ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
Scenery changes noticeably as this itinerary traverses England southwest from Bath through Somerset and along its unspoilt coast, outlining Cornwall, into the heart of Devon. Wild ponies gallop across the expanses of Exmoor. Along the northern coastline, the scenery changes dramatically from wooded inlets dropping to the sea to wild rollers crashing on granite cliffs, giving credence to old tales of wreckers luring ships onto rocky shorelines. Picturesque villages surround sheltered harbors, their quays strewn with nets and lobster pots. Southern ports present a gentler scene: bobbing yachts dot wooded estuaries and gentle waves lap the shoreline. Hedgerow-lined lanes meander inland across Dartmoor’s heather-clad moorlands to picturesque towns nestling at her edge. Relax and enjoy your explorations of this westernmost spur of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Recommended Pacing: Spend two full days in Bath to give you time to appreciate the flavor of this lovely city. We suggest that you select a place to stay to explore the northern coast of the peninsula, and another as a base for exploring the south of Cornwall. Add a couple of nights in south Devon to enable you to enjoy the wild beauties of Dartmoor. Complete the itinerary with a stay in or near Salisbury.
The elegant city of Bath with its graceful, honey-colored buildings, interesting museums, and delightful shopping area is best explored on foot over a period of several days. Bath, founded by the Romans in the 1st century around the gushing mineral hot springs, reached its peak of popularity in the early 1700s with the arrival of Beau Nash, who opened the first Pump Room where people could take the water and socialize. Architects John Wood, father and son, used the local honey-colored stone to build the elegant streets and crescents in neoclassical Palladian style.
Maps are available from the Tourist Information Centre near the abbey (corner of Cheap and Stall streets). Entry into the Roman Baths is via the Pump Room, which was the place to gather in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Great Bath, a large warm swimming pool built around a natural hot spring, now open to the sky, was once covered. Mosaics, monuments, and many interesting artifacts from the town can be seen in the adjacent museum.
Nearby, tucked into a narrow passageway between Abbey Green and North Parade, is Sally Lunn’s House, a museum and a teashop. The museum, in the cellar, has the kitchen preserved much as it was in the 1680s when Sally’s buns and other baked goods were the favorites of Bath society. Upstairs you can try a freshly baked Sally Lunn bun.
Eighteenth-century society came to be seen at balls and gatherings at the Bath Assembly Rooms and authors such as Austen, Smolett, and Fielding captured the social importance of these events. The Museum of Costume, in the Assembly Rooms basement, should not be missed.
From the Museum of Costume it is an easy walk via The Circus, a tight circle lined with splendid houses designed by John Wood I, and Brock Street to the Royal Crescent, a great arc of 30 terraced houses that epitomize the Georgian elegance of Bath. One Royal Crescent has been authentically restored to the 18th-century style and contains an interesting kitchen museum and a gift shop.
Bath has some wonderful restaurants and delightful shops and boutiques: whether you are in the market for antiques or high fashion, you will find shopping here a real joy.
While our itinerary takes us south and west from Bath, there are a great many interesting places to the east, listed below, that can easily be visited as day trips from this lovely city.
The village of Avebury (NT), made up of a church, several houses, shops, and an old pub, lies within a vast circle of standing stones surrounded by earthworks. The site covers 28 acres. Unlike Stonehenge, where the stones are larger, the site smaller and the crowds sometimes overwhelming, Avebury is a peaceful spot. Here, armed with a map, you can wander amongst the stones and wonder why 4,000 years ago Bronze Age man spent what has been estimated at 1½ million man-hours to construct such a temple. (Just off the A4 between Calne and Marlborough.)
Castle Combe is a most photogenic collection of warm, honey-stone cottages snuggled along a stream’s edge. (Just south of the M4 motorway between exits 17 and 18.)
Claverton Manor is the American museum in the United Kingdom. Furniture, household equipment, and period rooms show home life in the United States from the 17th to 19th centuries. (3 miles east of Bath.)
Lacock (NT) is an exquisite village where no building dates from later than the 18th century, many dating from much earlier. Be sure to visit the Fox Talbot Museum and Lacock Abbey. The abbey was converted to a manor house in the 16th century but retains its 13th-century cloisters. At The Sign of The Angel is a delightful 15th-century inn, easily distinguished by being the only black-and-white building in the village. (Between Chippenham and Melksham on the A350.)
Salisbury has been a prosperous Wiltshire market town since the 13th century. Park your car in one of the large car parks on the edge of town and wander through the bustling town center to Salisbury Cathedral, the only ancient English cathedral built to a single design. Completed in 1258, it sits gracefully isolated from the busy town, surrounded by a large green field.
