Cornwall (Kernow in Cornish Celtic speak) is the most altogether corner of Britain. A popular holiday destination for both Brits and international visitors, it features the UK’s best beaches and an array of postcard-worthy towns and villages. This pleasant Duchy is steeped in history and is also noted for fun activities, unique festivals and warm weather, plus it has the best scope for touring by campervan.
What to see
Most people make a beeline for Land’s End, the end of the British mainland, thought to be the end of the world at one time. It’s best to avoid the ugly concrete sheds that have sprouted up; simply park there and walk to the viewpoints. Many visitors also come for the beaches and they go right around the coast. The most picturesque are on the north coast at St Ives and Bude.
St Ives itself has somewhat of an exotic setting on its day, almost like something out of southern France or Italy. There’s also interesting attractions here, including the Tate Gallery and a sculpture garden. From here, you can easily drive up to the main surf beaches at Newquay and Bude.
Main towns in Cornwall include St Austell, Falmouth and Penzance, all of which have nice architecture and harbours and are easy on the feet. They also make a good launch point for campervan holidays in Cornwall, plus there’s a lot to see between them. Laidback Truro is the only ‘city’ in Cornwall and is an alternative.
Lizard Point, at the second Cornish peninsula, boasts the Lizard Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and myriad quaint villages. Porthleven is on the edge of this stunning coastal area, a pretty fishing town made for strolling and fresh seafood lunches. Marazion and St Michael’s Mount are other top draws on this driving route.
If you continue on around the coast toward Land’s End you come to the Penwith Heritage Coast, of which Land’s End is a part. You can loop right around the peninsula before coming to St Ives and then Godrevy on the north coast. Both have surf and soft sands, while Godrevy is also noted for its quiet coves and high cliff walks.
St Agnes and Newquay are also farther along this coast, though the latter gets especially busy in the summer so always pre-book. The drive north towards Tintagel gets ever more impressive, located as it is on a ‘heritage coast’. From Tintagel, you can check out King Arthur’s Castle on foot and gaze on Merlin’s cave.
Bude is a little farther on by hired van, up to Hartland Heritage Coast in Devon, while off to the south is Bodmin Moor. This sizeable park and area of outstanding natural beauty is both driveable and walkable and comes with many interesting side attractions, including King Arthur's Hall and the Hurlers stone circles. Brown Willy hill offers fine views over the moors. Between here and St Austell is the bio-domed Eden Project.
What to do
Cornwall is good for all types of activities owing to the easy landscape, proximity of the coast and the rich waters. Hiking, surfing, fishing and boating are all popular. This is where Britain’s best surf is at and though it doesn’t have Dartmoor or Exmoor national parks, there is some brilliant coastal and moorland walks.
Bude is one of the surf towns of Britain. It is gateway to the north Cornish surf coast, with its golden sands and straight barrels at Widemouth Bay and Crackington Haven. While most people think about Newquay or Padstow when surfing is mentioned—located farther south—Bude is the more laidback alternative. There is surfing all down the coast, including at St Ives and near land’s End at Sennen Cove. St Ives is your best bet if you have a family and enjoy surfing.
There are myriad walking trails that are easy to access by motorhome. The South West Coast Path goes via fishing villages (like Penwith) and the Lizard peninsula, as well as beaches, cliffs and farmland. A shorter option is to walk, or cycle, the 18-mile long Camel trail which takes in the Camel trail at Wadebridge, near Padstow.
You can also walk from Land’s End to Cape Cornwall, or vice versa, or head inland and take to the moors of Bodmin Moor. Hill climbers will want to tackle the lofty Brown Willy in the north of the moors. There are also numerous rocky tors to take on during campervan holidays in Cornwall.
More adventurous visitors might like to try ‘coasteering’, a fun activity that chiefly involves cliff-jumping and swimming the rugged Cornish coast. All coastal towns as well as main campsites can set up days out to partake in this fast growing activity. Rocky Valley, near Tintagel, offers more offbeat walking up its tight, little gorge.
The best bird watching in Cornwall, and arguably in the UK, is amid the Isles of Scilly off Land’s End. They attract numerous migrant bird species and there are many tours that take in the sea bird colonies. Best time is spring and autumn, though you can still see some action in summer.
Others options for those with time on their hands include walking the causeway to St Michael’s Mount at low tide and seeing the monastery, the gardens at Heligan, Trebah Garden and the Eden Project, or shark fishing out of the charming southern fishing town of Looe. You can also fish right at the beach or go hunting for mussels at the rocks.
On that theme, Cornwall is well known for its seafood and associated Michelin starred restaurants by the likes of local Rick Stein and TV chef Jamie Oliver. For a quick snack, the local Cornish Pasty is somewhat of an iconic treat here, with its hearty meat, potato, turnip and onion filling enveloped by the flakiest of pastries. Cornish cream tea and Cornish ice cream are equally ubiquitous and local honey wine is divine.
Family days out
Family holidays in Cornwall are guaranteed to be fun for the kids. There are lots of beaches for starters, many of which offer good swimming and beach activities. Swanpool in Falmouth is a nice, safe crescent beach with a water sports centre, from where sailing, snorkelling, windsurfing and kayaking trips depart.
Also, if you are staying at a campervan site in this region, Flambards Theme Park at Helston has rollercoasters, a log flume and other white knuckle rides along with more sedate rides like the Animal Express and Cornish Mine Train. There is also a go-kart track, science centre and play zone indoors for rainy days.
