Our first Cornish Campervan holiday

The T4 was ready for her first adventure (you can read about our camper conversion project here) and we wanted to celebrate with a big trip. There are a few on our wish list, the West Coast of Scotland is high up there, Europe – those French and Italian campsites that we’ve seen pictures of with the amazing food, and the views…so dreamy! At the time our kids were 2 and 7, they’re pretty good long haulers thanks to half of our family living about 300 miles away 😂 and we wanted somewhere we could go, pitch up and just play all day long, on a beach preferably with some other options for days out nearby in case the weather didn’t play ball. Cornwall was an obvious choice. We have both lived down South for a number of years in our early twenties but neither of us had ever experienced a Cornish holiday and were keen to see if it lived up to the hype. *Spoiler alert – it absolutely does!

But which campsite? There’s so many it’s not even funny. We did our usual searching on youtube, looked on google maps for gems along the coast. And then, Gwithian Farm jumped out. Jonny is a keen fisherman and knows a thing or two about coasts and tides, he really liked the look of this location. A short walk to a beautiful looking beach and a little shop on site, I think there was something mentioned about a daily delivery of fresh croissants and we were sold.

To break up the journey (*and an excuse to prolong our trip!) we picked a site roughly half way to stay for the night. Thistledown Farm in Stroud fitted the bill. I can remember breaking out in a cold sweat as we battled up one of those long Gloucestershire hills with the 17 year old engine pushing itself to it’s limits. Jonny remained cool though – total faith in his girl and sure enough we made it, rewarded with insane views. This campsite is beautifully nestled among 70 acres of ancient meadow and woodland. Those with campervans stay in the Elderflower Orchard and those with tents set up camp wherever they like in the pastures which are all car free (don’t worry, you can cart all your gear down in a wheelbarrow!) We had a couple of walks down to one of the pastures and tried the composting toilet (a first for us!) and on that beautiful warm Summer’s night it was absolute bliss, kids running free, families round campfires, no loud music, just bird song and the heady smell of fireside cooking. So. Much. Space! The cafe is a gem too, beautifully rustic with great coffee and homemade treats and wood fired food on offer. Anywhere where you can sit outside eating something delicious while the kids can play safely around you is a win in my book. Kind of wished we could have stayed longer. After a restful nights sleep we rose early, packed up – next stop Cornwall!

Side note, can we just have a moment to appreciate how awesome air con is? Because we do not have air con in our T4 and this summer was HOT which made hours of motorway driving very interesting and er… sweaty. Nothing a few ice lolly stops couldn’t fix but still, there was quite a bit of reminiscing of holidays in the early nineties in old cars with all the windows down and no one getting any cooler!

Gwithian Farm is one of those campsites where it felt like everyone just ‘gets it’, there’s a vibe that is just beach, play, chill and I’m here for it. Our neighbours to the side and across from us had both been coming here for the last 15 years or more and we had many lovely conversations about their memories of family trips years ago with their kids who were now beer drinking adults off surfing with their mates all day, coming back to their camp only when hungry. I had another long conversation with a young woman at the washing up facility, she had been coming here since she was a baby and now, in her early twenties she was proudly passing on all her favourite spots and tips to me. The site has spacious pitches, many with little hedges in between. A communal field in the middle of the site where kids would play together and a little sandpit, table tennis area too. Clean facilities. A small shop with all the camping essentials as well as body board hire among other things. Friendly staff. All good.

The beach is an easy walk away, but we drove in the van each day and parked at Gwithian Towans Long stay car park. I think it was around £6 for all day parking which we were fine with as it meant that we had the toilet and fridge facilities in the van to enable us to stay as long as we wanted on the beach. It’s worth mentioning that part of the beach gets cut off from access when the tide comes in each day but the life guards make sure everyone knows when to make their way round to the other side of the beach. We spent many happy hours body boarding, building sandcastles and rock pooling. We grabbed a bite to eat and a great coffee from the Hungry Horsebox on the beach, which is really popular but worth waiting for. Back to the site in the evenings for a freshen up and a bbq. We had pizza one night from the popular visiting pizza van on site which was very good, and ventured out to get fish and chips too. We’d have liked to hunt out some more foodie spots but while the kids are little the evenings were pretty chilled with a bbq on the cadac after all the fun in the sun. On our last night, we stayed at the beach until the sun started to dip and the photos we took from the top of the cliffs are some of my favourite of the trip.

