Travel back in time to the picturesque historic harbour village and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Charlestown, whose atmospheric cobbled streets and tall ships are reminiscent of a bygone age.
Near St Austell, but much more quaint, the village is now inextricably linked to TV’s Poldark, but also to films such as Alice in Wonderland.
Renamed in 1799 after Charles Rashleigh, a local landowner and entrepreneur, it was previously known as West Polmear, meaning ‘little cove’, when it had a population of 9 people who lived in a scatter of cottages. It was developed into a late Georgian working port to export china clay and import coal, which remains unspoilt today, retaining its character.
Be grateful you are not in a stagecoach, when the journey from London would have taken you three days. Now, Charlestown is easy to reach by car, using motorways to the A30, or taking a train to St Austell, followed by a bus/taxi.
If you’re driving to South Cornwall in a plug-in electric vehicle, see our list of charging locations here.
There are a number of taxi services at the railways station, such as this one. First Bus offers a bus service for the journey which is around 1.5 miles.
You will pay to park throughout Charlestown, unless you have accommodation with parking included. Even pubs, like the Rashleigh Arms, charge, but you can get some of it refunded if spending in the pub.
Food is so important on holiday, and you will not be disappointed in Charlestown.
With locally sourced food from land and sea, The Longstore is the place for steaks and fish dishes. The menu is very meaty but there are vegetarian starters and side dishes.
Or try The Pierhouse, a charming inn which appears in Poldark. With a sea facing restaurant and bar terrace, you will receive a warm welcome. Food is pub classics with specials making the most of regional ingredients.
Meanwhile, The Boathouse offers sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and warm plates.
The Rashleigh Arms was built in 1851, and has a grade II listed car park. Overlooking the harbour, it offers a variety of foods for all tastes.
Look out for The Rum Sailor, a fascinating bar in a converted clay store, which sells more than just rum!
Don’t miss the Tall Ships Creamery for ice cream, a tiny shop which was once a weighbridge. A wonderful array of ice cream (and sorbet) flavours, locally sourced wherever possible, makes the place popular with adults and children alike. There is usually a small queue as it is so good!
If you wish to dine further afield, then Mevgissey and St Austell are nearby.
If you want a learning experience, why not visit Wheal Martyn, then Charlestown, to follow the export journey of local clay? Apart from the Shipwreck Centre, Charlestown itself is a little low of child-friendly activities, as you might expect from a historical place, but St Austell is very close by, where you will find Cornwall Football Golf Park, St Austell Leisure Centre, Kidzworld for soft play, Ozzell Bowl for bowling, and Hangloose at the nearby Eden Project.
Art is centred on the Old Workshop area. Cscape is the workshop of the artist Sarah Blakey and photographer Mick Blakey, while the Craft Kiln has a myriad of Cornish items. You can often ‘meet the makers’ here, creators of craft items from, for example, woodturning or art deco fused glass.
Charlestown has a shingle beach which is south facing and sloping, accessed by steps at the side of the harbour. Dogs are not allowed on the beach during the summer months.
Sail Loft Emporium is an antique shop with around 40 individual stalls: antiques, collectables, vintage and retro, while Atishoo Gallery is a gift shop which believes in promoting homegrown talent, so where possible sells items made in the UK and more specifically, Cornwall. They support the #justacard campaign to encourage visitors to buy a small item to help keep independent businesses afloat.
Jangles the jeweller sells quality silver jewellery, always a fabulous keepsake reminder of your holiday.
For a gift with a difference, why not try Cornish Moonshine? Traditional whisky style alcohol, up to 50% proof.
For food, check out the lovely Wreckers deli and bakery.
Although shipwrecks were truly awful for those involved, historically we find them fascinating, so a visit to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum is a must and perfect for a rainy day. Visit the tunnels to experience Charlestown underground, and see Charlestown on film, as it has appeared in Dr Who, Mansfield Park, Rebecca and Treasure Island among many other TV series and films. Walk in the steps of many famous actors.
Why not take a brewery tour at nearby St Austell Brewery? With good reviews, the Visit England accredited Visitors’ Centre tells the secrets behind the award-winning brewing process which has developed over 160 years. The tour is very informative and there is – of course – a tasting session.
The harbour is Grade II listed, home to tall ships, giving a flavour of times past. This was the way to travel and trade before modern methods of transport.
You now pay a small fee to visit the harbour port. Heading off from the harbour is a labyrinth of small, winding, cobbled streets, as if you have entered another world. It can get understandably busy so early doors or sunset are good times to visit this evocative place with its spectacle of tall ships.
You can rent the old harbour master’s office as a beach hut for a day – at a price.
Charlestown has access to the South West Coast path. A popular walk is towards Mevagissey. This scenic cliff trail takes you towards Pentewan Village, Black Head and Porthpean. Not the easiest walk but superb views.
Charlestown offers you a slice of old Cornwall, crammed as it is with history. Everywhere you go will unveil yet more Cornish history. Soaking up the atmosphere is free to all. The cobbled car park of the pub, The Rashleigh Arms, for example, was originally laid to store copper ore pre-shipping.
Most of the houses around the harbour were constructed in the 1790s or shortly after, so a simple wander takes you back in time.
One of the bells of St Paul’s Church is named after Noel Coward, the playwright, so don’t miss the churches on your historic tour.
Charlestown’s driest months are April and September but October/November seem prone to rain. Its warmest month is July (20-25 degrees C on average) and its coldest is February.
Toilets are situated in Charlestown car park.
Steeped in history and famous for being a regular filming location on Poldark, Charlestown is a wonderful location for your holiday in South Cornwall.