Simon Jenkins leaves his speedos and surfboard at home to enjoy art, literature, ecology – and beer.
Cornwall has always had a problem. Oh look, I know it has plenty to offer – beaches, tin mines and gardens; surfing and scenery; pubs, pasties and pirates. But the problem is, it’s just so far away; six hours by road on a good day, even if you avoid the bottlenecks. Inverness is closer to Leeds than Penzance.
And yet the recent expansion of flights to Newquay Airport has meant that it’s possible to get up early in Yorkshire, and still be in England’s southernmost county in good time for a full Cornish breakfast.
We flew from Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport, yet now Flybe has extended its operations to Leeds-Bradford, with the 80-minute service running all year round, not just during the height of summer. And with several of the major hire firms operating at the tiny Newquay terminal, it’s easy to pick up a car and start exploring the county at your leisure within a few minutes of touching down.
Our first port of call was The Eden Project, whose giant biomes remain an astonishing, arresting sight for the first-time visitor, some 15 years after the attraction first opened its doors. We headed straight to the four-acre tropical biome, where a meandering path leads through the world’s largest indoor rainforest, with more than 1,000 plants from South America, Asia, Africa and the forests of the tropical islands. Fruits, coffee and chocolate grow wild; a canopy walkway allows visitors to take a stunning walk through the treetops.
The pleasant temperature of between 18 and 35C is made possible by the web of gas-filled plastic hexagons overhead and which have brought an artificial climate to this former clay pit just a few miles from the southern coast.
A second smaller biome replicates the fauna of another coastline, with the scented flowers, trees and vines of the Mediterranean. Interactive exhibits, a plant store, and music concerts add further to Eden Project’s attractions. Overhead, thrill seekers fly across the site on a high-speed zipwire.
From here we headed to the pretty town of Fowey, where steep, winding streets and pretty cottages drop down to a natural harbour. Teashops and bakeries thrive where once pirates, smugglers and privateers plied their trade.
Encouraged by a visit to Fowey’s Daphne du Maurier bookstore, we drove onto the wilds of Bodmin Moor to seek out Jamaica Inn, the 18th century coaching house immortalised in her tale. The Jamaica Inn is now a bar and hotel, and a popular spot for walkers setting out for a trek to Cornwall’s highest point, the curiously named Brown Willy.
Another grande dame of the 20th century arts made her home in Cornwall. Born in Wakefield in 1903, Barbara Hepworth became one of the founding figures of modern sculpture and joined the remarkable community of artists which gathered in St Ives. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is based in the Trewyn Studio which she bought in 1949. The Barbara Hepworth Museum is a part of the Tate St Ives collection, though the town’s main waterside gallery remains closed until March for structural works.
Now, art and literature are all very well, but beer has long been a part of Cornwall’s culture, and we took the chance to visit St Austell brewery, home of Tribute pale ale, one of the fastest growing cask ale brands in Britain. The brewery, on a hillside overlooking the pretty coastal town, features a fascinating visitors centre where visitors can learn about its long history.
The brewery’s black and gold castle livery is a familiar sight on the county’s many traditional pubs, inns and hotels, and we’re fortunate enough to be staying in one of them, the sturdy stone-built four-star Rashleigh in the historic port of Charlestown. Here, a very evident commitment to quality and service has won for the 150-year old Rashleigh the title of best managed public house in the UK, and whose accommodation has recently extended into a beautiful Georgian town house on the seafront. It is named after 18th century entrepreneur Charles Rashleigh, who established this as a port to export Cornish copper. The dramatic, steep sided dock – designed and built by renowned Leeds engineer John Smeaton, as it goes – has made numerous film and TV appearances including in Cornish favourite, Poldark.
Flybe services from Leeds-Bradford to Newquay began on October 28 and operate on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, with flights from £19.99. Flights also operate from Manchester; a summer service runs from Robin Hood Airport. W: flybe.com