When I was a child, many moons ago, we traveled down to Cornwall every summer. Towing a trailer behind our car, we pitched up at campsites around the southwest of England. I spent my honeymoon in Cornwall, and when my children came along, we took them down to the sunny southwest every summer as well.
Those trips were full of sand, sea, sun, and a slower pace of life lacking in most other parts of the UK. We only stopped going when the drive became too long and too deadlocked with traffic. It also became quicker and cheaper to travel to Greece!
Twenty years later, I began to miss this part of the UK that has sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and warmer air than where I live in the north. So, we decided to take a trip back down. Many things were different than how I remembered them, and many things we chose to do differently this time.
Here’s what’s changed in beautiful Cornwall over the past 20 years.
First Time Flier
Remembering the reasons why we stopped going to Cornwall all those years ago, we decided to fly down for the first time this year. We flew with Loganair, who made it a smooth and pleasant experience, from Manchester to Newquay. There are pros and cons to both the flight and drive to Cornwall. The drive from where we live in Yorkshire is long, especially in the summer when everyone is traveling down. Cornwall attracts a lot of families, and with school out for the summer, the roads get very busy. We were looking at a 6–8 hour drive — maybe longer — if the traffic was really bad. We are also facing high gas prices right now in the UK, so we had to consider the cost of filling up the car.
Flying is quicker. The flight is just over an hour, though it is probably still a little more expensive than the cost of driving. I certainly found flying a more relaxing way to travel. There was no frustration at being stuck in clogged-up traffic and both of us could chill out in the airport instead of one of us having to drive. Yes, there is an environmental aspect to consider when flying, but the last time we drove to Cornwall 20 years ago, it took us 12 hours. Traffic, road work, and long tailbacks of cars with their engines running for hours are also environmental issues. All in all, I enjoyed flying down. The big downside is not having your car when you get there to explore the area.
Two Different Coastlines
We spent two nights around Newquay and Mawgan Porth, on the north coast of Cornwall, and two nights in Falmouth, on the south coast. The two coastlines are very different. The north coast is the home of British surfing. It’s breezy and the waves crash against the sea with great passion. This creates soft sand beaches that attract a lot of people. It did feel a lot busier than I remember. You can still find smaller quieter beaches on the north coast, but there were more people around compared to when I was younger. The towns are also more built-up than they used to be. I guess this is to be expected, but the small-town atmosphere I remember is gone.
The south coast has pebbly beaches and the sea is much calmer. There were a lot more water sports going on here than there were 20 years ago. Paddle boards and kayaks were lined up on every beach, even the really small ones. Again, it felt busier than it used to on the beaches, but in contrast to the north coast, the towns were quieter in the south. We chose to spend half of our time on one coast and half of our time on the other because of how very different they are. Newquay and Falmouth are only an hour apart by car, but they are a world away in atmosphere, landscape, and style.
The loveliest thing for me was discovering something completely new. If I have ever been to Mawgan Porth before, I don’t remember it. There’s a good chance I have — since I don’t remember everywhere we went when I was a child — but for the 51-year-old me, this small resort was a real find. It has a beautiful beach that surfers and families were out playing and relaxing on until well into the dark hours. Hotels and houses are perched up on the hillside overlooking the bay, and a small village of restaurants, bars, cafes, and surf shacks gives the area an “other place” feel to it. I could have stayed there much longer and I’ll definitely be back.
The Old Cornwall Is Still There
At the heart of it, Cornwall is still the same laid-back beach resort it always was. People still walk through the center of town in Newquay barefoot with a surfboard held high above their heads. They still gather on the beaches in the evenings to light campfires and toast marshmallows while the waves tease the shore. The seafood is still amazing and there’s still a slower pace of life than there is in cities and other parts of the UK. After all this time, it was lovely and comforting to find the soul of Cornwall still the same as it was 20 years ago.
Times Have Changed
In Newquay, I was surprised by how many new buildings were there. It’s inevitable — when a place is this popular with visitors — that more and more attractions and amenities will be built. And I’m not against that. I like new and exciting attractions as much as the next person, but the Newquay I remember was a much smaller and quainter town.
The south coast was the opposite. I feel like very little has changed there, but not in a good way. The town of Falmouth felt a little tired and I think it would benefit from some investment. A happy medium, somewhere in the middle, for both places, would be nice. But with Newquay being so popular, it’s unlikely the push for development will stop.
Getting Around In Cornwall
If you do decide to travel without a car, like we did this time, National Express runs a great coach service that gets you from one place to another quite easily. You need to buy your tickets in advance, so you have to be organized about where you want to go. The service is also quite limited to once or twice a day, but it’s a good affordable way to travel. There are good bus services and the staff in the information centers are very friendly and happy to help. We rented taxis for short journeys, but they can be expensive.
Note that Uber does not operate in Cornwall, so you’ll need to call a local taxi company for a quick ride. Perhaps the best thing was the taxi service directly from the airport at Newquay when we landed. Newquay airport is very small, but there’s a great taxi service that takes everyone in a people carrier around the hotels, dropping them off as it goes.
Road Trip It
As much as I enjoyed flying down to Cornwall this time, we will take the car next time. Flying was a much more relaxing way to travel, but we were limited as to how far we could go once we were there. There’s so much to discover in Cornwall; so many interesting places to see and beautiful landscapes to find. It’s a shame to be limited to a small part of it. I think some careful planning can make the trip to Cornwall easier by car.
Check out the rest of our Cornwall coverage, including: