Cornwall’s popularity as one of Britain’s favourite holiday destinations received a boost after starring in the TV drama Poldark this year.
Tourists have been flocking to the area after watching the hit TV show in which romantic hero Aidan Turner captured the heart of the nation.
Could it have been down to his bare-chested scything and dashing good looks? Or the Cornish locations?
Based on Winston Graham’s novels, Poldark tells the story of Ross Poldark, an army officer who returns to England after fighting in the American War of Independence to discover that his fiancee has married his cousin.
The hot gossip is that the period drama will return to TV for another five seasons with heart-throb Turner reprising his role as Ross Poldark against the backdrop of Cornwall’s dramatic scenery.
Even if you haven’t been gripped by Poldark mania, Cornwall is well worth the journey, even if it does mean an eight hour road trip from my home.
Earlier this year, I took a trip to ‘Poldark Country’ and visited the dramatic locations featured in the TV series to see what all the fuss is about.
I hadn’t been to Cornwall for 30 years. Once a favourite family holiday destination, the Cornish coast had fallen off my radar with the advent of cheap EasyJet flights.
But as soon as I arrived on England’s south-west coast, I was knocked out by the breathtaking scenery, beautiful beaches and dramatic cliff top scenery. Cornwall, I’ve missed you!
Since my trip in the 1980s, much has changed and the quality of tourist attractions has improved dramatically with new heritage museums, the Eden Project and the Tate St Ives.
The Poldark TV series is filmed on location on Cornwall’s stunning coastline with many scenes shot along the heritage coast around Botallack and Levant, once the heart of the tin mining industry.
I was amazed to see how the old industrial areas had been transformed into a giant outdoor museum known as the Cornish Mining World Heritage site.
Cornwall was once the ‘Silicon Valley’ of its age. Tin mining reached its peak in the 19th Century when Cornwall was one of the biggest tin mining areas in the world.
There were around 2,000 tin mines and 50,000 workers. Miners worked in a subterranean world, coping with dirt, extreme heat and near darkness.
Death and injury were common with rockfalls, explosions and falls. Miners were prone to diseases such as silicosis as a result of working in dusty, airless conditions.
At the Levant Mine you can follow the miners’ footsteps through the tunnel to the man-engine shaft and experience what life would’ve been like at the tin mine.
Levant is one of the most dramatic of Cornwall’s mining sites with its precipitous clifftop location and stunning views. Mining tunnels were driven under the sea and extended over a mile out from the cliffs.
This was tin mining on a grand scale, with hundreds of people employed in this often dangerous industry. It must have been a terrifying place to work. In October 1919 the road collapsed inside the shaft, killing 31 men.
During the 20th Century tin mining was characterised by periods of boom and bust. But by the 1980s the Cornish industry was on its knees and the last mine closed in 1998.
Today visitors to Levant can admire the giant-sized Victorian steam engine, which still works like clockwork, and the man-engine which transported the miners up and down the shaft.
The mine also doubles as the fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill in the Poldark TV series. Whilst filming on location, Poldark actor Aidan Turner popped into the Levant mine office to get changed and shelter from the bad weather. What a thrill for the staff and visitors!
The whole area is vast so why not go on one of the great walks around Levant across the coast and countryside where you can explore the nooks and crannies around the abandoned mine workings as well as the old arsenic works.
Mining rocks and ruins
A walk over the fields will take you to the nearby Geevor Mine along a new walking trail. Now a museum, there’s a chance to go underground which is very like the 19th Century working mine featured in Poldark. Geevor Museum also has another claim to fame – it helped Poldark’s film makers with tips on mining tools.
The most dramatic section of the coastal walk is the Crowns Engine Houses at Botallack which perch on the edge of the cliff top.
Climb down the steep path to capture the atmosphere of this windswept and atmospheric place. Built on bare rock with no foundations, the lower house once housed a pumping engine whilst the building above was the winder for the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, built around 1860.
If you’ve been watching Poldark, the Crown Engines House ‘stars’ as Wheal Grambler, the mine run by Ross Poldark’s cousin.
Further up the hill you’ll come across the remains of two other engine houses, West Wheal Owles and the stamps engine house of Wheal Edward.
Metal ores were raised from the ground during the 1800s with women and children breaking and separating copper ores from the waste rock.
It must have been back-breaking work. Walking among the ruined remnants of the mines, you can’t help think of the lowly paid and hard-working miners toiling away.
The engine house at Wheal Owles was used in the Poldark TV series. It doubled as ‘Wheal Leisure’, the mine which Ross Poldark re-opened as part of a mining enterprise.
Not far away is Botallack Manor Farm which featured in Poldark as ‘Nampara’, Ross Poldark and Demelza’s home.
