There’s a fierce debate going on in Cornwall at the moment about the benefits and drawbacks of tourism for the county. On one hand, many tourism businesses have been hit hard by the recent lockdowns, while on the other there’s a genuine nervousness about how many visitors Cornwall can accommodate safely.
As a Cornishman, my advice to anyone visiting this year is to go small, whether that is supporting local independent shops or seeking out small, often family-run, businesses. It’s not just a case of supporting local businesses though, it’s about the lesser group sizes and the personal touch you can get when you book with individuals or smaller operators.
By the water
Forager Rachael Lambert is endlessly enthusiastic and knowledgable about the edible plants of Cornwall and leads foraging sessions throughout the year. My pick of her summer courses is the summer seaweed course, which takes place at various beaches including at Cape Cornwall, Mawnan and Falmouth, where she shares her love of the culinary delights of the often-overlooked star of the seashore: seaweed. The knowledge might start to ebb away the moment you leave, but for a few minutes at least you’ll feel confident not only to identify edible seaweeds but understand what to do with them once you know they’re safe to eat. Rachael’s foraging walks include tastings of foods made with seaweeds.
• Adults £45, under-16s £20 and under-5s free, wildwalks-southwest.co.uk
Run entirely by marine biologists and ecologists, Rockpool Safari, which operates at Castle and Gyllyngvase beaches in Falmouth, was a huge hit with my children recently. They enjoyed being given a shoreline to explore and waterproof cameras to record their discoveries, and they returned with photographs of strawberry anemones, sea snails, shannies and cushion stars. What they were less aware of was that they were actually doing marine biology by stealth, their finds contributing to the Rockpool Safari team’s marine wildlife research. All the findings from the safari are uploaded to the National Biodiversity Network, and after the session we were emailed a report with photographs outlining what we had found.
• £78 for private rockpooling session for up to eight people, therockpoolproject.co.uk
Bridging the gap between the coast and the sea, Kernow Coasteering runs sessions around Cornwall and Scilly, including at stunning Praa Sands, and St Mary’s, the Isles of Scilly’s largest island. A step up in terms of adrenaline from the previous suggestions, coasteering – a combination of scaling, scrambling, swimming and jumping from rocks that appear a lot higher once you’re peering over the edge of them – involves engaging with the coast in a visceral, up close and personal way. Matt George and his team lead explorations of sea caves and gullies, scrambles round rockfaces and the opportunity to be photographed jumping from a rock with a somewhat terrified look on your face.
• £40pp for a 2-3 hour session, suitable for adults and children age 9 plus, kernow-coasteering.co.uk
On and in the water
Tom and Hetty Wildblood run Koru Kayaking, which offers guided kayak tours on the idyllic waters of the Helford River. From the sheltered launch at the private beach at Budock Vean Hotel, small groups head out into the Helford on sea kayaks past the subtropical gardens at Trebah and Glendurgan, and the homes of the rich and famous – Tim Rice and Queen’s Roger Taylor both have waterfront houses here. Within the two-hour session, there is time to explore beaches that are only accessible from the water and to swim or snorkel and explore the eelgrass beds that make up a small part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Koru also run north coast kayak trips and paddleboarding sessions on the Helford.
• £50pp for two-hour session – in groups of up to six people per tour, korukayaking.co.uk
Former coach to the junior British surf team, Dominique Kent runs Pure Blue Surf Academy in St Agnes on Cornwall’s north coast and runs surf sessions for beginners and improvers alike. Locally she is known for her women-only surf sessions, which build confidence and self-esteem as well as surf skills. Dominique tells me she has noticed an upsurge in inquiries from parents of children suffering with anxiety since the onset of the pandemic and is making this a focus for her sessions this year, which may be worth considering if your brood are in need of a boost in their resilience.
• £35pp for a bespoke 90-minute family session at St Agnes or Porthtowan, purebluesurfacademy.co.uk
There has been a surge of interest in sea swimming in Cornwall since the pandemic started, and the trend shows no sign of dropping off. If you fancy taking a dip but are struggling to pluck up the courage to take the plunge, Sea Swim Cornwall, based in Penzance, offers coaching sessions for anyone who wants to build or rebuild confidence to swim in the sea, to plan a sea swim, stay safe in the water and gain the confidence to go it alone. Sea swim sessions take place in idyllic locations such as Porthcurno, the waters around St Michael’s Mount, Cadgwith Cove and Carbis Bay.
• £20 for half an hour and £30 full hour for private coaching sessions, seaswimcornwall.co.uk
Among the guided tours on offer from St Agnes-based SUP In A Bag, is the Sunset SUP, a 2.5-hour evening paddle on a choice of the rivers Fal, Gannel and Newquay or at Portreath or St Agnes on the north coast, where you may find yourself paddling with seals as the sun dips below the horizon. If you’re after a calm moment in an otherwise action-packed holiday, getting on the water at dusk may well offer your best chance, as well as some enviable photo opportunities.
• £45pp for sunset SUP or £38 with your own board, supinabag.co.uk
Although several of Cornwall’s iconic mines are open to visitors – Geevor Tin Mine, Poldark Mine and the mining museum at Levant, among others – only one business currently offers mine exploration for visitors. Cornwall Underground Adventures leads trips into the depths of mines that have been worked as recently as 100 years ago and as far back as 300 years and involve climbing down metal ladders and abseiling into the depths of the mine, exploring the workings and the stories of the miners who worked these lodes for copper and tin.
• From £40pp, cornwallunderground.co.uk
If you want to keep your feet dry, there are several bike trails to choose from across Cornwall. The Bissoe Trail runs between the beach at Portreath on the north coast, up through the heart of mining country and finishes on the south coast at Devoran. Elm Farm, close to Portreath, hires bikes to explore the Bissoe Trail and beyond and offers traditional and electric bike hire as well as a decent coffee and cake.
• £40 for ebike full day, £20 for an adult cycle, child’s bike £15 a day, elmfarm.biz
Set in a former quarry near Penryn on the south coast, Via Ferrata Cornwall will see you traversing cliff faces, spanning 70-metre wire bridges above a lake, and tackling ziplines and high wires. As well as being an adventurous outing, you can rest in the knowledge that profits from your activity go to support disadvantaged children and young people across Cornwall.
• £25 for 90-minute session, £40 for 3 hours, viaferratacornwall.co.uk
Wyl Menmuir is the author of Fox Fires (£9.99 Salt Publishing) available at guardianbookshop.com for £9.29