Britain’s most famous ancient monument is Stonehenge. Built over a period of almost 1,000 years up to 1250 B.C., this circular arrangement of towering stone slabs was probably meant either to mark the seasons or to be used as a symbol of worship. It is intriguing to ponder what prompted a society thousands of years ago to drag these immense stones many miles and erect them in just such a formation, isolated in the middle of flat Salisbury Plain. Understandably, Stonehenge attracts many visitors. Your visit will be more enjoyable if you are prepared for coachloads of tourists. (On the A303 about 10 miles from Salisbury.)
When it is time to leave Bath, take the A4 following signs for Bristol until you come to the A39 Wells road. Wells is England’s smallest cathedral city and the cathedral is glorious. Park your car in one of the well-signposted car parks on the edge of town and walk through the bustling streets to Wells Cathedral. The cathedral’s west front is magnificently adorned with 400 statues of saints, angels, and prophets. The interior is lovely and on every hour the Great Clock comes alive as figures of four knights joust and one is unseated. From the cathedral you come to Vicars Close, a cobbled street of tall-chimneyed cottages with little cottage gardens, built over 500 years ago as housing for the clerical community. On the other side of the cathedral regal swans swim lazily in the moat beneath the Bishop’s Palace where at one time they rang a bell when they wanted to be fed-now visitors’ picnics provide easier meals.
Nearby Glastonbury is an ancient market town steeped in legends. As the story goes, Joseph of Arimathea traveled here and leaned on his staff, which rooted and flowered, a symbol that he should build a church. There may well have been a primitive church here but the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey that you see are those of the enormous abbey complex that was begun in the 13th century and closed by Henry VIII just as it was completed. The abbey is in the center of town. Legend also has it that Glastonbury (at that time surrounded by marshes and lakes) was the Arthurian Isle of Avalon. Arthur and Guinevere are reputedly buried here and it is said that Arthur only sleeps and will arise when England needs him.
Cross the M5 near Bridgwater, detouring around the town, and follow the A39, Minehead road, to Dunster, a medieval town dominated by the battlements and towers of Dunster Castle (NT). Constructed by a Norman baron, it has been inhabited by the Luttrell family since 1376. While much of the castle was reconstructed in the last century, it has a superb staircase, halls, and dining room. Park before you enter the town and explore the shops and ancient buildings (including a dormered Yarn Market) on the High Street. On Mill Lane you can tour 18th-century Dunster Watermill (NT), which was restored to working order in 1979.
Continue your drive along the A39, watching for a sign directing you to your right to the hamlet of Selworthy (NT). Its pretty green, surrounded by elaborate thatched cottages, makes this a very picturesque spot. The National Trust has a small visitors’ center and excellent teashop.
Porlock is a large, quaint, bustling village with narrow streets. As the road bends down to the sea, the hamlet of Porlock Weir appears as a few picturesque cottages, the Ship Inn facing a pebble beach and a tiny harbor dotted with boats.
Retrace your steps towards Porlock for a short distance and take the first road to the right, a private toll road that rises steeply out of Porlock Weir. It is a pretty, forested drive along a narrow lane with views of Porlock Bay. The toll road returns you to the A39, which you take for a short distance before turning left for the village of Oare. R. D. Blackmore who wrote about the people, moods, and landscape of Exmoor used the little church that you see in the valley below for Lorna Doone’s marriage to John Ridd. Continue into the village where you can park your car near the village shop and take a 3-mile walk along the river to Badgworthy Valley, the home of the cutthroat outlaw Doone family.
Continue to Brenden where you turn right, signposted Lynton and Lynmouth, and regain the A39. A short drive through squat red and green hills brings you to the coast where the road dips steeply and you see the neighboring villages of Lynton and Lynmouth. Victorian Lynton stands at the top of the cliff and Lynmouth, a fishing village of old-style houses, nestles at its foot. Park by the harbor and take the funky old cliff railway, which connects the two villages.
Leaving Lynmouth, proceed up the hill into Lynton, and follow signs for the alternative route for light vehicles to Valley of the Rocks. Wend your way through the town and continue straight. Beyond the suburbs the road tapers and you find yourself in a narrow valley with large, rugged rock formations separating you from the sea, then in a more pastoral area with seascapes at every dip and turn.
Deposit your road toll in the honesty box and follow signs along narrow lanes for Hunters Inn, a lovely old pub set in a peaceful valley. From here direct yourself back towards the A39, which bends inland across the western stretches of Exmoor and south through Barnstaple, a market center for the area. Continue along the A39 to Bideford where a bridge sweeps you high above the old harbor.
Just beyond Bucks Cross you see a small signpost for Clovelly, an impossibly beautiful spot, its whitewashed cottages tumbling down cobblestone lanes to boats bobbing in the harbor far below. However, to be able to walk through this picturebook village you have to pay an entrance fee at the visitors’ center, which rankles but also preserves this lovely place.
