Gallos - A Bronze Statue at the Top of the Cliffs of Tintagel Castle. Exploring Cornwall England

Exploring Cornwall England: A Perfect 4-Day Fall Itinerary

Cornwall today is famous for its world-renowned beaches and is the “surfing” capital of the UK. But we are exploring Cornwall, England, toward the end of October, and it is definitely not beach-going weather. Instead, we enjoyed the rich history, stunning landscapes, and charming towns.

Our tour was full of destinations highlighting the history of this quaint part of England. We are tracing the maritime heritage in Falmouth with the long-standing Pendennis Castle, learning about tin mining, and visiting the romanticized birthplace of the legendary King Arthur at Tintagel Castle.

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In an unusual turn of events, we choose to rent a car for our 4-day itinerary. We are from the USA, where we drive on the right-hand side of the road, but the driver is seated in the left-hand seat. It is the opposite in England, making for confusing and thought-provoking drives.

But this is maybe one of the easiest places in England for this type of mind-bending driving as the county of Cornwall is crisscrossed by small country roads and relatively light in traffic at this time of the year.

Day 1: Discovering Falmouth

The journey starts by taking the train from London Paddington to Truro and picking up our car from Europa Car. We’ve been watching Doc Martin, a BBS TV series set in the fictitious village of Port Wenn in Cornwall. In the show, folks head to Truro to get to the main hospital. So we kind of feel like we know the town.

While this is a fun way to start exploring Cornwall, England, we don’t really know the town or the area. So we are happy to have our smartphones along and make good use of the map functions to get from Truro to Falmouth. From Truro, it’s a short 12-mile, 25-minute drive to our hotel in Falmouth. We are staying at the Falmouth Hotel right on the water.

The Falmouth Hotel  - Exploring Cornwall England

Visiting The National Maritime Museum

After we get checked into the hotel, we drive over to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall to learn about Cornwall’s maritime history. The museum is located on Discovery Quay at the head of the docks, in a building that resembles an old wharf-side warehouse.

Inside the Maritime Museum, you find galleries and exhibitions that walk you through the influence of the sea on the culture and history of England and trade. The main hall has a staggering variety of boats from around the world.

The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth

Having this museum in Falmouth makes excellent sense when you learn that this is the world’s 3rd largest “natural” deep-water harbor. In the 1880s, this British Empire maritime hub was so crucial that 25 countries had consular representatives in Falmouth.

The Maritime Museum is adjacent to a local shopping area filled with restaurants, coffee shops, and retail shops. This is convenient since the only thing we’ve had to eat since our 8:30 train from London was a cup of tea and biscuit on the train; we are ready for a bite.

Right in walking distance are three restaurants with the same ownership, each focused on a theme. The Ranch is the steakhouse, The Shack is the fish house, and The Shed is, I would say pub-style food. I’m not an expert in “pub food,” so please forgive me if this is false.

Dinner at the Shed - (UL) Menu; (UR) Padron Peppers; (LL) Burger & Fries; (LR) Laska

I am pretty hungry and enjoy the Shed burger. At the same time, DH has a smaller appetite and chooses the Shed Laska, an Asian-inspired, brothy veggie dish with chicken. A bar seating area has several local beers on tap and a full drinks menu. I enjoyed one of the local brews with my burger. I recommend The Shed to anyone looking for a casual meal and good service.

Day 2: Pendennis Castle, St. Michael’s Mount And Geevor Tin Mine Museum

Before coming over to England, we joined the English Heritage Organization. The cost of membership was £108/year or in US dollars, around $135 depending on the conversion rate at the time. Being a member of the English Heritage gets you unlimited access to hundreds of England’s most important historical sites. We will use the pass enough on this short visit to cover the membership cost.

Pendennis Castle – The Artillery Fort Constructed by Henry VIII

It is easy to see why Pendennis was placed on this headland. The fortress offers panoramic views of Falmouth Bay. This gave the army stationed at the castle to defend Cornwall against foreign invasion. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the Cornish coastline from the castle walls.

