When I think of Cornwall, I think of rugged cliffs, rocky inlets and coves, cream teas and crumbly fudge.
Many moons ago, Jill from Transient Local put the Night Riviera – a sleeper service which runs from London Paddington to Penzance – on my radar. With a couple of days’ holiday to use up, Laurence and I booked the sleeper train to St. Austell for a long weekend. Whilst St. Austell itself is nothing to write home about, it proved a decent base for a short break: it’s sandwiched between two rather lovely fishing villages – Fowey and Mevagissey – and is just a stone’s throw from the Eden Project.
When we arrived in St. Austell, bleary-eyed and somewhat sleep-deprived, a caffeine fix was our priority. We bought cuppas from the station café, picked up a map to help us get our bearings and stayed inside until the sun rose just shy of eight. After a (very) brief circuit of the town centre – the highlight was a tortoiseshell cat – we set off on foot for Charlestown.
On Location: Charlestown
Centuries ago, Charlestown was a small fishing village known as West Polmear. In the 1790s, Charles Rashleigh transformed the village into a thriving port to export local copper (and, later, china clay) and import coal. These days, Charlestown is a popular filming location for period dramas; the BBC series Poldark is perhaps the most notable.
Waves crashed against the harbour wall, sending arcs of sea spray onto the flagstones. Since there was no sign of an imminent downpour and we had a lot of time on our hands, we decided to follow the coastal path to nearby Carlyon Bay; a bracing half-hour or so walk was just what we needed to wake ourselves up. Back in Charlestown, we swung by Charlie’s Coffee House for hot drinks and a wedge of cake.
A couple of hours’ rest and an episode of Guilt later, and we were back in Charlestown in search of tea. The Rashleigh Arms came up with the goods: beer-battered fish and chips for me; scampi for Laurence; and a slab of sticky toffee pudding for afters.
Exploring the Eden Project
We’d earmarked Sunday for the Eden Project. Bus 101 ferries eco-friendly visitors from St. Austell Station to the Eden Project and takes about twenty minutes. Back in the mid-90s, the Eden Project was little more than the seed of an idea which would give a new lease of life to a china clay pit. Now, it’s an eco-attraction which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year – and counting.
Viewed from above, the biomes looked like giant opaque bubbles bursting out of the ground. First up: the Rainforest Biome. Home to tropical plants galore – orchids, palms and banana trees to name but a few – it’s rather humid inside. Lizards, ants and roul-roul partridges (so-called because of the noise they make) act as biological pest controls.
We did a loop of the forest floor, so to speak, before picking up signs for the suspended walkway and viewing platform at the top of the biome. We didn’t stay up there long as the humidity is on another level.
We stopped for hot drinks and cinnamon buns at the café before continuing towards the Mediterranean Biome. Each ‘zone’ showcases plants from a different region, from the South African Cape to Western Australia. I particularly liked the fuzzy plants (pictured below) and the succulents.
I was taken aback at just how much there was to see: even in the winter months – when the outdoor beds are devoid of life – it takes the best part of a day to tour the whole site.
Polperro Heritage Coast: Par to Fowey
Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a picturesque harbour town, some eight miles from St. Austell. We caught the train to Par, then picked up the South West Coast Path towards Fowey.
If you’re pressed for time and can only squeeze in one walk, make it this one. The Polperro Heritage Coast features secluded coves, rocky inlets and clifftop vistas; pirate country to the core. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:
Fowey is a foodie’s paradise – or, specifically, a pasty- or cream tea-lover’s paradise. By the time we reached Fowey, our stomachs were rumbling. Quay Bakery’s window display was piled high with freshly baked rolls, pasties and sweet treats. Laurence bought a ginormous pasty, while I opted for a ciabatta roll. Tasty as they were, the best – in my view – was yet to come.
My mouth is watering just thinking about our cream tea at The Dwelling House; it was that good. This charming little tearoom has a menu brimming with tempting, locally sourced treats, but our eyes went straight to the cream teas. We both went for the Cornish cream tea – two scones served with generous helpings of clotted cream and jam (a choice of raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry or blackcurrant) – and washed it down with a pot of tea.
We pottered round Fowey, the light fading as the afternoon wore on. After watching the sun sink into the horizon, we holed up in The Lugger Inn with drinks and food.
Southbound: Pentewan to Mevagissey
We spent our last day in Cornwall exploring Mevagissey. We took a bus to Pentewan (pronounced Pen-chew-an; I tell you Cornish place names are designed to trip you up) – a tiny village to the south of St. Austell – and followed the South West Coast Path up and over rolling hills to Mevagissey.
Colourful fishing vessels were moored in the inner harbour; lobster pots and nets stowed in crates alongside the outer harbour. Many of the tearooms and shops had closed for the winter, but fortunately for us a few remained open. We stopped off at Teacup Tearoom for our second cream tea of the trip. (If you have a four-legged friend in tow, they’ll be met with open arms here.) We had the tearoom almost to ourselves, which was something of a novelty.
Had it been warmer, I’d have been only too happy to plonk myself on a bench by the harbour and watch the world go by for a few hours. As it was rather nippy, we headed to The Ship for a drink and toasted ourselves by their log fire. We made tracks around half two, as we didn’t fancy navigating muddy hills in the dark, and spent the last few hours in St. Austell mooching round the shops (so much time to kill, so little to do).
- The Night Riviera runs every night of the week bar Saturday; check GWR’s website for departure times and prices. We paid £29.05 each way, with a 16-25 railcard, for a seat (prices per person, in November/December 2019).
- If you’ve travelled to the Eden Project by bus, bike or Shanks’ pony, take advantage of their ‘Green Ticket’, which nets you a 10% discount. If you gift-aid your ticket, it will be valid for a year.
- Smaller towns and villages in Cornwall are fairly well served by bus; tickets can be purchased with cash or card on board.