We were at Tehidy Holiday Park, the base for our stay in Cornwall, when co-owner Richard Barnes explained the secret of the region’s enduring appeal: “It’s all about the light. It’s a very blue light reflected off the sea and the beach. The countryside and the light draw in the artists and what appeals to them, appeals to the people.”

It had certainly appealed to me. Temperatures there seemed to be averaging 5-10 degrees cooler than the hot summer the capital was experiencing at the time of our visit, and any thoughts of getting away from it all by air had been thwarted by reports of cancelled flights to an even hotter mainland Europe.

The sensible thing to do, I reasoned to myself, was to head south-west in a motorhome and bask in the cooling effects of a place surrounded by sea. A call to our regular Top 100 Sites finalist and one of the best motorhome sites in Cornwall in our 2024 guide secured a pitch and we were soon driving unhindered along the A303 – where was the traffic? – past Stonehenge, and pausing at a café and farm shop in Devon.

It was roughly halfway, and an ideal opportunity for my long-time friend and neighbour Diana and me to refuel and stretch our legs. A welcome cup of coffee later and we were motoring on, reaching Tehidy feeling relaxed. It had been an easy trip, perhaps because we were travelling midweek.

Tehidy Holiday Park
Tehidy Holiday Park makes an excellent touring base

Tehidy is terraced and reminded me of a site I once stayed at in Champagne. I was towing a caravan then, and it was my first attempt at pitching up. I failed dismally, but I did learn the German for right (rechts) and left (links), as a kind German neighbour did his best to help me get onto the pitch. This time, it was far easier!

Close, but not too close to the north coast of Cornwall

Tehidy Holiday Park is set back from Cornwall’s north coast in a wooded valley. The best campervan sites in the UK offer plenty to do in the vicinity, and that’s the case here – it’s just three miles from Portreath beach and four from Porthtowan.

Both offer surfboard hire, so you can dip into coastal activities if you want to, but you don’t have to be among the hurly-burly, and there was a lot of the hurly-burly if you’d rather not. Both beaches have parking and are great for days out.

When we arrived at Tehidy, we were given a map of the area, which highlighted Porthtowan beach as a hangout for surfers (maybe not for us) and having a great bar/restaurant (definitely for us). Richard was full of information about the local area and the campsite.

Porthtowan’s Blue Bar has a superb reputation, but by the time we arrived for dinner, the place was full of families and surfers. We decided to move on, taking photos from the clifftops on our way to the attractive village of St Agnes.

In the village, we stopped off to eat at The Peterville Inn, an award-winning hostelry that offers an extensive menu based on local, seasonally available ingredients.

Exploring Cornwall

A brief conversation with Richard next morning revealed him to be an excellent tourist guide.

A question about must-visit places in the area had him drawing a map on a bag, showing us a circular route covering the top spots – we got the feeling this was not the first map he had drawn on a bag, and it was accompanied by an enthusiastic chat about the area’s long history and its more recent Poldark connections.

We began our day by going slightly ‘off-piste’ from Richard’s map-on-a-bag, to Perranporth. The town (which we had just an hour to explore because of where we had chosen to park, near the Co-op) grew up around the beach.

This is a really bustling place, full of cafés and interesting shops; so interesting that, what with our coffee break, we only just made it down to the beach for a quick snapshot, but we agreed the town was worth a longer visit.

Porthcurno’s beach
Porthcurno’s beautiful beach

Back to using the map, we made for St Ives and learned the folly of getting sidetracked. Those in the know will tell you that driving into St Ives is not to be countenanced in the summer, and the best way to reach this tourist honeypot is to Park & Ride, in this case by train from St Erth.

We tried, but the car park was very busy and the roads were crammed – and we’re not fans of crowds. So we decided to leave it until first thing the following day, while other would-be visitors were still blearily greeting the day. Next on our map-on-a-bag was Zennor, but we were diverted by signs to Chysauster (also on the bag map), an ancient village of nine houses dating from the first and second centuries.

Claudia at Chysauster
Claudia at Chysauster, where ancient houses date from the first and second centuries

Access is down narrow lanes to a car park and then up and over a field, so not ideal if you’re not particularly mobile, but if you’ve no worries on that score, it’s certainly worth a look. English Heritage has dotted the site with information boards, so visitors can understand the layouts of these 2000-year-old houses and get a feel for what it was like to live in them.

Best of all, there are some truly wonderful views across this ancient landscape.

In search of a mermaid

Zennor is perhaps best known for its Norman church – St Senara, said to be named after Princess Azenor of Brest – and the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor. I will leave you to find out more, but we had been told to look out for the mermaid in the church, and it took us a while to find her as a carving on a small oak seat.

Zennor’s Norman church
Zennor’s Norman church has clues to a local legend

This village has been host to preacher John Wesley and author DH Lawrence, who stayed with his German wife at The Tinners Arms – the Lawrences were believed to be German spies and were not popular guests, while John Wesley drew a large following throughout Cornwall.

Poldark and The Tempest

Porthcurno and the Minack Theatre were next on our list; Minack was somewhere I had long wished to visit. We parked by the Museum of Global Communications, but the last entry to the place that, telegraphically, first connected Britain to the rest of the world, was at 3pm.