Leave the A39 at the B3263 and detour on narrow country lanes leading to the picturesque little village of Boscastle. Braced in a valley 400 feet above a little harbor, the town was named after the Boscastle family who once lived there, rather than an actual castle.
Nearby, Tintagel Castle clings to a wild headland, exposed to coastal winds, claiming the honor of being King Arthur’s legendary birthplace. The sea has cut deeply into the slate cliffs, isolating the castle. Climb the steep steps to the castle and gaze down at the sea far below. Prince Charles, as Duke of Cornwall, owns the castle whose interior is more attractive than the exterior. The town itself, while it is quite touristy, has charm and the most adorable, and certainly most photographed, Tintagel Post Office (NT) in Britain.
Leaving Tintagel, follow signs for the A39, in the direction of Truro, to the A30, which takes you around Redruth, Cambourne, and Hayle to the A3074 to St. Ives, about an hour-and-a-half’s journey if the roads are not too busy. Stay on the A3074 until the road is signposted sharp right to the harbor. Go left and follow parking signs to the Recreation Centre. Park your car here and walk down into town. Your destination is Fore Street with its galleries, restaurants, and interesting shops. Fore Street leads you to the quaint harbor while a left on Digbey will bring you to the Tate Gallery on Porthmeor Beach., tel: 01736-710507 Whistler and Sickert discovered St. Ives while sculptress Barbara Hepworth and painter Ben Nicholson made it famous. Admission to the Tate also includes admission to Barbara Hepworth’s garden filled with her sculptures. If you are not a fan of modern art, just ask for a pass to visit the rooftop café and enjoy the spectacular views.
Leaving St. Ives, follow signposts to St. Just, which brings you the most attractive, windswept stretch of Cornwall’s coastline. Stone farm villages hug the bare expanse of land and are cooled by Atlantic Ocean breezes that waft up over the cliff edges. Abandoned old tin mine towers stand in ruins and regularly dot the horizon. On the western outskirts of St. Just lies Cape Cornwall. R:ather than visit over-commercialized Land’s End, visit here to enjoy a less crowded, more pastoral western view. Pull into Sennen Cove with its long, curving crescent of golden sand and the powerful Atlantic surf rolling and pounding.
The expression “from John O’Groats to Land’s End” signifies the length of Britain from its northeasternmost point in Scotland to England’s rocky promontory, Land’s End, in the southwest. Many visitors to Cornwall visit Land’s End, but be prepared to be disappointed-you have to pay to enter a compound of refreshment stands, exhibits, and children’s rides to get to the viewpoint.
As the road rounds the peninsula from Land’s End, it is exposed to the calmer Channel waters, far different from the Atlantic rollers. Mount’s Bay is just around the bend from Land’s End with the pretty village of Mousehole (pronounced “mowzle”) tucked into a niche on its shores. With color-washed cottages crowded into a steep valley and multicolored fishing boats moored at its feet, this adorable village is crowded in summer but worth the aggravation endured in finding a parking spot.
Pirates from France and the Barbary Coast used to raid the flourishing port town of Penzance until the mid-18th century. Now it is quite a large town, a real mishmash of styles from quaint fishermen’s cottages to ’60s housing estates, where long, peaceful, sandy beaches contrast with the clamor and activity of dry-dock harbors.
Leave Penzance on the A30 following the graceful sweep of Mount’s Bay and turn right onto a minor road that brings you to St. Michaels Mount (NT). Its resemblance to the more famous mount in France is not coincidental, for it was founded by monks from Mont St. Michel in 1044. A 19th-century castle and the ruins of the monastery crown the island, which is reached at low tide on foot from the town of Marazion. If you cannot coincide your arrival with low tide, do not worry-small boats ferry you to the island. The steep climb to the top of this fairy-tale mount is well worth the effort.
To the east lies Falmouth. Overlooking the holiday resort, yachting center, and ancient port are the ruins of Pendennis Castle. Built in 1540 to guard the harbor entrance, it was held during the Civil War by the Royalists and withstood six months of siege before being the last castle to surrender to Cromwell’s troops in 1646. Falmouth is a bustling town whose narrow, shop-lined streets have a complex one-way system-parking is an additional problem. Unless you have shopping to do, avoid the congestion of the town center and follow signposts for Truro.
The road from Falmouth to St. Mawes winds around the river estuary by way of Truro. A faster and more scenic route is to take the King Harry Ferry across the river estuary. If you love wandering around gardens, you will enjoy Trelissick Gardens (NT), filled with subtropical plants, located on the Falmouth side of the estuary.
