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UK road trip: Dorset to Cornwall

Chesil Beach on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.
Chesil Beach on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. Photograph: Alamy

Weymouth beach is broad and sandy and the colour of turmeric; a proper bucket-and-spade beach. Hire a deckchair, watch the Punch and Judy show or head up to the Victorian Nothe Fort for views across to the Isle of Portland and the Jurassic Coast. This is a pleasant way to spend a day before heading for Cornwall on a route that wanders through west Dorset and south Devon on slow-mo roads that hug the coast, taking in estuaries, moorland and two world heritage sites (the Jurassic Coast being one of them).

West Country road trip

Spend the first night at B+B Weymouth (doubles from £70) with its clean, white rooms right on the seafront. Hang around the town’s harbour with its fishing boats, salty pubs and waterfront chippies – try crisp battered mackerel from the Old Harbour (eat in or out).

In the morning, bung a tent in the boot and drive west along the B3157, following 18 miles of spectacular Chesil Beach shingle and the Fleet Lagoon. After Abbotsbury (for the famous Swannery), make a pit stop at West Bexington’s new Club House. From the people who own the Hive Café at nearby Hive beach, this former seaside cafe now serves cocktails, tempura fried oysters and crab bisque, as well as a filling club sandwich with and a sandwich of cod goujons and pancetta for £12.50. Nice views, too.

The new Club House at West Bexington
The new Club House at West Bexington

Back on the road, join the A35 at Bridport, on an up-and-down route into east Devon, offering glimpses of Lyme Bay and the National Trust’s Golden Cap (work off lunch with a hike to the top, at 191 metres it’s the highest point on England’s south coast). A mile from Lyme Regis, look for Hook Farm: five acres of lush green campsite (pitches from £10), an easy walk from the South West Coast Path. For non-campers, Lyme Townhouse offers elegant rooms off the high street (doubles from £90 B&B, lyme-townhouse.co.uk).

On the A3052 heading towards Exeter, stop off at the beach at Branscombe or the curious Saxon-Roman Quarry Caves at Beer before dropping into Sidmouth, a charming little town of thatched houses under red-sandstone cliffs. Make the time to climb Jacob’s Ladder, a set of high wooden steps leading from the beach to the immaculate Connaught Gardens and the Clock Tower Cafe for lunch, cream tea or generous slabs of home-made cake.

The South West Coast Path approaching Branscombe, Devon England UK.
The South West Coast Path approaching Branscombe. Photograph: Alamy

Within half an hour of Sidmouth, a stretch of the M5 swiftly becomes the A38, signposted for Plymouth. Turn off at the A384 for Totnes, before plunging down the narrow lanes of the South Hams’ Dart Valley. Spend a couple of nights in one of two new shepherd’s huts at Kerswell Farmhouse (from £80 for two), both beautifully done in Farrow & Ball tongue and groove, kitted out with kitchenettes, en suite showers, proper double beds and decked sit-outs with dreamy views of gentle Devon farmland and distant Dartmoor peaks. This is a great base for exploring the area around Dartmouth and Start Bay. Plan a day trip down to Beesands, including a seafood lunch at the jolly Cricket Inn and a walk to ruined Hallsands (the ghostly remains of the former fishing village, drowned in a storm in 1917, can be seen from a platform on the cliff above). Closer to home, dine at the Maltsters Arms in Tuckenhay, a casual gastro pub once owned by TV chef Keith Floyd, with tables right on the river, where willows dip into the green, tidal waters of the Dart. A bowl of moules marinière costs £14.50, scallops steamed in lemongrass, ginger and chilli £9.95.

Dartmouth harbour.
Dartmouth harbour. Photograph: Alamy

Day five and head back to the A38, crossing the Tamar Bridge at Saltash, Cornwall’s most dramatic entrance. After a 20-minute drive, arrive at eco-hippy Maker camping at Millbrook, tucked away on the Rame peninsula in Cornwall’s “Forgotten Corner”. On the site of a former army barracks, with views across Plymouth Sound, it has a choice of camping pitches (adult from £7, child £3) or yurts (from £60, sleep four). In addition, there are Nissen huts, compost toilets, music nights and a new Maker canteen run by a former River Cottage chef.

Sheep graze by the ruins of mine buildings at Caradon Hill, near Minions, Cornwall..
Ruins of mine buildings at Caradon Hill, near Minions. Photograph: Alamy

Spend the following day on a B-road detour, heading inland from Liskeard to Minions on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor. Here, at the Caradon Mining District world heritage site, the skeletons of tin-mine engine houses can be spotted in a wild landscape of gorse, heather and bog moss. From Minions, it’s a fairly easy walk to the top of Caradon Hill. The high telecoms mast at its summit puts some people off, but even on a sunny summer’s day, you can have the entire hill to yourself. Ditto the panoramic views of most of south-east Cornwall.

The next stopover is an hour south-west, at Bodrugan Barton near Mevagissey, where Wigwam Holidays offers six new, wedge-shaped timber cabins (from £85 a night, sleep four). From there, meander down to Gorran Haven for its medieval harbour, and walks along the cliff to long and lovely Vault beach, or to the 140-acre garden estate at nearby Caerhays Castle.

Apartment at the Star & Garter, Falmouth
Apartment at the Star & Garter, Falmouth

On day seven, head off early to take the slow road to Falmouth via the Roseland peninsula heritage coast and the King Harry chain ferry, which clanks across a neck of the Fal river from Philleigh to Feock. Finally, in Falmouth, discover the beaches and the lively harbour and high street area, which seems to breed new places to eat and drink. Try the Star & Garter for lunch (stacked beef bun, smoked salt chips and a half of cask ale, £10), dinner, or to stay in one of the two gorgeous harbour-view apartments (from £72). Fetch up at the Chintz cheese and wine bar, and sleep it all off at the Highcliffe contemporary B&B (doubles from £80 B&B, highcliffefalmouth.com).

This article titled "UK road trip: Dorset to Cornwall" was written by Lesley Gillilan, for The Guardian on Saturday 12 August 2017 06.00am

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