Divided from the rest of the UK by the River Tamar, the Cornish have always prided themselves as being set apart from everyone else. From the order in which they layer up their scones with jam and cream, to the Cornish accent, heritage and general outlook on life, there’s certainly plenty that distinguishes them. There’s also no denying that there’s something very unique about the landscape of Cornwall too, with its serrated coastlines, now-romantic relics from the era of tin mining, tucked away coves and gorse and heather filled moors, not to mention the wealth of beaches.
Fortunately, there’s a wealth and variety of hiking trails available for landlubbers and those looking to do more than simply lounge on the beach when they visit Kernow. From the Cornish Coastal Path circumnavigating the entire county to ancient pilgrimages, there are hikes for all abilities to satiate the most discerning of hikers.
Best Walks in Cornwall: The Top 10
- The Devil’s Frying Pan Loop
- Chapel Porth to St Agnes Loop
- The Saint’s Way (Forth an Syns)
- Hell’s Mouth to Godrevy
- St Mary’s Circuit, Isles of Scilly
- The Cornish Coastal Path
- St Just-in-Roseland
- Rock to Polzeath
- Rough Tor and Brown Willy
- Mousehole, Lamorna and St. Loy
Walk 1: Wreckers, Smugglers and a Graveyard of Ships
The Lizard, the most southerly point of mainland Britain, is a watery grave for dozens of ships that met their demise on the stubby, semi-submerged rocks that pepper this rugged section of the Cornish coastline. This walk takes in thatched roof fishing villages, the frothing waters of a collapsed sea cave (The Devil’s Frying Pan), and Kynance Cove, arguably the most picturesque beach in the county.
Anna says: “This is the Cornish coastline at its most unforgiving and dramatic. The toothy rocks, domed lifeboat stations and continual booming of the Lizard lighthouse reminds you that the sea in these parts is safer when you’re looking at it from the land! The trail gets very muddy, the downs in particular are saturated in mud during the winter months.”
Including the Dan Joel Surf School in Lizard, check out Mpora’s take on Cornwall’s best surf schools if you fancy a little wave break.
Walk 2: The Tin Mine Trail
It’s a shame that the Cornish miners spent their days labouring underground and didn’t have a chance to appreciate the beautiful view from their workplace. Mining has shaped this part of the coastline. The boulder-strewn coves, dusty paths and old engine houses will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into an episode of Poldark.
Anna says: “This part of Cornwall is starkly beautiful and steeped in history. Wheal Coates is one of the best-preserved tin mines in the county and a UNESCO heritage site. The engine house against the backdrop of the crashing waves of the Atlantic is a view that takes some beating.”
Walk 3: The Pilgrimage
It’s said that Christian pilgrims of old took this route before crossing to Brittany by sea to hike down to Santiago de Compostela. The trail passes ancient monoliths, tors and a 900-year-old pub. Early sea traders also walked this way, keen to avoid the treacherous coastline and the pirates around Land’s End. At 27 miles, it’s best split across two days, with campsites to aim for and a good selection of B&Bs, hotels and one youth hostel for those not keen to carry camping supplies.
Anna says: “This trail is proof that you don’t need to hug the coastline to get epic views in Cornwall. It’s a great hike to take over a long weekend, and it is very much worth spending a couple of nights in Fowey at the end.”
Walk 4: The Marine Safari
It’s not hard to see why people from all over the country flock to Cornwall to study marine biology. This loop walk is one of the best for experiencing Cornwall’s marine biodiversity. Basking sharks and dolphins are often sighted on this part of the coast, and seals are guaranteed. Mutton Cove has a year-round population of grey seals, often numbering about a hundred!
Anna says: “This is a great route to do as an afternoon dog walk and is flatter than most Cornish hikes. It’s clearly marked with very little time on roads, plenty of public toilets and a good selection of cafés for refreshment!”