If you’re looking to explore Cornwall away from the crowds, here are a few hidden gems in Cornwall that are a little less visited but certainly no less spectacular.
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This post has been written in collaboration with Hotels.com, but all views are my own.
If there’s anything positive to be said about this year, it’s that lockdown has given me a new-found appreciation of my own back-yard. When the FCO advises against all but non-essential travel overseas, it forces you to look for opportunities to travel much closer to home. And the great news is that ‘home’ (England) is filled with places that are equally as beautiful and inspiring as those abroad. Ok, so you may not be able to experience the unfamiliar culture, language and food that foreign travel allows, but sometimes that can be a rather comforting concept – especially in such weird and uncertain times.
Just months prior to lockdown I travelled to Cornwall for the first time in many years. Trips to both Fowey and Looe have convinced me that this is definitely a part of England I want to explore in more depth. Cornwall is blessed with some of the best weather in the UK, along with some rugged coastal scenery, pretty fishing villages and an abundance of picturesque walks. There’s also no shortage of places to stay in Cornwall; your only problem will be deciding which parts you want to visit first.
I’ve made that decision a little easier for you by sharing a few of the towns, villages and attractions that have made their way on to my wish list. In light of the current pandemic, I’ve tried to include some of the less popular and more isolated spots. Although, considering that Cornwall is one of the least densely-populated counties in England and only has one city (Truro), you should have no problem keeping your distance from other people.
So, without further ado, here are a few of the best hidden gems in Cornwall. All of the places mentioned in this post are located in the south west corner of Cornwall, and can therefore all be visited over a long weekend. For more weekends in Cornwall inspiration, please check out my posts on Fowey and Looe, and if you love walking you may also want to have a look at the Hall Walk and Lantic Bay trail from Fowey.
Located on a seven mile stretch of coast with a rich mining history, Bottalack Mine once produced 14,500 tonnes of tin, 20,000 tonnes of copper ore and 1,500 tonnes of refined arsenic.
Now, I don’t have a particular interest in mining (that’s more the boyfriend’s field of expertise), but the scenery around this World Heritage Site really is something else! If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll want to make sure you snap a shot of the Crowns Engine Houses (pictured), teetering on the edge of the cliff below.
Fun fact: Botallack Mine (or more specifically, the Wheal Owles West Engine House) was one of the filming locations used in the Poldark TV series.
Saint Michael’s Mount
Saint Michael’s Mount (not to be confused with Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France) is a tidal island located in Mount’s Bay, close to Penzance in south west Cornwall. It’s linked to the mainland by a man-made causeway, passable only for approximately four hours of each day between mid and low tide.
It’s been on my Cornwall wish list for years, although somehow I’ve never actually made it there (probably because I always try to fit too much in, in too little time!).
The island is home to a living community (part of the Marazion civil parish) and is crowned by a medieval 15th century chapel and castle.
Although Saint Michael’s Mount is a somewhat more popular attraction compared to others on this list, there are restrictions in place to ensure that social distancing can be maintained during your visit. Visitor numbers to the island are being kept to a minimum and as such tickets can only be booked online. You will also need to book castle and garden tickets separately.
Whilst there are smaller, quieter Cornish fishing villages around, Mousehole (pronounced ‘Mowzle’) is one of the prettiest and most unspoilt, and is really well-located for exploring both of the above attractions.
Mousehole lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is located part the way between Penzance and Lands End. Its origins date back as far as the year 1283, but in 1595 the entire village was burnt to the ground by the Spaniards, leaving only one house still standing. Most of the buildings you see today are from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Photo by Tim Watts via Flickr
Stay in Mousehole at the Ship Inn
Minack Open Air Theatre
Fancy catching a show but concerned about being in a confined space with other people? The Minack Theatre is a unique open-air auditorium , carved into the granite cliff and with spectacular panoramic views of Porthcurno Bay.
It was the brain child of eccentric thespian, Rowena Cade, who, after staging a couple of Shakespeare plays with friends and family from a rocky outcrop next to her garden, proposed that a theatre be built on that exact spot – despite the ludicrously impractical location. She enlisted the help of a couple of builders who hauled granite and timber up from the beach below in order to begin this ambitious project.
Since 1976, Minack Theatre has been owned by a Charitable Trust, who continue to manage the operations. All shows are still going ahead, with socially-distanced seating and you’ll need to pre-book your ticket online. You can also visit the theatre as a tourist attraction when there are no theatrical performances taking place. Again, you need to book your ticket online, and admission is granted in timed 30-minute slots.
Photo by Steve Bittinger via Flickr
One of Cornwall’s least accessible (and therefore most often deserted) beaches, Nanjizal can only be reached via a public footpath from either Lands End or Porthgwarra. Whether you approach it from the north or south, a round trip will take approximately two hours. The fact that it takes this much effort to reach ensures that it remains one of the best hidden gems in Cornwall.
On Nanjizal beach, you’ll find Zawn Pyg (or, more romantically, ‘Song of the Sea’) – a tall, narrow slit in the rocks through which the winter sun aligns perfectly as it sets into the sea. December or January are the best months to witness this natural phenomenon.
The Merry Maidens
Okay, so everyone knows about Stonehenge in Wiltshire, and you may even be aware of Avebury (also in Wiltshire) and Castlerigg in Cumbria, but have you heard of The Merry Maidens? This neolithic stone circle is located just under six kilometres (or a 30-minute bus journey) from Mousehole, and sees far fewer tourists than its better known counterparts (although it does have its own bus stop!).
Legend has it that the monoliths were formed when 19 young maidens were turned to stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday.
Boasting one of the loveliest stretches of sand and some of the best surf in Cornwall, but with an atmosphere that still resembles that of its traditional fishing village roots, Sennen is both remote and enchanting. It also makes a great base from which to explore the other hidden gems in Cornwall mentioned in this post.
Lands End – famous for being the westernmost part of England – is just under two kilometres from Sennen, and can be reached by following the South West Coast Path from Sennen Cove. Although it’s something of a cliche, it would be a shame not to snap a photo of yourself by the iconic landmark and watch the sun set behind the famous Enys Dodman rock arch.
Photo by Peter Edwards via Flickr
Stay in Sennen Cove at the Old Success Inn
The location of all the places mentioned in this Hidden Gems in Cornwall post can be seen on the interactive map below.