Thursday, 26 March 2015

Three of Cornwall's best parks for families

There's nothing like getting out in the fresh air and spending some quality time with your family, and parks are fantastic places to do just that. Fortunately Cornwall is brimming with them.

Whether you're embarking on a nature spotting adventure, setting off on a family cycle ride or simply sitting on a bench and relaxing while the kids run off some energy, there are plenty of green spaces you can head to during your break in the county.

This 19-acre Cornish Mining World Heritage Site sits just off the A30 in Pool, near Redruth, and is the ideal place to let the kids run free. There are swathes of green space for picnics and games, and there is also a huge adventure playground with a wide range of equipment for children of all ages.

It's free to enter, and you'll find everything from funnel slides and subterranean tunnels to carousel swings and pyramid towers. There's even a giant sandpit complete with diggers and a sand transportation system that will keep little ones entertained for hours.

Botanical gardens and wildlife trails make Heartlands a fantastic place for nature lovers and keen gardeners, and there are also links to cycling routes for the bike lovers in the family. And if you want to enjoy a spot of lunch, the Red River Cafe serves delicious dishes made from fresh local produce.

Trebah Gardens
Situated near Falmouth, this sub-tropical paradise (pictured above) features more than four miles of footpaths and its very own secluded beach. It is bursting with colour all year round, so if nature is your family's passion you'll find plenty to explore here.

The beach area, which sits on the banks of the Helford River, is the ideal place to skim stones, paddle and build sandcastles, and you can enjoy a bite to eat at the Boathouse Cafe. Trebah Gardens also boasts adventure play areas and trails for the kids, as well as a programme of special events.

Admission prices range from £9 to £4.50 for adults and from £3 to £1.50 for kids. Children under five go free. Dogs are also welcome in the gardens and on the beach, as well as in the garden terrace and picnic areas. There are even designated doggie tables in the Planters Cafe.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park
This exciting adventure park is situated near Launceston and is jam-packed full of fun things to do. There's the Forbidden Mansion, featuring secret passageways, concealed doors and an upside down room, as well as detective trails for those with a passion for exploration.

There's also an underground hobbit house and a challenging beech maze, as well as a miniature railway that takes you on a fun-filled mile-long journey around the park. Unlimited rides on the train are included in the park's entry price.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park is open through the spring and summer months from 10am until 5pm and car parking is free. Admission costs £9.50 for adults and £8.50 for children. Under fives are free of charge and there is a discount for groups of four or more.


Friday, 6 March 2015

Four of Cornwall's best castles to visit

Cornwall is absolutely steeped in history - and there is no better way of getting to grips with this than by exploring heritage sites.

There are so many on offer that it is likely to be a case of narrowing down the choice to what you can fit in with the rest of your holiday plans.

The county's castles range from medieval keeps to 16th century fortresses. Here are just a few of the sites open to the public.

Launceston Castle
Launceston Castle is a Norman motte and bailey. Central to the attraction is a 13th century round tower that was built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. It sits inside a shell keep that predates the construction of the central tower. This may have been built as early as 1067, shortly after the Norman conquest.

The top of the tower can still be reached by a dark internal staircase - and it is well worth the trip, as spectacular views are offered over the surrounding area of Bodmin Moor and the Tamar Valley. Approaching the castle is also a rewarding experience, as it dominates the landscape.

An exhibition is present at the site, which traces 1,000 years of Cornish history, including finds from site excavations and details of how the site continued to be used as a prison after the Civil War.

Restormel Castle
Restormel (pictured above) is another 13th-century circular shell-keep, which encloses the main rooms of the castle and has helped to keep them preserved in very good condition. Like Launceston, it is built on an earlier Norman mound and is surrounded by a deep dry ditch.

It also commands spectacular views over south Cornwall - including the River Fowey - and is a popular picnic spot. This is also a popular area for distinctive wildlife, such as the Tetraphasis Obscurus - or the Black Pheasant. Outdoor theatre performances are regularly hosted here in summer evenings - and visitors can still climb the castle steps to look down on the remains of the rooms.

Pendennis Castle
Pendennis was originally constructed between 1540 and 1545 and has a lot to offer as a family day out. It is one of many great fortresses built by Henry VIII to defend the country against invasion. It remained active as a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War, and also as a Second World War observation post.

This fascinating history is traced in exhibitions throughout the site, which include a recreated Tudor gun room, interactive exhibitions, a hands-on Discovery Centre, and displays of George Butterworth's wartime cartoons.

St Mawes Castle
St Mawes is also one of Henry VIII's coastal artillery fortresses - and is arguably the best preserved. It boasts a charming clover-leaf shape that was originally surrounded by octagonal outer defences.

Unlike Pendennis, little development work was carried out on the site after its completion - and visitors will still be able to see carved Latin inscriptions in praise of King Henry VIII and his son Edward VI.

An audio tour is available to help bring this history back to life for visitors.

Read more information on our inspected and star-rated Cornwall holiday cottages.