The Best Festivals & Fairs in Cornwall this Summer
by Paul Joseph | Published May 23, 2016
With its secluded beaches and dreamy backwaters, Cornwall can be one of England’s most relaxing regions to visit. But it also has a propensity for bursting into vibrant life – particularly during the summer months, thanks to a wide array of festivals and fairs that take place here. Below are some of the best.
Cornwall Folk Festival
Wadebridge, 26 – 29 August
August bank holiday in Wadebridge means only one thing – the Cornwall Folk Festival will be rolling into town again, as it has done now for the past four decades. This year, the mood will be even merrier than usual as the organisers have teamed up with locally produced Haywood Farm Cider. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a booze-up for country bumpkins. The international line-up includes artists from Brittany, Africa and the USA, plus there are singer and instrument workshops, ceilidhs, street entertainers, children’s games and face painting. The final decider? Even a bank holiday washout won’t dampen the high spirits, because all the venues are warm and undercover – a major benefit for anyone planning on wearing flowers in their hair. (Photo: Cornwall Folk Festival)
St Merryn Steam and Vintage Rally
St Merryn, 25 – 26 June
This late May bank holiday, the St Merryn Steam and Vintage Rally rolls back into town to pay tribute to the magnificent engines that once powered the agricultural heart of the area. What started back in 1980 as a way to raise money for the local church has now become an annual fixture with something for everyone. Anoraks can admire the painstaking work of the enthusiasts who have restored the steam engines, tractors and vintage cars to their former glory. For everyone else there’s falconry, a fun fair, craft stalls, children’s entertainers, Cornish wrestling, a car boot sale, a dog show and even dancing diggers. All joking aside, however, taking an anorak is strongly advised – Bank Holiday weather is no laughing matter. (Photo: St Merryn Steam and Vintage Rally)
Newlyn Fish Festival
Newlyn Harbour, 29 August
Anyone in the West Penzance area on August Bank Holiday Monday may find themselves reeled into the Newlyn Fish Festival, where the puns almost write themselves. Visitors can trawl through the luggers, gigs, fishing boats and lifeboats on display, not to mention the rolling programme of cookery demos by top local chefs, two fish auctions, music on two stages and RNLI rescue displays, while tiddlers can enjoy the bouncy castles, face painting and the ever-popular Fishy Trail. Admission is only £5, under-16s are free and you’ll be helping to raise money for the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, so do you really need to mullet over any further? (Photo: Laurence Hartwell)
Billed as a celebration of Falmouth’s healthy outlook and lifestyle, ZestiFAL totally befits the town that some might call The British Berkeley – only in Cornwall, not California. Falmouth’s famously laid-back character and zest for life will be showcased for five days in July, when the public will be invited to try a vast range of activities, from archery to Zumba – and everything in between. The town’s parks, squares and beaches will be transformed into venues where all the fun will take place, and the local cafes and restaurants will be tempting passers-by with tasters of their healthy foods and juices. So if you’ve yet to be convinced of the virtues of Nordic Walking or Acai berries, ZestiFAL should be your next port of call. (Photo: ZestiFAL)
Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival
Saltash Sailing Club, 11 – 12 June
Looking for a reason to dust off that eye-patch that’s been sitting at the top of the wardrobe since your last fancy dress party? Well, the 181st edition of the Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival gives you the perfect excuse, since this year’s theme is pirate-based. One of Cornwall’s most colourful and vibrant events, the festival is hosted by Saltash based Caradon Pilot Gig Club and offers an action-packed programme including rowing competitions (for both professionals and amateurs), live music, a street market, craft stalls, food vendors and – new for this year – a Children’s World with entertainers and rides. Such has been the festival’s success in recent years that it has now been extended to two full days – but the not-for-profit philosophy has held strong, with free entrance for all, including entertainment. As for that eye-patch, the most authentic looking pirate even walks away with a prize. (Photo: Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival)
Play Fest, Truro
Boscawen Park, 3 – 4 August
Art, culture and community come together for this two-day family festival in the picturesque surroundings of Boscawen Park in the Cornish county town of Truro. As a kiddie-friendly event, it has few equals in this part of the UK, and for that you have to thank Truro Council’s Parks Department. Working in partnership with Swamp Circus Trust and Kernow Live – a separate Cornwall festival focussed on youth culture – the organisers present active, fun and family friendly activities including circus shows, dance workshops, live music, fun fair, arts and crafts, story-telling, street food, bouncy castles and much more. Entry is free for all-comers, although certain workshops may cost extra. (Photo: Play Fest, Truro)