Instead, we wandered towards Porthcurno beach – which, for Poldark fans, starred as Nampara Cove – to take the coastal path to the famous theatre. I think our coastal path must have been an offshoot of the official path, because we made the steep climb up the cliff along a little-used zigzagging route, battling through undergrowth and grabbing handfuls of fern to haul ourselves up the ‘steps’ – not easy when you’re carrying a large handbag and a camera and, in Diana’s case, wearing a long dress.

There was an element of panic, but retracing our steps was not an option, so in the words of the song, the only way was up.

Our reward was that the views of the white sands lapped by turquoise water were simply stunning, and you could instantly understand why this was a popular film location.

There is a large car park at the Minack Theatre for those who shy away from climbing the cliffs. Had we known, we would have cried “Pah!” to the expense of using two car parks. It took us a while to recover.

Minack Theatre
Stunning Minack Theatre

I did so sitting on the terraces of this splendid, 93-year-old open-air venue, looking over the so-blue sea – surely, I must be in the Maldives – and hoping for a glimpse of the dolphins.

This incredible place was conceived by Rowena Cade in the early 1930s. Apparently, she bought the Minack Headland for some £100 (about £4500 today) and then had a fine house built there for herself and her mother.

Claudia at Minack Theatre
Claudia admires the view at Minack

She offered some friends her garden as a venue to put on a performance of The Tempest, with the sea as a splendid backdrop, and from that, was inspired to build this unique theatre on the cliffs, with the help of her gardener.

The first performance of The Tempest, in 1932, was lit by car headlamps and batteries. While I marvelled at the concept of cutting into the cliffside to create an amphitheatre, then building a tropical garden around it, Diana took tea in the glass-fronted café. I joined her later for some much-needed rehydration.

When I was going to St Ives

Our early start for St Ives the following day paid off. It was much quieter this time and we were able to park the ’van at St Erth station; we then took the small train that hugs the coastline to the town. If you too take the train, make sure you sit on the side near the sea, for the superb views.

Brilliant sun, bright-blue skies and glittering turquoise waters were the backdrop for our walk from the station into the town – the light here really is special. We stopped at an artist’s studio selling paintings and jewellery, then had breakfast in a very good café – Sky’s Diner on Fore Street – before heading off to the famous Tate St Ives. This wonderfully stylish Art Deco building overlooks the beach.

Tate St Ives
Stylish Tate St Ives

The town’s unique aspect has drawn in artists from all over the world, including painters Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron, potter Bernard Leach and sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Naum Gabo.

Tranquil setting

We spent a while wandering around the galleries and marvelling at the fabulous reflections of the beach in the building’s curved glass.

We stopped for a coffee break, then climbed the steps alongside to Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden. It was a tranquil setting for her sculpture and I loved the studio, which still looks as though she has just nipped out to the shops.

Barbara Hepworth’s studio
Sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s studio

The town itself is quite hilly, so a little tiring to navigate in the sun. We made it easy on ourselves by popping into the occasional air-conditioned shop en route back to the train, which was busy, and the car park even more so.

On the way back, we spotted the remains of a tin mine, set against the backdrop of the wild and rugged coastline – all very Poldark!

The King of Prussia

We decided to skip some of the places marked on our map, on the grounds of likely overcrowding. This is particularly the case in Mousehole, where it’s best to park outside the village.

We were learning why the roads into Cornwall had been so clear – the week before, everyone had packed their vehicles as soon as the schools closed and headed south-west. They had all arrived before us.

However, I really wanted to visit St Michael’s Mount. We saw it from a distance, but decided not to park up anywhere near it because of the sheer numbers of other visitors.

Instead, we went on to the more remote Prussia Cove, to meet up with friends who live nearby. If the name makes this place sound like a smuggler’s haven, it’s absolutely appropriate – it was named after the 18th-century smuggler Captain John Carter, who was also known as the King of Prussia.

More recently, this stunningly beautiful spot was a film location for Ladies in Lavender, starring Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.

The following day, before we tackled the long drive home, we decided to take a leisurely walk across the fields – enjoying the fabulous views of St Michael’s Mount – to Perranuthnoe for breakfast in the beach café there.

I loved St Ives, Zennor, Porthcurno and the scenery, but this was, perhaps, my favourite place – there were far fewer people around. Despite the crowds, Cornwall won my heart, and I still have to visit St Michael’s Mount.

Unsure whether to go to Cornwall or neighbouring Devon? Our guide to the best motorhome sites in Devon could help you make up your mind.

Planning a tour to Cornwall

Way to go

From Surrey, we took the M3, A303 and A30. Tehidy is off the latter.

When to go to Cornwall

The school summer holidays are always a very busy time in the south-west. Although you should aim to take a break in the spring or the autumn months if you prefer to have a less crowded stay, this part of the country is beautiful at any time of year, providing plenty to see and do for all ages.

Where we stayed in Cornwall

Tehidy Holiday Park

Harris Mill, Illogan, Redruth TR16 4JQ  tehidy.co.uk

  • Open: 31 March to 28 October
  • Pitches: 28
  • Charges: From £24

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