There’s no excuse for the kids wailing “I’m bored” this May half term. Cornwall is packed with great things to see and do. Here are ten of our favourite activities… including some you can do for free!
Screech Owl Sanctuary
Animals provide a great day out, whether it’s ferocious felines, feathered friends or fascinating fish. Cornwall has a variety of places to visit where animals are centre stage. Biggest of them all is Newquay Zoo which has over 130 species in 13 acres of sub-tropical gardens – everything from creepy crawlies, lizards and snakes to lions and wildebeest. This half term there’s Jungle May-Hem – complete the Jungle Safari trail to win an animal adoption.
Also… The Screech Owl Sanctuary - located just outside Newquay the sanctuary is home to resident owls from all over the world, together with a range of fascinating creatures that include laughing kookaburras, racoons, alpacas, pigmy goats and emus. The Monkey Sanctuary in Looe, where you can meet 37 monkeys – all with their own distinctive characters and personalities. Dairyland Farm World where children will love to feed the farm animals, take part in pony rides and milk the cows. At Gweek Seal Sanctuary you can spend the day watching seals, sea lions and otters or explore the rockpools. Or why not head to Roskillys where you can meet the animals as well as enjoy some of the delicious ice cream.
One of the finest of the mighty fortresses built by Henry VIII to defend against invasion is Pendennis Castle, Falmouth. It has played a pivotal role throughout history – Tudor troubles, the English Civil War and even as a look-out post in the Second World War. Experience the sights and sounds of battle through the ages with lots of things to try in the interactive exhibitions.
Also… On the other side of the Fal Estuary is St Mawes Castle which was built for Henry VIII in a clover leaf shape and elaborately decorated with Latin inscriptions - praising the king - and ornate stone carvings. Legend has it that Tintagel, in North Cornwall, is the birthplace of King Arthur. What is certain is that Romans lived and traded here and it boasts a very impressive location. Launceston Castle, begun after the Normal Conquest, dominates the landscape of the town and offers spectacular views. It was used as a prison in the 17th century.
Get close to Nature…
Carnglaze Caverns, bluebell woods
Cornwall is blessed with lots of open spaces, both coastal and inland, so there’s a chance to discover Nature near you for free. Cornwall has 498 County Wildlife Sites– nearly 10% of the county’s land – ranging from small copses to river valleys, ancient woodlands, large moors and wetlands. They include beautiful Kings Wood at London Apprentice near St Austell, an area rich in ground flora with fantastic coastal views as it slopes down Pentewan Valley. It’s a broadleaved woodland, with marked trails packed with spring colour and, in season, lots of bluebells.
Also… There are 57 Nature Reserves in Cornwall including Prideaux Wood which, with the remains of mining operations dating back to the Tudor period, offers a typical Cornish landscape.
Goss Moor near Roche is relatively flat with areas of dry and wet heath, mire, fen and open water. This diverse mix of wildlife habitats is home to some of the country's rarest species, particularly butterflies and moths. St Clement Woods near Truro offers mixed woodland with a range of adventurous and more relaxed activities.
Cornwall is spoiled for choice with water activities. There are tiny coves and big beaches and everything in between. You can surf, swim and sail or just meander around the rockpools. But there are inland chances to get on the water too. The South West Lakes Trust charity manages three lakes in Cornwall – Stithians near Truro and Falmouth, Siblyback on Bodmin Moor and Tamar Lake near Bude. There are plenty of free things to do such as catch fish, build dens, walk through woodlands or around the lakes, or why not join the organised activities on offer?
Also… If it’s surfing you’re after, there’s plenty to choose from. Sign up for lessons and make the most of the waves at popular destinations such as Fistral Beach, Newquay, Gwithian Beach near Hayle, Polzeath near Padstow or Sennen Beach to name just a few.
Weather not on your side? With the slogan “the wetter, the better”, Oasis Fun Pools is the ultimate all-weather attraction in Cornwall – warm and cosy inside with heated pools indoors and outdoors. Keep the children occupied with three fun flumes, a rapid river ride, fountains and waterfalls and a giant tap in this bright and colourful facility.
Cornwall has a rich tin mining history and you can discover what life was like underground with a trip below the surface at Poldark Tin Mine, in the Wendron Valley near Helston. You can see the underground workings as you travel through the labyrinth of caverns and tunnels at the mine, which was at its peak in the 18th century.