Farther east, near St Austell, is Cornish World which is home to the Kids' Academy for teens and fun for the tots at Kidzworld. There is also fun for adults, with shopping at Cornish Market World. The Eden Project is not far from Cornish World with its bio-domes, which has a zip-wire overhead, and there are plenty of campervan sites within a short drive.
Also in this area of the south Cornish coast, and especially fun for those with inquisitive youngsters, is Wheal Martyn, a former clay works in Ruddle Valley set amid 26 acres of woodland. It gives an insight into explosives and has many interactive exhibits, crafts and quizzes for kids.
A ride up the River Tamar in a canoe is fun for teens, where you pass wooded scenery and old Cornish mining works complete with watermill. To learn more about it, take a guided Canadian canoe trip from Cotehele. Kids also enjoy scrambling across the causeway to St Michael's Mount and the old monastery here comes complete with turrets.
On the other side are the surfing beaches and cool Cornish fishing towns like St Ives. Newquay is the busiest place and has great beaches as well as several good attractions. The zoo here has lions and penguins, while the nearby Blue Reef Aquarium boasts a curved tunnel. Paradise Park at Hayle, meanwhile, has exotic birds, eagles and red pandas.
Island hopping the Scilly Islands is a real treat as you get to take in part of Cornwall that not many see. It is one of idyllic islets and fine beaches and there is a huge amount of wildlife, especially birds and penguins. There are direct ferries, as well as circular tours such as the Three Islands tour, via Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes. Puffin trips are also possible.
Festivals and events
Cornwall puts on a variety of festivals through the year, going from regattas to art, music and food events. The focus tends to be on the sea and food, and many are long running and well attended. You can roll up any time of the year and enjoy a favoured festival, though some of them fill out the towns.
Royal Cornwall Show: is a fun festival of entertainment for the family. This historic annual event focuses on agriculture, with show jumping, competitions, organic foods, music and dance. It takes place at the showground at Wadebridge, which is well within reach of campervan sites at Newquay, Padstow, Tintagel and Bodmin. June.
Fowey Royal Regatta: is a top, week-long sailing event at Fowey in the south, not far from St Austell. The regatta is the focus, but there are also raft races for spectators, as well as activities to partake in on land, including exciting things for children and a display by the red Arrows. August.
St Ives Festival: the coolest town in Cornwall lays on this fortnight gathering of music and film, attracting known names at venues around town. In addition, some pubs also have events, along with music, art and poetry in the streets and walks around the area. September.
Run to the Sun: if you’re a VW camper enthusiast, be sure to head for this annual, three-day event in Newquay, where thousands of campervans and custom cars go on display. The event goes over the May bank holiday weekend and includes live music and DJs. If you want to follow the convoy in your camper, it leaves from Heston. May.
Golowan: the patron saint of Penzance, St John, is the top event in this town, with lots of feasting and a carnival atmosphere through the streets of the town. The best part of the event is Mazey Day on the Saturday. June.
Rock Oyster Festival: is all about food and fun, with thousands of people attending to dine on fresh local oysters and to listen to music. It’s a good family event on the banks of the Camel Estuary, with entertainment for all ages. Falmouth Oyster Festival in October is a similar entity which also includes a boat race. June.
Shrove Tuesday Hurling: a bit of a ‘Running of the Bulls’ minus the animals and gore is this medieval game in St Ives. Two large teams—the countrymen and townsmen—attempt to carry a small ball across the parish to score a goal. There are also pancake competitions. February.
Mummers Day: if you’re here on Boxing Day or New Year's Day, head to Padstow for this Pagan event, where ‘goose dancing’ locals take to the streets. Features elaborate costumes and lots of streets fun. December.
Where to camp
Cornwall has campgrounds near all the top beaches and destinations and there are few places you cannot camp in the gem of the West Country. There is also more choice here than elsewhere in the UK as well as more of a range. Pitches can be in farm fields in the Cornish countryside, to large, well equipped parks with all mod cons.
The best of it is you can get very close to main destinations and attractions as there are campgrounds in all areas, including at Newquay, St Ives, Tintagel, Bude, Penzance, Lizard Peninsula, Truro, Falmouth, Bodmin and St Austell.
Wherever you go, you won’t be far from the beach or fine countryside and though prices for pitches during Campervan holidays in Cornwall are a little more than much of the rest of the UK, it is peanuts in comparison with the hotels here.
Selection of Cornwall campervan sites:
Porth Beach Tourist Park
An award winning campground just north of Newquay, making it good for surfers as well as for families, being quite close to the coast. Pitches are spacious and serviced and there’s also WiFi.
Boasts an enviable spot near Land’s End in two fields not far from the cliffs of the Heritage Coast. Facilities are basic but there’s a shop onsite and there are dozens of well priced pitches. Not suited to large motorhomes.
Headland Caravan & Camping Park
This is a must for those with campervans visiting Tintagel, located as it is near the village centre and King Arthur’s coast. It has lesser facilities than the big parks, but is laidback and more rural, as well as being cheaper and also has free WiFi. The North Cornwall Coastal Path and King Arthurs Castle are close by.
South Penquite Farm
Located near Bodmin Moors in the centre of Cornwall in this pleasant, working organic farm. The camping is in fields but you can have a campfire and there’s a snazzy, solar-heated shower block. No caravans here.