With its pretty harbour villages, spectacular landscapes and beautiful beaches, this unspoilt headland is one of Cornwall’s hidden gems. Words Lesley Gillilan.
This is Cornwall’s so-called ‘Forgotten Corner’; tucked away and often overlooked by tourists. At the southeast tip of the county, at the mouth of the Tamar Estuary, it’s almost in Devon (you can wave at Plymouth from its northern shores) but, according to local resident Sarah McLees-Taylor, the Rame Peninsula is ‘quintessential Cornwall’.
Off the beaten track
A fist of rocky headlands, trimmed with beaches and dotted with Napoleonic forts, it juts into the sea between Plymouth Sound and beautiful Whitsand Bay. There are no towns here; only Millbrook, an outsized marina village on a Tamar creek; and salty Kingsand-Cawsand, a pair of adjoined harbour communities (at one time, the Devon-Cornwall border ran between the two). There are no main roads either, though a stream of nautical traffic sails past via the Tamar Estuary, with every kind of boat from yachts to warships and cross-channel ferries.
Sarah and her husband Dylan moved from London to Cornwall in 2005. They instantly fell in love with Kingsand and have since turned a former coaching inn into Westcroft Gallery and Guesthouse. The village, and its Cawsand twin is, they say, like a mini St Ives – all whitewash and winding streets – but not as crowded. ‘It’s very pretty, very clean and very safe,’ says Sarah. ‘And there’s a real community and a sense of the area’s heritage.’
Rame is a little off the beaten track, she admits, but Kingsand-Cawsand has a deli, a café, a gallery and five pubs. ‘There are amazing walks right on our doorstep, lovely beaches, rockpools to die for and the empty sands of Whitsand Bay.’
She and Dylan love the unspoilt landscapes (‘so green and wooded, you really notice the seasonal changes’) and the evident lack of light pollution. ‘This is proper Cornwall,’ she adds. ‘The way it used to be.’
WHERE TO BUY
The hub of the peninsula is Kingsand-Cawsand, with its tiny, hilly streets and whitewashed fishermen’s cottages overlooking Plymouth Sound. There’s friendly rivalry between the two, but Kingsand probably comes out on top as the best address – and has slightly higher prices. In Cawsand, one of the peninsula’s converted granite forts offers terraced houses with views from £250,000.
For one of the best views in Cornwall, look at Tregonhawke and Freathy – where two neighbouring communities of cliff-hung timber chalets overlook Whitsand Bay. Properties at seaside Portwrinkle, to the west of the peninsula, include a converted fish cellar at £425,000.
Walkers are in heaven here. The South West Coast Path loops around the entire peninsular, passing through Rame Head and Mount Edgcumbe Country Park (mountedgcumbe.gov.uk) which offers 865 acres of seaside deer park, woodland and Grade I-listed gardens. From Kingsand you can walk through the estate to Cremyll, where a little foot ferry chugs across the Tamar Estuary to Plymouth’s Royal William Yard (for River Cottage Canteen and other waterside restaurants). Closer to home, the best eateries are the Devonport Inn in Kingsand as well as The View at Treninnow Cliff. Aside from Kingsand-Cawsand’s tiny shingle bays, the best beach is Whitsand Bay, stretching four miles from Rame Head to Portwrinkle. Local events include the Port Eliot Festival in St Germans in July.
JOBS AND COMMUTING
Other than tourism (and a smattering of boat-building), there is very little industry in the area, and though the City of Plymouth is only nine miles away, it’s not an easy commute – up to 50 minutes via the Torpoint car ferry, which crosses the Tamar to Devonport (an alternative is a 24-mile journey via the A38’s Tamar toll bridge). From Easter until the end of October, local commuters can use the foot ferry from Cawsand to Plymouth’s Barbican Harbour (a 30-minute trip). London takes roughly four and a half hours by road or rail (the nearest mainline station is at St Germans, nine miles to the north).
There’s a primary in Kingsand-Cawsand and a junior in Millbrook, but secondary school kids travel to Torpoint Community College (rated Good by Ofsted) or to private schools in Plymouth.
The Rame Peninsula is like a small, very green island, with a distinct lack of facilities. The closest supermarket is at Torpoint (though villagers can use Sainsbury’s’ or Waitrose’s delivery services). In Kingsand-Cawsand, parking is at a premium (some pay an annual fee for a space in a privately owned pay and display). In high season, it can get crowded with tourists, particularly Devon daytrippers, but it’s pleasantly quiet in the winter.
At the head of a tidal creek, with its own yacht marina, Millbrook lies at the heart of the peninsular. It’s not as pretty as Kingsand-Cawsand, but has better facilities and prices are keener (you can buy four-bedroom terraced houses for around £270,000, two or three-bedroom cottages for under £150,000). Best buys are family houses on the fringes of the village, or overlooking the lake.
What Sarah and Dylan like about…the Rame Peninsula
The Cawsand Ferry to Plymouth is fondly referred to by the locals as the Red Pig because it makes a squealing noise as it docks on the beach. ‘The half-hour crossing is like a mini cruise – and pods of dolphins regularly swim with the boat.’
The Devonport Inn, on the seafront in Kingsand. ‘The chef often goes out with the village’s last local fisherman to bring in lobster and other fresh Whitsand Bay seafood.’
The coast-path walk to Rame Head (roughly three miles), taking in the tiny, medieval Rame Chapel (lit only by candles), the Napoleonic Polhawn Fort (now an up-market wedding venue) and the sweep of Whitsand Bay. ‘The views are stunning – in one direction, right across Plymouth Sound to Devon, in the other, the south coast of Cornwall. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the Lizard.’
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Average house prices: [July 2013]. Source: Zoopla
British film director Mike Leigh has chosen Kingsand as the location for his film, Turner. Actor Timothy Spall plays the renowned artist JMW Turner, while Kingsand plays 19th-century Margate.
PAY A VISIT
Sarah and Dylan McLees-Taylor’s tall, thin house peeps at Kingsand’s salty seafront from a restored 18th-century coaching inn. Above their art gallery, they offer three boutique bedrooms – one in the attic with a stargazing roll-top tub and a romantic French bed – all an eclectic mix of illustrated wallpapers, antique glass, curios, fine art and Farrow & Ball colours. Expect a warm welcome, delicious breakfasts and the sound of the sea. Doubles start from £90 per night.