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Insider Guide to North Cornwall, England

22/04/2022 by .
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 Anthea Gerrie takes a North Cornwall staycation with Aspects Holidays

When I was offered a stay at dog-friendly Waverley Cottage by Aspects Holidays, who do a roaring trade in Cornish rental cottages, a big part of the draw was the location.   For Cornwall is a county of many moods; to be sure the west offers the big tourist draws of Lands End and the picturesque artist colony of St Ives, while the south coast has greenery and a gentler climate on its side.   But it’s hard to beat the romance of the stone hamlets named for ancient saints, rugged rocks and impossibly broad beaches of North Cornwall.   This may not be Poldark country, but King Arthur was at Tintagel, if the myths are to be believed, more than a millennium before Doc Martin put Port Isaac on the map.


We chose Waverley Cottage for its proximity to Wadebridge, a deceptively unassuming little town which offers all self-catering visitors could need (except for fresh local lobsters, for which read on).  Small but not unattractive, it boasts a mediaeval bridge, a delightful hidden river walk, the only cinema for miles around and a handful of speciality shops to supplement a decent Co-op which stays open late.   For the pride of Wadebridge are Williams the award-winning butcher, a fine wine emporium, the brilliant baking ladies fielding handmade cupcakes at the Clementine Cakery and artisanal wonders at the Doughnut Addict with its dozen or more incredible flavours.  There’s also a pukka deli at Hawksfield, a newish yummy-mummy complex just south of the town on the A39, and two of Britain’s Top 50 Gastropubs within a 15-minute drive.

Even without these gems Wadebridge would be a foodie mecca, straddling the ground between Rick Stein and Paul Ainsworth’s coastal empires to the west and south and Nathan Outlaw’s to the north.   You could eat out brilliantly every night for weeks – or like us, skip past Outlaw’s pricey Fish Kitchen on the harbour at Port Isaac, however tempting, to pick up your own crustacean from the lobster ladies at Just Shellfish and perhaps a turbot from the fishmonger on the other side of the barn beside the slipway.


Do take time to stop and explore; Port Isaac is a working fishermen’s village with a small but dramatic harbour which can be previewed on the walk from the car park at the top of the town.  The pedestrianized coastal path with spectacular views gives way to a steep village street leading down to the harbour past the pub, old schoolhouse, shops and restaurants.  A short cut is to park on the slipway, which becomes the Harbour car park when the tide is out and enjoy a scramble over the rocks or a wander up the hill past the clifftop houses which feature prominently in the fictional Doc Martin’s.

Port Isaac and its neighbours Rock, St Minver and Polzeath are most easily accessed via a tiny mini roundabout in Wadebridge leading to a narrow coast road which runs parallel to the A39.   The latter is a delight of a cove with firm sands punctuated with purple rocks and beautiful tidal eddies leading hundreds of yards out to sea.  Surfers in wetsuits and dog-walkers make it all the way out to the crashing foam, while pebble-gazers are stopped in their tracks further inland by the shapes and colours of the copious beach-treasure.   There’s not much else at Polzeath except water-sports equipment for sale or rent, but the delightful Cone Zone on the access road sells fantastic Langage Farm Devon ice-cream in a heady assortment of flavours; the stem ginger is hard to beat.



A more traditional beach is the crescent of sand at Daymer Bay, which offers a hidden treat in the fields behind; the charming little church of St Enodoc, where poet John Betjeman is buried; built in the 12th century, it was buried by sand dunes for centuries and only unearthed in 1864.   Well worth a stroll to discover the ancient church and nearby village of Trebetherick.

On the southern side of Wadebridge an obvious outing is to Padstow, also known as Padstein thanks to its colonisation by Rick Stein, who owns several eateries here, competing with the Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth.   The takeaway star of the town centre is the Chough Bakery selling excellent pasties and sourdough loaves, and beyond, on the far side of the harbour, is a beautiful clifftop park overlooking the estuary from where a good beach becomes accessible in less than a mile.


Ignore the Padstow turn from Wadebridge and continue south to find an absolute gem down the side road opposite Newquay Airport.  The tiny hamlet of St Mawgan is home not only to an impressive church and pleasant tearoom but an exquisite Japanese Garden which has been tended by the same family for decades.   Well worth the £5 entrance fee to view all the components of the most famous gardens in Japan with cherry blossoms and maples in season, a tea house, dinky pedestrian bridge and separate areas devoted to the moss and raked gravel gardens so revered in their home of origin.   No fee for browsing the excellent collection of indoor and outdoor bonsai in the adjacent nursery; it’s almost impossible to leave without a tree.   Within a couple of miles is another broad beach at Mawgan Porth, while St Mawgan itself is a dining destination for those in the know, thanks to gastropub The Falcon Inn, which is dog friendly.

Japanese Garden St Mawgan

Talking of gastropubs, Paul Ainsworth’s Mariners at Rock is one of the nation’s Best 50 and this year, leaping 42 places up the list, so is the St Kew Inn, which has sat a mile or two inland of Port Isaac for centuries and always served a decent roast beef sandwich.   Now a new generation has brought a more varied and more exciting menu, featuring catch of the day from Port Isaac – it was the rare John Dory on the day we visited – and meaty treats like bone marrow with nduja muffin and aged short rib cheeseburgers.  Also, dog-friendly, serving excellent local beers and ciders and decent wines by the glass; this is an establishment worth coming back to North Cornwall for alone, and it was only a 15-minute drive from our cosy stone cottage at Burlawn on the far side of Wadebridge.


Tell Me More About North Cornwall


North Cornwall is best enjoyed by car, although buses were seen in many of the beach towns and coves we visited.  Access is via the A30 and A39, with Bodmin Parkway the main rail station serving the area; flights to Newquay Airport save on long drives.   Newquay itself fields the Headland Hotel, an august establishment with nice self-catering cottages and water sports on offer.

More information on North Cornwall can be found at the Cornwall Tourist Board.

Aspects Holidays rents a wide range of independently owned cottages in the area.


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