Family travel: Cornwall

Sword-wielding knights, baby lobsters and a Rick Stein restaurant are among the highlights of a week-long trip for three families, based in North Cornwall.

By Maria Pieri
Published 18 Dec 2015, 08:00 GMT, Updated 5 Jul 2021, 12:58 BST

01 Tintagel Castle

The legendary birthplace of King Arthur, lives up to a magical day out. Our group of 12, all with kids aged between six and eight, managed the steep, winding staircase to the clifftop ruin, with only a few gentle tugs and a little hand-holding needed as encouragement. At the top, a pair of sword-fighting knights invited us to join a swordsmanship workshop — one of the half-term activities held within the tumbledown battlements. A picnic followed, then a tour of the hilly site. Coastal views wowed adults, while kids were drawn to Merlin's Cave in the cliffs. The day was a hit, but steer clear if you dislike heights or steep stairs. Family of five (two adults/three kids) £18.70.

02 Lost Gardens of Heligan

Despite regular visits to Cornwall over the years, I've never had the chance to visit these much-lauded gardens, near Mevagissey. So, this time round, we made it a must-see — and it fully delivered on all levels. Created by the Cornish Tremayne family between the mid-18th and early 20th century, the botanical gardens fell into rack and ruin after the First World War broke out until a restoration project in the 1990s returned them to their former glory. The kids breathlessly enjoyed climbing over, walking on, peering at, and exploring all 200 crazy acres — yielding everything from moss sculptures, exotic fauna and rare breeds to a pineapple pit, an Insect Hotel and a Coin log. Not to mention the longest Burmese rope bridge in Britain. With a splash of sun it proved a great day out. Families (two adults/three children), £30.

Proving you never really know what will grab your children's attention, this small but insightful attraction only seemed worthy of a 10-minute walk-through. And yet we lingered, fascinated by the life cycle of the lobster, the size of the tiny babies, the impact of over-fishing… and the cute cuddly toys. The marine conservation charity aims to protect this beleaguered crustacean by nurturing lobsters in the vulnerable early stages of their lives, then releasing them into the sea. Who'd have thought that could be so enthralling? Children, £1.75; adults, £3.75; family of four, £9.

It's amazing what children can do when they put their minds to it. Contrary to expectations, ours tackled a six-mile walk from Wadebridge to Padstow — part of the 17-mile Camel Trail — with gusto. Along the disused railway line, we drank in the views and my daughter picked dandelions, played with the slate that litters this part of the world and chatted to her friends. Our youngest struggled a little but only really 'lost it' in Padstow when he discovered the ice cream shop was a bit further away than he thought — but the reward? Dinner at Rick Stein's St Petroc's Bistro. And ice cream, of course.

An unexpected gem on our tour of north Cornwall, with over 40,000sq ft of indoor play areas, 35 acres of outdoor play and rides such as Mega Slides, Wave Rider and Thunder Falls. There's also Croc's Corner Reptile House plus hundreds of other animals. The all-weather park was well worthy of the full day we'd dedicated to it and we literally had to drag the kids away (and dry them off) at the end. Suits younger children best but caters to all.

Family of four, from £27.80 at weekends.

Where to stay: The Olde House, Chapel Amble

Part of Penpont Farm, in the pretty village of Chapel Amble, The Olde House has been in the Hawkey family for three generations. Our friendly, chatty guide, Andrew — the patriarch of this farming clan — introduces us to the lay of the land on a 'farm ride': a tractor towing a trailer packed with guests on a tour of the 550-acre grounds, where we glimpsed some of the 750 sheep and over 250 cattle.

Our group of 12 stayed in three of the cottages: two within the grounds, the third opposite the Maltster's Arms (great for local seafood).

Andrew is rightly proud of The Olde House. Since converting his stone-and-slate barns into self-catering cottages back in the '80s, various facilities have been added, including an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool bath, toddlers' pool, snooker table, plus indoor and outdoor play areas and tennis courts. Family-friendly activities include animal feeding (daily) to pond dipping and den building. This summer, a falconry show was added (a big hit with my lot).

Despite being in the midst of a working farm, our stay was peaceful and relaxing. The traditionally designed cottages were comfy, while the pool and indoor play areas 'rocked', according to the kids. Cottages, from £380 a week.

Published in the Family supplement, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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