I returned to Cornwall for the first time in 20 years – Here’s what changed

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When I was a kid, many moons ago, we used to go to Cornwall every summer. Towing a trailer behind our car, we settled into campsites in the South West of England. I honeymooned in Cornwall and when my children arrived we also took them to the sunny South West each summer.

These trips were full of sand, sea, sun and a slower pace of life that was lacking in most other parts of the UK. We only stopped going when the drive got too long and too jammed with traffic. It has also become faster and cheaper to travel to Greece!

Twenty years later, I’ve begun to miss this part of the UK which has sandy beaches, turquoise waters and warmer air than where I live in the north. So we decided to go back down. A lot of things were different from how I remembered them, and a lot of things we chose to do differently this time around.

Here’s what has changed in beautiful Cornwall over the past 20 years.

Our flight with Loganair

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

first aviator

Remembering why we stopped going to Cornwall all those years ago, we decided to fly for the first time this year. We flew with Loganair who made it a smooth and enjoyable experience from Manchester to Newquay. There are pros and cons to both the flight and the journey to Cornwall. It’s a long drive from where we live in Yorkshire, especially in the summer when everyone is descending. Cornwall attracts lots of families, and with school for the summer the roads get very busy. We’re looking at a 6-8 hour drive – maybe longer – if the traffic was really bad. We are also facing high petrol prices at the moment in the UK so we had to factor in the cost of filling the car.

Flying is faster. The flight is a little over an hour, although it’s probably still a bit more expensive than the cost of driving. I certainly found flying to be a more relaxing way to travel. There was no frustration of being stuck in heavy traffic and we could both relax at 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 went to Cornwall 20 years ago it took us 12 hours. Traffic, road works and long traffic jams of cars with their engines running for hours are also environmental issues. Overall I liked flying. The big downside is not having your car when you get there to explore the area.

Newquay Beach;  Cornwall, UK

Newquay Beach

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

Two different ribs

We spent two nights around Newquay and Mawgan Porth on the north Cornish coast and two nights in Falmouth on the south coast. The two coasts are very different. The North Coast is the birthplace of British surfing. There is a breeze and the waves crash against the sea with great passion. This creates soft sandy beaches which attract a lot of people. It was a lot busier than I remembered. You can still find smaller, quieter beaches on the north coast, but it was more crowded than when I was younger. The cities are also more built than they were. I guess that’s to be expected, but the small town feel I remember is gone.

The south coast has pebble beaches and the sea is much calmer. There were a lot more water sports here than 20 years ago. Paddle boards and kayaks were lined up at every beach, even the smallest ones. Again, it felt busier than before on the beaches, but unlike the north coast, the towns were quieter to the south. We chose to spend half our time on one coast and half our time on the other because they are very different. Newquay and Falmouth are only an hour’s drive apart, but their atmosphere, scenery and style are a thousand miles away.

Mawgan Porth Beach;  Cornwall, UK
Mawgan Port Beach

Port Mawgan

The most enjoyable thing for me was discovering something completely new. If I’ve ever been to Mawgan Porth before, I don’t remember. Chances are I have — since I can’t remember everywhere we went as a kid — but for me, 51, this little resort was a real find. It has a beautiful beach where surfers and families played and relaxed late into the night. Hotels and homes are perched on the hillside overlooking the bay, and a small village of restaurants, bars, cafes and surf shacks gives the area an ‘out of this place’ feel. I could have stayed there much longer and will definitely return.

Small beach in Falmouth

Small beach in Falmouth

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

Old Cornwall is still here

At the heart of it, Cornwall is still the same laid-back seaside resort it has always been. People still walk barefoot through Newquay town center with a surfboard held above their heads. They still gather on the beaches in the evenings to light campfires and roast marshmallows as the waves tease the shore. The seafood is still amazing and the pace of life is still slower than in cities and other parts of the UK. After all this time, it was nice and comforting to find the soul of Cornwall still the same as 20 years ago.

Towan Beach in Newquay, Cornwall

Towan Beach in Newquay

Photo credit: ian woolcock / Shutterstock.com

The times have changed

In Newquay, I was surprised by the number of new buildings 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 love new and exciting attractions as much as the next person, but the Newquay I remember was a much smaller, more picturesque 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 has felt a little tired and I think it would benefit from investment. A happy medium, somewhere in the middle, for both places, would be nice. But with Newquay being so popular, the development push is unlikely to stop.

A bus station in Penzance, Cornwall

A bus station in Penzance, Cornwall

Photo credit: Peter Titmuss / Shutterstock.com

Getting Around Cornwall

If you decide to travel without a car, as we did this time, National Express has an excellent coach service that takes you from place to place quite easily. You have to buy your tickets in advance, so you need 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 at the information centers are very friendly and happy to help. We hired taxis for short trips, but they can be expensive.

Note that Uber does not operate in Cornwall, so you will need to call a local taxi company for a quick ride. Perhaps the best thing was the taxi service direct from Newquay airport when we landed. Newquay Airport is very small, but there is an excellent taxi service which takes everyone in a minivan around the hotels, dropping them off as they go.

A country road in Cornwall

A country road in Cornwall

Photo credit: Peter Titmuss

road trip

As much as I enjoyed flying to Cornwall this time, we’ll take the car next time. Flying was a much more relaxing way to travel, but we were limited in how far we could travel once there. There is so much to discover in Cornwall; so many interesting places to see and beautiful landscapes to discover. It’s a shame to be limited to a small part. I think careful planning can make traveling to Cornwall easier by car.

Check out the rest of our Cornwall coverage, including:

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