Ocean drive

Lee Davey hitches up and hits the road for a tour that takes in Cornwall’s magnificent Atlantic coast

With over 300 beaches forming a significant part of 250 miles of coastline, Cornwall is understandably popular with surfers, paddle-boarders and sunseekers. As a family, we’ve spent over a decade exploring various parts of England’s south-west tip on our holidays. This time we concentrated on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast, a destination that offers so much regardless of the weather or season, although the tour actually began inland.

My last visit to Carnon Downs was way back in 2016 when the site was independently owned. Fast forward to 2022, it is now a Club campsite, and the feeling as you pull into the ‘New Arrivals’ lane is a bit like putting on an old, comfortable pair of slippers. The A39 leads almost to the entrance. This makes it the perfect choice for members wishing to build confidence on their first few trips. I’m pleased to discover that Carnon Downs has a bar/café at the side of the reception building and, with the weather being kind, several members are sipping coffee in the Cornish sunshine as I check in.

Three rivers

Godrevy Lighthouse

Cornwall’s only city is a short drive from the campsite. Truro sits on three rivers (the Cornish name ‘Tri-veru’ is said to reflect this fact) and served as an industrial hub on these watery supply routes; it grew and prospered off the back of the successful copper and tin mining industries. Today, it is a hub for tourism, with its cathedral and surrounding attractions being popular spots: The Plaza is a refurbished Art Deco cinema; Hall for Cornwall has live music, theatre and comedy; and there’s even an axe-throwing centre! Truro was also the location for my ‘big shop’, and the supermarket I visited had the cheapest diesel I’d seen on my journey. 

Should you be drawn towards Cornwall’s south coast, nearby Devoran is within easy reach of Carnon Downs, with The Old Quay Inn proving popular with members. Heading east you will find pretty Feock and the slight stretch of sand at Loe Beach, where kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can be hired from the incredibly knowledgeable Loe Beach Watersports Centre team, who also offer lessons (pre-booking required).

To the south, a 20-minute drive from the Carnon Downs Club Campsite takes you to the famous tourist town of Falmouth. Here you could visit the hilltop Pendennis Castle or the impressive National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The museum features diverse displays on rescue boats and smugglers alongside temporary nautical-themed exhibitions – ‘Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed’ and ‘Monsters of the Deep’ both continue into the early months of 2023.

Hitting the north coast of Cornwall, near St Ives, our next destination is Godrevy Park Club Campsite, which nestles behind the dunes on the outskirts of Hayle. Surfing is obviously a popular pastime here – good use is made of the on-site external wetsuit shower, and the beachside car park between the site and the sea is awash with vehicles carrying surfboards. 

Hayle is famed for its ‘three miles of golden sand’, and I’d recommend venturing through the dunes from Godrevy Park towards Gwithian, at the north-eastern end. Although the sun was shining, bathing everything in a golden glow, it wasn’t particularly busy when we visited, and we spent a relaxing hour at a beach-facing mobile café. 

The town of Hayle boasts a good selection of independent eateries. Try the Salt Kitchen Bar – a popular hangout serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails into the night – or, if you just want to grab a quick snack, Philps Bakery offers fresh Cornish pasties.

We also decided to revisit Coast 2 Coast Karting  in nearby St Erth and booked an ‘Arrive & Drive’ session. The supplied kit was freshly laundered, the instruction was excellent, and we had a great time on the outdoor track.

In the ’dark

Wheal Coates by Mark Humpage

Just 30 minutes’ drive farther north, and we’re firmly in Poldark territory. This striking section of Cornwall’s rugged coastline understandably wowed the BBC’s location team. The colossal engine house at Wheal Coates, just south of St Agnes Head, was selected to represent Nampara Valley, part of Captain Poldark’s fictional family estate, and is instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the drama. 

Nampara Valley – sorry, St Agnes Head – couldn’t be easier to visit for those staying at St Agnes Beacon Club Campsite. Simply walk down Beacon Drive until you see a car park on the right, take the footpath from the car park and head for the massive chimney in front of you. If you continue along the coast path (with the sea to your right), you’ll also find Chapel Porth Beach Café, famous for its hedgehog-shaped ice-creams. So taken were we by this café (and the clifftop walk to get there) that we often venture there after lunch for dessert. 

Be aware that St Agnes Beacon doesn’t have a toilet or shower block, but what it may lack in terms of facilities it more than makes up for thanks to its location: you’ll find stunning coastal paths, fascinating local heritage and another enviable selection of pubs and restaurants.

Next stop was Padstow, a famous Cornish harbour town and one end of the Camel Trail, a popular bike route that is suitable for cyclists of all ages as it is largely traffic-free. Even though we were visiting outside the school holidays, the town’s coastal location and good weather attracted quite a few folk, with many enjoying lunchtime fish and chips and ‘99’ ice-creams. 