Also… Geevor Tin Mine is at the heart of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. Go underground or visit the Hard Rock museum, which tells the story of copper and tin mining. Carnglaze Caverns at St Neot near Liskeard is a former slate mine where the underground tour of three massive caverns ends at the amazing Underground Lake with its crystal clear blue/green water. Discover the comprehensive collection of minerals mined and quarried in the Westcountry.
The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth is home to the National Small Boat Collection and the Cornish Maritime Collection – boats, books, models, pictures and objects which relate to the county’s place in maritime history, including the role of the Falmouth Packet Ships. May half term means Awesome Adventurers activities for young visitors and there are two exhibitions in place until January 2018 – Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed and Captain Bligh: Myth, Man, Mutiny.
Also… Charlestown near St Austell is an unspoilt example of a late Georgian working port which traded in copper, china clay and imported coal. It is in such good condition that it has had a starring role on screen in Poldark, Hornblower, Mansfield Park and other dramas. Visit the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre to learn about shipwrecks and discover the Cornish connection to the Titanic.
The Eden Project
The Eden Project is a packed day out – the Rainforest Biome, Mediterranean Biome, Core learning centre and lots of hands-on activities. During half-term week their celebration of game playing returns, bigger and better than ever. Game On offers retro classics in the Cardboard Arcade and traditional playground favourites, to the latest high tech activities. Take part in a massive version of Battleships or try your hand at Subbuteo.
Also… the National Trust has a fun project for the young called 50 things to do before you're 11 ¾. Head for Cotehele near Saltash where it’s Stick week during half term, or Trengwainton near Penzance where you can design your own paper bunting, draw your own postcard or make an origami bee.
Visit country houses…
Pencarrow House near Wadebridge is one of the finest stately homes in Cornwall. It dates back to the reign of Elizabeth I and is still home to the Molesworth-St Aubyn family. The Palladian style manor house was built in 1771 and is set in beautiful Grade II listed gardens with azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and rhododendrons.
Also… St Michael’s Mount at Marazion is accessible by foot at low tide – a medieval castle which has been home to the St Aubyn family for over 300 years. There are amazing views from the (challenging!) walk to the top. Trewithen, near Truro, is built in the Palladian style and has been home to the same family for over 250 years. The garden is magnificent with rare plants, ageing magnolias and a 200-yard long lawn.
Explore the past…
Cornwall Gold offers a truly unique visitor experience. Take a tour around Tolgus Tin Mill and discover the process of tin streaming - learning how the tin ore extracted is then smelted to create a range of stunning Cornish jewellery. As the only surviving mill of its type in Cornwall, you can also witness the staggering power of the stamping machinery and learn about some of the men who worked the mill in years gone by.
Also... Wheal Martyn offers visitors the opportunity to step into Cornwall’s industrial past, housing the UK’s only china clay museum which is set in 26 acres of parkland. Follow the ‘historic’ or the ‘nature’ trail and learn about the Cornish china clay industry by observing the machinery, vehicles, minerals and tools that were used and seeing films, artwork and photographs of work in the clay pits.
Get the adrenaline pumping…
Camel Creek Adventure Park
Hold on tight; prepare to get wet and practice your scream – it’s time to head to Camel Creek Adventure Park! Nestled within acres of glorious Cornish countryside just outside Wadebridge, the adventure park is home to a range of fantastic rides and indoor play areas suitable for toddlers through to teenagers.
Remember, you don't need to break the bank! Cornwall has lots of open spaces, moorland, countryside and coast to enjoy without spending a penny. The South West Coast Path covers the entire coastline of Cornwall as it navigates a 630-mile route from Minehead to Poole making it the longest National Trail in the country. Explore the heritage, wildlife, geology and scenery whether it’s an afternoon stroll or a more challenging outing.
Or why not head to Tehidy Country Park near Camborne - the largest area of woodland in West Cornwall with nine miles of paths through 250 acres of woodland. Falmouth Art Gallery has a large and eclectic collection and admission is free, Monday to Saturday. Discover rare trees and plants and watch the fallow deer in 800 acres of parkland at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park near Torpoint or visit the Godolphin Estate which is home to small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies. Both estates are free to enjoy, or pay to see the houses and more formal gardens.