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Things to do in Padstow

Updated on February 21, 2013

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Padstow, Cornwall, UK
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Padstow, North Cornwall

Padstow has been a busy port since the Middle Ages with fishing and boat building, the town’s major industries. As such, an attractive town has grown around the harbour in a fairly haphazard way. Along the harbourside are fine Georgian buildings, once the warehouses of local merchants, now mainly catering for the holiday trade.

Still bustling today, Padstow has become one of Cornwall’s premiere holiday destinations with life still centred around the picture postcard harbour. Whilst there is still a fishing fleet in Padstow, much of the catch is destined for the tables of the numerous upmarket restaurants and hotels. Keeping the crabbers and trawlers company are a flotilla of yachts and other pleasure boats personifying the transformation of Padstow over recent years.

Padstow harbour
Padstow harbour | Source

Whilst I have enjoyed spending a day or 2 just wandering around the town and frequenting some of Padstow's cafes, bars and shops, for anyone staying in the area there are a host of things to see and do. The suggestions below are my own personal favourites and are by no means exhaustive; they are a good starting point for your holiday in Padstow.

Visit the beaches

Padstow is virtually surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches, the closest being less than half a mile a way. Just to the north of the town is a huge stretch of sand which includes St George’s Cove, Tregirls and Hawker’s Cove. It takes around 10 minutes to walk from the harbour along the coast path to St George’s Cove.

If you don’t fancy driving another alternative involves getting a ferry across the Camel estuary to the village of Rock. This super-posh enclave is home to yet more fantastic sandy beaches. The main beach runs along the side of the estuary and around the corner is the pretty beach of Daymer Bay. Further still is a great family beach, Polzeath, also known for its good surf.

For those with a car there are some great beaches west of Padstow with Trevone and Harlyn being the closest. Harlyn is one of the best family beaches in Cornwall and a highly rated surf school is run from here.

Beaches just north of Padstow
Beaches just north of Padstow | Source
Obby Oss
Obby Oss

Padstow Festivals

Before Padstow was so well known as a tourist destination it was famous for its annual Obby Oss festival. This ancient May Day celebration basically involves two teams each with an Obby Oss. The Oss is a one man horse costume and the teams are the ‘Old’ and the ‘Blue Ribbon’ Obby Osses. Throughout the day the Osses chase maidens through the town in what is presumably some sort of Pagan fertility rite. This is accompanied by the teams dressed in white and armed with accordions and drums. At the end of the day the townsfolk sing about the death of the Obby Oss and its resurrection the following year. Yes, it sounds odd and in truth it is a pretty unusual spectacle.

Another less well known celebration takes place on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day in which the locals black up their faces and sing minstrel songs. Known as Mumming Day the political correctness of this has been questioned over recent years.

Cycling the Camel Trail
Cycling the Camel Trail

The Camel Trail

The Camel Trail is a traffic free trail which follows the route of a disused railway line linking the towns of Padstow, Wadebridge and Bodmin. Whilst open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders it is best known as a cycle route, although all users are welcome. As the route was originally designed for steam trains pulling loads it is more or less flat making it ideal for families. The trail is fairly well maintained by Cornwall Council and useable in all but the worst of conditions.

The trail travels through some beautiful countryside starting with the side of the River Camel which it follows for over 10 miles to the town of Bodmin. From here there is a further section leading onto Bodmin Moor via Camelford and to the village of Blisland. The rugged scenery here is quite a contrast to the gentle banks of the Camel estuary in Padstow. As well as the diverse scenery a variety of wildlife can be seen from the trail, particularly wading birds such as curlews, terns, herons and egrets.

With a number of pubs and cafes along the route the trail can be negotiated at a pace to suit all. It is a completely free resource and used by around 350,000 people each year. For those who fancy cycling the route but haven’t brought their bikes, there are plenty of places in Padstow and nearby Wadebridge where you can hire a bike for the day.

Visit Padstein

If one thing has upped Padstow’s profile over the last decade it is celebrity chef Rick Stein. Running no less than four restaurants, four shops, an accommodation empire and a seafood cookery school it is pretty hard to avoid all things Rick Stein when visiting Padstow. Whilst one could argue the negatives of Mr Stein’s influence on Padstow the quality of his outlets cannot be denied.

Although the restaurant and certainly the accommodation are budget-bustingly upmarket fish and chips from Stein's Fish and Chips is one to tick off the list. The other eateries are the original Seafood Restaurant, St Petroc's Bistro and Rick Stein's Café - the most affordable of the four.

Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant
Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant | Source
Puffin Island - Just up the coast
Puffin Island - Just up the coast

Take a Boat Trip

Whilst Padstow harbour and town are great from the land why not take the opportunity to explore the area by boat. There are a number of services running from the harbour and the options are generally fishing trips, wildlife spotting or just general pottering about on the water. There is also a choice of water craft with some trips offered by speedier ‘RIB’s as compared to the larger cruisers with on board bars.

Being situated on a tidal estuary sailings are determined by the tides as you wouldn’t want to get stranded on the dreaded Doom Bar! Regardless of the time of year there is a fantastic variety of wildlife that can be seen along the North Cornwall coast. Seals, puffins, dolphins and basking sharks are all regularly sighted.

The coast around Padstow is itself pretty dramatic. To the east is the Rumps, an iconic headland with several islands just off the coast. To the west, round Stepper Point are Tregudda Gorge and Gulland Rock, with Trevose Head beyond. On higher tides boat trips can also explore the stunning scenery of the Camel Estuary, a haven for birdlife.


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