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Touring Somerset and Cornwall

My husband and I wish to spend 2and a half weeks touring Somerset and Cornwall. We arrive in Bristol on June 5th. I have tentatively book accommodation outside Bath for 3 nights. We would like to spend some time in different small towns/village from where we can take day trips.....easy pace, and getting to know the 'feel' of a place (we are in our 60s). We are thinking of taking the train for large distances..however, we are Australians and know little about these counties, and would like some advice. We would like to spend a couple of days in Oxford, prior to the last week of our holidays in London. Where should we go.......................we're not trying to tick off a bucket list, we are yachties, so are interested in the coastal ports and village, however we don't want to be constrained by that.
Please, could you suggest possibilities to us as to how to make the best use of our time in this incredibly beautiful area?
Many thank
Benadette

Posted by
12951 posts

This may be way off the mark, but you could consider a 3-or4- night stay in St. Ives ( accessible by train) at this lovely country house managed by HF Holidays:

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/destinations/uk-and-ireland/cornwall/

You can book with or without the guided walking, but the accommodations are nice, the included meals very good, and you will meet friendly and interesting people. We stayed at a different country house, in the Lake District, but I would like to try this one in Cornwall next.

Do you plan to rent a car?

Posted by
703 posts

when you say 'touring' are you considering a car ? ( you mention taking the train) we very much enjoyed cornwall,( very scenic coastline etc) but I can't imagine seeing very much without driving around. for what it is worth, if you consider driving. the smaller roads can be very narrow, take longer to drive on than australia ( allow more time) and people use of the road 'rules' are surprisingly 'loose' eg: they park anywhere , stop 'anywhere' (compared to australia) more like italy.
on the freeways, however its just like driving in australia.
it think you are wise looking at two general areas. last year we spent about the same time and drove a lot more, covered a larger area ( for various reasons) and the countryside etc was 'much the same' . I think sometimes people think they are going to see more, the further they travel, we found very interesting places not far from london.
sometimes it comes down to 'good advertising' which can mean crowds, for places that are not really that special.
hope this helps.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks for the suggestion of the accommodation, I'll check it out.
Yes we will be renting a car, but I guess,similar to you Lorraine, I'd prefer the train when it is faster and less stressful for the long hauls. I was hoping that we could combine the two. Find a town/village to stay for a few days so that we can explore at leisure the surrounding areas by car and then relocate to another area. Not knowing the counties, we fell a little apprehensive just choosing towns from details on the internet. Also we have heard that the train system can work very well if one is trying to travel long distances to get from A to B. One thought is that we take the train to the south of Cornwall and then rent a car travelling north. I believe there is a train from Bath to Penzance.......however we would still need to cover quite a few miles in our return to London...........part of this return could see us travelling by train...but which part?

Posted by
2654 posts

Mevagissey is a beautiful fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall, on the north coast Port Isaac.
Both are well worth a visit. The Buckingham House B&B in Mevagissey is fantastic, you would love it.

Posted by
1873 posts

You don’t say which side of Bath you are staying. Driving in Bath is difficult/comgested - but the main tourist/shopping area is pedestrians only.

Dome trains do go direct from Bath to Cornwall but for most options, you go for 15 minutes to Bristol (Temple Meads) and change.
See www.nationalrail.co.uk - for cheapest fares pre-book about 10>11 weeks in advance for long journeys. (it can sometimes be cheaper to split the tickets at Taunton).

If driving from Bath to tour the SW peninsula, you have to cross Devon to get from Somerset to Cornwall. This is no bad thing as Devon has many attractive places. The fast route is the M5 & A30 for Cornwall or the A38 via Plymouth. However, by following slower routes, you can see more scenic areas - which are coloured green on the map link - which you can drag westward to see Cornwall.

Leaving Bath, I would head to Wells, Glastonbury and then Bridgewater (not worth seeing) before following the A39. This route can be slow going with many bends & steep hills but is scenic. Very attractive places are DUNSTER, MINEHEAD (OK rather than very attractive), SELWORTHY, LYNMOUTH. Continue on A39 to overnight in Barnstaple area. Following day > CLOVELLY & then cont’ A39 into Cornwall to set up base camp perhaps in the Truro area.

