With the summer holidays looming, you may be heading to exotic shores. But if not, stave off the boredom by exploring England. We continue our series of guides to some of the most popular British counties for families with our pick of 10 things to do in Cornwall with kids.
Blissful beaches, hidden coves and the best watersports facilities in Britain, together with gorgeous food, lush gardens, and world-class museums and art galleries – Cornwall is nigh-on perfect. And while swimming, surfing, sailing, bodyboarding, shrimping, crabbing and other seaside activities keep all ages busy at the water’s edges, when the region’s famous liquid sunshine puts in an appearance, there’s seemingly no end to other great ways to keep the family well entertained.
We’ve picked our favourite days out and attractions in Cornwall with kids in tow, from boat trips, cycle routes and causeway walks to castles and museums, as well as shared our most treasured places to eat, from fish-and-chip stops to beach cafés, and the most stylish places to lay our beach-weary heads.
THE BEACH CLUB/SURF SCHOOL: Operating from Swanpool Beach in Falmouth and Tolcarne Beach in Newquay Elemental UK are the go-to guys when it comes to learning to make the most of the Cornish coast. Activities and lessons vary by venue but include surfing, sailing, kayaking and coasteering. Weekends and school holidays also see kids’ clubs for local children and holidaymakers alike, comprising half or full days embracing activities from raft-building to stand-up paddleboarding.
THE CYCLE ROUTE: The Camel Trail from Padstow to Wenford Bridge, via Wadebridge and Bodmin, is brilliant with kids – if you don’t want to do the full 18 miles, it’s easily broken down into manageable 5/6-mile chunks. Largely traffic-free and following an old railway track through woodlands and a conservation area, it’s a fantastic spot for encounters with otters, dormice, kingfishers and other local wildlife.
THE BOAT TRIP: One of Britain’s most iconic sea journeys despite its brevity (20 minutes each way), the year-round St Mawes Ferry takes you past Pendennis and St Mawes castles, Falmouth’s working docks and marine life galore – including seals, dolphins and basking sharks.
THE WALK: Getting to the legend-shrouded St Michael’s Mount with its castle and gardens is all part of the fun – at low tide, the ancient cobbled causeway appears from the sea and you can make your way to the island the way mythical giants and pilgrims did. During high tide, there are equally thrilling motorboat rides there and back.
THE MUSEUM: A past winner of the Kids in Museums Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award, Falmouth’s National Maritime Museum Cornwall is worth a full day out and then some. Alongside Captain Bligh: Myth, Man + Mutiny exhibition (until Jan 2018) there’s a new-for-2017 Awesome Adventurers play zone inspired by the heroic voyages of exploration by ships such as Bligh’s HMS Bounty. The permanent displays are just as fun – which kids can resist a radio-controlled boating pool, real-life boats to clamber in and over, a replica lighthouse-keeper’s kitchen when you an pretend to cook lobsters, and peering at underwater life through huge windows onto the harbour waters?
THE RAINY DAY SAVIOUR: An eco-attraction with artificial biodomes housing a collection of plants from around the world, the Eden Project at Bodelva always has an array of themed activities on offer for younger kids, from storytelling to Halloween crafts and a winter ice rink. There’s also the Skywire zip-line (ages 8+) and a giant swing.
THE CASTLES: Also at Falmouth, in a spectacular headland location, Henry VII’s Pendennis Castle has defended Cornwall against invaders since Tudor times. For maximum fun, time your visit to coincide with one of the regular special events, which include pirates’ displays, knights’ clashes and grand medieval jousts. Or immerse yourself in medieval history and the legend of King Arthur at stunning clifftop Tintagel Castle – just leave enough time to explore the rock pools of Merlin’s Cave on the beach below when the tide is out.
THE GARDENS: Close to Megavissey, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is a magical spot to explore with kids, with rock-and-plant figures the Mud Maid and Giant’s Head, the wild Jungle area with its Burmese rope bridge, a huge insect hotel, wildlife-viewing areas, and Europe’s last pineapple pit. Seasonal events include outdoor games, den-building and campfires.
THE SCHLOCKY BUT FUN HISTORY LESSON: For more skulduggery, Newquay’s Pirate’s Quest attraction is an immersive walk-through tour of Cornwall’s swashbuckling history in the couple of the rogueish Captain Calico Jack. Keep your wits about you – you may well be dragged in on the action.
THE ZIP-WIRE: Adrenaline Quarry at Liskeard gets young and old hearts racing with its 40mph zip wire over a flooded quarry. Other activities on site include a giant swing, coasteering and axe-throwing.
Making a weekend of it?
Mr Fox Eats at: If anyone knows his fish, it’s local chef Rick Stein, whose seafood empire includes the child-friendly Stein’s Fish & Chips in Padstow, Rick Stein’s Fish in Falmouth (next to the National Maritime Museum), and Fistral in Newquay. In Watergate Bay, Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant and social enterprise Fifteen has a fantastic kids’ menu at lunch and half portions for under-12s from the evening menu. Catch the ferry from Padstow to Rock for brunch at the Blue Tomato Café. The ferry is only 5 minutes but is a treat for kids. After breakfast, climb the sand dunes and fly kites (it can get very windy).
Cornwall’s big news for 2017 when it comes to family eats is the opening of Cornucopia near St Austell, combining a covered artisan food market and food hall with an all-weather family adventure area including trampolines, a sky wire, a skating rink and soft-play. Home to the world’s only Pasty Heritage Centre (!), it’s the place to come to learn to bake your own pasties, as well as to enjoy ice cream from the award-winning on-site dairy or to pick up a take-away on the way home from the beach.
On the South West Coastal Footpath close to Portscatho and St Mawes, on the Roseland Peninsula, The Hidden Hut is a seasonal rustic outdoor beach café with lunches, pop-up feast nights in summer, and a BYOB policy. Ah hoc lunch events might include mackerel BBQs, lobster weeks or spider-crab boat landings. Another favourite is the airy, pastel-hued Talland Bay Beach Café near Looe, serving cream teas, Cornish pasties, cakes and local Roskilly’s ice cream. Or head to Roskilly’s Farm itself for the ice cream but also Croust House restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and pizzas from a wood-fired oven on selected evenings.
Mr Fox Stays at: For all out luxury, space, peace, exquisite food and harbour views, bag one of the three family suites at Olga Polizzi’s Tresanton in St Mawes (pictured). In a divine clifftop spot on the Lizard Peninsula, the Polurrian Bay Hotel is an oasis of child-friendly chic complete with a private beach, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa, and an OFSTED-registered crèche.
With its own Extreme Academy for those who wish to learn to surf, kitesurf, waveski, stand-up paddlesurf or handplane, the Watergate Bay Hotel is a Cornish crowd pleaser, not least for the infinity pool and spectacular views over the beach. Of several dining areas, the Living Space is always buzzing and offers under-8s small plates and luscious cream teas.
Compiled by Rhonda Carrier. With thanks to Laura Garnham.