TRAVEL: A winter adventure in Poldark's Cornwall

TRAVEL: A winter adventure in Poldark's Cornwall

By Bob Evans | 10/02/2020

TRAVEL: A winter adventure in Poldark's Cornwall

It might seem a bit strange, but I prefer to visit many popular holiday destinations out of season.

Even the delights (?) of places like Benidorm can be appreciated in winter when you can wander round the streets of the old town without being harangued to try this and that bar all at half price as someone else crawls in the gutter.

In January of last year we had a few days in Jersey and thoroughly enjoyed its history and hospitality.

So as we approached December and I had three days of my holiday entitlement still to use up, where could we make use of them?

For many years, my wife, who has almost taken on eco-warrior status these days, has wanted to visit the Eden Project in Cornwall, so this seemed an ideal opportunity to take it in, along with the Cornish coastline and history.

I easily found a very reasonably-priced pub at the edge of the village of Par, famed for its China clay, on the south Cornish coast.

So that was it and, armed with a bit of research from the internet, off we went.

An early start, I calculated, would get us past the Birmingham rush hour before it got too bad.

I was wrong.

Our five and three-quarter hour journey from Pontefract turned into a six-and-ahalf hour slog as the M42, even at 7.15am, was a nose to tail crawl.

What had put me off Cornwall in the summer had been the horrendous tales of traffic chaos, yet here I was in December suffering the same fate.

I comforted myself with the thought that it would be better on the way back on a Sunday.

Thankfully it was.
 
But I digress — we arrived at 1pm and, once checked in and a pint of Cornish ale sampled, it was time to explore.

From the east end of the beach at Par there is a cliff top walk to Polkerris which takes about half an hour.

However, our pub barmaid advised against as there had been a fair bit of rain and it was quite steep in places.

A five minutes’ drive sufficed and was well worth the visit.

We parked up and walked down the cobbled hill to a small, but beautiful, deserted beach, save for a few folk eating outside the back of the village pub, the Rashleigh Inn looking over the sand and sea.

Inside the pub we got talking to a friendly chap who had just done the clifftop walk without any problem. But more importantly, he was a volunteer at the Eden Project and gave us some valuable tips.

The Eden Project has been built in a giant, reclaimed China clay pit a couple of kilometres from the village of St Blazey (about 5km from the larger town of St Austell).

It consists of impressive gardens and growing areas which wind their way down to the base, which is home to two giant biomes (one Rainforest, the other Mediterranean) the Core, a sustainable education centre and an ice rink.

On the outskirts are outdoor climbing areas and England’s longest and fastest zip wire, but these are not owned by Eden.

The whole project was the vision of Dutchman Tim Smit and is still expanding to this day.

Smit had discovered and restored the Lost Gardens of Heligan and was looking for another project. He certainly went to town on this one.

Work started in 1999 and the basic centre took in its first visitors in March 2001.

Its success was immediate and over one million visitors witnessed the attraction in the first ten weeks.

The first thing that struck me was the vastness of the project — what sort of imagination must Tim Smit have had to envisage it all?

With our visit being in December, we did not get the chance to experience the colour of the vast outdoor garden area, but it was still impressive.

The Core contains various exhibitions and interactive attractions to keep youngsters — and adults — enthralled.

Also in there is a sculpture of a seed — all 167 tonnes of it — carved out of a solid block of Cornish granite.

The two biomes basically tell the history of planet earth through nature with views on best practice going forward.

If you’ve been to a tropical rainforest you will know what to expect in the Rainforest Biome, but if you haven’t, make sure you leave your coat in the cloakroom.

Inside you’ll find more than 1,000 different plant species and even a beautiful waterfall that cascades from a great height.

One of the newer features is a rooftop walkway which allows visitors to gaze down on the whole of the rainforest from over 100 feet up.

Dozens of excited — but wellbehaved — schoolchildren absolutely loved it.

A member of staff actually questions you about your health and wellbeing before allowing you to climb the steps to access it.

After talking to staff at the information desk we decided on a second visit the following day, but in the evening.

It was the first night of their Christmas season when subdued and mood lighting would completely change the interior appearance of both biomes.

It was well worth doing (especially after sampling the paella in the Mediterranean dining area) and certainly had the wow factor.

However, there is a lot more to this part of Cornwall than just the Eden Project.

The small town of Fowey (pronounced Foy by the locals) just a few miles along the coast from our base had been recommended to us.

It is where Daphne Du Maurier grew up and where many of her novels were written, including perhaps her most famous, Rebecca. Local book shops bear testimony to her vast output.

When we arrived we pulled into the main car park which is at the top of the town.

If you don’t fancy the steep downhill walk there is a minibus which costs £1 going down and £1.50 back up, due to the extra distance caused by the essential one-waysystem.

I say essential because the town consists of a myriad of picture-postcard narrow streets, all containing individual little shops and olde worlde pubs.

I can certainly recommend the pubs, which sell local beer from the nearby St Austell Brewery.

St Austell itself I found a trifle disappointing with its run-of-the-mill stores and pound shops, being in stark contrast to Fowey.
 
But the brewery made up for that with the best-selling Tribute and St Austell Best being very palatable.

My favourite though was the creamiest stout-type brew I have ever tasted — Mena Dhu.

But enough of that, where next?

I followed a sign to Carlyon Bay, not knowing anything about it.

We parked up and walked down a steep slope before coming across a vast, pure sand beach and apart from us, there was literally one man and his dog.

It was a beautiful setting and must be absolutely humming in the summer months.

Not far from St Austell, back on the coast is the small, almost tiny harbour village of Charlestown.

This place has been made famous by the success of the BBC TV series Poldark and is where many of the scenes are shot.

It’s not hard to see why as tall sailing ships dominate the harbour.

There’s also a shipwreck museum and about eight or nine eating and drinking places to satisfy the thirst and appetites of its many visitors — even in December.

A bit further down the coast, past the aforementioned Lost Gardens of Heligan, is one of the jewels of the south Cornish coast — Mevagissey (Meva to the locals).

A bit like Fowey, you have to park up outside the town and walk in past the crystal shops and traditional sweet shops.

We wandered through the narrow streets before coming to the most attractive harbour with colourful cottages — and pubs — on all three sides.

One of these, The Ship — every seaside town and village on this stretch of coast has a Ship — offered the last chance for a pint of nectar in the form of Mena Dhu, before returning to base and then home the following morning.

We sat next to a local mother and daughter, who were unbelievably chatty and friendly, offering advice on other places we should visit.

Unfortunately time was against us, but maybe next time...

I had my reservations before embarking on this four night expedition, mainly down to the distance involved, but I have to say that, once you get down there, the trials of the M42 and M5 are well worth putting up with.

So that was the out of season adventure done for 2019 — where will it be this year?