Cornwall’s beautiful southern coast is a mix of delightful cliff-top walks and pretty harbour towns, finds Jo Lindsay
If Ross Poldark had his cousin’s riches, he might perhaps set his sights upon Trelissick House. With its elegant facade, beautiful gardens, parkland rolling down to the shore and a sublime outlook over the Fal River estuary on Cornwall’s south coast, it is hard to imagine a more romantic setting for the brooding hero of the eponymous television series.
The magnificent gardens, run by the National Trust, and adjacent parkland on the estate’s own peninsula are stunning. Gorious views take in tiny creeks and shingle beaches inviting Swallows and Amazons-type adventures; huge cargo ships laid up in the deep water channel of the estuary – the home until last year of the Windsor Castle currently being transformed into a luxury floating hotel in Leith; and the sail-speckled waters of the Fal, one of the largest natural harbours in the world.
In the distance lies bustling Falmouth, its rich heritage brought alive in the excellent National Maritime Museum Cornwall. From fishing boats and lighthouses to coastguard rescue and the history of the packet ships which carried mail around the world, the striking harbourside museum delivers a fascinating narrative which makes it well worth a visit.
Rick Stein’s Fish sits across the square from the museum, where set menu choices of Thai fish cakes and a classic fish and chips were fresh and moreish. Its tempting menu suggestion of ‘fizz and chips’ sums up a sophisticated but relaxed atmosphere.
Nearby, Hunkydory is a convincing contender for Falmouth’s culinary top spot. It is owned and run by a former special effects make up artist – latterly working on productions such as Phantom of the Opera – who grew tired of both London and the stage, moving to Falmouth and taking over this Arwenack Street restaurant three years ago. Recently renovated to seat almost double the numbers, Hunkydory oozes bonhomie; with attentive staff, delicious food and a lively host, it is just that little bit special.
I enjoyed heavenly plump Cornish mussels with cream, cider and thyme followed by a special of curried hake with puy lentils, spinach and fennel which was delicately spiced and beautifully flaky.
My husband had seared scallops with a pea purée and crispy Parma ham, followed by a special of pork belly with pork cheek croquettes. Our shared trio of crème brulees – coffee, fresh mint and Earl Grey – was a superb finale.
Our evening in Falmouth had started with a beer-related revelation: pun-loving Beerwolf Books is a bookshop within a pub and it is a place to savour for both its specialist ales and eclectic literature.
In nearby Mylor, convivial harbourside restaurant Castaways offers a delicious variety of fresh fish, pasta, pizza and traditional favourites while its neighbour and stable-mate Castaways East offers a great selection of curries and local beers.
It was in Castaways East that we saw the delightfully enthusiastic Oggymen, a local group of sea shanty singers with a joyful pride in the Duchy. Looking like a team of rugby players, they pop up in pubs all over the area and to say they love singing is an understatement; breaking out into song long after their set, they are like those birthday candles which never go out. They will be performing at the Falmouth Oyster Festival 2015 on 10 October and I defy anyone not to enjoy an evening in their company.
Food and singing aside, the breathtaking Cornish landscape evoked so strongly by Daphne du Maurier is also a strong pull for visitors. The South West Coastal Path, rated as one of the top walks anywhere in the world by Lonely Planet and originally trodden by coastguards searching for smugglers, follows 630 miles from Somerset’s Minehead to Dorset’s Poole Harbour. A meandering stretch from Falmouth’s Pendennis Point takes in three lovely beaches, Gillingvase, Swanpool and Maenporth, all three of which have cafes, offer a variety of watersports and can also be reached by road.
National Trust-run Glendurgan Garden offers a gentle rolling woodland descent to a small beach on the Helford estuary where there is a small shop and, surprisingly but to my daughter’s delight, a fancy dress trunk. The walk takes in a giant’s swing, a maze and a tiny former schoolhouse, where children now gather for storytelling.
A trip to the The Lizard, mainland UK’s most southerly point, will blow away any lingering cobwebs. Best seen on a windy day, as the waves relentlessly pound the rocks below, it is dramatic, stark, moody and breathtakingly spectacular. Wrap up, avoid the cliff edge, take in the power of the sea and try not to think of the shipwrecks languishing beneath the surface.
Harbourside Holidays in Mylor offers a variety of self-catering apartments and houses from £325 per week, www.mylor.com/holidays/properties/
Flybe offers flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Newquay (direct flights summer only) and Exeter, www.flybe.com
Rick Stein’s Fish, Discover Quay, Falmouth, www.rickstein.com doesn’t take bookings. Two-course set lunch, £15.
Hunkydory Restaurant, 46 Arwenack Street, Falmouth, 01326 212 997, www.hunkydoryfalmouth.co.uk; dinner (with wine and aperitifs) cost approx £50 per head.
Visit www.nmmc.co.uk/ for more information on the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
The Falmouth Oyster Festival, 8-11 October, www.falmouthoysterfestival.co.uk