We enter the ancient Tudor Keep, climb the spiral stairs to the top, and are rewarded with a fantastic 360⁰ panoramic view. Inside the Keep, I noted that the staff were busy decorating all the exhibition areas with fall foliage. Seeing the flowers and greenery next to the large guns was a bit odd!

Triptych of  Pendennis Castle (L) Pendennis Keep (M) Window with Fall Foliage (R) Cannon

From the Keep, we headed over to the Royal Garrison Artillery Barracks. On the first floor (what we Americans would call the 2nd floor) is an exhibition that includes letters, weapons, and other memorabilia that explore the lives of the soldiers who worked and trained at Pendennis Castle.

Food and drink are available in the Barracks if you want a snack.

St. Michael’s Mount A Castle In The Sea

After our tour of Pendennis, we continue exploring Cornwall and head due west to Marazion for a visit to St. Michael’s Mount. You may have heard of Mont St. Michel in France, a tidal island crowned by a medieval monastery surrounded by a village that climbs up the rock. Well, here in England, St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island crowned by a medieval castle and gardens.

We found the car park for the Mount and saw we had arrived at low tide. Usually, when the tide is in, you can take a boat; when the tide is out, you make the short walk across the causeway. We are okay with walking, but today, we can tell the weather is changing. The winds are pretty strong, and we dodged raindrops a few times.

Pictures of St. Michael's Mount (UL) The island and castle from the mainland; (UR) The causeway at low tide; (LL) Author and Hubby; (LM) Tomb at Island Entry (LR) Harbor at Low Tide With Boats On The Sand

When we get to the island to explore the historic buildings and gardens, we are greeted by park guides who let us know the island will be closed when the tide comes in. There will be no boat ride as the surf is expected to be too dangerous. Also, unfortunately, they are not letting anyone walk up the mountain and tour the castle due to the hazardous high winds.

This cuts our visit short (there is only about an hour until the tide comes in). So we decide to walk among the lower gardens and enjoy what we can before we face the winds to tread back across the causeway.

Kind of an aside, but our drive to Pendeen takes us past Penzance. So now I can say I’ve been to Penzance the next time someone asks if I’ve seen Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Never thought I’d use that name three times in one paragraph.

Geevor Tin Mine Museum

Tin mining was an important part of Cornwall’s economy, perhaps as far back as the Bronze Age, and it continued strong until the last mine was closed in 1998. In fact, Cornwall and West Devon’s Mining Landscape had such an influence that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I have a remote connection to mining as my grandfather and other family members were all copper miners in Arizona. So, the tin mine history was something I was eager to see.

At the Geevor Tin Mine Museum, you can take a guided tour of the Wheal Mexico mine tunnels and explore exhibitions to learn about the lives of Cornish miners.

We check in at the top of the hill, get out hard hats, and are given directions to the Wheal Mexico. You may wonder about the name of the mine. Well, I asked, and it turns out that  “Wheal” is an old Celtic word for mine.

Before heading down to the mine, we stopped at the café in the main building, and I got to have a proper cream tea. These were some of the best scones I’ve ever had. And don’t even get me started on the clotted cream. So yummy!

Two scones came with my tea; they are huge, as seen in my picture. I put my shame behind me, asked for more cream in a takeaway container, and took my second scone and extra cream for breakfast the next day.

Photo of A Pot of Tea and two Huge Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam.

Fortified with our tea, we start off for the mine. It is a steep hike down the hillside to the mine along a barely marked footpath. Also, you may be fighting winds coming off the sea, making the walk down harder but helpful on the way back up. You’ll want to wear good walking shoes for this one. For me, it’s my trusty Merrills.

When we reach the mine entrance, a docent tells us what to expect inside. Specifically, it will be dim, and the path is wet, and in some places, you need to watch your head (hence the hard hats). Midway through the tunnels, there is a second docent to answer any questions you may have and send you on your way.

Walking the path through the tunnels, you will feel claustrophobic. But you need to take a minute to wrap your head around how the tunnels were made. All these paths were dug out by hand, by men and boys going back day after day after day. Slowly collecting the ore and hauling it back out to daylight.

