Campervan travel inspiration: A beach holiday in Cornwall
Words and photos by Fi Darby
This feature was written prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We are publishing it for your enjoyment and to help you plan your future trips. Readers most follow the latest government advice before leaving their homes. Consult www.gov.uk/coronavirus
Living in the southwest of England (south Devon, to be more precise) offers many benefits. Of course, there’s the fabulous coastline and moors and, when good weather presents itself, we like to make the most of the early spring when visitors are few, beaches are uncrowded and country lanes are empty enough to squeeze a campervan down.
It’s not that we don’t like visitors, you understand. In summer, they bring with them life, vibrancy and a welcome income but, from time to time, it’s nice to be able to explore our beautiful piece of England without having to double travel times and queue for the toilet.
Since we’ve had our Toyota Hiace campervan, we’ve found ourselves able to venture further afield on our ‘the sun’s shining, let’s go!’ explorations, which is exactly how my husband, Simon, and I found ourselves sleeping in a car park in Mevagissey…
The weekend had registered free on both of our calendars, and fair according to the Met Office so we had grasped the opportunity, left our desks early and, after a little bit of research, headed across the Tamar into Cornwall and west into the unknown.
A mega time in Mevagissey
The Roseland Peninsula sits quietly on Cornwall’s south coast and is bordered on one side by the wide natural harbour of the Fal Estuary and the other by the Atlantic.
With its winding country roads and plethora of stunning coves, we knew it would take more than one weekend to explore properly, so we opted to start at the top and use the very lovely town of Mevagissey (just outside the peninsula) as an overnight base.
My research had thrown up a distinct lack of open campsites around Mevagissey and we wanted to be as close to the town as possible, so I emailed one of the local car park owners for some advice.
There are several car parks in Mevagissey itself but these, and the twisting lanes to get to them, get progressively smaller as you venture closer to the harbour. If you don’t mind a short walk to the loo, a few streetlights and a small overnight charge, then Willow Car and Coach Park is happy for campers to stay.
We parked up, set the bed out for the night and headed down to find the most important of Friday night ingredients – fish and chips, although this had to wait a while because, even in the dark, Mevagissey offered so many opportunities for exploration.
With tiny winding lanes that ran steeply down towards a working fishing harbour, there was plenty to look at. It had been a week of high spring tides and, by 8pm, the water was lapping tantalisingly onto the road. We ate delicious fish and chips right on the harbour’s edge and watched, from inside the restaurant, the boats rise so high that they looked like they would sail in on top of us!
After dinner we ventured out in the dark along the wharf to the harbour car park, which offered beautiful views, but we agreed that the precipitous approach along the quay had been designed for vehicles much smaller than our campervan.
Back at Willow Park, we had chosen a quiet corner and both slept well. Then, in the morning, after an initial cuppa, made and sipped from the comfort of our sleeping bags, we decided to move on to somewhere with a better view for breakfast at Gorran Haven.
This is another delightful piece of Cornwall which, despite a fair number of holiday cottages, has managed to retain its community spirit. With a community-funded bus, flower-decorated toilets and a tiny telephone box library, as well as cafés, a post office and a well-stocked shop, we were glad that we had some change handy to support these worthy causes.
We parked the campervan in a large car park, which also has a meadow available for overnight campervan parking, by arrangement. After the compulsory Cornish springtime daffodil and primrose photo session, we wandered the short distance down to the beach and sat to enjoy our breakfast. There was plenty to look at with a rising tide, happy children and excited dogs, so we took our time sitting in the sunshine.
Once replete, we strolled across the beach and out along the historical quay, where we tried to imagine what life must have been like in the times of pilchard fishing. Gorran Haven was so peaceful on this sunny, spring morning that we were reluctant to leave so, once back at the car park, books came out and a happy hour was spent reading.
After all that relaxation we were ready for a walk, so we carried on to the National Trust car park at Penare for a stroll along the coast path. This is a peaceful spot with an impressive amount of birdsong – including stonechat and yellowhammer – and two well-signposted walks.
We chose a circular two-mile route out to Dodman Point and back, which proved to be a great choice because, as well as the stunning views from south Cornwall’s highest headland, the Dodman offered plenty of other opportunities for investigation.
We admired the Iron Age earthworks and Medieval field systems, enjoyed a relaxing few moments under the enormous granite cross (built as a navigational aid for shipping in 1896) and then had some fun practicing our ‘watching out’ at the watch house.
By the time we had finished our post walk cup of tea, evening was arriving and, with it, the owls, so we sat out on our chairs listening to them for a while before setting off to find somewhere suitable to wild camp for the night.
Surfing in Cornwall
Although we are both pretty keen on the wilderness side of campervan life, we have found in the past that YHA hostels offer great alternative accommodation during longer trips, particularly when the camping fields turn into puddles and we really feel the need for a hot shower and hotter pizza (preferably not at the same time).
For this reason, we were keen to locate the Boswinger Youth Hostel, which claims to be one of Cornwall’s most remote ones, on our way to our next stop – Porthluney Cove.
Back on the ever-narrowing coast road we found ourselves, once again, holding our breath between passing places. I don’t think we would have been surprised, as we pulled into the Caerhays Estate car park at Porthluney Cove, if someone had told us that it was July.
The sun was bright, the beach was busy and there were surfers enjoying the waves. We parked the campervan surf style, right on the beach edge and enjoyed a prime view of the activity, as well as Caerhays Castle and its fabulous magnolia trees.
I’m a regular winter sea-swimmer and it wasn’t long before the pull of the waves tempted me into my swimsuit and into the water. It was even less time before the pull of the waves knocked me over so many times that I decided to get out again, but I’m sure I provided some entertainment to those watching!
After my non-swim, we spent a very happy day reading, chatting and walking on the beach, as well as admiring the surf vans and comparing them to our own modest accommodation.
We were sorry to leave but the journey home to Devon passed quickly. Our slow style of meandering meant that we only made it about a third of the way around the beautiful Roseland Peninsula, but we’re definitely looking forward to returning to explore further, and will be eagerly watching the weather forecast for another ‘seize the weekend’ moment.
1999 Toyota Hiace 2.4D Powervan
Conversion type: Handbuilt conversion by a previous owner
Owned since: December 2017
Layout: Side kitchen, rear bench/bed
Travel seats/berths: 4/2
What we love about it: Being used to tent life, I wasn't surprised to find that a campervan really can be a home from home. It's my outdoor swimming changing room, my mobile office, my afternoon dormitory and my shopping vehicle. It's also proven itself very useful trips to Ikea and, of course, we've enjoyed some fabulous holidays since we bought it.
We stayed at
Willow Car and Coach Park
Valley Road, Mevagissy, St Austell PL26 6SB
Other places to stay
Saint Austell PL26 6BT
Heligan Caravan and Camping
Pentewan, Saint Austell PL26 6EL