Cornwall overflows with awesome attributes. The world-class beaches and the surf, the seafood and food scene, the archaeology, Poldark…the list goes on. Break in your walking boots now because epic Cornish trails await, from stages of the iconic South West Coast Path to rambles over ancient Bodmin Moor. Grab your map and sunnies and head out into the fresh salty air to discover Cornwall at its best: on your own two feet.
Tintagel: Three Legendary Loops
Though legend-soaked Tintagel is a tourist honeytrap of epic proportions, it’s surprisingly simple to find peace, quiet and fabulous views out on the excellent footpaths nearby. When you’ve had your fill of Arthurian legend, pick a short and family-friendly loop (like the Barras Nose Circular, around the first piece of coastline bought by the National Trust in 1897) to enjoy wild Atlantic views and the rugged terrain of the region. Prepare for pasties and Peregrine Falcons, slate quarries and seal spotting and the famed ruins at Tintagel Head.
Port Isaac to Padstow
This southerly jaunt from Port Isaac to the idyllic fishing port of Padstow is one of the best-loved sections of the South West Coast Path. Steel yourself for a strenuous start, exploring Pine Haven inlet and Rumps Point with its Iron Age Hill Fort en route to the surfers’ paradise of Polzeath. Refuel and relax – it’s easier from here! Expect gorgeous views over the Camel Estuary with its notorious Doom Bar – the shifting sand bar that’s wrecked hundreds of ships – before taking the ferry from Rock to Padstow for a well-earned seafood spread. For a literary take on the Polzeath – Rock section of this walk, consider the Betjeman Circular Walk (4.6 miles/ 7.4km).
Discover the detail: Port Isaac to Padstow (approx 12 miles/ 19km)
Padstow to Porthcothan
If you love walks where outputs are minimal but rewards spectacular, meet your new friend: the Padstow to Porthcothan stage of the Coast Path. You’ll hug low cliffs, with headlands stacking up before and behind you and beaches like Hawker’s Bay beckoning you down to the Atlantic below. Picnic at surfers’ favourite, Constantine Bay, before rounding prominent Trevose Head with its lighthouse, on a journey marked by Spanish Armada ruins, gorgeous wildflowers and the old fish cellars of Harlyn Bay. R&R at Porthcothan’s fine beach awaits.
Discover the detail: Padstow to Porthcothan (approx 13 miles/ 21km)
Perranporth to St Agnes
Perranporth is a hard beach to leave behind on a sunny Cornish morning, but this memorable walk through the St Agnes Heritage Coast area is 100% worth it. Fuel up at Perranporth’s ‘Watering Hole’ first, and play in the craggy holes of its sea cliffs – they make excellent rock-hewn photo frames – before hitting The Path. Echoes of mining and smuggling heritage are everywhere, putting pirates on your mind, before the climb out of Trevellas Cove snaps you back to the present, ready to arrive in charming St Agnes.
Discover the detail: Perranporth St Agnes (approx 4 miles/ 6.5km)
Crackington Haven to Tintagel
If world-class natural harbours, crashing waterfalls and isolated coves float your boat, step this way. En route from Crackington Haven to legendary Tintagel Head, you’ll see High Cliff (Cornwall’s highest at 223m), Pentargon’s soaring waterfall and beautiful beaches like The Strangles before reaching Boscastle for lunch, a village whose tiny cottages and cobbled streets send you back in time. This trek is a bird-watcher’s delight, with falcons, kestrels and puffins inhabiting the Atlantic cliffs and rocks nearby. Your goal is Tintagel Head with the unfailingly impressive ruins where King Arthur was allegedly born.
Discover the detail: Crackington Haven to Tinagel (11 miles/ 18km)
Padstow to Harlyn Bay
Heading north from Padstow, this coast-hugging route takes you to the dramatic heart of Stepper Point (the headland immortalised in Poldark’s epic opening sequence) before veering south to the grand, sandy sweep of Harlyn Bay. The route winds past Trevone’s huge collapsed sea cave and features some great pubs, as well as passing dog-friendly beaches like Harbour and Hawkers’ Coves. Birders come in autumn, to spot clouds of kittiwakes flying south. For an elemental feel, high on a coast path hugging the cliffs, you’ve struck gold – just like the man who found two Bronze Age crescents of gold at Harlyn Bay in 1865. Keep those eyes peeled!
Discover the detail: Padstow to Harlyn Bay (approx 7 miles/ 11km)
The Newquay Loop
Newquay has phenomenal rocky headlands and spectacular views over the bay, though many ‘short breakers’ don’t get beyond its arty shops. On this eye-opening loop around the shoreline, take in the long sandy beaches and rolling breakers that make Newquay a UK surf capital. From industrious beginnings shipping china clay, ore and pilchard, the railway in 1884 brought the visitors that still arrive today. Leave the bustle behind to discover the rare mosses, sea campion and wild thyme of the Pentire peninsula, and visit the headland above Fistral beach to view afresh a hard-working town at the heart of a glorious natural setting.
Discover the detail: The Newquay Loop (approx 5 miles/ 8km)
Chapel Porth to St Agnes: Poldark Country
Poldark and Cornwall are inextricably linked in the UK’s imagination, with many clifftop backdrops and iconic engine house shots filmed on Cornwall’s wild north Atlantic coast. Author Winston Graham lived nearby, so immerse yourself in the panoramic scenery that inspired his books on this lovely loop. You’ll pass Wheal Coates pumping engine house on the coastal route out to the lookout at St Agnes Head, weaving past old mine workings and wildflowers on the inland route back to Chapel Porth. With Cornish luck you’ll catch the pub and coffee shop open at Trevaunance Cove.
Bodmin Moor through the Millennia
For a break from the Coast Path, this Bodmin Moor loop explores five millennia of human activity, for a fresh perspective on the Cornish way of life. On closer inspection, Bodmin Moor isn’t empty, bleak or eerie at all. Simply look and listen in the right places to find echoes of Bronze Age ritual sites, stone circles, medieval tin works, gravity-defying rocks and a strange rock formation known as the Cheesewring. This walk starts and ends in Minions. Park up, slow down and take the time to fully experience one of the UK’s few remaining wild places. Unless it’s foggy – in which case stick to the beach.
Toddler Friendly Trails
Sometimes, ‘a flat surface for the buggy’ is all you need for a successful day out! The different trails in Bodmin’s Cardinham Woods are designed just for you and can be easily reached from Cornwall’s south or north coasts. Managed by Forestry England, the Lady Vale Walk is ideal for toddlers. It’s an easy, level 1.5-mile walk on a hard surface alongside a stream, and the little ones can get stuck into the Stick Man Trail too, based on the popular Julia Donaldson book. With good facilities including a lovely woodland cafe on site, tuck in or take your own picnic and exhale – leaving the wee ones to entertain themselves.
Please be aware that sections of coastal or other paths may have steep, exposed or weather damaged sections – do check local advice before setting out. Keep digital or real maps to hand and charge your mobile in advance.