Of course, while the weather was surprisingly kind to us (we’re used to the unpredictability of Northern England/ Scottish and didn’t get our hopes up for sunshine all week!) there were a couple of days that were chillier and drizzly. We headed out to pick fruit at Trevaskis Farm in Hayle which the kids loved. Luckily our stay coincided with some very good friends of ours staying in St Ives and we took them up on their offer to show us round their beloved holiday spot. This was the other drizzly day, so we took cover in Porthminster Kitchen which was such a treat, the seafood was beautiful! The sun made an appearance and we headed out for a walk along the beach and some ice creams, mine was promptly stolen by a seagull – spot the tourist right there! Apparently this is a thing down here?! If you’re heading to St Ives and looking for great places to eat, I have it on very good authority that The HubPorthmeor Cafe and Porthgwidden Cafe are all wonderful too.

It’s worth being a National Trust member because there are some special spots available to those with their cards. Godrevy beach is one of those, with a gorgeous little cafe and a car park further up the hill where crowds gather to watch the sunset from on top of the cliff. Of course, there are many other incredible National trust attractions around here which we didn’t manage to get to but are certainly on our list of places to visit one day. Also on our list is the Minack Theatre, we felt our youngest might not have had the patience to enjoy this so much just yet but we’ll absolutely be going to see a show here in the future. 

We’re not too hard to please when it comes to camping, we like to keep things simple, and really if there’s some space, some water and some good walks/views nearby, we’re very happy. Camping trips are what you make them after all. Gwithian Farm exceeded our expectations to be honest. We were so excited to get to Cornwall and it didn’t disappoint. Being in the T4 made it even more memorable, there are SO many campervans down there, everyone is waving at each other, it feels like you’re part of a special club! We saw young couples chilling on the roof of their van watching the sunset, older couples enjoying a glass of something in a lay by next to the coast, families sharing out food from their campers to hungry kids covered in sand, it felt like a shared experience, passing on knowing nods and smiles, each of us basking in the vanlife.

On leaving the campsite, I tentatively suggested the idea of winding our way to a little village with a shop that I’d been following on Instagram for a long time and was itching to visit. Never one to say no to new places and since we had everything we needed in the van, Jonny gave the green light. Lostwithiel is an absolute beauty of a place, an ancient little town with a fascinating history nestled along the river Fowey. Every house door and shop window seemed so carefully considered and beautifully rural. The Alice in Scandiland shop is such a thoughtful little spot, I have followed the owner Alice on instagram for a few years now and really enjoy her style. If you like beautiful interiors, scandi style and pretty gardens as well as a taste of life in Cornwall, I would really recommend following her. My daughter and I picked out a couple of Cornish items that would serve as special mementoes of our family trip, these included a resin pot made from recycled surfboards, a beautiful candlestick holder from a local potter and some gorgeous handmade soaps. We also enjoyed some incredible Cornish pasties from a deli nearby. 

Our trip was not over yet though! Our daughter received a ticket for the Harry Potter Studios tour for Christmas and so we planned to spend a day here on the way home from Cornwall. When we were planning the route we realised that we could pop in and see some old friends of ours, which in turn made me realise we might be able to stop by the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden too. I could write a whole lot more on each of these wonderful places but in short, we’d highly recommend both. The Roald Dahl Museum was quaint with some lovely interactive features for young children. And the Harry Potter experience was everything we’d hoped it would be and so much more! Plenty of WOW moments and magical memories to take home with us. I mean, when you arrive in the car park and even the traffic cones have been Harry Pottered, it was never going to be anything BUT amazing! We stayed at a Camping and Caravanning Club site called Bella Vista in High Wycombe. A simple site which is well run by lovely owners and with a really interesting ex army washing facility!

Upon reflection, it was the campervan that took the pressure off sticking to an itinerary. Waking up, checking the weather and seeing what we felt like doing, taking detours and visiting friends, a way of travelling that we really appreciated, and made for a really relaxing holiday, even with a two year old! On returning home we booked in at Gwithian Farm for next year and I had a thought which made me smile, wouldn’t it be funny if we became regulars and it was our kids all grown up, passing on their memories and tips to the newbies on the campsite fifteen years from now!

*This trip took place in 2019 and we all know what happened in 2020 but we’re hoping it won’t be too long until we can visit again.

** I read a really interesting article recently which I wanted to touch upon. I’ve seen similar pieces over the last 18 months, describing the issues with the descent of tourists upon popular UK beauty spots and I really feel for local residents who end up cleaning up after them and dealing with the aftermath. As a farmers’ daughter I also empathise with those who live and work the land, constantly having to re close gates, check the safety of their livestock and clear dog poo bags. We like to live by the simple mantra ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’, and I like to think that as long as we travel responsibly, spend money with local independent businesses and act with kindness we hopefully aren’t going too far wrong. The article is well worth a read.

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