As anyone who knows me could tell you, I love a bit of Poldark. Admittedly it’s a recent obsession: before last year I’d never read the books, but when the new BBC adaptation started my Sunday evenings soon became dominated by watching Ross Poldark gallop around on clifftops.
When I was little most of my family holidays were spent in Cornwall, so seeing the beautiful coastline, beaches and moorland on the screen gave me a real craving to go back. (Ok I admit it, Aidan Turner’s torso helped too). So a couple of weeks ago I headed south to the land of fudge and pasties, where I spent most of my time wandering round the county in search of Poldark locations.
We booked a cottage near Mevagissey, which turned out to be a good idea as it’s fairly central and you can drive from there to most other parts of Cornwall in under 2 hours. It’s a very small town with tiny winding streets, but still a pleasant place to spend a sunny afternoon – I recommend buying an ice cream and sitting with your legs dangling over the harbour wall to watch the boats coming and going, and people getting chased by seagulls. There’s also an excellent fudge shop.
The first couple of days were mostly mist and mizzle, but the forecast promised good things for the third day so we took a chance and headed off for Poldark location #1:
Tucked away on the south of the Land’s End peninsula, this tiny cove is still quiet and secluded despite its newfound TV fame. This might have something to do with the miles of tiny winding roads you have to drive along to get there (god help you if you meet someone coming the other way), but it’s totally worth the effort.
The whole area feels very unspoiled, surrounded by lush green clifftops and with only a couple of houses. There’s even a small (read: tiny) teashop – you’ll have to go in here anyway to pay the parking fee (£2 for up to two hours or £4 all day) so you might as well treat yourself to cake or a cream tea, which both come in satisfyingly huge portions. All of the seating is outside in a little suntrap garden: the perfect spot to while away a lazy afternoon.
The cove itself is only about 20 yards from the teashop, where you have to pick your way down a steep cobbled slipway to the small arc of sand below. The Poldark crew filmed several scenes here, including the pilchard catch, the scene in the last episode of season 1 where Ross helps Mark escape the soldiers, and *that* scene of Demelza spying on Ross as he takes a swim. I couldn’t resist following Aidan’s example, though as the water was a bit cold and there were other visitors around I decided to wear a wetsuit rather than going ‘full Poldark’ (i.e. butt naked).
Swimming in the cove is pretty safe, as long as you don’t go beyond the headland where there strong currents. I splashed around for a bit, until shouts from the beach told me that I’d been joined by some new friends – a couple of seals bobbing around a bit further out to sea. They were too wary to come close, but I’m still counting that as ‘swimming with seals’ for my bucket list.
Once I’d tired myself out I spent a bit of time exploring the tunnels on the beach – local folklore suggests they were used by smugglers, but in reality the first was probably dug to give farmers horse-and-cart access to the beach to collect seaweed to use as a fertiliser. The second tunnel, leading seawards, is the fishermen’s access to the tidal ‘hulleys’, built in the rocks to store shellfish.
Explore more of Land’s End:
We ran out of time on this day, but if you want to explore more in the area then it’s worth heading north to Nanjizal Beach. Just one mile south of Land’s End, this lonely cove is home to the ‘Song of the Sea’, a 100m tall slit-like archway carved through the rocks by the sea. There are plenty of caves and pools to explore at low tide, and even a freshwater waterfall which is ideal for washing off all that post-swim salt.
Further up the coast you’ll find the ruined buildings of Botallack Mine, near St Just. These were used as the Poldark family mines Wheal Leisure (in reality Wheal Owles) and Grambler (Wheal Crowns) in the BBC series. Nearby Levant Mine stood in for Tressiders Rolling Mill.
With its wild open hills, dramatic granite tors and proliferation of ponies, Bodmin Moor is without a doubt one of my favourite spots in the whole country. It’s one of those places where you can feel the history surrounding you, from the old mine ruins to the lonely tracks and crossroads. You almost expect to encounter highwaymen or smugglers hiding over the next rise, which is probably why it’s inspired so much folklore and novels like Jamaica Inn.
It also made it the perfect filming location for Poldark. Bodmin is one of the first locations we see in the series: when Ross arrives home he steps out of the carriage onto an isolated crossroads, which in reality are just a short walk away from the tiny village of Minions in the middle of the moor.