Back up top, we come upon an interactive art exhibit of the workings of the mines. On this day, the artist James Barber, is there and gives us a personal explanation of his work.

We head back to Falmouth and dine at the hotel for dinner. The dining room at the Falmouth Hotel is vast. Almost every table has a view of the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the lawns to Falmouth Bay. We keep it simple for dinner, with DH enjoying fish and chips and I the pork roast and mash.

Dinner at the Falmouth (L) Fish, Chips and Green Peas; (M) Butternut Squash Soup; (R) Pork Tenderloin on Mashed Potatoes

Day 3: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Eden Project, and The Bodmin Jail

After breakfast, we checked out and continued exploring Cornwall, England. Today, we are headed to the Bodmin moor. On our way, we stopped at two notable gardens: Heligan Gardens and the Eden Project.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Getting to the Lost Gardens of Heligan is a bit of a challenge and a lot of faith in GPS. The Gardens are only about 25 miles from Falmouth, but they are 25 miles on small country lanes, which sometimes felt like private property. Don’t give up; you will be rewarded.

Heligan is one of the most famous botanical gardens in the UK. Although it was lightly raining during our visit, we still took the time to wander through the lush landscapes of the gardens. Discovering the hidden sculptures, exotic plants, and wildlife habitats in the sculpture garden is fun.

Photos of The Lost Gardens of Heligan (UL) The Narrow Roadway; (UM) The Giants Head Sculpture; Mud Lady Sculpture; (BM) Gray Lady

Maybe because of the rain and, in large part, the plan for Heligan, we feel transported back in time.

What Exactly Is The Eden Project?

The Eden Project, while still a garden, is something entirely different. In the late 1990s, a group took a clay pit with no soil and brought the land back to life.

When we first looked at Eden, we were reminded of Biosphere 2 in Oracle, AZ. But our exploration of the massive covered Biomes showed how different these places are.

A photo of the Biomes at the Eden Project - Exploring Cornwall England

You can walk through one of the world’s largest indoor rainforests at the Eden Project. Or you can enjoy the calming, fragrant herbs and fruits in the Mediterranean Biome.

Extensive outdoor gardens surround the Biomes, but did I mention it was raining? The luxury of enjoying gardens shielded by the Biomes made the afternoon much more pleasant.

Bodmin, The Jail And It’s Ghosts

Our last stop for the day is the village of Bodmin, a historic town surrounded by beautiful countryside (the moors). We are staying here for the next two nights at the supposedly haunted Bodmin Jail, a former prison turned museum and now a hotel, to learn about Cornwall’s dark past.

We arrive at the “Jail” and check in just before dinner. Staying here is our reason for being in Bodmin. The building started life in the 18th-century state-of-the-art prison. Those imprisoned here were said to have committed some of the worst crimes against humanity: murder, rape and stealing. Due to the more than 50 executions by hanging that took place here, the building is said to be haunted.  

Photos of Bodmin Jail Hotel (UL) The 4 Story Exterior of the Hotel: (UM) The Interior of the Hotel Lobby; (UR) A photo of Sam Hocking, the last inmate to inhabit our "cell"; (LL) The Bed Area; (LM) The Seating Area; (LR) The Bath

Each room consists of a series of two or more “jail cells.” However, the renovation of these spaces is so deluxe you will have a hard time imagining you are in a prison. After a cold, wet day, I was thrilled to lounge in the lovely free-standing tub, enjoying a soak. I’m pretty sure the prisoners were never treated this well.

Day 4: Visiting Port Isaac, King Arthur, And Daphne du Maurier

This morning, we drive over to the north coast to Port Isaac. This is one of the many fishing villages in Cornwall, with narrow streets climbing up the granite cliff from the harbor. Many tourists choose to go to St. Ives for this experience. Still, we are leaning into our Doc Martin, and Port Isaac is the actual location of the fictional Port Wenn.

