Sunday , 24 September 2023
Why autumn is the best time to visit Cornwall

Why autumn is the best time to visit Cornwall

After three months of traffic jams, grossly inflated prices and a crowded coastline, the summer season is over for another year and life in Cornwall can return to normal again. As holidaying families load up their roof boxes and head back up the A30 in time for the new school term, this is the time for locals to seize the opportunity to enjoy their county to the fullest.

The early weeks of September also see the beginnings of a second, smaller wave of tourists heading down to the tip of the South West. Those without children, by and large, who have discovered something that the people living down here already knew: that autumn is really the best time to experience Cornwall.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but first and foremost has to be that the teeming crowds have all but dissipated. It is now possible to visit honeypot coastal towns like St Ives, Fowey and Port Isaac without having to wait two hours for a parking space; the shops and cafés have yet to shutter up for the off season; and while there is still a lively bustle to their high streets and harbourfronts, they’re practically serene compared to the mid-August bedlam. It’s cheaper to holiday at this time of year too, as hotels, B&Bs and holiday parks compete to slash the rates following a steep dip in demand for accommodation.

Places like Kynance Cove are no longer overrun once September rolls around

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Then there are the beaches. A few weeks ago, perennially overcrowded favourites like Porthcurno and Kynance Cove would have barely a few square feet of sand showing for all the blankets, beach tents and sun loungers crammed in together. Now they seem blissfully deserted, and it’s not too hard to find a quiet corner all to yourself.

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There’s a good chance that the weather will be fine too. Maybe we have climate change to thank, but the summer warmth seems to last a little longer every year, and it’s not unusual to have beachgoing weather well into October. The sea, meanwhile, will be at its warmest after months of (mostly) high temperatures. That said, the RNLI lifeguards have stopped patrols on a number of Cornish beaches due to the end of the summer season, so it’s important to exercise a bit more caution if you’re entering the water.

It’s also worth pointing out that, while the sea may be warm, it might not necessarily be calm. Autumn tends to bring a livelier sea to Cornwall’s northern coast: not the best conditions for swimmers perhaps, but absolutely perfect for surfers. This is generally the best time of year to grab your board, paddle out and catch some waves, with strong, consistent swells at popular spots like Sennen Cove and Newquay’s Fistral Beach. What’s more, Cornwall’s ubiquitous surf schools generally stay open for most of the year, making the sea much more accessible to those who are new to the sport, and perhaps a little wary of the larger, more powerful waves.

A yomp across Bodmin Moor is best enjoyed in autumn

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

For those after a more sedate experience, this is arguably the best time of year to walk the South West Coast Path. It’s a challenging route at the best of times, with lots of steep climbs and descents over often rocky ground, and it becomes doubly hard when the summer sun is glaring down on you. As the air cools, particularly in October and November, the going becomes that much easier (provided there isn’t a storm whipping in from the Atlantic). It’s also a lot more dramatic as you look out to sea, with mighty waves crashing into the base of the cliffs you’re standing on. There are a few particularly good spots for this: Trevose Head near Padstow, Botallack Mine near Sennen, and the whole western side of the Lizard.

it’s a splendid time of year to turn away from the coast and explore some of Cornwall’s hinterland

Alternatively, it’s a splendid time of year to turn away from the coast and explore some of Cornwall’s hinterland. The wooded foothills around Bodmin Moor are especially pretty as the leaves turn red and gold: a good way to see them is by following the Camel Trail, which starts at Padstow and wends its way for 18 miles to Wenfordbridge. It’s well worth heading up onto the moor itself to ascend the craggy heights of Rough Tor and Brown Willy (Cornwall’s highest and most amusingly named hill). The weather here is unpredictable though, and frequently wet, so go prepared.

If all that sounds a little heavy going, the Cornish cultural calendar is bursting with things to do between now and the end of the year. There’s the Newquay Beer Festival in late September and the Falmouth Book Festival in mid-October (immediately after the town’s celebrated Oyster Festival, if that’s your thing); the open-air Minack Theatre, carved into the cliff above Porthcurno, has a full roster of performances and screenings lasting until the end of October. The Eden Project also has a full programme leading right up to Christmas, including art exhibitions, music concerts, and the always-popular ice rink, which makes a return on 14 October.

Take in a performance at the iconic Minack Theatre

(Getty Images)

So if you really want to get the UK’s most over-subscribed holiday county all to yourself, forget summer, embrace the shoulder season, and join the locals in finally getting to enjoy this idyllic slice of south-west England.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Great Western Railways runs direct services from London Paddington to Penzance, which call at a number of stations through Cornwall. For most towns on the coast, change at Liskeard, Par, Truro or St Erth for one of the local branch lines.

Staying there

Watergate Bay is an all-bells-and-whistles hotel overlooking the eponymous beach just outside Newquay. It’s well situated for those looking to walk, swim and surf, and packs a swimming pool and spa for those looking to unwind.

A good south coast alternative is the Hotel Meudon, which is well situated for Falmouth and the Lizard.

Read more of our best Cornwall hotel reviews

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