In Cornwall -these places are worth seeing:> PASTOW, ST.IVES, MINAC OPEN AIR THEATRE, MEVAGISSY -for view of ST>MICHAEL’S MOUNT, TREBAH GARDENS NEAR FALMOUTH, EDEN PROJECT, FOWEY, POLPERRO, LOOE.

In south Devon, attractive places are SALCOMBE (a very popular yachting centre) AND DARTMOUTH. Avoid Torquay & Paignton. (Also avoid the Somerset coast east of Minehead). EXETER is worth a look but buildings on the Cathedral Green recently had a devastating fire. You could turn in your car in Exeter and take a train back east. Alternatively, continue east into Dorset - which is a very attractive county. If you wish to shorten the trip by car, after doing Cornwall, catch train back east from Plymouth.
http://www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk/explore-south-devon/south-hams
http://www.visit-exmoor.co.uk
https://www.visitcornwall.com
http://www.visitsomerset.co.uk
https://www.visit-dorset.com
www.visitdevon.co.uk

Click the map link & if you can’t find the places mentioned, put them in the search box. Click & drag the yellow man for a street view of the places - backspace to return to map. Check out the roads by zooming down. This will help you determine what is right for you. Don’t forget, you could shorten the driving by taking the train to say Exeter - but would mean you miss Exmoor.
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.0389329,-3.2174415,10z/data=!5m1!1e1

Posted by
12951 posts

Bath Spa to Penzance is indeed a long journey by train---but London to Penzance is only 5-5.5 hours.

Posted by
2926 posts

My one special "don't miss it" destination in Cornwall is St. Michael's Mount. I found it really magical, though maybe partly because when I was a kid I'd read about it in National Geographic.

With 2 1/2 weeks you can really settle in and get a feel for various places. Glastonbury could be nice, but explore the visitor websites first -- and be aware that the town and surrounding area gets overrun during the Glastonbury Festival. Wells is nice too.

Posted by
5221 posts

Good advice above, especially from James. We were in Devon and Cornwall a few months ago, on a tour with a driver-guide because of my reluctance to drive on the left, but you've got that part solved, so go for it! I'd suggest a train to some point in Cornwall where you can get a car (Bodmin?), then driving. Penzance is a convenient base for the westernmost area. Land's End itself, by all accounts, is a tourist trap, but there's lots of great coastal scenery on both sides of the peninsula. We stopped at Kynance Cove and Housel Bay, both near the Lizard, and at a little village just east called Cadgwith. You won't lack for spectacular coastline and beautiful villages. I'd suggest looking for a vacation rental somewhere along there or on the north coast and basing yourself there for several days.

It's true that travel takes longer than you'll be used to. The hills tend to run north-south across the peninsula, which slows down east-west travel (and helped keep the Romans and Saxons out of Cornwall). This topography also creates the little harbors along the coast where streams flow into the sea (and helped Cornwall's fishing and smuggling industries). As everywhere, scenic beauty and rapid driving don't coexist well.

We were disappointed by the Eden Project, having been to various large botanical gardens elsewhere. A couple of giant domes with lots of exotic (for Cornwall) plants, educational signage, large crowds, and stuff for sale. Less disappointing, though not a place I'd revisit, were the "Lost" Gardens of Heligan nearby.

Taunton was our base for Glastonbury and Wells, not to be missed if possible. We also liked Exeter Cathedral very much.