Further along the coastal path you’ll see the Count House, built in the 1860s as an office for the Botallack Mine, a reminder of the wealth to be made from tin mining.
As I walked along the coastal path, I couldn’t help imagining Ross Poldark galloping along the cliff tops on his horse, hair flying in the gusty wind.
My next stop was Padstow, one of Cornwall’s prettiest seaside towns. This was my first visit and I’m pleased to say that a return trip is definitely on the cards.
Famous for its beaches, seafood and attractive harbour, Padstow has an easy-going feel which makes you want to chill out and relax.
Where better to forget your troubles than at one of Rick Stein’s eateries in the town. Choose from the famous chef’s restaurant, his upmarket fish and chippie or his waterfront cafe – they provide a choice of eating to suit most pockets.
Fans of Poldark will also recognise locations from the TV show including the lovely views across the Camel Estuary and Tregirls beach.
Take a walk and admire the beauty of the golden sands of Porthcothan beach which provide the setting for Poldark’s fictional ‘Nampara Cove’. This is a great place to kick off your shoes and have a paddle in its blue waters.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk or bike along the Camel Trail which extends for 5 miles between Padstow and Wadebridge. Remember you can cheat on the way back by hopping on a Greyhound bus. I was super-lazy and sat on a rock admiring the scenery, watching the ferry shuttle from one side of the bay to the other.
Truro and Bodmin Moor
As we headed further into Cornwall on our road trip, we stopped briefly in Truro, a pleasant working city with an interesting history, best-known for its impressive cathedral.
It also boasts a wealth of beautiful Georgian architecture, museums and galleries which makes it a good base for exploring Poldark Country.
Strangely, Truro barely features in Poldark – the television series. Instead, Corsham in Wiltshire doubled as Truro, even though Truro was Winston Graham’s true inspiration for the original story.
Also standing in for Truro in the TV series is Charlestown (near St Austell), famous for its ships and historic buildings.
Watch the Poldark TV video trailer
My final stop on the Poldark tour was Bodmin Moor, a rugged and wild area of countryside, the perfect backdrop to Poldark’s dramatic story.
It was here that the TV crew shot the scenes of the outside of Ross Poldark’s cottage, ‘Nampara’, as well as many of the horseback riding sequences.
If you want to recreate the horse riding experience, you can saddle up with Hallagenna Riding and Cottage Holidays who provided stabling and accommodation for the stunt riders and horses while they were filming on the moors.
The riding trail is available as a two or four-hour trip but you must be an experienced rider. I’m afraid that my equestrian skills are too rusty so I dived into the Jamaica Inn, the famous Daphne du Maurier haunt, for a pint of real ale!
Whatever the reason for your visit to Cornwall, there’s so much to explore and discover from lovely coves and beautiful beaches to industrial heritage and outdoor activities.
Ross Poldark provided one of TV’s most memorable images with his scything scenes, tanned and stripped to the waist. If you fancy trying your hand at this traditional skill, half-naked or fully clothed, why not sign up for a scything course with the pros?
After a 30 year gap, Cornwall is one place I want to go back to… and not just because I might spot Ross Poldark on a galloping horse! There’s also a new Poldark season to look forward to which promises a glut of Cornish locations.
Tammy’s Guide to Cornwall and Poldark Country
If you’re taking a road trip to Cornwall and ‘Poldark Country’, I recommend starting in Padstow and then moving down the coast to Botallack, St Just and St Agnes.
Then take a detour across to the St Austell area (Charlestown) before heading back over Bodmin Moor.
The Botallack and the Mining Heritage Trail is located near St Just, an old mining village, on the north-west coast of Cornwall.
Also head over to the Geevor Mine and Museum which is near to the Botallack Mining Heritage Area.
It’s worth a visit especially because it’s family friendly with activities such as an underground tour, hard rock museum and panning for heavy metals – plus you get to wear a hard hat!
Bodmin Moor is a wild location for nature lovers, walkers and horse riders. Don’t miss the Jamaica Inn, famous for its literary associations with Daphne du Maurier, author of the book of the same name.
Hallegenna’s ‘Poldark Trail’ takes in the locations on Bodmin Moor visited by Poldark’s TV crew including Rough Tor and Brown Willy. The tour will take you over the ancient packhorse trail and onwards to Alex Tor. Throughout the trail you’ll experience countryside and terrain ridden by the actors and stunt riders in the Poldark series.
Padstow is located on the mid north-west coast of Cornwall and boasts a great selection of places to eat, drink and stay. Families will enjoy a trip to the sandy beach or the National Lobster Hatchery
The Poldark TV series will return for a new season in 2016. Half naked scything may be on TV screens again for those who like hunky actors pretending to do farming labour!