A-Pirating We Go! The Swashbuckling Charms of Charlestown, Cornwall

Pirate attack imminent on the Cornish coast?

Cornwall has so much to offer that it's difficult to decide where to base yourself when visiting this beautiful South Western County, or rather the Duchy of Cornwall as it will soon be officially referred to in tourism campaigns. The historic port town of Charlestown is just one of hundreds of quaint seaside settlements, but well worth making a stop for during any family vacation as there's plenty to keep both adult and kids enthralled.

The first thing you notice as you drive down towards towards the small sheltered harbour are the lofty masts of tallships moored within the inner basin. Run by Square Sail, these stunning ships are in full working order and the company offers coastal sailing trips for the whole family and longer one way voyages to maritime festivals throughout the year.There's something majestic about these tallships and it really makes you want to don an eye patch and climb the riggings, I can certainly see the attraction of pirating, on a sunny day at least.

Tallships pirate ship Charlestown Cornwall
The Square Sail Tallships.....if you look closely you can see some pirates on the quay!

The Cornish coast was notorious for privateers and smugglers way back when, and after exploring a bit of the rugged rocky coastline and little secret coves it's no surprise this was a rather popular trade. You can get your pegleg fix by attending a performance by local re-enactment group the Pirates of Piran, who put on swashbuckling shows and demonstrations in Charlestown Harbour with proceeds going to local charities.

Another fun family attraction is the shipwreck and heritage centre which has exhibits of the many vessels that came to grief off Cornish shores a well as special featured exhibits on famous wrecks such as the Titanic.  Kids under 10 are free with accompanying adult and the museum has created an i spy trail and colouring sheets to keep everyone entertained.

Charlestown beach Cornwall
Tides out on Charlestown Beach....perfect conditons for paddling

On sunny days the small beaches either side of the harbour are ideal for paddling, swimming and exploring numerous easily accessible rock pools and as there's no huge trek over sand dunes or rocks, refreshments and lunch spots are only a short walk away.  If you're into souvenir and gallery gazing, Charlestown offers a small but interesting cross section of stores, all tucked into various nooks and crannies around the harbour area and offering the traditional favourites such as Cornish fudge through to quirky antiques and local artworks.  For lovers of local flavours, there's a distinctive orange ice cream float that is often found parked up down on the quayside selling not ice cream but a wide array of Cornish produce and deli goods to take home.

Orange organic farm shop Cornwall
Fresh local produce and goods....

Aside from all the obvious natural and tourist attractions, the township itself is brimming with character. Beautifully kept fishermans cottages painted in soft pastel shades line the main road and the harbourside hills, creating an idyllic scene.  These sought after houses are often let out to visitors during the summer and long-term lets come at a premium, but somehow I think it'd be worth it just to get a taste of that vintage sea-side life.  Interestingly for any fellow Kiwi's reading this, there are heaps of Cabbage Trees around Charlestown and Cornwall in general, I was delighted and surprised at this poignant reminder of home until I rather bemusedly spotted a sign at a garden centre advertising them as Cornish Palms! The cheek! But obviously somewhere back in history these have been imported from our fair NZ shores, perhaps along with a shipful of returning Cornish miners and have become popular and widespread in the mild South-Western climate.  I've also spotted a few flax plants in the more coastal areas so I'm feeling right at home. For keen walkers and nature spotters, the South West Coastal path links up just West of the township so it would make a lovely lunch stop or starting point for a leisurely day walk.

fishermans cottages holiday lets cabbage trees

Foodwise, our favourites so far are the freshly made crayfish and lemon mayo sarnies from the little courtyard cafe half-way down the port road for a bargain £2.90 and most definetely the amazing ice cream from the Tall Ships Creamery near the small roundabout.  We're slowly working through the flavours but so far the ginger & pear, peaches of eight, peanut butter & banana and of course chocolate have met with resounding approval. Charlies Cafe further up the main port rd as you drive in, is our family favourite, serving proper espresso coffee, home-made cakes, gourmet sandwiches and hearty breakfasts (also has a toilet and baby changing facilities). There are also a few decent pubs with outside seating that do fairly decent food and it's always a good idea to sample a few of the local ales and ciders to support the local economy ;-).

A visit to Charlestown would make a good 1/2 day outing enroute to some of the other nearby attractions such as Pinetum Park, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Eden Project (although you'd probably want a whole day for that one) and the port towns of Mevagissey and Fowey.  There's a decent range of reasonably priced hotel and B&B accommodation in Charlestown, Carlyon Bay and St Austell and camping facilities around almost every corner which would sit families on a budget.

eating ice cream in Cornwall
Ahh me hearties, this peaches of eight ice cream be worth more than gold


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Comment by Vicky Picks on February 2, 2013 at 5:16am

Great article, lovely photos.  The Shipwreck and Heritage Centre is fascinating.  I didn't know about the Tall Ships Creamery, I will make sure to seek it out next time I am there.

Comment by Ed Wetschler on September 13, 2012 at 5:49pm

Sarah, you've captured the place just as I remember it. And oh, that orange ice cream float!

Here's a link to a story with some pirate shenanigans (and air guitar) on this side of the Atlantic: http://www.tripatini.com/profiles/blogs/baltimore-travel-museum

Comment by José Balido on August 25, 2012 at 6:58pm
Fun piece, Sarah!

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