Camping Inspiration: North Cornwall Coast
Susan Griffin enjoys a relaxing family camping holiday on the rugged north coast of Cornwall
Cornwall takes a lot of beating if you’re looking to camp on home turf.
Nestled in the far southwest, and stretching out into the Atlantic, the long drive should never deter you because its secluded location is also its greatest appeal.
There’s a slower pace of life, and simply fewer people, so even at the peak of school holidays, it’s possible to really get away from it all - and truly embrace the local ways.
Before you know it, you’ll be ordering a pasty without adding ‘Cornish’, throwing around words like ‘dreckly’ (as in you’ll get around to something at an indeterminate point in the future) and ensuring your jam goes on the scone before cream.
In north Cornwall, picture postcard images of waves crashing onto craggy coastline come to life. And families love nothing more than turning up with the tent, bodyboards and barbecue in tow.
There are many campsites, whether you want to hear the waves when sleeping beneath canvas, or to wake to the bucolic surroundings of meadows and woodland further inland.
But wherever you choose to pitch in Cornwall, you’re never more than about 30 minutes from the ocean.
For this trip, my boyfriend and I joined my sister, brother-in-law and two young nieces at a lovely campsite called Trewan Hall close to the market town of St Columb Major.
You’ll find it in the centre of the county, close to the sweeping beaches of the north coast and just a short drive off the A30.
Spread over 36 acres, there are two big fields to pitch in either side of a 17th century manor house that opens out onto a large lawn perfect for ball games.
The pitches aren’t allocated so management asks to check where you’ve chosen before you start hammering the pegs in. This is to ensure people give each other enough space.
Once unpacked and set-up, we take a wander through the campsite to get our bearings; past the well-stocked camp shop, serving snacks and fresh bread, as well as a range of items you’re likely to have forgotten; a modern and clean shower and toilet block, and a shaded play area.
It’s not long before the girls clock there’s an outdoor pool, with a dome cover for chillier days, and panic sets in to get swimming costumes on as quick as possible.
Proceedings are temporarily halted while we struggle to push a pink inflatable donought through the pool’s compact turnstile, but eventually spend a happy hour splashing around in the 25 metre heated pool.
The rest of the day is devoted to relaxing in the sunshine, listening to music, enjoying a cold drink, chatting, and making plans for the rest of the trip. What all good camping trips are made of.
While crowds flock to nearby Newquay, a town notable for the surfing championships at Fistral Beach, the two-mile stretch of sand known as Watergate Bay is arguably preferable.
A winding road descends to its valley-like position where you’ll find a few cafes and bars, the striking Watergate Bay Hotel, as well as a car park just behind the beach.
After a long walk across the sands, occasionally stopping to explore rockpools, we find a table in The Beach Hut, which serves up burgers, seafood and nachos that quieten rumbling stomachs.
Located directly beneath Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, both provide incredible views of the beach, but you’ll pay substantially more for the privilege upstairs.
You can’t take a trip to Cornwall and not dip your toes in the sea - or try surfing if you’re feeling particularly brave.
While we opt to stay on dry land at Watergate Bay, we do venture into the clear waters at Holywell Bay, a beautiful beach hugged by sand dunes that’s less than a 30 minute drive from Trewan Hall.
Poldark fans might recognise the rocks jutting out from the sea from the BBC One period drama but there’s no sign of Aidan Turner today.
There is however a surf shack providing lessons and equipment, as there is at most of the prominent beaches in Cornwall.
As usual, we opt for bodyboarding instead. It doesn’t require much skill, unlike the art of getting into a wetsuit, which never seems to get easier.
Picture credit: Heidi Westbrook, Dune Dreams Photography
After the exhilaration of catching a few waves, we head over to Polly Joke Beach, which is sandwiched between Holywell and Crantock.
You’ll need to walk but despite being laden down with all the beach gear, it’s worth the effort, and even the smaller member of the family will stop whining when they catch sight of this spectacular secret cove.
In need of sustenance, we later grab one of the benches outside The Bowgie Inn at Crantock.
This pink pub has unparalleled panoramic views of the ocean, which is saying something given the competition, and there’s also plenty of room for little ones to run around.
On another day, we take a drive over to Polzeath, which is about 16 miles from Trewan Hall and brimming with people most of the year.
We park on the low cliffs overlooking the beach and walk down a small lane onto the sand, find a spot to claim our own and then surge towards the sea before settling back on the towels with an ice-lolly.
In the early evening, we head over to Padstow, a fishing village, which is crammed with tourists during the day thanks to Rick Stein’s stamp on the place, but the hordes have disappeared by the time we arrive.
We buy some fish and chips from Chip Ahoy and sit, with our feet dangling over the harbour wall, beneath a pink blush sky.
There are countless beaches and coves across Cornwall but one we always seem drawn back to is Perranporth, whatever time of year it is.
A wide and welcoming stretch of sand, it’s a popular meeting point for locals and tourists.
The nieces take a dip in the natural tidal pool at Chapel Rock, before we head on mass to Alcatraz Café and tuck into the tastiest toasties oozing molten cheese.
Located right on the beach, the café’s name is derived from the fact it used to be an isolated ice-cream shack and staff from the nearby Watering Hole beach bar, which is owned by the same family, used to regard it as ‘punishment’ to be sent there for the day. Frankly, I could think of worse places to work.
For some amazing homemade ice-cream, we join a happy queue of people at Pavilion Ice on Beach Road, where we’re spoilt for choice. It takes a while to mull over the options before plumping for particular scoops.
Even four-legged friends are catered for with fillet steak and roast pork ice-cream on the menu.
Later in the day, we take a pew outside the Watering Hole and silently watch the sky turn burnt orange before the sun dips beneath the horizon, while the girls busy themselves making sandcastles.
