There really is something special about Poldark’s beautiful county of Cornwall, with its history of piracy and derring-do, and all those wonderful place names. It feels both exciting and romantic at the same time.
My adventure began with the sleeper train to Truro. It’s hard to imagine a better way for small children (and grownups) to get excited about a trip than sleeping on a train – even if near-hysterical excitement combined with a boarding time of 11pm meant that my two daughters didn’t get to sleep until 1am, with a 7.04am arrival in Truro.
Slightly groggy, we headed to the Alverton Hotel, a beautiful converted nunnery on the outskirts of Truro which was our base for the three-day stay (we left on a Thursday night, returning on a Sunday).
The Alverton has played host to Aidan Turner himself during filming and it is a friendly and well-run establishment, tucked away but not far from Truro (where George Warleggan has a house and where the magistrates pass sentence in the drama).
Our family room was huge and kitted out with fruit, snacks and children’s dressing gowns which were an immediate hit. An excellent dinner was served in the restaurant, which managed to be simultaneously grownup and child-friendly, and the following morning knowledgeable staff advised us on our best options for the day as we ate a fabulous breakfast.
A scenic walk and an adventure at sea
Our first foray was to St Agnes on the north coast where mining engine houses perch on the clifftops, offering a silent reminder of Cornwall’s mining heyday. A natural location choice, it doubles as Nampara Valley in Poldark (the main picture above is of St Agnes Head).
We also walked a little of the South West Coast Path, which vertigo-sufferers may want to avoid. A particularly scenic section starts at Chapel Porth and heads in the direction of St Agnes (you can get more details here.)
Another great option is kayaking along the coast. We had planned to do Koru Kayaking’s North Coast Adventure but choppy waters prevented us, so we detoured to their base on the south coast and explored Frenchman’s Creek with a guide who entertained us with stirring tales of smuggling and bad behaviour.
Famous for being the location of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel of the same name, Frenchman’s Creek is a salt water inlet lined with oak forest. We spied oysters clinging to the rock, buzzards and cormorants soaring overhead, and mullet rising to the surface.
After pulling over on a little beach for a bracing swim, we rewarded ourselves with a cream tea in the Budock Vean Hotel. Heaven.
A swim at Ross’ favourite beach
The following day we ventured to stunning Porthgwarra, a key Poldark film location.
Ben Dowell and his daughters enjoy Porthgwarra beach
This is where Ross Poldark took a dip in crystal-clear sea and was watched from the clifftop by Demelza in series one. When I followed suit, it wasn’t quite as sunny but the water was just as clear. I even had an audience – three seals kept popping their heads out the water to see what the fuss was about.
Maybe I don’t have quite the same chiseled physique (my wife disagrees), but here are Ross and I in the same spot. Yes, we’re practically twins, me and Aidan.
Spot the difference
What a place. And extraordinarily, it was virtually empty – on a weekend in July we were the only ones taking a dip.
The pilchard fishing scenes were also shot here and you can even taste a little bit of the making of Poldark should you choose. The tiny but lovely Porthgwarra Cove Café fuelled the cast and crew with pasties during filming – on one occasion until 4am, I am told.
An atmospheric pub and a mine
After our dip we repaired to a pub called Gurnard’s Head, near the village of Zennor, a shortish drive up the coast. This is also very much Poldark country: it’s perched on a stunning forbidding bit of cliff at the top of a headland called Gurnard’s Head (which got its name because it’s shaped like the head of the Gurnard fish).
We got a warm welcome from the charismatic landlord Charles Inkin, a well travelled and jovial soul with an artistic temperament (his pub hosts storytelling nights for children). The cuisine is serious and top-class – the menu was way more sophisticated than your average countryside gastropub and expertly cooked. My sea trout on a bed of samphire was to die for and I was quite jealous of the wife’s Moroccan lamb. Excellent children’s menu too – sophisticated but not off-puttingly so.
The pub is rugged with a bohemian edge. Old photographs tell a story of arty, fun times – a kind of Cornish Soho House for the St Ives set. Thanks to thick walls to ward off the coastal wind and piles of logs stacked nearby, it’s fabulously warm and cosy. I can imagine some jolly evenings spent here (it also has some well appointed rooms which you can stumble into).
Gurnard’s Head pub
It’s located not far from Botallack where scenes at Ross’ mine Wheal Leisure is filmed. We opted instead to visit another nearby mine: the Levant Mine and Engine House, which plays the role of the fictional Tressiders Rolling Mill in Poldark.
Levant was a working mine from around 1840 to the 1930s, and is now run by the National Trust whose guides are passionate and knowledgeable. There was an appalling mining accident tin 1919 – you can visit the site and are left in no doubt about the tough life of a miner.
My advice would be to pick the brains of the guides – their stories about the conditions that men (and, above ground, women and children) worked under took my breath away. The shafts went more than 1km down and about a mile out to sea from where the picture above was taken. It definitely added to my appreciation of those tough tin mining scenes in the drama.
Poldark series three is out on DVD on 14 August. Download the free ‘Experience Poldark’ app from the App Store for a fully immersive Poldark experience
Alverton Hotel is on the outskirts of Truro. Room rates start from £99 based on bed and breakfast in a double room. thealverton.co.uk
Levant Mine is located off the B3306 St Just to St Ives road. Entry price is £7.70 for an adult, £3.85 for a child and £19.25 for a family ticket. nationaltrust.org.uk/levant-mine-and-beam-engine
Koru Kayaking’s North Coast Adventure from St Agnes explores the nooks and crannies where smugglers hid their ill-gotten goods. korukayaking.co.uk
Gurnard’s Head is a dining pub with rooms near the village of Zennor and St. Ives. gurnardshead.co.uk
GWR runs daily high-speed services from London Paddington, Bath and Bristol to Cornwall, including the Night Riviera Sleeper and Pullman Dining restaurant. Advance single fares from Paddington to Penzance are available from £23 each way. GWR.com.
To plan your trip to Cornwall, go to visitcornwall.com/poldark