen minutes. The views were incredible. The Digey Road beach entrance was lined with galleries and vacation rentals. It was at this point that I decided we’d stay here for another night rather than moving on down the coast. At breakfast, Corey and I rerouted our trip to circle back to St Ives, and we paid for a second night at the Western before starting our morning drive.
Our first stop today took us out to the Lizard, the most southerly point on the coast. It’s famed for shipwrecks, and beautiful rock formations. There is also a cliff footpath that seemed to connect to neighboring coastal towns, but we didn’t walk far enough out to confirm that theory. We were content with the lighthouse views and the small cove.
Next stop: Mullion cove, a small fishing harbour near the Lizard. It was chilly here so we stayed close to the boat dock, and watched the busy waves work on the rocks.
Trenance makes itself impossible to miss on the road down to Mullion cove. It’s a chocolate factory and cafe that we couldn’t resist on the drive out. The chocolate covered honeycomb and milk chocolate were best sellers on the Corey Forrest team. We also took a peek into the surrounding galleries, with Corey venturing a live demo at the glass studio.
We attempted to visit St. Michael’s Mount, but the entire island was closed 😦 It’s a famous rocky island with a fortified castle atop, complete with a walkable causeway that you can only access during low tide! We walked along some of the beach before deciding we could still make it back to St Ives in time for a snack and some shopping on the main road.
Admittedly, eating an entire plate of fish and chips from Harbor Fish doesn’t really count as an aperitivo, but we ordered up anyways. I loved trying the hake, a much denser fish that held up well with the batter. The mushy peas were also a treat.
Walking up and down into the boutique-y shops didn’t really help us work off our ‘snack’ so we retired to our room thinking that we’d had our fill for the day. Corey spent some time on social media, and I was tinkering away at this blog before we got a tinge of hunger again late in the evening (This is what vacation is for, right?!)
We’d heard of the Seafood Cafe and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick out our fish– fresh from the window! Corey selected a sea bass, and I opted for the fish soup of the day. In addition to satisfying our late evening craving, this evening was key for another reason. Our server shared that our upcoming plan to stay in Land’s End wasn’t actually going to play out in the way we imagined. She described Land’s End as a tourist trap, theme park without anything around it. Furthermore, the small towns we’d planned to visit tomorrow wouldn’t boast a variety of accommodations and restaurants. This was news to us, as we’d somehow assumed that St Ives and Land’s End would both be set up to accommodate travelers since they’re two of the top landmarks to visit when on the Cornish Coast. Our server’s advice was very helpful to hear before check out tomorrow. Another successful day on the Cornish Coast, and I was excited to spend a final night in St Ives.
MJ’s itinerary took us to some of the smallest towns along the wild coast, and we couldn’t have been happier.
Cape Cornwall is an area known for its mining towns, with Geevor Tin Mine as one of the largest preserved mine sites in the country. It’s also one of the last tin mines open in England.
Visiting St Just is a must! You’re welcomed by a small town square, lined with a butcher shop, an inn, and an ice cream parlor. The small cafes, and the art galleries allow you to find something local while you wander up and down each block. We liked the Dutch artist and her shop called UpstArt, and we also couldn’t resist a slice of the vegan sweet potato and apple cake at Cafe Dog & Rabbit. It was a perfect pitstop before making our way to Newlyn’s Port and Mousehole (pronounced Mow-zul).
Newlyn’s the place where you want to get your fish as it’s one of the largest working ports in the Cornwall area. Surprisingly, there is only one fish and chip shop, Lewis, which meant we didn’t have to make any tough choices about lunch.
Picturesque Mousehole is just a two minute drive up the road, with tiny lanes, and fairyland-looking teahouses, gardens, and storefronts. The bummer was that the lanes were so narrow, you couldn’t really pull over to grab pictures of the town!
In addition to St. Just, I think Limorna Cove was another one of my favorite stops along this route. The large rectangle rocks jutting out of the water were a copper grey color, and we lucked out with the sun shining onto the curves of the cove as we arrived.
We’d revise this next part of our trip for a future visit: Visit Botallack Mine, and skip Land’s End. The Botallack Mine is at the foot of these awesome cliffs, while Land’s End is basically a mini-theme park built around one underwhelming sign. This is harsh, I know, but if you’re planning to make a trip to see Land’s End, it’s a better time getting to see the towns of the area, and their magical views of the coastline, without the tacky tourist trap bit.
When we returned from the day’s adventures, the sunset gave just enough light to stroll around St Ives for one last evening. Though the galleries were closed, and the vacation rentals were mostly vacant, I enjoyed showing Corey the streets I’d discovered on my morning jogs.
The more we wandered, the more I plotted to return to St Ives to rent a beach cottage with family and friends in the coming months! I’ve already taken pictures of some of the places we could stay:
A BIG SHOUTOUT to MJ for sharing his secrets, and for his real-time advice as we planned our drives each morning. What a memorable trip you gave us!!! Can’t wait to meet up to gush in person!
A note for future wintry visits: We think the best time to visit would be March, pre-Easter. Some of the landmarks and attractions are closed in Jan and Feb, but open early in March for the first spring tours. We want to get back to St Michael’s Mount, Minack Open Air Theater, and a few other tea houses that were closed. I do know that we lucked out with the sunshine on this trip, and we enjoyed being bundled up while walking along the fresh shores of Cornwall.
- Limorna Cove (view and walks)
- Mullion Cove (view and walks)
- St. Just (art, cafes, walks)
- Cape Cornwall
- The Botallack Mine
- Zennor (The Tinner’s Arms pub)
- The Lizard (lookout, walks)
- Tate St Ives
- Beaches: Portreath, Porthmeor, and anything that you find along the way because so many are gorgeous
Stay: St Ives
Eat in St Ives:
- The Sloop (fish or meat, you’ll be happy)
- Sea Food Cafe (fish)
- The Hub (nachos, or any bar food)
- Harbor Fish (fish and chips)
- Hampsons of Hayle (pasty)– not in St Ives
- The Gurnard’s Head was also recommended for pub food, and good veggie options