Port Isaac A Charming Fishing Village

One of the things you see in the show is the crazy difference between high tide and low tide in the area. Most of these villages grew up around the fishing industry. Just as at St. Michael’s Mount, when the tide is out, the small fishing boats are basically “grounded.” It’s an odd thing to see coming from California.

We don’t spend much time here; Port Isaac is just a quick side trip on our way to Tintagel. But it’s fun to say we were in Port Wenn.

The Birth Place of King Arthur

We are lucky that the sun is back today, and we have good weather. Tintagel is a legendary coastal village steeped in Arthurian legend. But we are not necessarily here to see the town. We are headed to visit Tintagel Castle, or rather the ruins of it, perched on rugged cliffs overlooking the sea.

We arrive in the village of Tintagel at lunchtime and find a cute café, Charlies, a 14th-century half-timbered cottage, is just across Fore Street from the Tintagel Old Post Office. We take time for a quick bowl of lentil soup and fresh homemade bread (with the local beer) before we start our hike.

Lunch At Charlies In Tintagel

The Tintagel Old Post Office, a charming 14th-century building, and all the land around Tintagel Castle are protected forever by the National Trust.

Note, an old fellow with a landrover will take you down to and up from the entrance to Tintagel Castle; I think the cost was about £5 per couple. I recommend walking down to the park entrance and then using the transport back up to town when you really need it.

Tintagel Castle

This stretch of cliffs and beaches is the perfect place to imagine the legend of King Arthur. Make sure you have plenty of time for your visit, as the hike takes a while. Exploring the castle ruins while hiking up the hillside and finally reaching the summit with the Gallos, the 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture by Rubin Eynon that everyone assumes to be King Arthur, is exhilarating.

Tintagel King Arthur

But you are not done yet. You must still get down to the beach and visit the magical Merlin’s Cove. The path through the ruins is supposed to be a one-way route. You climb to the summit and then take a very narrow staircase along the cliff’s edge of 140 steep steps back down.

This adventure is not an accessible one. And being able to walk these types of landscapes is one of the reasons I always want to ensure I’m in shape for travel. Taking in the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean from Tintagel Island was a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Jamaica Inn, A Novel And Still An Inn

Our last stop for the day is the Jamaica Inn, a traditional Inn on the Bodmin Moor dating back to 1750. Yes, this is the same property made famous by Daphne du Maurier in her novel of the same name.

Cornwall was a “haven of smugglers” back in the day. Its rugged landscapes, rocky coves, and sheltered bays made for fantastic hideouts. Jamaica Inn became a stopping point for smugglers who used approximately 100 secret routes to move around contraband.

Jamaica Inn Collage

We learned all about this at “The Museum of Smuggling” at the inn. Tickets for the museum are available at the bar.  

But the best part is the cozy restaurant. It was time for dinner, and eat we did. I enjoyed the fish and chips while hubby had a chicken, feta, and walnut salad tonight.

Things We Missed By Exploring Cornwall England In The Fall

If we had visited Cornwall just one month earlier, our explorations would have taken us to some other unique places.

We missed the season for plays at the Minack Theatre. This open-air theater just outside Penzance is perched on the Cornish cliffs, making it a unique place for a show.

Because of the inclement weather, we did not make a trip to Land’s End, the westernmost point of England, to stare out over the Atlantic Ocean.

It was cool and often raining during our visit, so we did not spend time on beaches. In the summer months, exploring Cornwall’s beautiful beaches would be terrific. Fistral Beach in the north is famous for surfing. Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula is known for its turquoise water, white sands, and rugged rock formations.

And not because we were in Cornwall in the fall, but because I just kept putting it off, I never got my Cornish pasties.

Exploring Cornwall England Should Be On Your List

Exploring Cornwall should be on your list the next time you visit England. This popular destination with Roman towns, ocean views, and historic sites makes it a great place for a holiday.

You can follow our Cornwall road trip itinerary or quickly put together one of your own. But I do recommend a visit to the often-forgotten part of England.

We loved our time in Cornwall and are now headed down to Southampton to catch the Celebrity Silhouette for a west-bound Transatlantic cruise back to the States.

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