St. Mawes is a charming, unspoilt fishing harbor at the head of the Roseland Peninsula. Its castle was built by Henry VIII to defend the estuary. The 20 miles or so of coastline to the east of St. Mawes hide several beautiful villages located down narrow, winding country lanes. Portscatho is a lovely fishing village that has not been overrun with tourists. Veryan is a quaint village where thatched circular houses were built so that “the devil had nowhere to hide.” Portloe is a pretty fishing hamlet. The most easterly village is Mevagissey whose beauty attracts writers, artists, and throngs of tourists.
Overlooking this quaint port lie the expansive estates of the Tremayne family, centered at one time on Heligan House and its vast acres of gardens and woodlands. There used to be 20 staff in the house and 22 in the garden but all this ended in the 1914-18 war when two-thirds of the gardeners died fighting in Flanders. After that the garden went into decline and when the Tremaynes sold the house, in 1970, for conversion to apartments, it simply went to sleep-a sleep from which it emerged in the 1990s when two professional gardeners hacked their way through the undergrowth and were inspired to begin the largest garden restoration project in Europe. Evoking images of The Secret Garden, the Lost Gardens of Heligan have emerged from their slumber. A magnificent complex of walled gardens, vegetable gardens, and melon yards shows how pineapples and melons were grown in Victorian times. To the south of the main garden are vast acres of palms and tree ferns know as The Jungle, which leads to the Lost Valley with its woodland walks.
Drive through St. Austell on the A390 and turn left up into the hills above the town, following signs to The Eden Project, set in a former china clay pit. The aim of this project is to promote the understanding and responsible management of the vital relationship between plants, people, and resources. At the bottom of the giant crater are the world’s largest greenhouses clinging onto the cliffs like huge soap bubbles. In the space of a day you can walk from the scented warmth of the Mediterranean to the steaminess of a rainforest. You’ll find plenty of convenient parking and enough hands-on exhibits and restaurants to make this a fun visit rather than an academic experience.
Your next destination, Llanhydrock (NT), lies just a short distance away. Follow signs to Bodmin and take the dual carriageway (A30) to the first exit signed Lanhydrock. Set in a vast estate and surrounded by formal gardens, Llanhydrock showcases what was the very latest in contemporary living in 1881-there’s even central heating. It looks as though the family has just stepped out, leaving the dining table laid for an elaborate party, toys in the nursery waiting to be played with, the schoolroom all set for lessons, afternoon tea set up in the mistress’ sitting room, and desserts all ready to be served from the kitchen.
Returning to the A30, drive northeast to Lostwithiel, the 13th-century capital of Cornwall. Twenty miles to the east, Liskeard is crowded in summer, but fortunately much of the traffic has been diverted around the town. Between Liskeard and Tavistock you find Cotehele (NT), built between 1485 and 1627, the home of the Edgecumbe family. The house contains original furniture, armor, and needlework. A highlight is the kitchen with all its wonderful old implements. The gardens terrace steeply down to the lovely River Tamar.
The A390 crosses the River Tay and brings you into Tavistock. Turn right at the first roundabout in town signposted B3357 Princetown (then the B3212 Mortenhampstead road), which brings you up, over a cattle grid, and into Dartmoor National Park. Vast expanses of moorland rise to rocky outcrops (tors and crags) where ponies and sheep graze intently among the bracken and heather, falling to picturesque wooded valleys where villages shelter beneath the moor. From Mortenhampstead it’s a half-hour drive to Exeter and the motorway. But, saving the best for last, linger on Dartmoor and enjoy some of the following sights.
The view from atop Haytor Crags on the Bovey to Widecombe road is a spectacular one-there is a feel of The Hound of the Baskervilles to the place. Softer and prettier is the walk down wooded Lydford Gorge (NT) to White Lady Waterfall (between Tavistock and Okehampton). A cluster of cottages and a tall church steeple make up Widecombe in the Moor, the village made famous by the Uncle Tom Cobbleigh song. The famous fair is still held on the second Tuesday in September. The pretty town of Chagford at the edge of the moor has attractive houses and hostelries grouped round the market square. Buckland-in-the-Moor is full of picturesque thatched cottages. Buckland Abbey (NT), once a Cistercian abbey and home of Sir Francis Drake, is now a museum with scale model ships from Drake’s time to today among its exhibits At Buckfastleigh you can take a steam train 7 miles alongside the river Dart. Castle Drogo (NT) is a fanciful, castlelike home designed by Edward Lutyens overlooking the moor near Drewsteignton.
Leaving Dartmoor National Park, as series of A roads quickly bring you to Exeter. The old town towards the River Exe has many fine old buildings including the Custom House and a maze of little streets with old inns and quaint shops. , tel: 01392-58075The center is a modern shopping complex. From Exeter the M5 will connect you to all parts of Britain.
* (NT) means that the property listed is under the care of the National Trust.