Posted by
80 posts

I loved Cornwall when I went last summer. You can easily spend a week and not see everything. I rented a car from Taunton and drove down the A39. Very beautiful. You can also see Tintagel (one of my favorite spots) and Port Isaac. I also enjoyed visiting Falmouth. We stayed in Penzance. Looking back, I would spend a few days in the northern (eastern) end of Cornwall and the rest of the time near Penzance. Go on a Western Discoveries tour. Very informative.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you for the replies..................so much homework to do, but it's 2017 here already, (Happy New Year to all) and the heatwave is over, so I'll digest your comments and research further, and most likely come up with loads more questions.
We booked Bath as the beginning of this part of our trip, mainly as we will have driven from the Highlands to Glasgow for our flight, and I thought we could have some r & r before continuing on, and before we consider hiring a car. Which side of Bath have we booked? That threw me somewhat ( how little I know of this area!!) The B & B is just outside of the old city, and we were planning to wander by foot for the 3 days............Should this be changed? Should we stay in Bath after our time in Cornwall?
I'm off to check on the sites you have given me..I should be a little more familiar with the area, when I post my reply.
Many thanks to you all.......
Bernadette

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you so much for the advice and suggestions: I have spent the last few days with a map in one hand and a mouse in the other.
I have finally something to show for my efforts, and welcome advice on this possible plan:
Arrive Bristol: train to Bath-3 nights
train to Plymouth; collect car; drive to Salcombe-3 nights
Drive to Mevagissey-3 nights
Drive to Truro-3 nights
Drive to Penzance-3 nights
Night Riviera Train: Penzance to London; train, London to Oxford-2 nights
train to London-7 nights
All bookings can be cancelled, so be free with any concerns you might have with this plan...........after all, we're quite unversed in this area of the world.
Many thanks again and looking forward to suggested amendments
Bernadette

Posted by
20849 posts

James and Lola have both already mentioned St. Ives. I have my own first trip to Cornwall coming up next year, so I obviously cannot provide a personal recommendation, but when I discussed my trip with two friends--one of whom is a native of southern England--St. Ives was the first Cornish spot they named.

Posted by
1873 posts

On one of the days in Bath, consider taking a local bus to Wells. You can find local bus info here:>http://www.traveline.info
Also consider going from Bath to Salisbury by train (about 1 hour). From Salisbury station, shuttle buses run up to Stonehenge. Salisbury Cathedral is also well worth seeing.http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury
Alternatively, you may like to consider taking the train from Bath to Cardiff for a day out. Direct trains run hourly & it takes just over an hour - pay on the day. www.nationalrail.co.uk
For info on Cardiff - see buy response to this earlier post:>
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/seeking-advice-for-a-day-trip-by-train-from-london-in-march-2017-3rd-week

When in Mevagissey, visit The Lost Gardens of Heligan:> www.heligan.com
Make sure accommodation has easy parking. Mevagissey has very narrow streets as does Salcombe. (I think these places have edge of village car parks for day visitors).
Plymouth has a sizeable marina.

I would consider not taking the sleeper from Penzance to London & then back out to Oxford. By pre-booking ahead, you can get from PNZ to OXF for £34. For example, leave PNZ at 8.44am to arrive in OXF at 14.07 = 5 hours 23 minutes - with 1 change at Reading. Alternatively, consider going from London direct to Oxford for your stay; then go to Bath for 3 nights. Then train to Plymouth. PNZ to London could then be done on the sleeper.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks Acraven, Have looked at St Ives, and certainly will be exploring the town on a day trip from Penzance...............we are considering some coastal walks whilst we're in Cornwall and Devon

Thanks James, I was wondering about Wells, Salisbury and Stonehenge, as my husband hasn't seen them. Will check out the local buses
As for the Cardiff trip, we arrive in Bristol from Glasgow, driving back from Invermoriston, will have been travelling for a while by the time we reach Bristol............we begin our journey home from London, (flew into Paris) so have allocated the last week of our trip to catch up with friends and family there. We had hoped to see Wales this trip, but after much discussion made the decision not to rush it and so we'll leave Wales for another time when can explore at our leisure
I like the idea of the train PNZ-OXF.......will factor that in I think.
Again, you have given me many avenues/sites to explore.....I'm onto it and am most grateful for your input...am learning an awful lot about this country of yours through this forum.....Many thanks
Bernadette

Posted by
1873 posts

Don’t forget - that to get the really cheap train prices for the longer trips, you need to pre-book about 11 weeks ahead.