Southeast Cornwall is a great place for walkers, whether you come here on a dedicated walking holiday, or simply want some beautiful scenery to explore. Southeast Cornwall offers rugged coastal walks, wild moorland and tranquil countryside.
The South West Coast Path
Many walkers come to the region to walk a single path. That might seem strange, but not when you consider that the readers of Walk magazine voted the South West Coast Path as ‘Britain’s Best Walking Route’, while Lonely Planet rates it as one of the best walks to be found anywhere in the world.
The path starts at Poole in Dorset and sticks to the Dorset, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset coast all the way around the peninsula to Minehead in Somerset. The South East Cornwall section rarely strays out of sight of the sea and features stunning cliff-tops and secluded beaches (many only accessible to walkers). On the way, you’ll find plenty of small villages with pubs and cafes serving cream teas, pasties and ice cream (with clotted cream of course) - the sort of food that you will have earned after a long coastal walk!
The South West Coast Path near Fowey, image Barnacle and Bird Photography
The South East Cornwall coast is great for birdwatching and other wildlife spotting. Look out for basking sharks coming inshore in the summer and peregrine falcons hunting off the cliffs.
Bodmin Moor is a wild and rugged upland landscape dotted with granite outcroppings, or ‘tors’. You’ll find family-friendly walks within reach of easy parking, and for the more adventurous, longer walks will take you farther from civilisation.
Bodmin Moor, image Victoria Clare
The village of Minions sits on the south-eastern side of the moor, and will be the gateway to the moor for many people staying in South East Cornwall. There is plenty of free parking and a fascinating and stunning landscape. The natural beauty of the moor is offset by thousands of years of human occupation and use of the land. This was a copper mining area in the second half of the nineteenth century, and is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. The remains of engine houses, chimneys and railways dot the southeastern part of the moor.
Nearby, you’ll also find evidence of much earlier human activity – the Hurlers stone circles, which date to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. However, local legend claims that they are the remains of Cornishmen turned to stone for playing the sport of Cornish hurling on a Sunday.
Bodmin Moor, near Minions, image Victoria Clare
The Tamar Valley
The Cornish side of the Tamar Valley offers a good mix of walking, starting with Kit Hill, just outside Callington. The summit of the hill offers spectacular views of Bodmin Moor to the east, Dartmoor to the west and Plymouth and the sea to the south. There is a road up to a car park at the top if you don’t fancy the climb!
View from Kit Hill, looking towards Caradon Hill and Bodmin Moor, image Victoria Clare
One particularly pretty walk is the one between the pretty village of Calstock and Cotehele, a National Trust house. This goes through the woods of the Danescombe Valley. (If you go in the spring, be prepared for carpets of daffodils and bluebells.)
The Tamar is still tidal even this far inland, so when the tide is coming in, be prepared for the strange sight of a river seemingly flowing upstream! Deep creeks (confusingly called ‘lakes’) are a feature of the lower reaches of the valley, so paths often depart some distance from the river. The mud flats are a very important habitat for wading birds. Egrets are now quite common, but you may also be lucky enough to spot avocets, spoonbills and even the occasional osprey.
The Rame Peninsula
Cornwall’s ‘forgotten corner’ deserves to be more famous. It has stunning beaches (both secluded coves and the wide open spaces of Whitsand Bay), picturesque villages, two stately homes (Antony House and Mount Edgecumbe) and their grounds and panoramic cliff-top views. The promontory of Rame Head juts out into the English Channel and is famously the last piece of land that sailors see as they leave Plymouth. Both Whitsand Bay and Rame Head are Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The Rame Peninsula, near Rame Head, image Adam Gibbard
The Fowey Valley
While the town of Fowey dominates the lower western side of the valley, the lands upriver are probably of more interest to walkers. Start at the village of Polruan (the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Loving Spirit’) and work your way upriver. You’ll see plenty of winding creeks and walk through unspoiled woodland. The wood by the village of Lerryn is said to have been the inspiration for the wild wood in ‘The Wind in the Willows’.
Cliffs near Polruan, image Adam Gibbard
At Lostwithiel (once Cornwall’s capital), there are plenty of small independent cafes able to revive the weary traveller. This is also the lowest bridge on the river, although there is a passenger ferry between Polruan and Fowey and a car and passenger ferry (a small one) at Bodinnick, operating between 7am and 7pm (later in the summer). A short distance away is the 13th century Restormel Castle. Upriver of Lostwithiel, the river passes Lanhydrock House, a National Trust property started in the early 17th century by Sir Richard Robartes, a wealthy merchant.
The river actually starts out high up on Bodmin Moor, relatively close to the North Cornwall coast. The point at which it changes from a babbling moorland stream to a proper river is arguably Golitha Falls, where there is more walking and a dramatic series of waterfalls. This area is a National Nature Reserve.
River Fowey near Golitha Falls, image Victoria Clare