West Country Days

Play in the waves on the "English Riviera"
Southwest England's Atlantic shore near Padstow, Cornwall
WILD WALKS: Southwest England's Atlantic shore near Padstow, Cornwall (Patricia Wearmouth)
UK Travel Tip #4
Britain has an extensive and convenient rail network, but tends to be on the expensive side compared to other European countries. Save your pennies by getting a BritRail pass ahead of time, which will give you some flexibility when you travel. Various passes are available at www.britrail.com and let holders hop trains around the country over a set period of days.

Popularly called the English Riviera for its warmer, sunnier climate and collection of pristine beaches, the coastal counties of Cornwall and Devon are no longer the exclusive domain of posh boarding-school kids and reclusive artists. Call it the Global Warming Effect, but southwestern toe of England Atlantic coast is luring the hordes back from hedonistic continental sunspots like Mallorca and the Costa del Sol.

The wave-washed Cornish beaches around resort towns like Newquay, Padstow, and Bude have actually been on the local surf radar for years, but it was generally assumed the water was too cold and the waves too wimpy to be worth the effort. And that was probably the way territorial shredders sold it, though it's no huge secret that west-facing Fistral Beach is one of the best breaks in the country, with powerful, hollow waves that roll in off the Atlantic. Allied to that, the media-saturated Rip Curl Boardmasters, one of the World Championship of Surfing's qualifying events as well as an almighty summer music/beach fest, has been going from strength to strength for 25 years now.

However, remove summer's fleeting and welcome kiss, and southwestern England pretty much returns to its sleepy, regional ways—except the waves keep on coming and those cliff-high views don't get any less alluring.

And if surfing off-season in October is too chill—literally—for you, rest assured that there are other ways to get your adrenaline rocks off in this neck of the woods. The Newquay-based Adventure Centre (+44.1637.872.444; www.adventure-centre.org) takes its coastal duties so seriously that owners Tracey and Jeremy Griffiths bought their own stretch of beach, Lusty Glaze Beach, on which to run riot. Choose from surfing or bodyboarding lessons right off the beach, or try "coasteering," an oceanic cross of spelunking and canyoneering in which participants run, jump, and swim their way around nearby cliffs, caves, and bays. This chilly adventuresome gambit runs through October, water temps and weather permitting.

Newquay is full of places at which to crash, though head north to the lovely fishing port of Padstow for a mellower vibe. Located within the sheltered lee of Padstow Bay, here you'll find well-priced hotels, B&Bs, cottages, and condos, plus more top-notch surfing and kitesurfing beaches.

It's a relatively long slog from London to Newquay and beyond, either by car or train. Rail service from London Paddington takes about six hours, with the cheapest return fare starting at about $140. Visit the Cornwall Tourist Board website (www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk) for more, including details on booking train tickets online.

Published: 29 Aug 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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