Sweeping ocean views, rugged cliffs, and a pirate or two. Our family road trip through Devon and Cornwall.
Most places I want to visit in England are featured in a book or movie. My friend Kate introduced me to Poldark and after watching a few episodes, I wanted my own chance to walk along the blustery cliffs. Cornwall is the most remote of the English counties and the setting for many historical adventures. It is the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur, it saw the launching of the Mayflower in 1620, and was a lead player in the industrial revolution. Cornwall also has a long history of piracy, and many famous pirates such as Blackbeard and Anne Bonny were born or raised here. Less adventurous but no less important is that Cornwall is home to Cornish Hens, Cornish Pasties and Cornish Cream Tea. Because of how big it is, and how long it takes to get there, we took two weeks, drove from Cambridgeshire to the southern tip of England and back again. Here are the highlights of our trip.
I loved Croyde Bay! We visit a lot of wonderful places on our adventures yet some, like Croyde Bay, feel uniquely special. The beach feels like home and because we are so far from home these familiarities make me happy.
We camped at Croyde Coast Camping which was a wonderful campground within walking distance to the beach. The campground has a cute shop with local products, including pottery for sale by the owners’ daughter. The owners let you place your breakfast order before you go to sleep. When you wake up there are warm chocolate croissants waiting for you from the local bakery. We spent a few days playing at the beach, surfing, and sliding down the sand dunes. We also explored the area by bike, found a playground and tracked down the local ice cream shop. To see more of Croyde, check out our youtube video here.
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
We drove to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and realized after we arrived that we were supposed to book tickets in advance. I was so disappointed. A museum of witchcraft is right up my alley. The reviews are fantastic and it looked wonderful from the outside. The museum lives in a sweet village with access to trails leading to the cliffs. So even though we didn’t go in, we did see some beautiful views.
If you are in Cornwall, you must visit Tintagel Castle. The ruins are perched on two rugged cliffs and to get between the cliffs we crossed a very high bridge. That crossing required a bit of courage on my part. It was windy, wobbly, exposed, and made me nervous! Tintagel castle was built in the 1200s by the Earl of Cornwall. The site is credited as the birthplace of King Arthur and the setting for major moments in the story of Tristan and Isolde.
If you head to the beach, you can see the cave where, legend has it, was the home of Merlin the magician. If he didn’t live there, I’m pretty sure pirates did. Merlin’s cave is the perfect pirate hide out. We spent a few hours exploring the ruins, hiking up and down the hills, sketching the cave and enjoying the magical essence of the place. It’s a gorgeous spot and I am so happy we went. To see more check out this video
St Ives was as charming as I had hoped but extremely crowded, even in September. Parking was difficult but once we found a spot we settled in and enjoyed our day. We found an incredible bakery, The Saint Ives Bakery (try the cruffin!)
We wandered the streets, window shopped, and visited the Tate St Ives (a much smaller and more manageable museum than the Tate Modern in London).
I snuck off for a visit to Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Barbara Hepworth was a modernist sculptor whose abstract work reflected the shapes and feelings of the natural world. I loved learning about her in her home, studio, and garden.
Visiting Barbara Hepworth’s house reminded me of one of my favorite museums in the U.S. The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston. I will never forget my visits to the homes of artists and collectors. When I learn about artists in this way, I feel like I experience a relationship with them as opposed to just seeing a snippet of their art on a wall in a museum
We have this wonderful book called Mad Dogs & Englishmen. In it, I read about the local legend in the village of Zennor which tells the story of a beautiful mermaid who sat on the rocks at Pendour Cove and listened to the singing of Mathey Trewella, the best singer at the church of St Senara. Mathey Trewalla fell in love with the mermaid, followed her out to sea and never returned. They say, that if you sit above Pendour Cove at sunset, you will hear beautiful singing emerging from the waves.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I made our family sit in the car for an extra hour so I could visit this remote church. Then I dragged them on an hour-long hike to the cove. We sat and listened but unfortunately we didn’t see a mermaid or hear the singing, I am blaming that on the fact that we weren’t there at sunset.
St Michaels Mount
St Michaels Mount, is an ancient castle and home to the St Aubyn Family since the 1300s, it’s a wonderful place to explore. The current tenants raised 4 children in this place! I can’t even imagine how it would feel as a child to have an island castle as your home. The castle is accessible by causeway so if you want to walk, you have to time your visit around the tides. To see what we did at St Michaels Mount, check out this video
National Trust Levant Mine
The Visit Cornwall Website states, “This area of breathtaking rugged coastline is popular with walkers, artists, and Poldark fans” Um… guilty of all three. As I mentioned previously, I loved the show so when I knew we were going to be in the area, I really wanted to see the mines. After dragging my family to the church of St Senara, The Levant Mine wasn’t that much farther so we drove down and checked it out.. You can do a guided tour and descend into the mines but we weren’t very organized so we didn’t get the chance. However I wish we had! There is a ton of great history here.
There is a lot to do in this city. We loved…
The Mayflower Museum.
The Mayflower Museum was a fantastic museum. My Mother’s family can trace their way back to one of the first ships that left England, so it was especially meaningful for me to learn more about the experience. The museum tells a wonderful story of the Mayflower pilgrims and their journey to find a new home. You can organize what provisions you will need for the journey and learn about life on board with 102 passengers. There were no toilets or bathrooms so the smell would have been unbearable! We also learned that three women were pregnant on the ship. One even gave birth! The story continues with what life was like when the Pilgrims arrived and claimed the Wampanoag village of Patuxet as their own and meeting of Samoset and Tisquantum (Squanto). We learned that the Wampanoag had inhabited Patuxet for 12,000 years!
The National Marine Aquarium
We love aquariums. And we especially love visiting aquariums in different parts of the world. Seeing one Aquarium does not mean you have seen them all! Different aquariums highlight their local coastlines so we always learn something new. The National Marine Aquarium is a nice size with lovely exhibits and interactive displays for children.
The Plymouth Gin Distillery is the oldest working gin distillery in England (1793). The building dates back to the early 1400s. It’s believed that the pilgrim men and boys stayed in this building before their voyage on the Mayflower. Also in Plymouth is Britain’s oldest commercial bakery, Jacka Bakery 1597. A sign in the Mayflower museum says, “it is claimed that this bakery supplied the ship’s biscuits to the Mayflower.” We enjoyed wandering around Plymouth’s Barbican. The old port has cobblestone streets, Elizabethan architecture, boutiques, and cafes.
The Lost Garden of Heligan
I say this after every garden but this time I am certain, The Lost Garden of Heligan is my favorite. It’s massive, there’s a wonderful children’s playground, great food, an enormous kitchen garden, dahlias for days (we were there in September), lots of options for hiking and even a tropical garden to explore. I wish we lived closer because I would visit with the children every week. To see more, check out this video.
We spent an afternoon in charming Totnes. I loved the focus on independent shops on Fore street selling fairtrade and handmade products. Some of the highlights were The Apothespa store. A” handmade in Devon,” cosmetics bath/beauty store with a focus on vegetarian and vegan products. Everything smelled amazing. The Eastgate Bookshop had a wonderful collection of children’s books and a wonderful selection of books focusing on the natural world. There is also Arcturus books whose website states they are “deliberately different, specializing in books that support the soul” There is also The Curator, a lovely coffee shop and last but not least The Refill and Deli Shop where once again, I wanted to buy everything but settled for a few picnic items instead.