3 Wishes Faery Fest
Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, 17 – 19 June
Celebrating ten years as one of the UK’s most unique and quirky festivals, the 3 Wishes Faery Fest returns to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park this summer, offering visitors the chance to step inside a real life fairly (or “faery”) land. Organised by faery aficionado Karen Kay, all manner of fantasy creatures can be spotted wandering the picturesque location during the three-day event, including gnomes, pirates, pixies, faeries and more. There’ll also be talks and workshops throughout the festival, as a well as world record attempt for the most faeries congregated in one place on the Saturday afternoon in front of Mount Edgcumbe House. All food sold on site at the festival is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. (Photo: 3 Wishes Faery Fest)
Bude, 29 – 31 July
Far removed from the corporate behemoths that make up most UK music festivals today, Leopallooza does everything it can to keep it real. First organised by a group of friends in 2006, the event has grown in size and scale but remains true to its heritage as an authentic, inclusive jamboree untarnished by commercialism. Indeed, the core team involved at its inception are still the driving force behind it today – serving to keep alive the house party atmosphere and rootsy fundamentals that make this one of Cornwall’s most enduringly popular music festivals. Countless DJs, exotic food and strong cider all play a prominent role – but it is the good-natured and music-loving crowd who are the cornerstone of Leopallooza’s success. (Photo: Leopallooza)
Royal Cornwall Show
Royal Cornwall Showground, 9 – 11 June
As one of the UK’s most idyllic rural areas, Cornwall is an important torch bearer for the preservation of the agricultural way of life. Each year, the Cornish town of Wadebridge plays host to a popular celebration of all things agrarian that actually dates all the way back to 1793. While some aspects of the Royal Cornwall Show – such as the live music – have been updated from its historical roots, much of the event programme harks back to the nation’s golden era of agriculture. Some of the stand-out events include livestock judging, show jumping, an inter-hunt relay, sheep shearing and Cornish wrestling. There’s also marquees dedicated to rare animal breeds, a dog show, a traditional steam fair and a Festival of Dance. Oh and whisper it quietly, but members of the Royal Family have also been known to make an appearance. (Photo: Royal Cornwall Show)
Port Eliot Festival
St Germans, 28 – 31 July
When it comes to festivals, “something for everyone” is an overused phrase, but in the case of the Port Eliot Festival, it’s the only one that does it justice. Taking place each summer in the woodland gardens of an ancient stately home and mediaeval monastery in the village of St Germans, it is a truly eclectic occasion, with music, words, food, fashion, flowers, walking and much more being played out side-by-side in perfect harmony. An array of stages and venues are dotted throughout the gardens, and the standard advice is simply to wander around and soon enough you’ll find something – or someone – that floats your boat. Indeed, a vast number of renowned personalities from across the cultural landscape are a regular fixture at the show – frankly too many to name here. For the planners among you, there’s a full pre-released programme of events, which this year includes sound arts workshops, late night astronomy walks and talks, natural silk dyeing, botanical illustration classes, a flower show, campfire cooking, survival skills, overnight campout for kids, headdress making, cider and cheese pairing and wild cocktail making. (Photo: Michael Bowles)
Penzance Literary Festival
Venues across Penzance, 6 – 9 July
Penzance’s Literary Festival is going from strength to strength as it celebrates its seventh edition. This July’s guests include novelists Rachel Joyce who wrote the hugely popular The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Andrew Miller whose bestselling novel, Pure, won two Costa awards. Other headliners are the controversial columnist and novelist Julie Myerson, nature writer Patrick Barkham and journalist John Crace. Among a host of local writers are policeman-blogger Colin Taylor whose book, The Life of a Scilly Sergeant, drawing on his affectionate and often hilarious Facebook posts about small-island policing, is set to be a best seller. (Photo: Penzance Literary Festival)
Rock Oyster Festival
Dinham House, 15 – 16 July
Set on the banks of the Camel estuary at Dinham House near Wadebridge, Rock Oyster Festival is as much of a festival lover’s dream, as a Cornwall lover’s dream. Rock Oyster champions the arts, children’s entertainment, comedy, oysters and all good food, music, fine wine and great beer. But it is the music that lies at the heart of the festival. In a nutshell it’s a great open air party for all ages, in an idyllic setting with stunning views from the campsite and festival grounds. (Photo: Rock Oyster Festival)
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