As I was there I decided to explore the moors in true Poldark style – on horseback. I booked a two-hour hack with TM International School of Horsemanship (big name for a little place!), as I’d ridden there before and knew it was well run. This time didn’t disappoint either – as it was mid-week in the off-season it was just me and my guide, and we spent two hours roaming the moors through mist, rain, sunshine, and everything else the weather decided to throw at us.
If you’re a confident rider there are plenty of opportunities for galloping, and there’s nothing quite like charging up a hill with the rain lashing your face and clods of mud flying everywhere. Well, that’s my idea of fun anyway.
After my ride I met up with my companions (who’d spent the time happily ensconced in a tea room in Minions), and we headed back along the track to see the crossroads on foot. After a pause for me to do some Poldarkin’ (verb: to strike ridiculous poses in Poldark film locations), we carried on along the left hand fork of the track to Goldiggins Quarry.
The quarry is now abandoned and has been flooded by a spring, making it the perfect spot for a bit of wild swimming. Surrounded on all sides by a natural grassy amphitheatre, it’s a peaceful retreat amid wild surroundings, with only a few fish for company on quiet days. If you’re brave you can launch yourself off the high granite rocks around the pool, but I decided to play it safe and just enjoy gliding though the clear water. If you’re lucky enough to get it all to yourself, it almost feels a bit otherworldly.
Other top spots on Bodmin:
Again we didn’t have time to go further, but if you do it’s worth heading north to St Breward. This small village is home to the cottage that was used as Ross’s house ‘Nampara’, as well as some of the miners’ cottages. It also boasts the highest church in Cornwall (about 700ft above sea level), and ‘The Old Inn’ – a pub which has been operating for nearly two centuries.
Nearby is Hallagenna Stables, another option for keen riders who want to explore Bodmin. They offer a ‘Poldark trail’ that covers some of the terrain used in the series, and some of the team also worked with with the stunt horses during filming.
Located about a mile from St Austell, Charlestown is an amazingly well preserved example of a late Georgian working port. Were it not for the cafes and people wandering around in decidedly un-18th-century clothing, you could easily believe that you had actually managed time-travel.
This feeling is helped by the fact that there are usually a couple of historic ships in the harbour: I spent 10 minutes watching a guy clambering through the rigging of the Phoenix, which looked terrifying. Rock climbing is one thing, but balancing on ropes 20ft above either a hard wooden deck or the sea is a whole other ball game.
The period-aesthetic of the town attracts a lot of film-makers, and for Poldark it was the perfect stand in for the city of Truro. Any time you see Ross and co. wandering along a harbour wall, that’ll be Charlestown. For the historians among you there’s also has a small ‘Shipwreck and Heritage Centre’, where you can see artefacts retrieved from sunken wrecks and learn more about the town’s past.
Other Poldark Locations:
A week isn’t quite long enough to explore the entirety of Poldark’s Cornwall, especially when your companions aren’t quite as obsessed as you are (‘Can we go to Charlestown tomorrow?’ ‘I guess, but why do you want to go? FYI, if you say “it’s a Poldark location” I’m going to throw this frying pan at you.’) However if you’ve got more scope than I did to practice your Poldarkin’ skills, these are some other locations you can visit:
This National Trust-owned beach was used to film the dramatic night scene where the Warleggan’s boat is shipwrecked and plundered by locals. This is pretty apt as Gunwalloe is infamous for its history of shipwrecks – next door is Dollar Cove, which was so named after the Spanish ship San Salvador was wrecked here and lost its cargo of silver dollars. It is claimed that the coins still occasionally washed up on the beach after storms, so keep an eye out when you visit.
With the ruined engine houses of Wheal Coates perched on the cliff edge, St Agnes Head is a strong reminder of Cornwall’s tin and copper mining heritage. In the series is provides the sweeping setting for Nampara Valley, part of the Poldark family estates.
This tin mine was rediscovered in the 1970s, and named to take advantage of the popularity of the novels and original TV series adaptation (broadcast 1975). Researchers believe it is the remains of Wheal Roots, which was active in the 18th century. For the 2015 series the mine provided the right atmosphere for underground scenes in the fictional ‘Wheal Leisure’.
We stayed at:
Rockpool Cottage, Bodrugan Barton, nr Mevagissey. There are a selection of cottages available on this working farm, plus indoor swimming pool available to guests. It’s 15 minute walk through the farm to the nearest beach (Colona Bay), where you can join up with a beautiful stretch of the South West Coast Path.
Top tip: Walk (or run) along the coast path to the small fishing village of Gorran Haven, and reward yourself with fish and chips from The Haven Takeaway.