Tales of smugglers and abandoned tin mines, wind-swept heaths and great country gardens, fishing villages and ancient harbors: the panorama is breathtaking in England’s far West Country. The beautiful old counties of Cornwall and Devon have a landscape and a culture all their own, full of history and art, dramatic scenery and old world hospitality.
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Day 1—Take the Train West
Leave Paddington Station this morning aboard a high speed train for England’s West Country and the cathedral city of Exeter. It’s easy to pick up a car there for an afternoon’s drive across Exmoor on the A396 reaching the North Devon coast at Minehead. Turn west along the coast through Lorna Doone Country to the old harbor town of Lynton/Lynmouth for the night (see “In Search of Lorna Doone,” May 2011, p. 24). High hedgerows, wild sweeps of moorland and breaks of forest characterize the very English countryside.
Day 2—Along the North Cornish Coast
Travel south this morning along the rugged north coast of Devon and Cornwall. Do stop to visit the picture-postcard seaside village of Clovelly. And Tintagel Castle, perched precariously in the mists of history on a Cornish cliff and legendary birthplace of King Arthur. You’ll have a midafternoon arrival in the artists’ colony of St. Ives with time to explore this award-winning harbor resort and its galleries. St. Ives makes a great base at the end of the world.
Day 3—On the Penwith Peninsula
Today is a panorama of Cornwall’s western peninsula. It’s a short coastal drive through St. Just to Land’s End—a genuine tourist attraction. Then, you’ll pass the henge of Merry Maidens on the way to painfully pretty Mousehole, Newlyn and Mount’s Bay. We should be in Penzance for lunch (try the Newlyn crab). There’s time to explore the harbor town, where smugglers and rumrunners were the famous pirates of history. This afternoon, pay a visit to St. Michael’s Mount, both stately home and fortress island. Check the tides first. Either way, it’s a short return across the peninsula neck to St. Ives for an evening of mingling among the chic cafes and pubs of town.
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Day 4—The Eden Project and Victorian Style
Route across the peninsula to the south and east. Do chart a morning visit to the dramatic biospheres of the Eden Project near St. Austell—the largest greenhouses in the world. This afternoon, perhaps pay a call at the magnificent Victorian country house, Lanhydrock (one of the most fascinating 19th-century homes in Britain), replete with its beautiful gardens. Carry on to the historic harbor city of Plymouth, where a monument on the quay marks the Pilgrims’ departure. It’s most fun to stay at one of the big, old hotels up on the Hoe.
Day 5—Maritime Plymouth and the Original Swashbuckler
Spend the morning in maritime Plymouth; the Mayflower Steps and Plymouth Hoe are near at hand. There is time to explore the Barbican, do a bit of shopping and have lunch in a seafood cafe. This afternoon, pay a visit to Buckland Abbey on the edge of Dartmoor, the 13th-century monastery-turned-manor house of Sir Francis Drake, the most famous privateer and courtier of the Elizabethan Age. It’s a great visit.
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Day 6—A Castle with Central Heating?
Today, set a route across the wilds of Dartmoor, past wild ponies and over desolate moors. One of the great visits is eccentric Castle Drogo, the strange fantasy castle built by Sir Edward Lutyens. An afternoon arrival in Exeter will be early enough to drop off the rental car, with a visit to majestic Exeter Cathedral and free time for exploration in the old medieval city. You won’t have enough time; Exeter is fun.
Day 7—Farewell to Exeter
You can catch a morning train from Exeter St. David’s station for the swift ride across the southern countryside to London. Of course, if you’ve an extra day or two to dawdle, you might easily take a side trip to the English Riviera just southwest of Exeter—to Torquay and Agatha Christie Country. Always enchanting Bath makes an easy break on the train line back to London.
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