Despite the constant buzz and popularity of the town (championed by celebrity television chef Rick Stein), you may be surprised to find how inexpensive nearby sites can be. I stayed at Chapel Farm Certificated Location (CL), an incredibly peaceful spot with views across the River Camel and Padstow. It’s worth noting that the site doesn’t offer an electric hook-up, but £8 per night is the kind of bargain that I simply can’t refuse.

The CL is less than a mile from the A39, with the local pub (The Quarrymen Inn – real ale and locally-sourced dishes) being a very short walk away. It is a great base from which to explore the Camel Trail – the site owner is a keen cyclist and is more than happy to impart route information.

As I watched the sun setting over Padstow, I was grateful that locations like this are available to members.

Bound for Bude

Crooklets Beach, Bude

Driving along Cornwall’s Atlantic Highway – the long, winding stretch of the A39 running from Newquay to Barnstaple in Devon – I spotted a row of trees growing at a 45˚ angle, an indication of the occasional strong winds that turn this place into a surfing mecca. My destination was Wooda Farm Holiday Park, a family-owned Affiliated Site, located north-east of Bude. 

Somehow I’d bypassed Bude during previous trips. When it comes to surfing, Newquay and Perranporth may be the first Cornish hotspots that spring to mind but, according to a keen surfer I bumped into, Bude has much to offer whatever your skill level. He described Summerleaze Beach as perfect for beginners, especially if travelling with the family – the acres of sand keeping everyone happy. Crooklets Beach is popular with the more experienced surfers, and is known as the ‘Bondi of Britain’.

After something more sedate? After your visit to the beach, Bude also has clothes shops, gift shops, galleries and river walks to enjoy. 

I was surprised by the impressive list of on-site facilities and attractions at Wooda Farm. At the far end of the park, towards the farm, there’s – deep breath – a bar, a restaurant, a pitch-and-putt golf course, Segway rides, indoor archery, a sports barn (including fitness suite), a climbing wall and a cycle trail. The fishing lake is a little farther on, just past the tree house. (A licence is required to fish – these are available to purchase at Wooda, costing just £3 per day – and there are charges for other activities.) I hope to pop back with my son, Charlie, during the school holidays, to make full use of the facilities.

Heading south once more, I visited Venndown Farmhouse CL, which is close to Boscastle and situated between the Club campsites of Camelford and Trewethett Farm. Some hardstanding pitches have been added and the site also has a small swimming pool that members can use. As well as picturesque Boscastle, day trips might include the 60ft waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, or a stroll along the network of footpaths opposite the site towards the South West Coast Path. Inland, the many tors and stone circles of Bodmin Moor provide focal points for walks.

Stories are Trew

Trewethett Farm by member Graham Wood

Another first for me was Trewethett Farm, a Club campsite I’d heard much about. Occupying a lofty clifftop position looking out to the Atlantic, it’s understandably popular. My non-electric grass pitch at the far end of the site offered stunning views; it also saved me a few quid, with our solar panel topping up the battery and the fridge running on gas.

The South West Coast Path runs along the site border – turn right for Boscastle and left for Tintagel. We went left and headed into Rocky Valley during an adventurous evening walk. Aptly titled, this one-mile river gorge walk reminded me of rugged North Wales terrain, and it is an impressive reminder of the power of water. After a somewhat heavy dinner, the calf-burning route will consume those chip-shop calories with ease. 

This is, of course, an area shrouded in myth and legend, home to tales of ghostly apparitions, barbaric smugglers and Arthurian magic. Tintagel Castle, heavily associated with folklore relating to King Arthur but with equally fascinating Roman and medieval history, offers breathtaking views. We last visited this rocky outcrop several years ago, and the white-knuckle steps climb haunts my wife, Helen, to this day. We enjoyed a culinary interlude on this occasion thanks to Tintagel Artisan Confections. The ice-cream is homemade, the portions enormous, and the prices incredibly reasonable. They even sell ice-cream for dogs, which our Max loved.

Iconic Tintagel was a fitting destination for the end our travels through a beautiful part of England. There’s something about Cornwall and its enchanting Atlantic coastline, that draws us in time after time, no matter the weather or the season.

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What are the best campsites in Cornwall?

It’s hard to pick a best campsite when visiting Cornwall as there’s so much to do and explore from each location. However, Trewethett Farm Club Campsite is popular with those looking for a mixture of history and beaches. The picturesque Carnon Downs Caravan Park is open all year and offers easy access to Truro, whereas Looe Club Campsite offers plenty for families.

Which sites are dog-friendly?

All of our UK Club Sites are dog-friendly and better yet, your four-legged friends go free! Find out how we cater for dogs and what to expect when visiting a Club Site with the family pet.