Situated on the toe-end of southwest England, the tiny harbours and ancient villages of Cornwall are the main attraction to this quiet rural backwater.
Far from major airports and certainly not on the way to anywhere, Cornwall’s villages have remained almost unchanged for centuries. Those looking for a romantic weekend break or a peaceful walking holiday in a mild climate will find Cornish villages make the perfect base for exploring this small county.
Cornwall was never a wealthy county, and most of its inhabitants were tin miners, farmers or fishermen. Riddled with narrow country lanes, Cornwall has few major towns but hundreds of small villages and most of the names are confusingly similar. Treburley, Tregaswith, Tregony, Tremaine, Trevellas and Trerulefoot are just some of the 522 tiny communities, most with their own pub, church and post office, at least until recently.
North Coast Villages
One of the most famous and best loved villages in Cornwall is St Ives, on the breathtaking north coast. Even the arrival of the ennobling Tate Gallery failed to spoil the laid back atmosphere and olde-worlde charm of this artist’s colony. With three beautiful beaches, tiers of tiny whitewashed cottages, picturesque harbour and breathtaking scenery, St Ives provides endless inspiration for artists whose work can be found in the many galleries lining the narrow traffic-free streets.
South Coast Villages
Just across the Cornish peninsula, a mere 11 miles drive at this point, along roads modelled on rabbit burrows, visitors can enjoy the calmer waters and sandy beaches of Mousehole (pronounced Mow-zel) close to Land’s End. When the Phoenicians sailed into the tiny harbour 2500 years ago it probably looked much as it does today, minus the luxury yachts of course. If you want to sample the local culinary speciality, head for the Ship Inn and order their Star Gazy Pie with pilchard heads peeping through the pastry lid.
Further along the south coast on the pretty Roseland peninsula are the delightful round houses at Veryan. Looking like something straight from Lilliput Lane pottery, these thatched circular cottages have a cross on the roof to ward off devils. The village is the quintessential English scene with a village green, a duckpond, a working watermill, characterful pub and a lovely church with an interesting graveyard.
Closer to Plymouth is the idyllic fishing village of Polperro. Tiny 17th century cottages tumble down either side of the valley, overlooking the small brook which occasionally becomes a raging torrent, damaging the bridges, pubs and houses which are actually built over it. Too narrow for cars (cottages are normally sold furnished to save hauling furniture by cart!), the best way to reach this charming Cornish village is along the Southwest Coastal Path from Talland Bay.
Explore the craft shops, smuggler’s inns and tiny church before enjoying clotted cream scones or rich Cornish ice cream at one of the flower-bedecked tea rooms overlooking the street. Small fishing boats bob in the harbour next to the lifeboat station and a fish van sells freshly caught fish and ‘dressed crab’ beautifully presented on a crab shell.
Popular Cornish Villages
Other pretty villages in Cornwall which are just waiting to be discovered include St Agnes with its iconic tin mine wheelhouses; Padstow which is best known for its pricey fish dinners at Rick Stein’s restaurants; Port Isaac which really is as picturesque as it sounds and Tintagel, allegedly the ancient home of King Arthur. The extensive castle ruins, set on a rocky peninsula overlooking the Celtic Sea, continue to provide a tangible base for the many Arthurian legends which abound in this Celtic land of myths and folklore. The slate-built cottages and old Post Office make this another delightful place to spend a day.
Wherever you choose to visit in Cornwall, you will be surrounded by historic Cornish villages. Friendly locals will be happy to pass the time of day over the garden wall in this quiet rural paradise, which happily remains in the slow lane of 21st century life.