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It could be said that Cornwall is virtually an island with only four major roads into the county: the A38 Plymouth ” Exeter, the A30 across Bodmin Moor; towards the north coast, the A39 and the A338.
London to Saltash, just across the River Tamar from Plymouth, is 250 miles including the M4/M5 junction near Bristol, one of Britain”s most notorious bottle-necks. Penzance is still another 70 miles, the road deteriorating in terms of width and quality the further west you go.
By train, the services to Plymouth are one per hour with an average time of around 3h15min. Those that continue into Cornwall take a fairly rural and leisurely amble and are intermittent.
From little more than 80,000 passengers ten years ago, of which half were in transit, Newquay Cornwall Airport has expanded significantly and will move 430,000 people this year and an expected 700,000 passengers in five years time. Seven carriers now use the airport and flight time to Gatwick is around one hour.
Truro is Cornwall”s administrative centre, a tiny city with just 20,000 inhabitants, although the county itself has a winter population of around 500,000. However, in the summer it all changes with a dramatic increase to four million (Truro cathedral pictured right).
As a holiday area Cornwall is probably unique in the UK. With the Gulf Stream to the west, the English Channel to the south and Bristol Channel facing its north westerly coast, it offers historic houses, gardens, woods, meals, mines and even an island castle.
With a week”s stay it is just about possible to cover some of the best tourist attractions and get a real feel for the place. This time around ABTN limited itself to just 48 hours, staying at Glendoral in the strangely named Lusty Glaze Road, Porth, sitting high above a glorious sandy beach.
The food is good and the indoor health club facilities excellent for when the weather is less than perfect. Watergate Bay and Newquay Cornwall Airport are just down the road.
Newquay itself is that rarity in British seaside resorts. It is doing rather well with plenty of investment and building work under way.
Newquay has ample, safe and accessible beaches where you can enjoy a traditional family holiday on the sand. People may come to Newquay with a bucket and spade but often leave with a surf board.
A breeding ground for world champion surfers, people speak of this resort in the same breath as Bondi, Malibu and Waikiki. Road traffic can be very heavy, so park the car and walk.
With some fine restaurants (Jamie Oliver”s 15, Ye Olde Dolphin Blue and Rick Stein”s place at nearby Padstow), attractions such as the Blue Reef Aquarium (including a walk through ocean tunnel), Newquay Zoo and Waterworld (with its tropical pool), can keep members of a family entertained for hours and if you like to party ” well, Newquay never stops.
Cornwall has some of the greatest gardens in the country and these alone could make for a marvellous fortnight”s holiday for those interested in this area of horticulture. The Cornwall Guide lists 58 including 12 only open for charity. Tresco, part of the Isles of Scilly, is the most remote and, at the other end of the county, Mount Edgcomb overlooks Plymouth Sound and is Grade I listed.
The Lost Gardens
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near St Austell, is a full morning or afternoon stopover and can be followed by a visit to the charming fishing village of Mevagissey, a five-minute drive away abounding with restaurants and pubs.
Heligan was the seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years and at the end of the 19th century, the 1,000 acres were at their zenith. The First World War took away most of the menfolk and by the late 1990s the estate was virtually forgotten. A hurricane in 1990 destroyed much of what was left.
It was that year that Tim Smit (later to develop the Eden Project) and John Willis (a Tremayne descendant) began work on a project to restore the estate. What you see today is a tribute to their work and the efforts of the professional gardeners and enthusiasts from both locally and further afield that turned the 200 acres into a fascinating reminder of a glorious past and also the future in terms of best practice in regards to the countryside.
Heligan is divided into a number of areas and one of the most interesting is the northern gardens, which encompass a vegetable garden, the melon yard and the walled flower garden. Between these areas, there are more than 200 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown. All the vegetable crops were brought in from seed and planted in the rich ground to create a bountiful and magnificent display of edible and ornamental crops.
The Jungle is a steep ravine, structured around a man made water system and feeding through a network of mainly original Victorian pipes and drains, with four interconnecting ponds. The Jungle”s temperature is one of a micro climate and is generally 5” centigrade warmer than the rest of the property. Some of the walking is a bit steep.
The Eden Project
More than just a green theme park, the Eden Project with its biome conservatories containing plants from the rainforests and warm temperate regions of the world, just off the A30 (and well signposted), is a must.
It is about connecting plants, people and places; it is about the environment plants come from, reverence for the wild place and empathy with the people that live there and how they make their livelihoods.
Children and adults alike can take part in fun, interactive trails around Eden, it has an ”own grown” play structure with hidey holes and shortcuts all made from natural materials and there are plenty of award winning and ”funky” (for the children) restaurants to dine in. It is educational, fun and interesting with something for everyone. There is ample parking and facilities for the disabled, while the Eden store boasts the best Cornish produce.
The Eden landscape is strewn with unusual and unconventional horticulture and perhaps the most noticeable of these is the ”Silver staircase”, so called because when lit up at night, it resembles a giant staircase running up the side of the landscape and ending at a majestic Cedar of Lebanon.
Since the full site opened in March 2001 there have been nearly seven million visitors through the doors and it has also played host to such events as Live 8 Africa Calling and various summer gigs (Snow Patrol, Lilly Allen, James Morrison).
The project is about finding solutions not cataloguing the problems and ”The Edge” is to be the next evolution of Eden and will focus on desert regions and challenges of water use.
What else? St Michael”s Mount jutting out into the English Channel is exclusive to the United Kingdom and should not be confused with Mont St Michael in Normandy, after which it is named. Access is via a causeway at low water or by motor boat when the tide comes in.
Falmouth and the National Maritime Museum is not far away, nor St Ives, famous for its artists” colony and tiny harbour. Cornwall”s ”Theatre Under the Stars,” The Minack, is open from May until September. If the weather is really inclement, the Poldark Mine follows in the steps of the Cornish tin miners.
Retuning to an aviation theme it is possible to fly using the UK”s only scheduled helicopter service from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly, and there are fixed wing flights from St Just, about as far west as you can go on the mainland, as well as from Newquay.