As much as we like to think of Cornwall continuously bathed in glorious golden sunshine, the reality is rather different. We were lucky during the trip but there were still a couple of cloudy days.
This is where Newquay comes into its own, whether it’s a potter through the town’s main shopping street; a wander down to the Blue Reef Aquarium for a close encounter with seahorses and starfish; or an amble over to Newquay Zoo.
Set in 13 acres of tropical gardens, it’s home to lemurs, lions and lots of monkeys and somewhere we all enjoy visiting armed with a picnic.
Another favourite is Dairyland in Summercourt, a place which, as you might expect, is dedicated to the humble farmyard animal.
But there’s lots more to do here besides watching ‘Clarabelle’ being milked, with pat-a-pet sessions, pony treks, hayrides and bottle feeding. In the best possible way, it’s like something from the past, and enchanting in its simplicity.
For a spot of actual history, head to Trerice, an Elizabethan manor house owned by the National Trust with a labyrinth in the grounds for the kids to run around and a host of events all year-round. Or take a step back in time by boarding the delightful Lappa Valley steam train and slowly chug through charming countryside.
One drizzly afternoon we also popped by Ann’s Cottage Clearance Warehouse, a discount shop in St Columb that’s full to the rafters with surf and outdoor clothing and equipment at bargain prices. We didn’t leave empty-handed.
A visit to Cornwall for us doesn’t feel complete without popping over to Port Isaac, a fishing village about 30 minutes from the campsite.
It’s now known to millions as Portwenn, home of Martin Clune’s grumpy doctor in Doc Martin, but there’s more to see than the one winding road down to the harbour shown on screen, as picturesque as that is.
To avoid the crowds, and the tricky parking situation, head there later in the day and either park at the top of the village and walk in or drive so far and then take a right towards the next bay, Port Gaverne.
En route you’ll find a carpark with possibly the most spectacular views in the country, so take a moment to savour the sight of seagulls sweeping past the winding, rugged coastline, and small fishing boats bobbing up and down on their way out to open waters.
From here we wander along the coastal footpath and into the village, past the former primary school that’s now a hotel and restaurant and the benches where fisherman used to gather for a yarn.
At the bottom of the hill is The Platt where crowds gather to listen to a local brass band during the summer months.
Taking a left, we walk through the winding alleyways so often missed by tourists on a mission to snap locations from their favourite TV series.
We search out Squeeze Belly Alley, as narrow as its name suggests, before heading back to the harbour and looking at the array of fresh seafood on offer opposite the lifeboat station.
A favourite place for a cold drink is The Mote pub. We’re lucky this time and manage to get a seat outside, where we happily watch the world go by before contentedly make our way back to the cars.
Back at the campsite, on our final night, we light the barbecue and wait for the burgers to slowly cook. It’s then we hear a chugging noise and a vintage tractor pulling a trailer of excited children appears around the corner.
The two nieces hop on board, and with wide smiles, off they trundle on a slow lap of the site.
On their return, we tuck into the food before making a beeline for one of the campsite’s converted barns.
Entertainment is put on throughout the season and tonight it’s the turn of a local band. Sitting on long benches, we enjoy a good old singalong, and a rendition of Happy Birthday for the brother-in-law, before heading back to the tent, sitting around the fire and toasting s’mores beneath the stars.
For us, these camping trips are all about enjoying simple pleasures, slowing-down, taking stock and making memories to last a lifetime. Lovely Cornwall never fails to deliver.
WHERE TO CAMP IN NORTH CORNWALL
Trewan Hall Campsite
St Columb, Cornwall TR9 6DB
Facilities: Sanitation blocks, 25 metre pool, camp shop and reception, catering vans during high season, library with free wifi, laundry room, evening entertainment, gardens and woodland.
Trevornick Holiday Park
Holywell Bay, Cornwall TR8 5PW
Dennis Cove Campsite
Dennis Lane, Padstow, Cornwall PL28 8DR
THINGS TO DO IN CORNWALL
Summercourt, Newquay, Cornwall TR8 5AA
Trenance Gardens, Newquay, Cornwall TR7 2LZ
Blue Reef Aquarium
Towan Promenade, Newquay, Cornwall TR7 1DU
Ann’s Cottage Clearance Warehouse
St Columb Industrial Estate, Cornwall TR9 6SF
St Newlyn East, Newquay, Cornwall TR8 5LX
National Trust’s Trerice
Kestle Mill, near Newquay, Cornwall TR8 4PG
EATING OUT IN NORTH CORNWALL
The Bowgie Inn
Crantock, Newquay, Cornwall TR8 5SE
Alcatraz Bar and Cafe
19 St Pirans Road, Perranporth, Cornwall TR6 0BW
The Beach Hut
Watergate Bay, Cornwall TR8 4AA
9 Fore Street, Port Isaac, Cornwall PL29 3RB
Cornwall lies in the very south-west of Britain, stretching out into the sea as a peninsula, and in the north shares its border with Devon. It boasts both the country’s southernmost point, Land’s End, and southwestern most point, the Lizard. Ramblers are spoilt for choice with over miles-upon-miles of unspoilt coastal footpath to explore, while visitors can enjoy over 100 sweeping beaches and sandy coves.
DID YOU KNOW?
Cornwall has its own flag, a black and white cross, which is flown with particular gusto on St Piran’s Day, the county’s very own day of celebration, which takes place on 5 March each year. Named after the patron saint who supposedly floated over from Ireland, Piran also became known as the saint of tin miners. These days, it’s an excuse for a good old knees-up and festivities often last the whole week.
Pictures by Susan Griffin unless stated otherwise