Padstow has been a firm favourite with holidaymakers for a long time and in recent years it has become increasingly popular owing to the connection with TV chef Rick Stein – indeed his presence has caused some, rather sarcastically, to rename the town Padstein. Little wonder, for the celebrity chef owns four restaurants, a hotel, a renowned seafood cookery school and four shops (a deli, patisserie, gift shop and fishmongers), employing a significant number of local residents. What he doesn’t yet own is any of the caravan parks in Padstow!
Situated on the west of the Camel Estuary, two miles from the coast, Padstow is equally as popular, if not more so, as any coastal town. It is, in part, due to Rick Stein, but not least due to its sheltered, sunny location with its quaint quayside around a small harbour with views across the river to Rock. So close to the sea, it also has a wealth of sandy beaches right in town, although it’s fair to say that the better beaches with rolling surf are to be found a short distance away.
Like many other Cornish coastal towns, when you visit Padstow you will find a web of narrow streets and a bundle of old fishermen’s cottages and seaside houses gathered together on a hillside, all focused mainly on the few yards that surround the water’s edge. There you can indulge in pricey fish and chips (owned by Rick Stein) or even pricier seafood at The Seafood Restaurant (owned by Rick Stein) or sample something that hasn’t started life in the water at St Petroc’s Bistro or Rick Stein’s Café (also both owned by Mr Stein).
Around the harbour there are also plenty of other places to eat – alternative fish and chip restaurants, pasty shops, quayside pubs and the ubiquitous Cornish fudge shop. But the best way to eat in Padstow is with an open ‘wrapped’ portion of fish and chips sat on the edge of the quay, minding the seagulls that are also keen to share your lunch.
For those interested in cooking, the Padstow Seafood School (again run by Rick Stein) is a popular and convivial way of learning to prepare and cook seafood. With stunning views out across the estuary, most courses run during the morning followed by a collective lunch. Go to the evening cookery demonstrations for skills workshops covering specifics – including grilling and barbecuing, ideal meals to perfect for your caravan holidays in Cornwall.
However, Rick Stein doesn’t dominate all food establishments in Padstow. The award-winning Padstow Farm Shop, located just west of Padstow, sells all things Cornish and, in particular, is making a name for its Padstow Pasta. The only farm in England to grow durum wheat (the type of wheat required for pasta), visitors can watch the pasta being made on the premises.
Visit tourist attractions in Padstow, not all of which revolve around food (but it’s a good proportion!). There are plenty of other places to see and things to do in and around Padstow, such as walking the South West Coast Path, fishing trips and sea safaris, coasteering, or hiring a bike (available in town) and following the Camel Trail from Padstow to Bodmin. The 18-mile trail is largely traffic-free, using the disused railway line – great for families for enjoyable off-road cycling through pretty countryside.
Go surfing at Polzeath, just across the estuary, which is a particularly popular haunt with surf schools located on the lovely, west-looking, bucket-and-spade beach. Neighbouring Daymer Bay, situated between Rock and Polzeath, is renowned as a superb family beach with little rolling surf and safer swimming. Traffic to the villages can get busy, so there’s always the opportunity to take the ferry from Padstow to Rock and walk along the coast path to Polzeath.
Alternatively, visit Harlyn Bay and Constantine Bay, either side of Trevose Head, great beaches for rock pools. But one of the best beaches is Mother Ivey’s Bay. It’s quieter because there is no direct access and requires a 20-minute tidal walk to reach it – that is unless you happen to be staying at Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park, which has virtually exclusive access to this ‘private’ beach.
Top five things to do in Padstow
Enjoy a one-hour cruise aboard the Jubilee Queen from Padstow Harbour. You’ll see plenty of marine life and seabirds while cruising around the offshore islands. Subject to tidal conditions, the cruises are available between April and September.
Find out about the 'Obby 'Oss tradition, Padstow lifeboats and lots of local history at the Padstow Museum. This is a great activity for a rainy day on your caravan holidays in Cornwall.
Discover everything there is to know about lobsters at the National Lobster Hatchery. Around 30,000 lobsters are released into the coastal waters around Cornwall every year and visitors can watch the baby lobsters growing up, ready for release. There are giant lobsters to see, too.
Crabbing in the harbour is a must-do and very popular family activity in Padstow. The inner harbour is the best place to catch baby crabs and you can buy crab lines and bait from various shops or from the Padstow Angling Centre. Don’t forget a bucket of sea water in which to put your catch.
Visit the Elizabethan manor house, Prideaux Place. Situated on a hill above the harbour, on the outskirts of Padstow, there are spectacular views of the Camel Estuary and beyond. The grounds are a lovely place to sit, or take a wander on one of the woodland walks.
When to visit Padstow
The biggest day in Padstow’s annual calendar is May Day, or ‘Obby ‘Oss Day, when thousands descend on the town for May Day festivities, Padstow style. An 'Obby 'Oss figure is paraded through the town, with a procession of dancers and merrymakers following.
During the summer months Padstow also has a tradition for silver band music. Every Sunday (2.30pm and 7.30pm) and some weekdays between May and August there are open-air concerts, usually on the bandstand with local and visiting silver bands, brass bands and male voice choirs entertaining the public.
How to get to Padstow
So if you're planning your caravan holidays in Cornwall and want to head to one of the campsites near Padstow, take junction 31 off the M5, then the A30 dual-carriageway to Launceston, before turning onto the A395 and then the A39 to Wadebridge. Three miles south west of Wadebridge, turn onto the A389 for Padstow. The town is not suitable for towing through.
An alternative route that is more scenic, with views of the North Devon and North Cornish coast, is the A361 (M5 junction 27) to Barnstaple, followed by the A39. While more scenic, the route is considerably slower.
Of course, remember that country lanes can be small, twisty and high sided, so it is worth checking with the campsite or caravan park you're booked at, as the owners might be able to advise the best routes to use when towing a caravan.